South Dakota Top Blogs

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

The North and South Korea equation

North Korea makes the rest of the world sit up and take notice of it through a bellicose intractability and a violent belligerence that is beyond any effort to reason. It is the national version of the guy who is so threatening and violent that restraining orders are issued on him, but everyone knows that restraining orders do nothing to control a nitwit bent on mayhem and murder.  North Korea has a protective buddy in China, and China is kind of blackmailed by North Korea in that a collapse of a North Korean regime would result in hordes of North Koreans surging over the border into China looking for help and survival.  Bent on becoming a major economic player in the world, China fears anything that might hinder its economic development.

The recent shelling of the South Korean-held island off the Korean coast poses the problem.  South Korea has been trying for fifty years to create a situation where families split by the divide of the two Koreas can be reunited.  It also realizes that a decisive retaliation by the Republic of Korea might lead to the defeat of North Korea, but not before South Korea, and most likely Japan, are devastated in the process.  The Korea situation is a cold war circumstance with South Korea not having the bargaining chip of nuclear weapons, while North Korea has been rushing into the development of nuclear capabilities.  And this leaves the U.S., which is committed to the defense of South Korea by treaty, hanging on tenterhooks.

The restrained action by South Korea to the shelling incident has already forced the resignation of the defense minister because he did not take decisive action.  The South Koreans did return fire, but there is no appraisal of what retaliatory effect, if any, the return fire had.  The shelling  and killing of South Korean troops and civilians in the ordinary strategies of war would have resulted in a retaliatory strike that cost North Korea heavily.  In this case, we have just learned from a U.S. scientist that North Korea has a battery of centrifuges at work refining uranium, which gives it the capability of producing nuclear bombs.  The ideal counter-strike would have been to target that facility and other known nuclear sites with a missile blitz.  The problem is that South Korea does not have that capability.  The U.S. does.

There is no doubt that some of the missiles based in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana have those North Korean sites programmed into their guidance computers.  They also have key targets in Iran identified.  And there are other U.S. units stationed throughout the world, both nuclear and non-nuclear, that could reduce the nuclear facilities to rubble.  But such action taken by the U.S. puts the country at war and, as Colin Powell's pottery barn rule applies, it gives us ownership of such a war.  And after Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, most of us realize that such wars are not  winnable in the sense that World War II was winnable.  And furthermore, such action would most likely open up hostilities with China, who literally owns the U.S. right now.

Over the years, the U.S. has proposed and discussed setting up missile defense systems with Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea that would provide them with defense against attack as well as retaliatory capability.  South Korea has declined to participate in a Theatre Missile Defense system which would give it and its regional allies the power and capability to deal with the likes of North Korea.

Part of what most people in the U.S. do not grasp is that small nations such as North and South Korea want national autonomy.  We see that assertion in the belligerent acts of North Korea, but we do not often see that it is also operative in South Korea.  South Korea has persistently turned down offers to engage in a missile defense program, and has in fact attempt to develop an indigenous missile system.  At times it has explored buying its own system, considering competing bids from the U.S. and Russia. 

While we in the U.S. may regard North Korea as a swaggering little bully who we can one-punch, South Korea has considerations regarding its relationships within its region and its cultural interests that have kept it from assuming more aggressive and effective means of defense within its own control.  If North Korea decides to go on the full offensive, the U.S.will have to take the action.

That means that we will own one more war.  And the U.S. has not had the courage to face up to what our wars are doing to our economy and our morale.  It is easier to blame Obama for all the problems.  And if things work out, we can own another war.

Read more on what binds China and North Korea together at the Washington Post.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Thanksgiving recognition from 150 years ago

Winslow Homer's 1860 view of Thanksgiving with harsh relevance today

From The New York Times:

But the double-page centerfold that he[Winslow Homer] prepared for Thanksgiving Day 1860 is about as subtle as the slash of a cavalry saber. “THANKSGIVING DAY, 1860 – THE TWO GREAT CLASSES OF SOCIETY,” Homer titled the engraving. The spread is divided into two halves: on the left, “Those who have more Dinners than appetite,” and on the right, “Those who have more appetite than Dinners.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kristi Noem gets cited in NY Times discussion about ending farm subsidies

 From The New York Times:

With a House full of newly elected Republicans who pledged to cut federal spending, will the next farm bill be different? Some new members of Congress, like Kristi Noem of South Dakota, campaigned as deficit hawks, but have defended subsidies as a national security issue: the decline of farms could mean more food imports, they say. (Ms. Noem had partial ownership in a ranch that received more than $3 million in subsidies over 15 years, before her family bought her out last year.)

Do payments to farms protect national security? Or, more broadly, how should the farm subsidy program be changed?

The growing consensus is that the farm programs were intended to stabilize agriculture by keeping smaller farms operative and spreading out the number of people sustained by farming.  Today the top ten percent of recipients get 74 percent of the subsidies.  To many, it is apparent that if the budget is to be trimmed, farm programs must be drastically cut.  Click the NY Times link for the full discussion. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vino veritas

When Eldon Nygaard suddenly defected from the Democratic Party after winning his seat in the South Dakota Senate on the Democratic ticket and receiving $1,500 from his county party but losing in efforts within the caucus to gain a leadership post, many people felt betrayed and bilked.  And they said so.  But what also came out in the remarks was the matter of the wine he produces in Vermillion at his Valiant Vineyards. 

Democratic organizations patronized his winery out of a kind of partisan loyalty and while comments were made about the quality of the wine, they were muted.  Well, they ain't no more in sommelier land. 

I have attended events in Aberdeen, Rapid City, and Sioux Falls where the Valiant Vineyards wine was featured at dinner events.  I remember in particular one in Aberdeen, where the event emphasized the fact that the food and drink had South Dakota origins.  I was sitting at a table among friends who are unabashed wine snobs.  They take a first sip of their wine and say things like, it has a hint of raspberry with the delicate aroma of ocelot  urine, or the dryness is not as abrasive as an emery board but not as slick as  crankcase oil, or my god how much is this a bottle?  Sometimes they say genteel things like, get this fucking shit away from my nose.  But not very often.  I never once  heard them say anything like that about Valiant Vineyards wine.

On that night I remember in particular they said nothing as they took up their glass of Valiant Vineyards produce.  They didn't need to.  They would generally take a sip, then gently push their glass away to the center of the table.  Or they would sip and roll their eyes at someone across the table who had also sipped.  But I remember an exchange between a woman who owned and ran an upscale bed-and-breakfast with her husband.  She asked him to go to the cash bar and get something decent to cleanse her palate.  He said, what do you think is decent?  She said, Lysol.  

The social network Facebook was particularly rife with tasters' assessments of Valiant Vineyards.  Most of them were in the vein of thank god we don't have to fake gustatory orgasms over that locally aborted fermentation any more.  And the thought interjected an element of glee into the election drubbing and the defection.  

Democrats are uplifted and titillated at the idea of Republicans drinking that wine.

Life can be cruel. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sometimes the dots connect themselves

The Democrats won only six of the 35 seats in the South Dakota Senate, and one of them defected to the Republican side today.  On occasion a party member switches parties out of deep disagreement on policy or on the way a party goes about its business.  However, the circumstances of the defection of Eldon Nygaard do not have that context.

Last Saturday when the Democratic caucus filled its leadership positions in preparation for the upcoming legislative session,  Nygaard ran for two positions in the Democratic Senate caucus.  He won neither.  Then, today Nygaard issued a statement announcing his defection:


“For the following reasons and the fact that my philosophy regarding government’s role in society is more in line with the Republican Party, I have changed my party affiliation. In my new role as a member of the Republican State Senate Caucus, I will continue to reach across the aisle to find solutions that work for my district and the people of South Dakota.

