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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Genuine wit did not die after all

For a  slide show of some genuinely funny, witty, and literate signs at the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear, follow this TPM link.  

The annals of libel: a campaign strategy

It is understandable why the SD GOP may wish to disassociate itself from from the kind of materials run on the War College blog.  However, in many instances the SD GOP is clearly and unequivocally identified as the source of those materials.  In other cases, a source is not mentioned but party officers immediately issue a press release to comment on the allegations appearing     on the blog.  

An example is the posting of a statement of disbursement from the House of Representatives for the offices of Rep. Herseth Sandlin --the one in D.C. and three in South Dakota--for expenses accrued during the last quarter of 2009.  Both the original post and the press release issued by the SD GOP chair point to an expenditure of $1300 at a Sioux Falls store, Baby Element. The first post goes to some lengths to point out that the purchases were made  around the time that Herseth Sandlin gave birth to her son.  A follow-up post is from a press release from the SD GOP in which the party chair says, "  I can’t think of one legitimate reason I would spend $1300 at a baby store and then bill it to the taxpayer."  Then the post that quotes the chair reproduces the store's description of business : "In addition to framing services, Baby Elements also offers a unique selection of gifts, jewelry, home decor, and exclusive pieces..."  The post concludes with this statement from the chair:  “I’ve been in the State Senate for six years and worked another eight years in the Attorney General’s office.  I’ve been around a lot of politicians and have never seen anyone bill the government for expenses at a baby store,” said Gray.  “Stephanie Herseth Sandlin better have a good answer for this one.”  These statements follow those in the first post:  "Something is rotten in the state of South Dakota.  You’d think that our congresswoman could certainly afford to furnish her house and buy her kid’s presents herself. WITHOUT billing it to the taxpayers."   

The collusive efforts of the blog and the state party are blatantly apparent, as are numerous other news releases from the state party.  Many of them are obviously written for posting by War College, because no journalistic organization would touch them.  In this pairing on the disbursement statement, the party and the blogger openly accuse the congresswoman of embezzlement by charging baby clothes to the  taxpayers.  

If the party chair has so much experience around politicians and in the Attorney General's office, one wonders why he is not aware that the disbursement was for the running of the Congressional offices and the designation of "habitation expenses" applied to the offices refers to: "Minor, minimal expenses incurred for decorating offices (pictures, welcome mats, etc.). This category includes furniture items such as chairs, tables, etc., which cost less than $500. Furniture that costs more than $500 and less than $25,000 should appear under the expense category or budget object code for furniture and fixtures less than $25,000."

 He would also know, it seems, that line items in a disbursement statement get there by virtue of having expense reports and receipts submitted for a voucher:  "A document which authorizes payment through reference to necessary supporting documentation. Commonly, a voucher is a document that shows goods have been bought or services have been rendered, authorizes payment and indicates the accounting classifications in which these transactions have to be recorded."   And one wonders why the accusers do not know that such purchases for offices are  made by staff members, not the member on whose behalf the offices are run.

Apparently, the operatives who  found this document--Speaker Pelosi ordered Statements of Disbursement to be put on line--did not know that office expenses have to be audited and approved.   And, apparently, that is not how things are done in South Dakota state government.
 And what were the funds spent for?  For the mounting and framing of historic documents, photographs, and cultural materials, such as star quilts, for the member offices to inform visitors of the traditions under which Congress operates and to promote the features of South Dakota.  Anyone can  view these items on display at the offices.

Another kind of posting that enamors War College and its cronies is the publication of an unsubstantiated rumor or utter fabrication that trickles in through the party network.  A recent example is a posting which claimed that Tom Daschle was in Aberdeen on a recent weekend and showed up at Minerva's Restaurant, where there was a wait for seating. The post stated that Mr. Daschle got upset with having to wait and made a scene, asking "Do you know who I am?'  That contention right there raises a red flag about the veracity of this story for those who actually know Tom Daschle.  Then, the post goes on, the Daschle party got up and walked out of the restaurant just as the food was about to be served.

After the post was published, it was later removed with a statement that the blogger was going go give his sources of information a chance to clarify and verify their information.  Later, the post was deleted completely.  The question is, why was such a rumor posted in the first place?  The answer:  purely to generate malice.

That latter post is comparatively trivial in the defamatory dimension,  The significance of it is in its malicious purpose.  The post regarding the purchase at Baby Element, a framing and decorating store, is not trivial.  Court precedents virtually eliminate political figures (and other public figures) from recourse in regard to libels uttered about them.  Things said in the course of the official business of a legislative body or a court are privileged, and that privilege is extended to a certain degree to public discussion of office holders and candidates for office.  However, the accusation of embezzlement is serious enough to permit recourse.   In this case, the allegation was made that the store owner is a friend of the Congresswoman's, thus implying that the store received benefit from an act of embezzlement.  The store owner was implicated in the defamatory statements and has interests that go beyond the political.   

The author of the blog issued a challenge to produce any evidence that the blog operates in concert with the SD GOP.  The posting of GOP press releases, the interaction between the blog and party, and the history of such interaction speaks loudly to that challenge.  And the mailing of a flyer by the Noem campaign based on the expenditure indicates more the extent of the collusion.  More specific information, beyond what is apparent and available on the blog itself, will not be made a subject of blogging.  Such  information would be compromised by the obfuscation and equivocation that comprises the mode of discourse of most blogs.  There are appropriate venues for examining such information and determining the responsibilities of individuals and political parties in the generation of  defamatory allegations.  The right not to be defamed is a precisely stated right by law.  We support anyone who pursues that right, so we will not engage in exchanges which could complicate their efforts to enforce that right.  Any assistance we can give will be done in a more appropriate venue.  

The matter of libel and deception will not end with this election campaign, no matter what the outcome.  There is accounting to be made and people to be held accountable.  We operate in what we call a nation of laws.  It is time to determine whether such a nation exists or if it is just another myth designed to deceive people.  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Breitbart Syndrome and rule by defamation

A blogger, in conjunction with the political party for which he is an "operator," posted an item about a political candidate, Clark Schmidtke in District 8, that led to some disclosures about the candidate's involvement with the criminal courts.  The original post was based upon speculations and implications drawn from some hearing minutes of legal agencies in Minnesota.  It did not bother to establish whether the identity of the subject of those hearings was in fact the candidate, nor did it publish the complete information about the disposition of the matters dealt with in those hearings.  Cory Heidelberger at Madville Times contacted the candidate and obtained further documents and the candidates' account of court proceedings in which the candidate was involved. 

Cory Heidelberger has done a service in behalf of decency in pursuing this story and removing it from the realm of speculation and implication and placing it in the world of documented facts.  Urging Mr. Schmidtke to clarify this matter and providing him a place to do so is one of the, unfortunately, rare instances of integrity and good purpose in the South Dakota political blogosphere.

