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

Monday, March 28, 2011

When ignorance and malice triumph

One of the forces that drove the development of America was a dominant respect for education and learning.  Two of the most published founders made plans for the establishment and maintenance of two of our most revered universities:  Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia, and Benjamin Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania.  While there has always been a segment of the population that advocated strongly for ignorance, malicious misinformation, and discrimination and exclusion, that segment has never inspired much more than derision or pity from the vast majority of the country.  Until now.  With the ascension of Sarah Palin as a vice presidential candidate and voice of a major political party, a dreadful but prideful ignorance became a virtue among an alarming portion of the citizenry.  She has compatriots in the likes of Michelle Bachman, the Fox News rant section. 
Below is exchange between a South Professor and a state representative who makes blatantly wrong interpretations of things she has read, imposes her ill will and misunderstanding of political movements onto the state education system.  Following is an example of the most horrendous ignorance and ill will from someone who is a member of the state legislature. 
 Associate Professor of Political Science Timothy Schorn, University of South Daktoa, published the following letter in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader last Saturday.

I recently wrote to South Dakota House of Representatives member Patty Miller regarding her concerns about socialism being taught in South Dakota schools (voiced during a House Education Committee hearing Feb. 14). It resulted in Miller suggesting that I should consider living in another country and that my kind of thinking is the cause of trouble in this country. She also claimed the Founding Fathers would find my way of thinking "disgusting."

I was hoping for a civil conversation about the underpinnings of our educational and governing systems. The tone of her responses, however, calls for a public reply because it raises serious issues regarding the attitude of some elected officials about discourse and our schools.

I am a registered independent, but for more than 20 years, I was a proud Reagan/Bush (the elder) Republican. I have almost 18 years of service in the U.S. Army and South Dakota National Guard and 20 years of service as an educator. I am the son of a Nebraska farmer/mechanic.

It does not matter to Miller who I am or what I have done, only that I disagree with her. I find it disturbing that she feels comfortable deciding who should and should not be living in this country and that she so cavalierly dismisses differing opinions.

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, creating a veritable marketplace where ideas are discussed and debated with the stronger idea prevailing (hopefully). Based on our correspondence, Miller apparently would limit speech to ideas with which she agrees. Curriculum, presumably at all levels, would be ideologically rigid. Those who stray beyond her narrowly defined parameters would be fired, as she suggested in one email.
Implicitly, under her approach, academic freedom and freedom of speech would be secondary to a civics program of approved doctrines and mantras. That certainly does not ensure American greatness. It would be more like the systems she criticizes in our correspondence.

While Miller prided herself in one of her responses on having read "Animal Farm," she fails to appreciate the irony of subsequently advocating the closed and controlled system she does to protect the nation.

I do not wish for Miller to consider living elsewhere. But I do wish that she would be more circumspect when attempting to put forward an agenda that does not measure up to the values of this country. She might pretend to know what the Founding Fathers desired, but I daresay they would not desire the endpoint to which she would lead South Dakota and the United States.
 There are many elected officials from her party who disagree with her; it is time they spoke up. She and those who agree with her could damage this state.
 Prof. Schorn provided copies of the exchange of e-mails between him and Rep. Miller to Ben Nesselhuf who made them available to Democrats through an e-mail list serve.  The exchange follows:

Sent: Mon 2/14/2011 9:45 AM
Dear Representative Miller,

During the morning session of the House Education Committee, one of the committee members voiced concern that colleges are teaching socialism.  Since the concerned representative was not named, I was wondering if you were the concerned representative.

Thank you in advance for responding.

Tim Schorn
Vermillion, SD 

On Mar 6, 2011, at 11:50 PM, <> <> wrote:

Yes!  and to my dismay I had a debate teacher in the Lennox High School tell me that he indeed teaches socialism and is an avid believer in it. (And all while my son is about to serve his 4th tour of duty-this time to Afghanistan) so this individual can teach against what this country stands for.  MY, MY, MY!  Perhaps we should never have quit teaching the Pledge of Allegiance or singing God Bless America in our schools.  He deserves to be be fired.
Rep. Miller 

From: Schorn, Timothy
Sent: Tue 3/8/2011 11:18 PM
Dear Representative Miller, 

Thank you for responding to me.  I do have some concerns however.  I found your generalizations voiced in the House Education Committee hearing to be quite disconcerting.  By painting in such broad strokes you made rather rash assumptions that were unfounded and demeaning.  

First, it seems very undemocratic to demand that a teacher be summarily fired for teaching something with which you disagree.  I see America as standing for the marketplace of ideas, where the first amendment guarantees that all ideas are exposed to the light of day, and that following discussion and debate, the stronger idea wins.  You also diminish the abilities of students to make up their own minds.  As a teacher, I see everyday that students are able to think critically and evaluate ideas based on the merits of those ideas.  