This election brought a lot of changes across South Dakota and the Nation. Voters sent a message to all elected officials – they want action and they want change. I firmly believe that I can represent my District’s needs in Pierre more effectively as a member of the Republican Party. My past four years in the House have been marked by a bi-partisan approach to working for my district and the people of South Dakota.

I would like to thank my supporters for demonstrating their confidence in me by electing me to the South Dakota Senate this past election. With this victory comes the great responsibility to represent District 17 and the State at a time when we face some tough challenges. I am optimistic that our new Governor is up to the challenges and he needs everyone’s support.”
The statement raises the obvious question:  if the Republican Party is more in line with your political philosophy,  why did you run as a Democrat?

If the situation were not obvious on its face,  Bob Mercer discharged both barrels of his snark gun with his headline for the story:

                                               “Eldon, you’re nothing but a two-timing…”

The South Dakota Democratic Party statement on the defection follows below in its entirety:

                                                                    Statement on Sen. Nygaard

SIOUX FALLS - Senator Eldon Nygaard lost a leadership election in the Democratic caucus last Saturday, and now the Democrats have lost him to the Republican Party. Still, party leaders say they wish him well and that they'll continue to work with him for the best interests of his district.

Executive Director Erin McCarrick stated, “If Eldon wants to put personal gain above what we are fighting for as Democrats and above his District, then the Republican Party should work out just fine. When you don’t get your way, the answer is not to take your toys to a different sand box and give up”

McCarrick added, “Eldon has let down those who voted for him and those who worked for him, including the College Democrats who spent numerous hours volunteering. That is not the message to send to our youth. I don’t think we’ll have a problem challenging him and winning in 2012.”

"We wish Eldon well, and will continue to work with him as a colleague," said Senator Jason Frerichs, the new Senate Democratic leader. "Eldon's frustration with the Democratic caucus obviously occurred during the leadership elections last week. But we fear that he will be equally frustrated as a Republican in the state legislature, where the majority lawmakers often complain that they must too often follow the governor's lead or the party line when they would prefer to speak their own minds.

"Democratic Legislators believe there is a lot of opportunity in their minority role,” added Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, the House Democratic Leader. "We can work for an agenda that we believe is right for South Dakota, rather than playing a back-up role to the bureaucrats and the executive branch.

Hunhoff said Democrats, despite being outnumbered, have doggedly established the Pierre agenda in recent years on open government, fiscal responsibility, education, spending, wind energy, ethanol and other important issues. “We will do it again and we hop that Senator Nygaard- regardless of his party affiliation – will support us. But we think he will find it more difficult in the majority caucus that is too often beholden to the bureaucracy and the status quo."

Health-care for dummies?

The New Yorker takes up the issue of the health-care bill, which the Republicans have vowed to repeal. They like to claim that the bill is "wildly unpopular," but The New Yorker article states that "The truth is that, in every age group but one—seniors—a plurality of voters want to keep the bill intact."

People over 65 opposed the bill by 60 percent.  The reasons are that they did not understand the provisions regarding Medicare, according to the article.  They seemed to  fall prey to the blitz of propaganda against it, and were, ironically, opposing aspects that would benefit them.

The article, "Greedy Geezers," suggests that an element of self-interest which would deny benefits to others played a large role in their perception of the bill.

That perception, however, was obviously shaped by the propaganda martialed against the bill.  The major media has reported the last few  days that the insurance industry gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $86 million to  lobby against it.  The Washington Post article states:

It was always clear that AHIP and the chamber were united in fighting against Obama's health-care plan, particularly a proposed "public insurance option" that would have competed with private insurers. But the new IRS filing illustrates the extent of the business lobby's alliance with AHIP  [America's Health Insurance Plans.], whose members include insurance giants such as UnitedHealthcare, Cigna and Aetna.

The media is playing a belated role in revealing where and how propaganda is becoming the information on which people are basing their opinions and their actions.  As Orwell predicted in his fiction, the use of the media to control policy and the minds of people is now a reality.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Flogging dead horses, inflating degenerate balloons, or what?

The 2010 election resulted in some conundrums about Democrats in South Dakota. Actually, what it resulted in was used condoms.  Those deflated vessels of  spent wisdom lying in the roadside ditches.  Underneath the bullet-riddled road signs.

One of the  gems of wisdom some folks are trying to re-inflate is that one party government is not good for South Dakota.  (We've been saying that for decades.  And the state is the product, largely, of one party govmint.)  The soothsayers say that the Democratic Party has a responsibility to give South Dakotans a choice, even if they have no interest or inclination in making such a choice.  Democrats, they sooth say further, need to take a lesson from their defeat and change.  They need to become Republicans.  Now, that's a used condom conundrum, if ever I heard one.

There are some facts contained in the  census and survey statistics about South Dakota that apply.  The Democrats have to confront a demographic shift that no one in the state likes to think about.  People in their energetic, creative, and productive years have to leave South Dakota to find jobs and to find a cultural climate that supports, or at least tolerates, the energetic, creative, and productive.  This outmigration of the young, talented, and innovative has been going on since the children of the state's first white settlers sought to find and build satisfying lives.  Currently, it is referred to as the brain drain.  These are generally the kind of people the Democratic Party has attracted to its ranks.

Bob Mercer posed the question of why defeated legislators such as Stephanie Herseth Sandlin do not return to South Dakota and take up  public service.  He was a bit exercised when a legislator replied, "She's got too much talent to stay here."  It is more to the point to ask, what could she possibly do here?  Make debt collection calls in a boiler room?  Join in community development efforts with those who have  termed her scholarship at Georgetown and her work  as a congresswoman in Washington a betrayal of South Dakota?  And one of the things not considered in Mercer's question is the effects of the toxic political environment.  It is one thing to vote people out of office when they are ineffective or when one does not like their policies.  But South Dakota campaigns become ad hominem  contests comprised of libels and accusations meant only to destroy.  They are not  campaigns of rhetoric. Those factors permanently damage the cultural environment.  Friends and neighbors do not engage in libel, insult, and abuse.  Neither do they endorse such tactics.  People who participate and advocate such tactics are not friends or neighbors with whom any decent, rational soul would invest one's life.   The people, not the deposed candidates, make the choices and create the environment.  That people prefer not to live in such an environment inspires a great deal of petulance, but people with something to offer would be fools not to invest it someplace where it can count.

The state is growing in population.  It's about 812,000 now.  And who is  replacing those who depart and are increasing the population? Eighty-eight percent are white guys of both sexes.  Kids under 18 account for about one-quarter of the population.  And those who are moving into South Dakota are retirees and people who are taking jobs in the usury business and other businesses that take advantage of the sweat shop conditions on which the state sells its business climate.  And who wants these kinds of jobs?  Not people who have prepared themselves with education and the development of skills.  Businesses in the high-tech and knowledge-base fields locate where the work pools offer the talent they need.  Party organizers know well that the demographics of the state are trending away from the Democratic Party. 

What may help South Dakota may be found in the reason that job creation has failed as part of the recovery from the recession. Three decades of supply side economic policy and service-centered jobs, with a brief respite in the 90s, have eliminated middle class jobs from the national opportunity.  People of talent and ability who would leave South Dakota really have no place to go right now, unless they are willing to search outside the U.S.  The potential for the jobs they want in the country has been strangled.   This report from McClatchy outlines the situation:

The good paying, predominantly white-collar jobs that once sustained many American communities are disappearing at an alarming rate, keeping the unemployment rate stubbornly high despite the end of the Great Recession.