He performed an obligation and responsibility that should rightfully have been assumed by the blog and its perpetrators that initiated this story without any qualifying facts or with any certainty as to the identity of the subject.  Those omissions display pure malice.  And the cast of the Libel Follies obliged us with an encore performance in comments on Cory's  blog.  

Mr. Schmidtke, the candidate who is the subject of the posts, certainly must have considered that a candidacy for public office would involve an examination of his past.  A part of the function of political parties is to examine and evaluate candidates' backgrounds before they are allowed to bear the party banner.  I assume that is why Mr. Schmidtke is running as an "independent Democrat."  That system seems not to be working in South Dakota where candidates with eighteen traffic-related arrests have the unqualified support of their party.  When violations of that magnitude in number occur with persistence over a long period of time, they signify matters of character and attitude, and they cannot be dismissed as youthful indiscretions.

  Mr. Schmidtke's problems with the court raises an issue about equal protection of the law that the advent of blogs has made unsettled.  The blog that initiated the inquiry into his past has accrued a history of libels that parallels the long histories of flouting the  laws of those candidates for office.  It publishes absurd and petty rumors, charges--often false--of wrong doing that omit mitigating aspects without any attempt at verification or accuracy.  And it does this with the full complicity of the SD GOP.  It publishes its own evidence of that complicity by showing the sources of its alleged information and by the frequency with it attempts malign attacks.    For people who value freedom of speech, it is alarming and dismaying to see that freedom so maliciously and obscenely abused.

We have laws that ostensibly establish a principle against wanton defamation: "Every person is obligated to refrain from infringing upon the right of others not to be defamed."  ('SDCL chapt. 20)   And the law provides a definition of libel and its effects:  "Libel is a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation."

Furthermore, the state constitution states the conditions under which truth relieves the responsibility for libel:  "In all trials for libel, both civil and criminal, the truth, when published with good motives and for justifiable ends, shall be a sufficient defense."

As old journalists can attest, the threat of lawsuits has been the driving force behind adherence to slander and libel laws.  Since the coming of the Internet, changes have been made in the application of libel law.  One problem is that lawsuits, as Mr. Schmidtke relates, can be terribly expensive so that individuals cannot afford protection of the law, and blog libelers tend not to have the financial standing to make recovery of damages possible.  When they are allied with a political organization, however, such recovery becomes more  possible.  Another problem is that case law sets the parameters for interpretation of the law.  Some states have better, more specific precedents than others.  South Dakota is in libel limbo.  

During the last legislative session,an attempt was made to bolster the right not to be defamed, but the question of ultimate responsibility was difficult.  And the proposed law did not address accessibility to the protections of current law.  For those interested in protecting both freedom of speech and the right not to be defamed, it is clear that political action is probably not the route to follow.  With the laws already in place, it will probably be more effective to expend organizing and fund-raising energies on obtaining precedents which provide clearer definitions and affordable accessibility to the law.  We have some perfect storms of libel that have swept across the Internet in the last six years to examine toward that end.

Expect some developments in this regard after the election.  People of good will and good purpose do not wish to live in a political climate that becomes geared to  malevolence and the degradation of the community from malicious and generally untrue gossip.  There are people, both victims and perpetrators, who deserve their day in court. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Do not answer fools according to their folly

Do not answer fools according to their folly,
or you will be a fool yourself.
Answer fools according to their folly,
or they will be wise in their own eyes.
Proverbs  26: 4-5

I generally resist getting drawn into the puerile spats that characterize so much of what passes for discussion forums on the Internet.  Proverbs provides the rationale for avoiding such exchanges.   But on occasion, the scurrility makes factual assertions that are too maliciously false not to address.  

A raging soul full of  sound and fury visited the Beacon and left  one of those messages that cause both derision and despair.  I hesitate to answer that sound and fury and the false accusations spewed forth, but falseness must be identified and refuted lest the more discerning souls think I assent to the foolery.

The comments were provoked by the posting of a link to a story about the unlimited and often secret spending by corporations on election campaigns.  My position is that corporations are given unbridled rights, while individuals have severe restrictions put on the donations they make.  Individuals do not have protection under the law any where near what corporations do.  If individuals behave like corporations in their spending on corporations, they are under severe penalties of law.  

The main bone of contention is that corporations can pour unlimited funds into campaigns in order to dominate the media.  And there are a multitude of loopholes by which corporate money can be kept secret.  They have rights that the rest of us don't.

Timothy Egan succinctly and clearly defines the inequalities created by the recent Supreme Court decision to regard corporations as individuals:

Your average voter can dash off a letter to the editor, or fire up a blog, or put up a yard sign — a nice fantasy of citizen democracy. Your corporate equal can spend $23 million (the outsider amount spent so far in Colorado) to bludgeon the electorate. And, with loopholes in the tax system, they can do it while making it virtually impossible to know who they are.

The comment argues that corporations are created,owned, and supported by people.  So are the Mafia and Mexican drug cartels.  And they are run for the same purposes:  to acquire money and power over other people.   

The comment begins by stating that I have the same rights endowed by the creator and acknowledged by the Declaration.  We are still struggling to make equality, equal justice for all, and liberty available to all people.  Corporations and political factions, however, stand in the way.  The declaration of our inalienable rights did not make them manifest or factually inalienable.  We have had to fight for those rights every step of the way, had a civil war over them, and now face a quickly emerging plutarchy which flaunts the Declaration at every opportunity.   

This is not to say that there are no corporations who regard themselves as having the same rights and obligations as citizens, and who strive to be good citizens.  But then, there are those exemplified by the ones I list below.  

I distrust corporations.  Big corporations fall heir to the same dangers as  government, because they, too, are bureaucracies.  I name a few of the reasons for my distrust:  Enron, World Com., AIG, Lehman Brothers, BP,  Massey Energy, and all those fine corporate entities who created the recession we are struggling out of.  

 The  comment goes on to assert that my mind is clogged with Marxism and preoccupied with Marxist class war. It does not pay to engage someone who uses a word only as cudgel and has not the slightest knowledge of my history and thinking in regard to the many brands of Marxism or any but the crudest notion of what the word means.