More troubling, these jobs in accounting, financial analysis, commercial printing and a broad array of other mostly white-collar occupations are unlikely to come back, experts predict.

There isn't a single cause to the trend. Some of it is explained by changing technology, some of it is the result of automation. Sending well-paying jobs to low-cost centers abroad is another big part of the story. So is global competition from emerging economies such as China and India.

The result is the same in all cases, however. Jobs that paid well, required skills and produced vital communities are going away and aren't being replaced by anything comparable.

The kind of people who gravitate to the Democratic Party have been leaving the state in a consistent stream, but the lack of opportunity developing elsewhere could stem that flow.  Young South Dakotans looking for jobs have no place to go at the moment.  And that situation is something the Democratic Party is the best equipped political organization to address.

The South Dakota Democratic Party has two young men vying for its chairmanship:  Ben Nesselhuf and Mitch Fargen.  They are both unusually intelligent, talented, energetic, and innovative.  They can take the state Democratic Party in new directions.

Whoever takes over the chairmanship of the party will do so without a major burden that has restrained party activities.  The new chair will not immediately be faced with a debt that has taken up so much energy and effort within the party in recent years.  That debt has been discharged, so funds raised in the future will not have to be devoted to paying off old debts.  

The harsh fact that faces Democrats is that the political system which puts people in elective office is totally dysfunctional.  It is irrelevant and is the greatest impediment to state (and nation) building.  Campaigns based upon selling misinformation and disinformation, on who can mount the most effective libels and create the most hatred cannot result in legislative bodies that function for the public good.  The Democrats, in their time of defeat, have an opportunity to reform politics.  That reform hinges on a refusal to play the usual political games, to take political activity out of the arena of ad hominem sport and put it in the neighborhoods where it can address issues, not ploys and strategies for the exertion of power. 

Begin with the fact that if the young, the bright, and  talented are to find opportunity in the state (or the nation, for that  matter), it won't be found in the current legislatures.  Elections produce nothing but rancor and lead to nothing but  oppressive gridlock through the power game playing.  A reformed political party must understand that to contribute to beneficial change, it will have to work around the state government, not through it.  The old Non-Partisan League, which formed in the Dakotas early in their statehood, has some lessons for our current time. 

Just as the Non-Partisan League built its influence through addressing the actual concerns of farmers who realized that the railroads and grain companies were impediments to their lives, the Democratic Party must acknowledge the forces that keep so much of South Dakota in a state of thralldom.  The Non-Partisan League challenged the stifling oppression by the business community through state-owned banks, grain elevators, mills, and banned corporate farming. Many people objected to the socialist aspects, but state government in South Dakota is dominated by the credit bank interests, so there is really no difference between the rule of state government and the rule by banks.  The Party needs to strengthen and revitalize its presence in those enclaves in the state where it has its support, and it must work at the local level to build functioning relationships with the segments within and outside the state that make the creation of viable communities its priority.  The election of sacrificial goats and/or scape goats to the state legislature is more of a distraction than a reasonable focus of political activity.

The miserable economic and cultural state of the country is largely  the result of its plunge back into feudalism, only this time global corporations occupy the lordly manors.  When it comes to  jobs, these corporations have no interest in building the nation.  Their driving force is to enlarge the serfdom and make the serfs dependent on and subservient to a ruling class that wants  privileges and benefits only for itself.  Cheap and controllable labor that will not detract from profits is the business model in force.  It is impossible to miss the fascistic display put on in the corporate world as it bestowed bonuses and luxuries on its executives at the height of the recession and as it launches a concerted resistance to any regulatory measures that might restrain its arbitrary and unlimited control over the nation's economy.  The significance of the election of 2010 is in what happens when corporations have the unbridled power and wealth to control elections with massive propaganda blitzes.  When the corporate feudal state defined its enemies, it also defined itself as the enemy of middle class America.  If the Democratic Party is to serve any genuine political function, it must be the party of  resistance.  But also the party of viable alternatives.

Running for  election or re-election in South Dakota means that in order to represent the will of the people, candidates must compromise party principles.   This election just past is a case study in futility.  Perhaps, at some point, the electorate might wish to forgo its one-party government, but Democrats have to more shrewdly face up to the fact that under current conditions, state government will not and cannot respond to their principles. The Democrats have 37 percent of the registered to the Republicans' 45 percent.  Still, 37 percent is a pretty hefty number to use as a starting point for the Democrats to define themselves rather than answer to the Republicans' outworn epithets of the party of big government and big spending.  There are important things that need to be done and can be done in South Dakota if the Democratic Party focuses on its constituency and works with its national alliances.  It can reduce the state's dependency on federal handouts and reduce the national debt by targeting farm programs which benefit corporations, not people.  It can move toward remedying the disgrace of the reservations by insisting that the treaties be honored and the return of lands to the tribes be negotiated.  It can inform people about which businesses and business practices are detrimental to their well being and facilitate their patronage of honest businesses that contribute to the state and local communities.  And it can begin transforming the way politics are done and government is administered by concentrating  on the enclaves within the state where the Democratic Party has its power.  In other words, the party can build itself by serving its people.  

The Democratic Party tried in the last election to reflect some Republican approaches to government.  Within its own ranks, it lost some interest and credibility.  As long as it is in the minority, it can reassert its own principles and address the concerns of its members, and that will involve doing politics in a different way and refusing to be part of a system that has submitted to corporate control.

It is time to try integrity of purpose and adherence to principle.  There is nothing to lose. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Christianity as a subversive activity

From the time I was in elementary school, I have been taught about our form of democracy.  The courses were variously called  civics, government, and political science.  And the definition of democracy was covered in history courses, English courses, and geography courses.  In grade school, on Friday afternoons when the Weekly Reader was distributed to us,  we encountered frequent articles on our democracy and how it compares with others.  In college and graduate school years, students of history and literature delved into the complexities of the arguments for choosing a  republic as the form of democracy America  would take. 

The definition of democracy is standard and hardly varies a word among the many dictionaries one can consult, as exemplified in Merriam-Webster:     a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

What brings all this to mind is that in the comments under some of my posts in which the word democracy has been used, people have posted "we are a republic not a democracy."  On a few occasions, I responded by saying that a republic is a form of democracy, but then I let it go.  One can endure only so many WTF moments.  I kept asking W(here)TF did this dudely go to school and is he acquainted with dictionaries or any other  educated use of the English language?   I did not really want to know the answer to that.  When people have pride and confidence in ignorance, the potential for the future is not pleasant to contemplate.  World history is full of  examples of what happens when ignorance and its attendant prejudices and hatreds rule.   Belligerent ignorance is like carbon monoxide.  It resides where brain cells do not, and it kills what brain cells there are if left undetected.

As I browsed through the listings on a blog aggregator recently, my ignorance detector alarm was set off in its most strident WTF mode.    The summary statement for a blog said:  "Historian David Barton talks about the fact that the United States is a republic, not a democracy, and why that it is important." 

What set the alarm off is that the sentence makes a republic and a democracy two discrete  and opposing entities.  It suggests that a republic is not a form of democracy, but a form of government that militates against democracy.  Immediately it raised the question of what kind of "historian" would make such an erroneous and wrongful use of terms that are so clearly and historically defined.  If such a historian held a position in a reputable college or university, he could be  fired for incompetence, scholarly slovenliness, and, possibly, mendacity.