First of all, I have a long history of opposing Marxism.  It began during the Cold War when I was assigned as part of my duties in West Germany to analyze propaganda.  I was among a group given training in order to monitor the communities where we had installations for any indications of communist organization.  The post I was  on had some unused barracks which housed a task force that was putting together a study under the direct order of President Eisenhower.  When the Korean War ended with a truce, he was very concerned and disturbed that a number of prisoners of war held by the North Koreans chose not to remain in North Korea rather than be repatriated to the U.S.  He wanted to know why Americans would make that choice.  The conclusions of the study resulted in an intensification of the desegregation of the military services and informed the background of Eisenhower's decision to send troops to Little Rock in September 1957 to desegregate the schools.  The study revealed the motive of the turn coats.  It was simple:  they were treated in the North Korean prison camps as prisoners of war with more respect, dignity, and a sense of equality than they were in their own country and in the service of their country's military.  The civil rights movement was in its early stages and the researchers who wrote the report warned that inequalities and oppression were setting up a form of alienation that made communism a more attractive prospect than the oppression under which minorities and the poor lived.  Marx did not invent the concept of alienation and class struggle; he defined on economic terms.  Some latter day disciples of Marx had developed a way to exploit these factors psychologically.  

The first order of business was to eliminate prejudice and racial discrimination in the military, and the second was to be alert for indications that people who felt alienated from their defeat in World War II might be politically exploited.  Put simply, this meant displaying America's best face.

However, beyond the political dangers of Marxist-based agitation was the fact that dialectical materialism operated on the corollary psychological theory of behaviorism.  This theory was even reflected in literary theory and criticism.  For a quarter of a century in America it was the dominant theory in education.  I have spent much of my professional life criticizing and opposing this brand of Marxism.  

Words have meaning.  The biggest danger to our world right now is people who use words only as weapons to incite hatred and create unbridgeable schisms among humankind.

I know and understand what Marxism is and how it is applied, and the accusation that I am immersed in theories of class envy malevolent presumption.  Being against slavery, oppression, lynching,  concentration camps and gas ovens, and exploitation of humans in any form is not a matter of class envy.  It is a matter of morality that transcends the dog pack theology of people like the errant visitor to this web log. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Becoming Iraq. Or maybe Mexico.

Bureaucracies, whether they are private corporations or government agencies, ultimately can be depended upon to  act on what is the worst that is thought and said in human culture. And so it was when NPR fired Juan Williams.

Eugene Robinson makes the point that Williams' comment about obvious Muslims making him nervous on airplanes was in no way a statement that all Muslims are terrorists.  Williams quite specifically and carefully stated that such a conclusion should not be drawn.  He was making an observation on the climate created by 9/11, and that there is good reason to be wary these days when getting on airplanes.  In fact, the Homeland Security advice is to be aware of people acting in suspicious ways.

What is clear from Williams' firing is that someone inside NPR was looking for a pretext to fire him.   The situation has all the markings of a pattern that is played out numerous times in journalism and academe.  NPR admits that there has been pressure because of some of Williams' remarks in the past, but this situation has all the aroma of personal rivalries and rancor that have been simmering, waiting for the right moment to come along.

Williams' relationship with Fox News has been troubling.  Although NPR and Public Television are often accused of having a liberal bias,  they are the most prominent news organizations that promote impartiality in their reporting and news analysis. NPR's policy states that its reporters should avoid speculation and punditry and refrain from indulging in inflammatory controversy.  The charges of liberal bias are largely because the organizations do not immerse themselves in the name-calling, false accusations, distortions, and outright lies and defamation that the right wing regards as acceptable news.  NPR and PBS are as far from Fox News and the Limbaugh purveyors as it is possible to get, not necessarily  politically, but certainly intellectually and morally.

The handling of the firing of Juan Williams was grotesquely incompetent.  It was as mindless and precipitous as the Shirley Sherrod firing by the USDA.  NPR had good reason to be concerned about Juan Williams' appearances on Fox News, especially with the likes of Bill O'Reilly.  As a representative of NPR, his participation in a news organization so overtly a part of the Murdoch propaganda empire to serve the American  plutarchy does bring into question of how he compromises the integrity that NPR tries to maintain.  Fox has no pretense toward integrity to lose, and for an NPR correspondent to participate in the Orwellian charade of Fox News is a serious compromise of the journalistic integrity that NPR makes its objective.  Nothing is of greater danger to the plutarchy than accurate reporting and rigorous news analysis, as opposed to the tabloid fabrications that are the mainstay of  what the right wing endorses as proper media.  The First Amendment gives Williams the right of free speech, but it does not give him the right to a job when he compromises the reason-for-being of his employer.

With the news media struggling for survival in the Internet age, nearly all media, even the most reputable, are feeling the pressure to appease the plutarchist interests.   The Washington Post is a ghost of the newspaper it once was.  Many newspapers have allowed their editorial quality to be contaminated with comments that do anything but enlighten or expand the news coverage.  The Supreme Court's United Citizens decision has established the plutarchy as the rulers of the land, and their wealth is dominating the political advertising, advertising in general, and, therefore, news coverage.  It is to the plutarchy's advantage to divert public attention by stirring up controversy with Fox News-like agitation and promotion of tabloid silliness as news.  NPR and PBS stand in the way of total news domination.

This is why the Juan Williams firing is such a disaster.   It gives the agents of the plutarchy a new reason to pull public funding from NPR and PBS and eliminate any efforts at neutrality from the mass media.

The news media are not the only ones to be compromised by the political interests of the plutarchy.  During the Daschle campaign, SDSU was compromised when one of its history professors, Jon Lauck, made it the base of operations for the defamation campaign  in John Thune's behalf.  He posed for pictures in his SDSU office for news stories.  Although Lauck left his professorship to work full time for Thune after the election,  the situation left lingering questions about why the university allowed its integrity as an institution of higher learning to be associated with blatantly partisan activity.  It was not a matter of Lauck having the right to free speech;  it was a  matter of whether using that right compromised the purpose and reputation of the university.

This matter is addressed by a contract and policy article under which South Dakota (and most) professors work:

The concept of freedom is accompanied by an equally demanding concept of responsibility.  The faculty unit members are members of a learned profession. When they speak or write as citizens, they must be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As learned people and as educators, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence, they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should indicate that they are speaking only for themselves.

During the time I was an active professor, I did not blog or consider any such activity.  Political activity was largely confined to reporting on events and policy analysis.  The above policy was regarded as prohibiting overt political activity in any way that would involve the university.  That prohibition seems to have been relaxed.  One blogging professor in South Dakota confines himself to reporting and commenting on political matters, but the bloggers at Northern State have gone far into the ad hominem defamation and scurrility that characterized the Lauck efforts.  Now the bloggers have a political television show on a local cable channel, so the institution seems to fully endorse their political activities.  The bloggers often advertise their professorships in conjunction with the opinions they express, a few token disclaimers notwithstanding.  Many people, including professors at NSU, think that the university has abandoned all pretenses to neutrality. 

There are no established standards for what is considered "appropriate restraint" in professors' political speech, but it is clearly evident when an institution verges from promoting vigorous discussion into full partisanship.  It makes it difficult to support an institution when doing so supports a highly partisan propaganda agenda.

Members of the GOP see the firing of Juan Williams as a liberal purging of a reporter who does not conform to a party line. Serious journalists see it as a failure of Williams to maintain the standards on which his employing organization tries to operate.  NPR has confidence ratings that its commercial media competitors do not.  And many journalists have commented that they wondered why NPR waited so long to terminate its relationship with Williams.

Sen. DeMint has promised to introduce a bill that will end NPR's funding.  We assume he and his cohorts mean to go after all public broadcasting, as impartial reporting is an anathema to those of that plutarchist political stripe.  It could happen, and pubic broadcasting would either have to make the subscriptions which provide most of its operating funds as its only source of support, or simply go out of business, which has been the right wing dream for some time.  However, if federal funding of  NPR is ended, that brings up all the other tax supported programs that people find odious and downright pernicious.  That includes farm subsidies which the urban population does not understand or want.  It includes the support of wars which, as the Wikileaks documents show, kill tens of thousands of civilians and is a major, but seldom mentioned, part of our national debt.  In fact, there are few federally funded programs that cannot be regarded as partisan offenses. 

If government is to be dismantled, the question is why not be fair and thorough?  The answer is, of course, that the plutarchy with its billions will dismantle only those programs which it finds annoying and which will give the plutocrats more power over more people.
The Juan Williams case was stupidly handled.  That is a habit of bureaucracies.  But the implications of the loss of neutrality go far beyond the partisan cant that the situation raises.  A plutarchy is not a democracy.  It is a return to governance by  the feudal model. What were once our neutral institutions, news organizations and universities, have been thrust fully into the service of the plutarchy.  We are beginning to look more and more like Iraq.

The New York Times takes on the top seven GOP lies about healthcare

An editorial in The New York Times has finally taken up the falsehoods spread by the GOP and special interests about health care reform.  If you care about living in the world of facts, rather than malice-inspired fantasies, the entire editorial is reproduced here: 

Republican candidates and deep-pocketed special interests are spreading so many distortions and outright lies about health care reform that it is little wonder if voters are anxious and confused.
Here are a few basic facts that Americans need to keep in mind before they go to the polls, and afterward. First, most aspects of the reform do not go into effect until 2014. Second, things are indeed bad out there: The costs of medical care and insurance premiums are (still) rising, and some employers are (still) dropping coverage. But for that, you should blame the long-standing health care crisis and the current bad economy. Health reform is supposed to help with these problems.
Here is a look at the claims being made on the campaign trail — and the distortions they contain:

PURE NONSENSE: John Raese, the Republican candidate for the Senate in West Virginia, is claiming that the law will require patients to go through a bureaucrat or panel to reach a doctor. That is flat out untrue. You will still choose your own doctor or insurance plan without interference. Nor, despite other claims, will the law provide subsidized insurance to illegal immigrants. They are precluded from using even their own money to buy policies on new exchanges.

The Obama administration will not be compiling a federal health record on all citizens, including each individual’s body mass index, as Ann Marie Buerkle, a Republican running for a House seat in upstate New York, has claimed on her Web site. The administration is offering incentives to doctors to record various vital statistics in electronic medical records and report the data in the aggregate, to help understand national health trends.

WE CALL THAT CAPITALISM: Republican politicians never tire of denouncing health care reform as a “government takeover” — or socialism. What is true is that the law relies heavily on private insurers and employers to provide coverage. It also strengthens regulation of those insurers and provides government subsidies to help low- and middle-income people buy private insurance on the exchanges.

Those exchanges will promote greater competition among insurers and a better deal for consumers, which last time we checked was a fundamental of capitalism.

WHAT ABOUT MCDONALD’S? Conservative commentators pounced after the fast food chain and several other large employers that provide skimpy, low-cost policies to their workers warned that they might drop their health plans entirely if forced to comply with the new law. They particularly objected to a requirement that they begin raising the low annual limits on what their plans are willing to pay for health care.

In response, the administration has granted some 30 waivers for one year (Rush Limbaugh promptly accused the administration of allowing these employers to “break the law”) and has signaled willingness to smooth out other bumps on the road toward full reform. In 2014, all plans will have to meet minimal standards and large employers will have to provide coverage or pay a stiff fine.

WHAT ABOUT MY PREMIUMS? Some Republicans are also claiming that health reform is driving up premiums. There have been sharp increases in some states, primarily in response to soaring medical costs. Some insurers may also be trying to increase their profits before the reform law holds them in check. A few very welcome provisions that take effect early, like requiring insurers to cover preventive care without cost-sharing, will play a minor role in premium increases for next year.

Reform has also energized federal officials and many state regulators to challenge and force down big increases sought by insurers. The Justice Department just filed suit against Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan for allegedly using its market power to drive up costs for its competitors and its own subscribers.

MEDICARE SCARE TACTICS: Republican candidates routinely and cynically charge that the reform law will “cut” $500 billion from Medicare — leaving the clear implication that benefits will be reduced. In reality, the law will slow the rate of increase in payments to health care providers over the next decade, and benefits for most beneficiaries will be as good or better than they are now.

The only beneficiaries apt to see a change are those enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans that will lose their unjustified subsides. Many of these beneficiaries, roughly a quarter of the Medicare population, may have to pay more for their plans or may lose the extra benefits, like gym memberships or dental care, that the subsidies pay for. Some inefficient plans will die out, but the efficient private plans will compete successfully with traditional Medicare — on an even playing field.

MEDICAID SCARE TACTICS: Republican governors are complaining bitterly that reform will force them to expand their Medicaid programs. What they are not saying is that the federal government will pick up the vast bulk of the added expense to cover millions of vulnerable Americans. States that do not want this largess will be shortchanging the health of their poorest citizens, who will continue to use costly — to the state and the taxpayers — emergency rooms for routine health care.

WHAT THEY’RE NOT SAYING: Health care reform has already brought substantial benefits, mostly starting in late September. Insurers are now barred from dropping coverage after a beneficiary becomes sick. Dependents can stay on their parents’ policies until age 26. Insurers must cover preventive services and annual checkups without cost-sharing. Lifetime limits on how much insurance plans will pay for treatment are gone.

The major benefits start in 2014, when tens of millions of the uninsured will gain coverage through Medicaid or by buying private coverage — with government help for low- and middle-income Americans — on the new competitive exchanges. If you lose your job, you will no longer lose access to insurance. And with government help the coverage should be affordable.

Far too few Democrats are explaining this on the campaign trail. The barrage of attack ads are hard to push back against. But the voters need to know that health care reform will give all Americans real security.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mosquitoes won the Revolutionary War

Soldier on the side of the Revolution

It turns out, according to an entomologist, that mosquitoes turned the tide at the Battle of York

Monday, October 18, 2010

An obituary for the humanities

Stanley Fish, a multi-disciplined professor who has held positions with the most prestigious universities in the U.S., has written in effect an obituary for the humanities.  That obituary has been in the writing for some decades.  The death has been slow and anything but painless.