The  misuse of the terms raised the specter of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984,  The job of people who worked in the Ministry of Truth was to purge words of their established and historic meanings, so that the concep
ts that the terms name from history and usage would not be perpetuated for subsequent generations to know.  If the concepts named in language are eliminated, people will not know about them or be tempted to practice them.

The first task was to find out what gave David Barton credentials as a "historian."  It turns out that he is, in fact, a propagandist for fundamentalist religious organizations that find the First Amendent's prohibition against the establishment of an official state religion an onerous concept to live with.   The purging of the term republic  from its meaning as a form of democracy sets up a definition that could give elected representatives authority over the will of the people.   Investing the authority of the government in a republic to the exclusion of a democracy would give the will of the representatives authority over the will of the people.  While the First Amendment prohibits the making of a law establishing a religion, elected representatives could rule over the people and impose the their favored religious notions as the law of the land.   

David Barton's academic credentials include a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oral Roberts University and an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Pensacola Christian College.  From the standpoint of academic qualifications, Barton does not have the earned credentials to call himself a historian.  Assessments of his scholarship by reputable professional  scholars range from a restrained "shoddy" to an outright "fraudulent."

He is identified as a fundamentalist right-wing activist who belongs to a faction that claims that the United States was actually founded to be a fundamentalist Christian nation and that separation of church and state was never intended.  The idea of separation of church and state, they claim, was foisted on the nation by recent Supreme Court decisions.  

Anyone who is familiar with Early American history and/or literature knows that the founding of America was done in the midst of a vicious and violent religious turmoil, as protestant and catholic denominations fought for their right to be and to observe their religious precepts.  The founders were not a group of  religious zealots seeking ways to impose their brand of religion on the emerging nation.  They were a diverse group of men searching for a way for people of equally diverse cultures and beliefs to coexist and function as a nation.

The breakdown of affiliations of the members of the Constitutional conventions is: 

Episcopalian/Anglican 88 54.7%
Presbyterian 30 18.6%
Congregationalist 27 16.8%
Quaker 7 4.3%
Dutch Reformed/German Reformed 6 3.7%
Lutheran 5 3.1%
Catholic 3 1.9%
Huguenot 3 1.9%
Unitarian 3 1.9%
Methodist 2 1.2%
Calvinist 1 0.6%

And this does not indicate that two of the most influential shapers of America's ruling documents, Franklin and Jefferson, were Deists.  The main author of the First Amendment was James Madison whose role is recalled by Ken Davis, a real historian, in Smithsonian Magazine:
James Madison

In a carefully argued essay titled “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” the soon-to-be father of the Constitution eloquently laid out reasons why the state had no business supporting Christian instruction. Signed by some 2,000 Virginians, Madison’s argument became a fundamental piece of American political philosophy, a ringing endorsement of the secular state that “should be as familiar to students of American history as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” as Susan Jacoby has written in Freethinkers, her excellent history of American secularism.
“Who does not see,” Madison wrote, “that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”

 The ploy of the fundamentalist right-wing which would like to return the U.S. to the intolerant and violent theocracy which banished dissidents, such as Roger Williams and pressed to death people it designated "witches," is to eliminate and falsify the real facts of history.  In accomplishing this task, it also tries to change the meanings of the fundamental words that describe and record the government we have established. 

The First Amendment is not the only one under assault by those working for a totalitarian take-over of the government.  Orwell wrote his books as a warning of what can happen to free nations.  The right-wing is using it as a manual for its take-over. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Put on your blue dress, mama. Or Clyde. Whoever.

This post is about what a previous post is not about.  It is a refutation of what another blogger claims that previous post is about.  This post says, in effect, that is not what I said.  I have repeated the thesis (read purpose) of this post three times.  Keep that in mind, while I make some preparatory comments to my review of what I did not say?

A problem with that post about which I am restating what I said was that I did not put the thesis, or statement of  purpose, in the first paragraph,  It would not matter in the world of blogging if I did, but, for the record, I put it in the third paragraph.  I made some introductory comments to establish the context of what I was about to say.  That is a mistake.  Particularly in blogs.  But I am going to make some preparatory comments here before I get to what I did not say.

To blog is to dally with stupidity.  Blogging has developed its own ritual for dalliance.  You post something in a blog.  Someone else says something in another blog or in a comment about your post, that you deign to correct or refute.  It is like being Bill Clinton.  You blog in the first place because you have an overactive verbal muscle.  (For the literalists, sometimes called illiterists, that is a metaphor.) So Bill Clinton was strolling through the outer office one day when this chubby young woman with a somewhat comely face flashed her  twat at him.  That got his attention.  Like a blogger answering an irrelevant comment, old Bill thought that the twat flasher was an interesting diversion, and perhaps he should explore the ramifications of equal opportunity of a president relating to this intern and see where it could lead.  It led to Bill getting orally exercised, although he did not think he was having sex with that woman, until Hillary explained to him that if you blasted that woman's blue dress with your DNA, you were having sex with her.  I may be wrong there.  It might have been Boots the cat or Buddy the Labrador Retriever who told him that.  But his encounter with the young woman in the blue dress changed the course of history by getting our minds off of Palestine and nuclear treaties and the like, and it raised the issue of whether sex breaks in the middle of the day right there in the office could trend us toward making more love than war.  Can orgasms change the world trend toward self-destruction?  A lot of people are engaged in the research to find out, but the blue dress episode did provide us with  a model for understanding the custom of the blog.   

Symbol of written discourse.
The field of journalism and attendant discourse is often represented by the symbol of a quill pen.  Blogging often is not discourse.  It is like besmirching an otherwise nice blue dress with all that  stuff with which one is full of oneself. 

Symbol of blogging non-discourse. 
So, I hereby declare what has become the ritual of the blog a blue dress moment.  

That ritual has a few basic rules to follow.  
  1. Never read a complete sentence in a blog.  Take a phrase or two out of the sentence and make that the premise of whatever you want to say for or against the post.  Coherence does not count in bloggery.  (Not to be confused with buggery, which means the same thing as bloggery when the image is invoked with dogs.)   In fact, coherence ruins this new tradition of discourse.  (Well, it's not new; it used to occur frequently in saloons after a certain level of inebriation is passed.)
  2. Never, ever, try to digest a whole paragraph.  That could mess with your mind and ruin your life.
  3. Reading an entire blog post that is not composed of disjointed phrases and unrelated sentences is a capital offense.  Never, never, never, pay attention to restrictive clauses, qualifying arguments, or anything else that could divert you from a reactive purpose.  And if some blogger presumes to announce his purpose with a thesis statement, forget it.  Blogging is not about coherent discourse.   
I am about done with introductory comments now and will address what I came to address, which is distinguished and esteemed Keloland colleague and NSU cohort by emeritus status Ken Blanchard's [that preceding identification could justifiably be called plagiarism] response post to what I did not say. 

Dr. Blanchard, who is a political scientist and comes from the same state as Bill Clinton, which is irrelevant but I throw it in for the convenience of bloggers and commenters, says my previous post was a bunch of excuses for why Democrats  lost last Tuesday's election.    

The third paragraph of said post announces its subject:

Since the debacle administered to Democrats on Tuesday, bloggers of the right stripe have been providing all sorts of denigrations of Democrats and particularly South Dakota Democrats for their absence in some contests and their showing in the ones in which they participated. 

The fourth paragraph announces specifically what will be discussed:

There are two main recriminations against the S.D. Democratic Party.  One is that it did not function well.  And the second is that it did not provide a full slate of candidates on which to vent the insult and abuse and about whom to make up defamations, which are a major component of bullying. 

You will notice, if you have  managed to read this far, that the post is not about why Democrats lost the election.  It is a response to the contention that the Democratic Party in South Dakota is in a weakened  state and that it was  remiss in its failure to field a candidate against John Thune.  I repeat:  it was not a post about losing the election.  No one I know of has suggested that we did not lose it, nor has anyone said that opposition to Obama and his party were not the reason we lost it.  My post was about the factors which are affecting the Democratic Party and the failure to find a candidate to run against Thune.
One of my main points of contention is that the people who possess the values and political beliefs that form the Democratic Party are leaving South Dakota, or are trying to. I said that there were socio-political reasons behind this  outmigration.    Dr. Blanchard says I did not spell out those factors.  I did not examine all the factors in detail, but I got quite specific in talking about the reasons for the outmigration.  When Dr. Blanchard doesn't read something, he often says the author forgot to mention whatever it was that Dr. Blanchard did not read.  That saves a lot of time if you want to refute something someone said somewhere.  I said that moving from one place to another out of dissatisfaction was a traditional motive for why our ancestors emigrated to America from the Old World and why frontiersman left eastern American communities for the western frontier.  I even said that people who migrated or were evacuated from Germany before and after World War II formed  America's leadership in the development of our technology.   Dr. Blanchard did not notice all this spelling out, or found it convenient to ignore.    At least one commenter noticed it, because she  got kind of exercised about it. 

I also remarked on the number of my friends and associates that have left South Dakota since 2004 and on the demographic shift I have noted in a list I maintain of active Democrats.   The Democratic Party in South Dakota is losing members because they die;  because they very, very frequently move to be with their children who have  moved out of state; because they want  to be in a gentler climate; and most significantly because they want to find jobs and life in a culture that is  more congenial and provides more outlets for cultural fulfillment.  And please note that the term culture here means not those artsy-craftsy frills in which we find occasional diversion, but to the organic system which sustains our physical and mental lives.  

Dr. Blanchard interprets the Democratic outmigration and failure to send up a candidate to face Thune as cowardice.  I contend that it is disgust and revulsion.  The same reaction I experience at having to examine one of those blue dress blogs.  (The cowards are those Democrats mentioned by Sam Hurst who hurry to re-register as Republicans after getting whumped around in an  election.)  My analogy in explaining this outmigration, both  mental physical, is that it is like kids in a school playground conceding that territory to the bullies, and taking up their lives in other more uplifting and productive venues.  People go to live their lives in places that afford them the opportunity.  South Dakota does not provide much opportunity for those who do not wish to adopt its conservative mindset. So they leave.  Or adjust their lives around that mindset as much as possible.  

The Great Outmigration.  As a humanities scholar, I have participated in reading series throughout the state which cover the history, the literature, and the culture of South Dakota.  That study has produced a wealth of evidence and materials that are engaging and compelling.  But when I first came to South Dakota, and you were to talk about its literary heritage, the major figure was Hamlin Garland, who is also claimed by Wisconsin and Iowa.    Since that time, scholarship has produced a much richer history of literary culture and inspired a substantial array of writers,* but Hamlin Garland remains a central focal point of South Dakota's cultural development.  That is  somewhat ironic.  Hamlin Garland did not like South Dakota.  He worked hard to get himself and his family out of it.   His writing contains the reasons for that dislike, but more importantly it provides an incisive chronicle for why he and other young people of talent and aspiration had to leave the state in the quest for satisfactory and productive lives.  

The outmigration of young people started with statehood.  The children of the first settlers started that migration, and it has been a characteristic of the state ever since.  In current times, it is referred to as the "brain drain."  The outmigration of the young and talented is a constant concern among state and community leaders.  They are caught in an economic and cultural catch-22.  They want to attract progressive businesses and other enterprises.  But progressive businesses and enterprises do not want to locate where the talent pool is so small or lacking in actual talent.  Instead, they locate in larger, urban communities and let the talent pool come to them.  

Here are the hard facts:  we lose the first wave of talent at high school graduation.  Those students with the highest ACT scores and high school achievement records leave the state to go to colleges that have better reputations than the South Dakota institutions.  Because of economic factors, South Dakota has seen an increase in the number of students who stay in state to continue their educations.  But in the Regents' report for 2009 of the high school students who sought post-secondary education, 46 percent stayed in South Dakota.   However, those who leave the state after high school hardly ever come back.  This year's enrollment figures for state institutions are up dramatically, which probably reflects how the recession has closed off some options to go to the more reputable institutions.

The second wave of outmigration comes at college graduation.  Students leave to find decent jobs.  A number of times while I was at NSU I was involved in task forces and study groups to examine the matter of the brain drain, the reason that talent left the state.  Jobs were, of course, the biggest factor.  But we did some surveys of students, and we were told repeatedly that a good job was a factor but was not the only goal.  A significant majority doubted if it was possible for them to build happy and fulfilled lives in South Dakota.  They could not reconcile the realities of the state culture with  their ambitions.  For the most part, they could not imagine how they could live in communities where the town cafe culture set the nature of community relationships, where bigoted intolerance and false and malicious gossip are big factors in community life that drive people off and make the communities dysfunctional.  These criticisms of the culture were not something anyone wanted to hear, including the professors who did the studies.  But it should have come as  no surprise.  We had all sorts of suggestions of what could be done to motivate graduates to stay in South Dakota, but none were even  remotely practical.  A key is to attract businesses that operate on intellectual talent, but such businesses find the state unattractive for the same reason the graduates do.

For over a hundred years, major American writers have explored the migration away from rural and small town America, often referred to as "the flight from the village."  The motives are consistent and persistent.  When Hamlin Garland returned to visit his parents in South Dakota, he was depressed as he saw so many people who  came to the frontier with hopes and expectations in the end submit to an environment of desolation, squalor, resentment, despair, and querulousness.   He was moved to buy and refurbish a house for his parents in Wisconsin near old friends and relatives.  His experience is retold hundreds of times in books, both fiction and nonfiction, about rural and small town America.  

A powerful motive for leaving for bigger and brighter climes in those many books is exploited with some dismaying success in  South Dakota politics.  When politicians go to Washington, D.C., and successfully form relationships with the people with whom they have to do business there, they are accused of abandoning and betraying those good, old South Dakota values.  This contention was played to the hilt in the campaigns against Tom Daschle and Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin.  It is a successful political ploy, but it also reflects an attitude and a value that is toxic, and when a majority of people assent to it and adopt it as the basis for a political decision, it defines the  social norms and climate of the state.  People of good will and good purpose cannot operate in that climate.

Dr. Blanchard says, "There is a tragic flaw in the South Dakota Democrat. The best of that species tend to look beyond our borders for greater things."  First, it is impossible to understand when looking for greater things became a tragic flaw (which is a literary term for that one flaw in a heroic character that sets up his demise).  But the reality is that they look for those greater things beyond our borders because that is where they are.  As I have discussed, moving to where one finds better prospects for life is a powerful American tradition of long standing that has built the nation. 