Fish responds to an announcement that the SUNY campus in Albany is terminating its French, Italian, classics, Russian and theater majors.  His piece does not cover humanities curricula that have been eliminated in the past.  He thinks the elimination of the humanities is too bad, but he really makes no case for their value, other than that they give some intellectual types jobs.  In fact, he dismisses the idea that the humanities contribute to the vitality and richness of human culture as a mere piety, which no longer has any relevance.

The idea that the humanities were becoming obsolete in academia was first addressed in my hearing in the early 1970s.  Ross Paulson, a Harvard-trained historian, warned the faculty  senate at the institution I worked for at the time that vocationalism was a threat to the quality and integrity of higher education.  The idea that a college degree should largely prepare students for jobs was often raised.  The  college believed that the education it offered should certainly qualify students for  specific vocations, but should also prepare them for viable and productive intellectual and cultural lives.  The philosophy of the institution, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, was that a competent student had background in how culture developed and works, and a knowledge of the many cultures that  have been established.  The institution was strongly committed to the liberal arts, so that a degree from it signified that the students knew the language and literature of their own  tradition, knew at least one foreign language, knew the reaches of history and social sciences, understood the sciences,  and all this in addition to their vocational preparation.

In the 1970s, the threat to the liberal arts was met by expanding them.  I instituted courses in Native American literature and culture. In addition to the traditional literary survey courses in British and American literature, we devised courses that reflected  the cultural complexity of our nation.  I taught an introductory course, for example, in the immigrant, the Native American, and the African American.  The civil rights movement was in full swing, and students were very hungry for information and perspectives that helped them understand the world in which they lived.

When I came to South Dakota, however, NSU had just downgraded its foreign language offerings so that one could not major in the languages.  Since then, the college has gone back and forth over its foreign language requirements and offerings.  For a while, it offered Mandarin and also Russian.  A puzzle to me and many of its sister institutions is that a degree offered in international business does not involve the study of foreign languages and cultures.  I find it puzzling because the man who lived next door to me back in Illinois, who knew Spanish like a native speaker,  was  a Latin America expert for Deere & Co.  The company had such specialists who knew the language and culture of any of the countries where it did business.  It thought that having representatives with such knowledge was an essential part of doing business. 

At my former college, we had a history professor who was a specialist in Russia, and he, too, knew the language thoroughly.  He did not last long, because he was hired away by a corporation that did business with the then-Soviet Union, and it desperately wanted his expertise, so that it had information it could rely upon for its important decisions and negotiations. 

We have perennial problems with being at the mercy of hired interpreters in countries the U.S. is involved with.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the biggest strategic problems is finding someone who knows the languages of those countries and can provide reliable, trustworthy translations and readings of situations.   The Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy caught us off guard because we had no one on the Iran desk in the State Department who knew enough about the culture and language to detect the opposition to America that was growing.  However, there are people from opposing interests who know well American language and thought and use their knowledge against us.   Our intelligence operations have been consistently deficient because we are dependent upon perfidious local nationals to feed us intelligence about other countries and cultures.  We do not train people who can make informed observations and direct analysis of the information they collect from the standpoint of  American nationals. 

Knowledge of other cultures is not the only place that reflects our failures in the humanities.  While there is much furor about America's education lagging behind in math and science, for some reason the reports tend to gloss over our lagging reading scores.  Reading tests, which examine knowledge base and comprehension as well as the conventions of grammar, reflect the experience students have in their general command of language, including speaking and writing.  The magnitude of our national deficiencies in language is demonstrated in our media, especially on the Internet. While many blog posts demonstrate basic incompetence in rhetorical skills, the comment sections are where the deficiencies in thought and expression are overwhelmingly evident.  Often the comments fix on a phrase, a clause, or one sentence in a paragraph, not able to define the context for a sentence or the qualifiers that surround it.

The floundering ignorance that pervades America has produced an attitude in which the ignorant take great pride in their deficiencies, and regard those with actual knowledge and skill as elitist.  The phenomena of  the likes of Sarah Palin, Christine O'Donnell, and Rand Paul being touted as leadership is symptomatic of how education has come to be regarded.  All the attempts to reform education are frustrated by attitudes that revere and promote ignorance as a way of life.

When  higher education institutions divest themselves of humanities programs but allow themselves to be the platforms for the partisan hackery that makes up our political dialogue, we have an indication of the deterioration that is the real cause of the failures of education to keep our country competitive.  The decline of the humanities in American education is offset by intensifying them in other lands.

A few years ago, a best-selling book was Readng Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.   The book is a narrative of how a woman university professor and some of her students in Iran gathered at her home weekly to discuss key American books, such as Lolita and The Great Gatsby.    Their weekly study sessions were a refuge from the oppression, particularly against women, of the mullahs and their followers.  They were also an inspiration and a resource for enduring and resisting the oppression.  I found Lolita, the Vladimir Nabokov novel about a pedophile, a surprising choice out of the American canon for study, but I did not read from the perspective of a suppressed and discriminated-against person living under a violently hostile regime.  Professor Nafisi's account probed a dimension of the book that would not be apparent to most Americans.

The Iranian women's study of American works was not uncritical.  They examined the aspects of American life that are less-than-admirable, but their main focus was on the intellectual traditions out of which America's liberty and opportunity were forged.  In the American humanities, they found not only hope but their opportunity to survive and surmount oppression. Lolita provided them with a resource and frame of reference for critical and penetrating thought through which they could define their own situations and devise courses of action.  Professor Nafisi eventually came to America. 

America's decline and diminishment in the humanities is part of an anti-intellectual movement that has  invaded our higher education institutions.While America is getting somewhat desperate to educate scientists and technologists in order to keep the nation competitive, it at the same time eschews the arts and humanities as preoccupations of an elite.  In effect, people want to sever the left lobe of the national brain, which controls verbal and analytical functions, from the right, which is the center for sensational and emotive perceptions. The humanities are the center of an important cognitive function of the human community.

No country has its formation recorded as thoroughly and deeply as the U.S.  Courses in American literature include not just the fiction, poetry, and drama, as is popularly supposed.  The surveys of early American literature include the diaries and correspondence of the nation's founding, the critical essays such as the Federalist Papers, the national documents, and the discourse that took place during its founding.  Early American literature is not necessarily the favorite of general students, because they prefer to deal with the more imaginative aspects, but it is an extensive record of the hows and whys and mental disciplines involved in the country's formation.   It is a record of the essential role played by the art of rhetoric in making political decisions, and some whose educations were self-directed, such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, were the most skillful practitioners. 