 There is a set of values and a socio-political climate that are factors in the decline of the Democratic Party.  People who are attracted to and in agreement with Democratic principles are leaving the state, and the people coming into the state are older white people who come here because of its staunch conservatism.  I cannot link that fact at the moment because it came from a poll and a census study presented in an oral pre-campaign report early this year.  The demographic shift is moving away from Democrats.  So, the state has taken a giant step back into one-party rule.  That kind of rule is not healthy for the state, but that is for the people left behind to contend with as best they can.  Those who remain and reject the defamatory and hostile conservative environment are coming to realize that party politics is an utter waste of time.  Partisan politics is irrelevant to defining and dealing with any of the problems that Democrats wish to solve. 

Conservatives have adopted the ideas expressed in Maoist slogans as their premise of operation.  A big issue in South Dakota is the absolute freedom to own firearms, and some people talk menacingly about Second Amendment solutions, endorsing the idea that political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.  And the current brand of conservatism endorses Mao's statement that "Liberalism is extremely harmful ... It is a corrosive which eats away unity, undermines cohesion, causes apathy and creates dissension."

South Dakota may well be the laboratory that shows how the hostile, increasingly violent struggle between the left and right wings works itself out. Or destroys the nation.

 Character assassination as political doctrine.  I have reported numerous times that some people who were recommended as very strong candidates to run against John Thune declined out of consideration for their families and others close to them.  While ad hominem politics has become the rule in America and campaigns have become a contest of defamations and abuse, the Thune campaign against Tom Daschle hit a low that makes Orwell's fictional accounts of character assassination look like a bunch of nuns rolling bowling balls.  Thune hired bloggers to echo the tactics that were driving his campaign.  His supporters took out full-page newspaper ads portraying Daschle as an enemy of America long with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.  They pounded on the message that Daschle betrayed South Dakota through his accession to Senate leadership, his ownership of a nice house, and his work to look for consensus across the political spectrum.  In the closing weeks, his ads took after Daschle's family by stating that he abandoned his first wife for a beauty queen.  That campaign received a considerable amount of discussion earlier this year in Politico's Arena

I am among those who find such a campaign a true revelation of the character and motives of those who engage in it.   I am among those who believe that there is no way that a character of such malicious, devious, destructive and dishonest nature can represent people who strive for good will and good purpose.  In such an instance, character alone is enough to disqualify Thune from acting in behalf of the decent, but his Congressional record is one of feckless bumbling and recitation of tiresome  party cant.   

Noem's campaign was not as intensively offensive and destructive, but like Thune she aimed libel against Herseth-Sandlin through her defamatory sights.  Some people claim negative campaigning on both sides, but Noem constantly made stuff up.  Herseth-Sandlin responded by pointing out when Noem made stuff up, and the one aggressive point she made was Noem's driving record.  Noem's arrests, neglected court appearances, and arrest warrants paint a detailed picture of attitude and character. What is documented in the public record is not the same as making up contentions and implicating family members in nefarious schemes.  

Noem is in the same class of person as Thune.  Their kind of campaigning is something that the GOP crows about with pride and glee.  But it is the voters who bought into these campaigns and to whom the credit goes for making the state what it is, and what so many people want simply to get away from.

Words can be used in rhetoric to make arguments or used as weapons.  Words are capable of destroying the essential elements of trust and respect that make communication and community possible.  And the old analogy goes that words are like toothpaste, once they are  out, you can't get them back into the tube.  We live in a world built and destroyed by words.  They can leave behind structures of life or the desolation of dead respect and the rotting corpses of trust. The landscape is bleak and the stench is overpowering.

I am a liberal.  I  believe  "in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; specifically : such  philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (as those involving race, gender, or class)."{That's a dictionary definition copied from Merriam Webster.}  Liberals also deal with the facts as they are, not as they are distorted, falsified, and denied.  That essential goodness of the human race is corrupted through avarice, primal hatred, and the mindless acceptance of the dog pack as the model for social and political organization.  

The principles around which the contemporary Democratic Party is organized are those common to most cultures and religions,  but articulated in the documents and the evolution of American history.  We acknowledge the rights to freedom and equal justice and essential equality.  Equality does not mean people are the same or possess the same talents, but it means that no  person is considered any more or any less valuable than any other person.  Most bascially we think that it is an obligation, as stated in the New Law among many other cultural documents, that we must attend to providing shelter for the homeless,  food for the hungry, healing for the sick and wounded, and opportunities for the poor to better their condition.  Liberals do not believe in programs and philosophies which serve only the rich and are destined to create more poor. They believe that the avaricious and predatory need to be restrained, that people should have equal opportunity to food, shelter, and health care, and justice. That means they need equality and freedom in the market place.   Only government can accomplish that end.  The facts are that in this country one percent of the people own a quarter of its wealth, the middle class is being systematically relegated to the class of the poor, and 44 million Americans--one in seven--lives in poverty.  Feudalism has returned to America.

This election was not a matter of changing who represents the people.  It was about rejecting the basic values of freedom, equality, and humane treatment of all people, and restraining the forces of economic predation. Capitalism does not have to be predatory.  This not not an election about choosing the best means to realize the American premise of life.  It was about rejecting the essential motives of that premise.  

The precepts of Christ, a political philosopher as much as a prophet,  resonate throughout American democracy and inform the reason people move from one place to another: "If the house [you enter] is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or town."  And burn that ugly blue dress.

People are going through a post-election ritual of making nice.  Democrats lost.  People are speaking of reconciliation.  The GOP thinks reconciliation means submission.  They want to dictate to the Democrats who to elect as their House leader.  Reconciliation of any meaningful kind has already been rejected.  American politics has become, like blogging, a dallying with avarice.   It has constructed a house of gross dysfunction, a vessel for greed and oppression.  

It is time to shake the dust off the feet and get moving. And leave that blue dress behind. 

*For those who  give a shit,  the forthcoming Volume II of the Dictionary of Midwestern Literature will have a comprehensive but concise outline of South Dakota's literary history up through the contemporary time.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Life on the res

A three-year-old and her 18-year-old mother sleep on a mattress and subsist on Ramen noodles on the Lower Brule.

 The Argus Leader has a series about growing up on the reservation by reporter Steve Young and photographer Devin Wagner that uses the Internet medium at its best.  A fine series marred by allowing comments on it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Time to focus on a more ennobling race

She'll be at the post at 5:15 p.m., our time, at the Breeder's Cup at Churchill Downs:  Zenyatta. 

She makes mere humans seem mean and petty. 
Zenyatta has won more money than any other North American mare ever. A big girl, 17.2 hands, she is personable, great with people, and likes to dance.  She has 18 straight wins, and and will go for her 19th tomorrow in Louisville.  Horses teach us much about how races should be run.  Watch this lady.   

Hey, Democrats. You're supposed to be wallowing in guilt and writhing in remorse, not thinking.

The analogy of South Dakota with a school playground becomes more apt with each passing moment, especially as it applies to politics.  The more we hear and learn about schoolyard bullying, the more precisely the analogy works.  The idea of bullying, if one can attribute any conscious mental activity to it,  is to humiliate and dominate other people and keep them in a state of contemptuous regard and submission to the cruelties.  It is the primal stuff out of which oppressive tyrannies and dictatorships are made.  

Nothing pisses off and frustrates schoolyard bullies  more than when their targets decide not to participate in the schoolyard-barnyard rituals anymore.  When there are no subjects to bully, the bullies lose their sense of power and self-esteem.  And then they whine and howl in indignation that their victims are in a state of dysfunction and are not living up to their patriotic duty to be bullied.  They cannot comprehend why their chosen victims are not clamoring to engage in the masochistic orgies they plan for them.  This relationship has been exhaustively covered in the field of social psychology, which is no longer in fashion. But it is one of the more empirically grounded social sciences, using analytic observation and history in its studies.  

Since the debacle administered to Democrats on Tuesday, bloggers of the right stripe have been providing all sorts of denigrations of Democrats and particularly South Dakota Democrats for their absence in some contests and their showing in the ones in which they participated.  Among the denigrators are political scientists.  One would think the socio-economic factors affecting the Democratic Party in South Dakota would be apparent to them, at least.  But then, intellectual acuity was never a part of the dog-packing rituals of the playground.  Nothing interferes with the delivery of insult and abuse like a functioning sensibility.

There are two main recriminations against the S.D. Democratic Party.  One is that it did not function well.  And the second is that it did not provide a full slate of candidates on which to vent the insult and abuse and about whom to make up defamations, which are a major component of bullying.  They like to rage about how utterly depraved and worthless Democrats are and should be banished from the face of the earth, but when they find that Democrats leave their playground, their rage takes on an additional fury of frustration.  

Last April, I noted some reasons about which I was acutely aware for why the Democrats did not find a candidate to run against John Thune.  I was involved in trying to recruit someone, and there were efforts throughout the state.  Some names of exceptional men and women were suggested, and they gave the possibility serious thought.  That "serious thought" part is the catch. That's the problem with some people.  They actually think.  One blogger finds it scandalous that the Democrats did not field an opponent for Thune.  Yes, it is.  It is scandalous that people with regard to the higher human sensibilities find they cannot subject themselves, their families, and their friends to what John Thune will produce for them. 

 One factor is the raising of money.  Running for office requires an immense amount of money if one expects to compete at all.  The raising of money takes precedence over mastering the issues and presenting them in appropriate forums.  In the nation and in South Dakota particularly,  the Democrats are not among the moneyed class.  They do not represent the huge corporate interests, and start out with a disadvantage.  The last campaign is evidence of how being the party of corporate interests works.  It is difficult for people who want to represent a set of political principles to reconcile that function with what one has to do to raise money.  

The biggest factor in discouraging people to run against Thune was the campaign he and his allies  ran against Tom Daschle. While Thune is being touted by his party as a contender for a presidential nomination, he is perceived from quite a different perspective among those who take the time to examine the side of him revealed by the campaign he ran.  Among the potential candidates I knew, the effect that the Wadham-Thune campaign had was the first-order consideration.  One of the potential candidates said that one doesn't willingly dive into a cesspool and expose herself, her family, and her friends to the infections that attach to one.  The intelligent way to deal with a contaminated disaster area is to evacuate.  And that is what many people have done and are doing.   They are making political and social choices with their minds and their feet.

That is a revered  American tradition.  The western frontier was settled by people who were dissatisfied with the social climate and the opportunities offered by eastern communities, and so, those frontier people packed up and moved on. 

The social and political climate of their Old World homelands are the reasons our ancestors emigrated to America to evade the oppression and toxic environment for healthier prospects on our frontier.  When Germany of the 1930s launched its pogrom of discrimination, oppression, and persecution, people emigrated to America.  At the end of World War II, some top scientists and scholars who had worked  in war projects were evacuated from Germany and brought to the U.S.  These emigres and evacuees became the central figures in the development of our nuclear and space programs.  The custom of planting one's intellectual talents in healthier soils is one of the traditions that built our nation.   It is a process that has shaped South Dakota's current social and political state.  Except South Dakota  experiences the rejection aspect of the migration; it drives off people of talent and aspiration; it does not attract them. 

The Noem campaign was a shadow of the Thune campaign, but the basic elements were there.  They consisted of insisting that Herseth-Sandlin's loyalties were in D.C. and Texas, that her family was involved in collusive relationships that disqualified her from honest service, and that she believes, said, and did things that she demonstrably does not believe, did not say, and did not do.  Some Republicans were infuriated that she brought up the impressive driving and court appearance violations of Noem and charged Herseth Sandlin with being responsible for a negative campaign.  There is a huge intellectual and moral difference between citing someone's documented record of behavior and making up charges that have no foundation in fact and are, in fact, refuted by the record. 

Historians and informed observers have remarked that America is undergoing some of the collective psychological syndromes akin to what Germany experienced after World War I.  After it was defeated in that war, its people felt humiliated and, like those schoolyard bullies, sought to reestablish some sense of power by persecuting minorities, adopting attitudes of fascist belligerence, and bestowing leadership upon those who spoke to their ignorance, their prejudice, and their capacity for hatred.  Scholars have explored why the country that excelled in intellectual rigor and creative arts could be swept up IN the incoherent rages of Hitler.  The answer was in the desperate need to regain a sense of power, a desperation that abandoned all the intellectual and moral restraints reflected in the monuments of their culture.  Power was the driving force, and the people submitted to the social organization principles of the dog pack.  Hitler was the alpha dog that promised to lead them to a new prominence, and they submitted.  

The U.S. has not been soundly defeated in a single war.  It has, rather, been found irredeemably wrong in Viet Nam, Iraq, and now Afghanistan.  It did perform according to American principles in Bosnia.  However, it has been displaced as the world's greatest producer and manufacturer of industrial goods by China, the other countries that comprise the Pacific Rim, and Europe.  It is lagging in some areas of science and technology with a resurgence of breakthroughs in Europe and research and development in Asia that is competitive.  The right wing has assumed a stance of chauvinistic belligerence as the answer to these competitive threats to eminence.  But what is more dangerous to the U.S. is that the last election revealed a kind of desperation in which people who reject science, tolerance, and reasoned discourse have been thrust into leadership roles.  

The nation as a whole is experiencing the retreat into denial and belligerent posturing that signals that old  self-esteem problem that besets those schoolyard bullies, and that tidal wave that has swept over the land is a wave of anti-intellectualism.   That  portion of the nation that queues up and cowers behind bullies to protect them from threats they do not apprehend are grasping for anything and anyone who promises to restore their flagging self-esteem.  South Dakota has been the laboratory, perhaps an incubator, for this kind of  reaction.

Those who wonder about the future of the Democratic Party in South Dakota include Democrats.  There is no doubt that one-party rule has dominated South Dakota from the time of its statehood, with a few brief exceptions.  And there is no doubt that cultural attitudes in South Dakota underlie that dominance.  What people inside the party understand and those outside it cannot acknowledge is that the party is greatly affected by a constant outflow of the young, the talented, and the aspiring.  

Since the election of 2004, I have commented many times on this blog about the losses the party has  taken.  As one who maintains a list of active party members in my region of the state, I have had to carry out a monthly exercise in deleting names from the list.  Many of those names include seniors who have died or relocated to other places, but a most significant trend is the rate that those in their productive years are leaving the state.  Within my own circle of friends, I have commented that people are leaving the state to the point where those of us left behind feel somewhat abandoned.  And added to this during the past election campaign was an attitude of diffidence among those who remain.  They seemed to be saying, I may be stuck here, but I don't have to participate in the degrading nonsense that comprises South Dakota politics.  One blogger claimed that while the right wing bloggers are celebrating that wave of rejection, the lefties don't seem to have noticed.   During the get-out-the-vote part of the campaign, we told told one young Democrat that if party members did not get out and vote, the Republicans would sweep the election.  His response:  "Who cares?"   He said he was concentrating his efforts on what is better for his career and his family.  And that does not include South Dakota.

The bully  caucus is resentful that their opposition is not going to engage them.  The rituals of South Dakota politics are so depraved and degraded that they have created a cultural field of waste and contamination.  It is not time for engagement; it is time for evacuation.  Unlike people in Haiti, the people in 
America have some choices left open to them.