The degree to which the skills and values of rhetoric are in a state of disuse is no where more emphatically and painfully evident than in what passes for political discourse today.  It is rare to come across a communication that contains a basic rhetorical principle.  Rather, the model for discourse in today's political arena is war propaganda, which is designed to agitate hatred and other mindless passions. 

While I think the deterioration of the humanities reflects a faltering nation, I make no case for their rehabilitation.  Nations rise, and nations fall according to the viability of their culture.  When a culture loses access to the resources that have created it, it is far into dysfunction.

Like the women in Tehran, people who value the intellectual foundations of their nation and its culture will continue to study and discuss.  Many times I have been asked to lead groups that wanted to undertake a special line of study and investigation.  

When America was formed, it did so quite consciously from the best that was thought, spoken, and written.  Its contributions to the humanities have been studied and used as models for new and reforming nations worldwide.

And it may be time for those who value the humane and benevolent to think about a new nation.

For more discussion of the state and value of the humanities, go to this link to The New York Times.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Rights? You don't have any. Corporations do.

The United Citizens Supreme Court ruling not only elevated corporations to personhood and gave them full rights, it set in motion a process whereby individuals are deprived of those rights.  Government is superseded by corporations as the determiner of rights and responsibilities.

Slate tells the story

Disclosure of contributors to political campaigns, and campaign advertisements, used to be an unobjectionable proposition. Now, resisting it is a matter of highest principle. Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs for the United States Chamber of Commerce, told Jake Tapper, "We're under no obligation, as any organization or association in the United States is, to divulge who its members are, who its contributors are." Why? Explained Josten: "We're not going to subject our contributors to harassment, to intimidation, and to threats and to invasions of privacy at their houses and at their places of business, which is what has happened every time there's been disclosure here."

Also this:  Return of the secret donors

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Good Day To Die

An important new documentary on Dennis Banks and the American Indian Movement is previewed in this trailer:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A majority of Americans do not like anonymous campaign donations

State candidates and political organizations must reveal the sources of their money in campaign finance reports.  On the national level, there are many ways to hide the identity of donors.  Big PACs and lobby organizations have the ability to launder money as it comes in from sources that voters have cause to fear.  People have the right to know who is influencing the political process and to what degree.  The fact that the National Chamber of Commerce does not have to reveal who provides funds through membership dues which go into a fund from which campaign donations are dispersed is a danger signal to those who want full disclosure on campaign sponsors.

That wariness is expressed by a majority of Americans.

A Bloomberg national poll indicates that 47 percent of Americans say they would be less likely to support a particular candidate if his or her campaign was aided by advertising paid for by anonymous business groups, with nine percent saying they would be more likely to back such a candidate and 41 percent saying that it would not matter.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The United States of Dysfunction

The people living on the Gulf of Mexico feel abandoned.  When BP managed to put the cap on that gushing oil well, it also seemed to put the lid on all the implications of that disaster.  It was one of the most serious environmental disasters in world history, but, like much that holds the American attention for a time, it has blown through the American mind like a hurricane and lingers only as a dim memory, not a threatening and destructive presence that still deeply affects life.

Only the despised tree-huggers talk about the despoiling of the Gulf at this point.  And I admit to being an unabashed tree-hugger.  Until recently, I was the primary care-giver to tens of thousands of pine trees in Wisconsin, from infancy to towering 40-foot adults.  It was a project that reclaimed some farmed-out land (another environmental disaster) and brought it back to viability.  Part of that viability was in supporting wildlife and letting natural forces correct the results of human stupidity.  But that project did not involve millions of barrels of life-destroying oil.  And the human stupidity did not extend to using the disaster for partisan politics.

The changes  in the Gulf, however, have been taking place long before Deepwater Horizon blew its top and went on its killing spree--eleven men and untold populations of wildlife.  Those changes in the Gulf have been evident in South Dakota for some time.  I do not know when the last time was that you could buy  red fish at the seafood counter in the local market.  Occasionally, a truck parks in the lot at Kmart and you can get Gulf shrimp, and you can get wild-caught salmon from Norway or Alaska at the seafood counter for a $10 a pound premium, but the staples now are pond-raised shrimp from India, pond-raised tilapia from Malaysia, and some tuna steaks from Japan. The Gulf long ago ended as a presence in South Dakota.

Conserving the life-sustaining resources and the natural systems that have evolved on earth are essential to a tolerable life for humans.  Plundering and destroying the environment is a form of mass suicide.  A healthy environment is not only essential for maintaining physical life, it shapes the mental and spiritual culture of those who occupy it. Keeping humanity healthy, physically and mentally,  is the point of conservation.  There is a difference between conservationists and environmentalists, but they agree on much more than they differ.  I include myself among the former.  My tree-hugging was labor intensive.  The forest I owned and worked  involved the constant maintaining of fire lanes, cutting and managing slash (the dead branches that accumulate as the trees devote their energies to new growth), the thinning of the forest to produce big, healthy trees instead of a lot of scraggly ones, fertilizing,  controlling insects and disease, and planting species in the forest for a viable succession, as the forest followed its natural urge to support hardwood growth. This intense forestry is called silviculture.  It conserves forests with human objectives included in its practice.

The biggest threat to healthy forests are ignorant and predatory humans.  That ranges from the idiot who throws a lighted cigarette butt out of a car  window, to a corporate enterprise that is polluting the air and water,  to a farmer who applies herbicides that can drift into the trees and insecticides that are producing mutations of insects that cannot be controlled. A silviculturist is alert to the health of all the flora and fauna that are part of the forest.  When plants and animals show signs of distress, that indicates that some problem is in the environment that could jeopardize the health of the entire forest.  Humans do not like to be told they are responsible for bad things that happen on earth.  They deny their responsibility and culpability.  Many reject the idea that their own survival is dependent upon a healthy planet, and that what they do affects the health of the planet.  That denial is the basis for a major political strain in our population.

 One of the reasons that the people in the Gulf feel abandoned is because they are.  The deniers would prefer to think that the Gulf oil spew was just another environmental incident, like Katrina, that blew over and can be forgotten.  Oil drilling in the Gulf is a major part of the economy.  The deniers do not want to contemplate that it is dangerous.  They get angry over the curtailment and regulation of  drilling because it affects so many jobs.  But the oil field workers are not the ones who have been abandoned.  The fishermen are.  While they make a huge contribution to the economy, they aren't as big and powerful as the oil interests.  They do not have the corporate money and, therefore, the political clout that the oil interests do. In the deniers' scheme of things, the fishing industry is best ignored and forgotten.  It gets in the way of human enterprise.

Another disaster that signals problems with how some humans treat the plant is the red sludge flood in Hungary.  It killed people and forced the evacuation of communities because it leaves them too toxic for humans to occupy.  The sludge is created by the process that extracts aluminum from its ore.  The deniers see it as a threat to the aluminum industry, although the North American aluminum industry does not use that kind of process and is regulated (yes, regulated) to prevent such a disaster.  Nevertheless, for the good of our country, it is better to deny and ignore the suggestion that the production of an essential metal might pose threats to natural and human life.

Denial is a big force in American politics.  You have something in your life you do not like to think about, you simply deny it.  As in denying that President Obama is born in America.  If denial is not enough, you call him the names of things that other deniers hate, as in Muslims, socialists, etc.  Denying environmental threats is treated the same way.  If a conservationist or environmentalist brings up a problem in our environment, dismiss it by calling those who bring it up tree-huggers, or some other pejorative that titillates the hate glands of the deniers.  

The Denial Party is a big force in American politics right now.  The politicians want to garner the denial vote.  So they fawn, and grovel, and pander. The media wants the denial audience.  So it fawns and grovels and panders.  As a result, the country is in a state of paralytic dysfunction.  It can't do anything.  All it can do is stand around and bicker, call names, and accuse.   

Thomas Friedman in The New York Times defines the problem:

politicians who only know how to read polls, never change them; media outlets serving political parties; special interests buying senators; mindless partisanship; an epidemic of low expectations for our government. And us — we elected them all, and we tolerate them.

You think the Gulf oil spew or the red sludge might portend some problems for humanity?  Forget it. Get over it.  Deny it.

The State of Dysfunction is a happy state.  Learn to live with it.  And die with it.  

Happy Denial Day

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Are foreign corporations pouring illegal money into U.S. election campaigns?

There is no way to find out.

Here is's examination of the matter: 

Q: Is illegal foreign money being filtered through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to fund ads attacking Democrats?
A: The chamber says dues money paid by overseas companies "is not used for political ads," but won’t discuss how it segregates those funds. Democratic and liberal groups want an investigation of "likely" or "possible" legal violations.
Read the full question and answer

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The dumb guy prevails

David Letterman made an acute political observation to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair Tuesday night.  He said that if you had four people in a room, and three were smart guys and one was a dumb guy,  the dumb guy would prevail.

He was referring to what passes for political discussion today and the emergence of candidates who are intellectually challenged or downright loopy.  People are in high profile political contests today who in the past would have been dismissed as totally incompetent, and who we would probably never have heard of in more thoughtful times.  But the dumb guy prevails.

Most political discourse today is utterly stupid.  And a goodly number of people are giving up on the political system the dumb ones are influencing.  One of the reasons the dumb guy is prevailing is digital communication.  Political discourse has descended to the level of middle school squabbling.  Some celebrate the advent of the Internet and web blogs for giving ordinary people a voice.  The dumb guy has found a way to amplify his voice and to find networks of  other dumb guys. Rather than enhance communication, digital electronics has reduced it to the rituals of dominance and submission of the  lower order animals.  Text and twitter messages, aside from observing no standards of literacy, are largely grunts and howls.  And much of the blogosphere is taken up with middle school taunts, insult, abuse, the utterances of dumb guys too lazy or inherently incapable of civil discourse. 

This is not to say that informing and intelligent information is not available on the Internet.  Yesterday the Internet aggregator contained two items that reflect the state of politics and discourse.   Bob Mercer notes that the Democratic Party in South Dakota is lagging behind in voter registration. Tim Gebhart reviews a book that may explain some of the  reasons why the Democratic principles do not generate more enthusiasm among voters. My own observations involving voter interest are informed by Tim Gebhart's summary of the book The Anti-American Manifesto by Ted Rall.

As for the decline in interest among those would seem to be attracted to Democratic programs, I have noted a number of times on this web log how many people I know have left South Dakota, mentally if not physically.  I also commented about the problems with finding someone to run against John  Thune.  Candidates who were being recruited to run for office were adamant in their refusals to subject their families and friends to the libels  and falsehoods that characterized Thune's campaign against Tom Daschle in 2004.  Furthermore, these people reflect a trend to invest their cultural and intellectual energies in other places.    That is why many people are who are allied with Democratic programs are diffident about voting in South Dakota.  Their interests are invested where they have a better chance of being realized.  Among colleagues of my  age who have retired,  I note that the vast majority leave the state. 

 The examples are anecdotal, but the individual anecdotes add up to a noticeable trend.  That trend is further illustrated in a mailing list of active supporters I have had the responsibility of maintaining over the years.  Every mailing results in a return of letters of 2 to 3 percent.  There are, of course, deaths that account for some of the names we remove from the list.  But the bulk of the returns is from people who have moved to other areas of the country.  In recent years, that list has shrunk by more than 30 percent, and few people are added.  A common response we get from people we approach to add to the list is that they are sympathetic with the Democratic program, but do not want to get involved with politics as they are practiced today.  Attrition has had its effect on people who would vote Democratic, but many of the people who support Democratic causes have come to believe that the political system has become incapable of reflecting their interests.

The election of President Obama was driven largely by the promise of change.  He was given a huge majority in the House and Senate in support.  There are those who disagree with his programs, but rather than engage in legislative negotiations to work out agreements, the Republicans have deliberately thrown government into a state of total dysfunction.  The raging malevolence of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter became the guiding principles of Republican tactics, and we found out that,  like insurgent attackers in Iraq and Afghanistan, a minority could totally disable government and make it irrelevant to the lives of the people it is supposed to serve.  While the tea party movement has had the press, the discussions in the media over the meaning of polls have never covered those people who have given up on the system and are in a state of quiet withdrawal.  Tim Gebhart quotes Ted Rall in that regard:

Unless you’re hopelessly self-deluded or stupid, you have to accept the painful truth. Under the current triumvirate of state power currently presiding over our lives — governmental, corporate and media — you have no more ability to change anything important — e.g. the way the economy is managed, or which countries and people are being attacked by the armies you pay for — than a medieval serf or a German under Nazism did in the past, or a detainee in a secret CIA prison somewhere does now.

Rall suggests that the only solution is revolution.   Tim summarizes Rall's point-of-view:

Not only is necessary change not coming, he believes it never will. Rational people, then, have only one choice, which is to take things into their own hands and start over. Even if people don’t, the system is going to collapse on itself and revolution will be forced upon us. He believes it better to be proactive than reactive. Whether that call to action will succeed is another question altogether.
The suggestion that revolution is the solution to our current dysfunction is one I have heard hinted at by many people.  They are not advocating revolution, but they seem to accept the idea that it is probably the only way to change the direction in which the country is headed.  A colleague who is an authority on journalism and rhetoric says that the country has shifted from the rhetoric of opposition to the rhetoric of war.  He says that the focus is not to produce compromise and change, but to incite hatred.  He cites Limbaugh and Beck and Coulter as the most obvious proponents of it.  He makes the point that the rhetoric of war-level hatred does what it is intended to:  make war.