An example of the hopeless mindset that is driving people out of the state, mentally and physically, can be examined in the responses to a blog post of mine following the election. The main point of the blog was that the national media had focused so much on the personality conflicts and deviance during the election campaign that it ignored the pressing issues.  Those who commented did not address that point at all.  However, one point had the effect of poking a stick into a rattle snake den.  It is the point that if we are to start reducing the federal budget, we will have to include farm subsidies.  And for a state that is so predominantly dependent upon federal handouts for its survival, the elimination of those programs would be devastating to the agricultural economy of the state.  One comment cast the usual charge of socialist to the post, and I replied that a state that is dependent on so many federal handouts is about as socialist as a state can get.  

I have been engaged in reporting on farm programs since I had that responsibility as the farm editor for a newspaper in the early 1960s.  There has been a bipartisan concern about the degree to which the farm programs might become a major source of farm income so that it could turn American agriculture into a version of the collectivist system that was such a failure for the Soviet Union.  What the commenters cannot grasp is that the matter is not a partisan issue.  Both liberal and conservative politicians from urban areas think that budget cutting has to begin with  farm programs.  

The comments reflect the attitude that any government money that goes out to people is socialism.  But don't tamper with Social Security, Medicaid.  Or farm programs.  

The comments are typical of the taunts of the schoolyard bullies.  But the the playground is getting to be an empty place.  People of sensibility just won't participate in those games.

The Democratic Party is a diminished presence in the state, no doubt.  The essential question is how many Democrats are left in the state who care.  Or think it worth the bother.   

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A good example of why jobs aren't being created

Earlier this year, Solyndra, a California solar panel company, received a government loan to build a new robotic production plant.  When Chinese competition began to export cheaper panels of an older technology, the company decided to close its older plant, cut its production plans, and lay off 40 workers.  Read  the full story in The New York Times.

When the ballot box solves nothing

I don't venture predictions on elections.  However, it wasn't too difficult to see the trends in this one.  The general discontent with the partisan gridlock is something that people across the political spectrum share.  Voters were unhappy that Obama did not the resolve the conflicts in two years.  The new Republican House majority will have to come up with acceptable solutions very quickly.  The campaign centered on party cant.  Underlying issues were not even mentioned in the campaign.

Jon Stewart is the only commentator I heard who addressed the real significance of the predicted outcome.  Our communications media became so caught up in trying to be first with the controversies, the railing punditry, the pissing exchanges between candidates, and the words of dementia from the ditz party that it ignored real issues.  Candidates who  tried to address the real issues plaguing the country were ignored.  The media is in a state of desperation in  trying to regain audiences and advertisers that have defected to the Internet--actually many have defected from communications.  They concentrate on the salacious, the conflicts, the shouting.   The factors that underlie  the economic problems facing national and state governments received scant mention.

The obvious problems are:

  • The dispossession of the middle class.  The richest one percent of the U.S. population owns 23.5 percent of the nation's wealth.  The bottom 90 percent of wage earners get only 52 percent of the wages.  The number of Americans who live under the poverty level has risen to 44 million, one American in seven.  
  •  Erosion of wages. The average income of Americans in the bottom 90 percent of earners was $30,941 in 1980 and increased only $303 to $31,244 in 2008, an increase of less than 1 percent that has not kept up with the 165 percent increase in inflation during the last 30 years.  In other words, what you could buy for $1 in 1980 will cost you $2.65 today.  
  • Unavailability of health care.  The opponents of health care reform claim that the law passed will have a deleterious effect on the best health care system in the world.   When the bill was passed, 46 million people could not afford health care premiums.  Since that passage, the number has risen to  50 million.  The nagging contradiction is, how can the  best health care system in the world leave out 16 percent of the nation's citizens?    The opponents of reform have never addressed that, so one presumes that those people don't count in their scheme of things.
  • Expense of Wars.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been a campaign issue.  Our presence in Iraq, for which there was no justification for being in the the first place, is being scaled down.  However, the war in Iraq has cost us $740.5 billion and the war in Afghanistan $361.5 billion, for a total of $1.1 trillion.  U. S  service personnel killed in Iraq stands at 4427 and in Afghanistan 1362.  Both the cost and casualties are mounting.What message was sent to Obama on the wars?
  • Deregulation.  We did hear about this.  The Republicans said regulation was stifling and inhibiting business.  They chose to ignore the fact that deregulation is what permitted the finance industry to engage in practices that sent us into recession and may still push us into full-fledged depression.  Indiana may take the lead in how this problem will be addressed.  It elected Dan Coats back to the U.S. Senate after a 10-year absence.  What's he been doing the last decade?  Lobbying for Wall St. and the   oil industry.  
  • Immigration and education.    We need to  regulate immigration so that we  don't have too many unwanted aliens coming into the country, but have enough to take the subsistence jobs that our citizens don't want, but whose educations did not prepare them for anything better.  
  • Climate change.  Didn't get mentioned, but we need a law which refutes the melting ice caps, the rising sea water, the unstable weather patterns, and increasing average temperatures.  It's all a vast left wing conspiracy, and we need a law, which cites astrology, to set us straight.
  • Energy policy. BP and the coal companies won this election.  Forget clean energy or energy independence.  
There are two factors that are not unique but are somewhat peculiar to South Dakota.  The first is that people living in West River and in selected places in East River are living on stolen land.  They are living on land that was ceded to the tribes by treaties on which the U.S. reneged.  But the treaties still stand. Most of those people could not live on that land if they did not receive heavy and often lavish subsidies from the federal government.  In urban areas, a bipartisan majority of people think these subsidies are a place to start in cutting the budget.  Those urbanites do understand why the people who vote to cut down the extent of government and who resent money going to reservations (which is a provision in the treaties) are so thoroughly dependent upon federal subsidy themselves.  

This matter is a political sleeper that the media has ignored, but if you go to urban areas when political discussions of the reducing the budget occur, this is the first issue that comes up.  

There is also a growing conviction that the land was, in fact, stolen, and the tribes deserve some settlement to return at least a portion of that land to the people who were cheated out of it.  As for the people who might be dispossessed of land they occupy, many wonder increasingly  how that concern can be squared without considering the American Indians who have been dispossessed and crowded into those concentration camps we call reservations.  As  a man from Standing Rock told me shortly before the election.  Americans seem to feel there is plenty room in the ranks of the unemployed, those living in poverty, and those without health care so that the country won't mind adding a few more, as long as they create no additional expenses. 

Of course, the U.S. cannot really have these kinds of problems.  It is, after all, the exceptional nation. Exceptional nations don't have poor, oppressed, dispossessed people.

The voters say they have sent a message.  Polling shows they want to see the current system upended, but preferably without gridlock or rancor. They want federal spending curtailed, but warn against tampering with their costly entitlements. They reject what is, but have no clearly stated idea for what should be. 

There is a ritual about talking across the legislative aisles, working together, and turning the government back to the people.  And in two years, voters can gather at the polls to turn another bunch of bums out.  The hard thing for the constituents out there to accept is that what happens in Washington reflects the minds of the  voters more than they want to admit.  When elections are decided upon insults, misrepresentations, and the personal prejudices of the electorate, the state of the nation can only deteriorate further.  

More and more, people are realizing that voting doesn't do much.  Those people who are in that 90 percent assigned to a cast of serfdom are beginning to get the message.  Voting doesn't work.  Direct action might.  And there are plenty of groups willing to show them how to take such action. 


Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States