Those who find that America has become unredeemable do not have the political solutions available that their ancestors did.  My grandparents were all immigrants who found no economic and cultural opportunities in their fatherland, and a state endorsed religion had become an oppressive force.  They moved to America.  The people I know who have left South Dakota did so  for essentially the same reasons.  But where does one go when the whole country follows the trend of South Dakota?  There may be other places to recreate America, but the world has shrunk.  Revolution may, indeed, be forced upon us.

Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mexico give us a caution.  Revolution can take the form of an extended, mindless feud.  The dumb guy prevails.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dishonoring the troops

Ft. Hood was psychologically stunned  last weekend when four soldiers committed suicide.  In addition to the incident last November when an Army psychiatrist shot and killed 13 soldiers there, the base has been struggling to deal with an outbreak of suicides among the troops, 14 so far this year.  The Army has had 104.  The suicides are related to a problem that when troops return from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the crime rates in the base town of Killeen, Texas, soar with arrests for domestic violence, assault, and drunk and disorderly conduct. Drug addictions are also a big problem. A recent report says that the Army has concerns that the force is becoming increasingly dependent on both legal and illegal drugs.   The Washington Post article  , which reports the situation, concludes that "The skills that keep soldiers alive in war make them dysfunctional in civil society."

Duh.  In regard to trying to give the troops mental health assistance, a psychiatrist says, "They don't trust us. They believe we speak with forked tongues."  Double f**king duh.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates addresses the problem this way:   In"an era of persistent conflict," soldiers are increasingly culturally, socially and physically isolated from the rest of the country.

Gates skirts the crux of the issue.  He is too damned smart not to know that the problems in the military are caused by the civilians who maintain the services and assign the tasks to the military.  That means us.  It particularly means those developmentally-challenged souls who ride around with those yellow "Support our troops" decals on their tea-bagging cars.   It means those people who cannot accept or choose to ignore that the contrived war on Iraq is intellectually and morally indefensible, and Afghan has become that way.  And, when troops obediently carry out orders when they doubt the authenticity of their mission and the intelligence of the orders, they bear a psychological burden.  That burden is the festering suspicion that the battles they are sent to fight are patriotic shams.

Begin with the fact that bureaucracies are inherently the product of self-serving idiots.  The military services are bureaucracies.  They serve the interests of  presidential administrations, which are bureaucracies.  The issue is not how big government is.  It's how perversely venal  it is.  Venality is the organizing principle of bureaucracies, unless there is some system of oversight that keeps the f**king twithood honest.  The first rule of a bureaucracy that strives to be a moral and intellectual failure is to frustrate the oversight.  And make patsies out of the grunts who have to carry out the orders.

An example.  Remember Jessica Lynch?  She is the young woman from West Virginia who was injured, taken prisoner in the early days of the war on Iraq and was later rescued from her Iraqi hospital bed by a team of Army Rangers.  The story that the press trumpeted throughout the world was that Soldier Lynch was in a convoy that came under attack by Iraqi forces and was wounded while firing her weapon at the attackers.

The actual incident that put Ms. Lynch in the hospital is a typical bureaucratic tale.  She was driving a Humvee in a convoy.  Its commander.  Capt. Troy King, screwed up a couple of times.  He made a wrong turn, in fact he made two, that put the convoy in the middle of the heavily armed city of Nasiriyah.  He was supposed to be taking a route that skirted the city.   When he finally checked his GPS and turned the convoy around to retrace its route,  it came under attack.  In the frantic effort to haul ass out of Nasiriyah, a semi in front of Pvt. Lynch's Humvee jack-knifed.  She ran into the jack-knifed trailer at 50 mph.  She was not wounded in combat.   She did not fire her weapon.  As subsequent investigations of the incident reported,  all the injuries she sustained, which were serious, were from the collision with the semi trailer.

So how did the press and the American public get such a totally fabricated version of what happened to Pvt. Lynch?  There is much more to the convoy story.  A battalion of Marine tanks was headed into Nasiriyah to take control of the city.  The tank column came under fire as it entered the city when a bullet-riddled, burning Humvee containing Capt. King screeched to a halt as it approached the tank column, and Capt. King told the Marines his convoy was under attack.  The tank column's mission then became trying to extract the convoy from the city. 

Some of the vehicles in the Marine column got stuck in the mud along a river when trying to turn around.  The Marines called for air support.  They got it in the form of two A-10 Warthog aircraft loaded with anti-tank missiles and bombs.  When the Warthog pilots spotted the Marine vehicles,  they thought they were Iraqi.  So they bombed the shit our of them.  They killed 18 Marines and wounded 17.

The Bush Administration was being criticized for waging war on Iraq, and this "friendly fire" incident could lose popular support for the war.  But the Administration had put a master propagandist in place to control all the information coming out of the Iraq military.  He is Jim Wilkinson, who worked for Bush in the 2000 Florida election battle.  Wilkinson quickly moved to divert public attention away from the 18 Marines killed by their own colleagues.  He fastened on to Jessica Lynch and made up a bunch of stuff about her, and the American public was so inflated by the lies about Jessica that it ignored the mistakes that got Jessica injured and ignored the 18 dead Marines killed by the support that was supposed to come  rescue them.

This is succinctly and clearly summarized in a book about Pat Tillman, who was killed by members of his own squad in Afghanistan, the account of which  was fabricated and lied about by the entire command of his Ranger unit.  His family has worked to get the truth out since his death in 2004.

When soldiers volunteer to put their lives in danger and make the ultimate sacrifices,  they like to think their efforts are for a higher purpose.  But when it begins to occur to them that they are being sacrificed as pawns by dishonest and incompetent bureaucracies, they realize that their lives are cheap and they are simply regarded as expendable cannon fodder.  Being duped and used like that is hard to live with.  Many are choosing not to.  It is dishonorable.  Four of them chose not to at Ft. Hood last weekend. 

The best mental health measures that can help our troops is to stop lying about why we are in Iraq and Afghanistan today.  We can stop lying about the duplicity of the regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the culture of those countries.  We can't do much about those cultures, but we don't have to support them  by having our troops killed wantonly and needlessly.

The best way to honor our troops is not to get them killed.  And to tell the truth.  Of course, they think their commands speak with forked tongues.  They know what the lies are and who makes them up.

Those "Support our troops" decals are an offense.  They have nothing to do with honoring and helping or troops.  They have everything with a bunch of mindless fools buying the lies about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman.  And when you are fighting a war at the behest of people who like to believe in lies because they reinforce their venal politics, it may be more honorable to commit suicide.  It is hard for good people to live for a lie.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States