Second, democracy and socialism are not mutually exclusive.  Socialism means primarily the regulation of economic intercourse, and secondarily the provision of socio-economic safety nets to prevent suffering by those who have fallen through the cracks.  So someone who espouses socialism is not opposed to free and open participation in the political process. 

Third, someone who is a "socialist" would certainly not want to go to Russia.  Russia may be a lot of things, but it is certainly not socialist.  During the days of the Soviet Union, which ended in 1991, the system centered in Moscow may have been socialist, but it was its communist nature which negated democratic participation.  

I certainly wish your son well and hope that he is safe, but by including his status you were attempting to unfairly paint others as somehow anti-American, which is quite un-American in itself.  


Timothy J. Schorn

On Mar 9, 2011, at 5:01 PM, <> wrote:

After reading your reply I can see why this country is in trouble .  Our Founding Fathers would find your "philosophy" disgusting and against everything this country stands for and against what they fought for.  This twisting  and rearranging of what our very Constitution and Declaration of Independence was written for was  the reason I asked the "question" in the first place.  Your reply confirms my concerns.
Have you ever been to Russia?  Have you ever read "Animal Farm"?  It was required reading in English Literature class when I was a sophomore in high school, 1969.  It was required reading to teach us how socialism/communism can so easily creep in and destroy a free-enterprise/constitutional republic/aka "The United States of America".
If you truly believe what you are "philosophically" teaching, I would suggest that you are living in the wrong country.

Rep. Miller

From: "Schorn, Timothy" <>
Date: March 9, 2011 17:34:09 CST
Dear Representative Miller, 

Thank you again for your response.  I do appreciate it.  However, I am rather dismayed by your tone.  Apparently we have different attitudes about what America stands for, and about what constitutes the trouble "this country is in".  And yes, I have read "Animal Farm", and much more by Orwell, and apparently we take different messages from that, as well.  

I'm even rather offended that you suggested that I may be living in the wrong country, considering I've been serving this country for nearly 18 years as an active duty soldier and member of the Army National Guard (as have generations of Schorns before me--and I might add, my Republican Catholic farmer/mechanic veteran Father was quite proud of me until his passing).  Perhaps you are correct, perhaps I am living in the wrong country, but it's not because I don't believe in democracy, capitalism, pluralism, inclusiveness, equality, the Constitution, civility, education, the American dream, paying my taxes, helping those in need, serving my community and country, and caring for my family.  It's because of a creeping neo-McCarthyism that threatens to undermine our national values.  


Timothy J. Schorn,

Representative Patty Miller

Picture of Representative Patty Miller Party Republican
Term New Member
District 16
Counties Lincoln, Union
Occupation Small Business Owner

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who's afraid of the big, bad union?

I must, first, engage in some full disclosure.  I was a member and an officer of the faculty union at NSU.  Among the offices served, I was secretary, treasurer, president, the bargaining team negotiator, and  grievance officer.  I participated in negotiating a number of collective bargaining agreements, although some of them were imposed on the faculty by the Board of Regents because the faculty could not agree to or vote for some of the provisions.  I was also  president of the state-wide union for a term.

After serving a term as state president, I chose not to run for that office again.  In fact, shortly after my term as state president ended, I resigned from the union.  The main reason was that the union did not know how to represent college faculty and, although it claimed to provide benefits to the faculty, the reality did not live up to the claims.  As a consequence, membership in the union declined to the point that only a ridiculously low number of faculty were members.  The union officers and staff made claims that the faculty could easily see through, and faculty tend not to be stupid and gullible.  

Until, I came to Northern, I had no experience with faculty unions.  At the college I worked at previously, there was no union.  However, at the recommendation of the administration and senior faculty, we were encouraged to join the American Association of University Professors, which was regarded as the professional organization that informed faculty and maintained the standards of the profession. I belonged to AAUP, which is now one of the major organizations that represent college faculty in collective bargaining. 

I joined the union when I arrived at Northern for two  reasons.  When I took the job in 
South Dakota, I was heavily involved in some projects in Illinois dealing with the humanities.  I had to inform some colleagues of my move and that I would no longer be in a position to work on those projects. The day before I left Illinois to move to Aberdeen, I received a call from a professor at the University of Illinois with whom I had worked on the projects.  He spoke bluntly:  "You've taken a job at Northern State College?" he asked.  "Do you have any idea WTF you are doing?"  I had no idea what caused this very aggressive response on his part.  As it turned out, Northern was on a list of institutions censured by AAUP for violations of academic freedom.  The professor who called had served on an AAUP committee which came to Northern and investigated the matter.  He referred me to a report on the committee's findings, which were published in the AAUP journal, Academe.   The findings were not at all complimentary of either Northern's administration or its faculty.  The report suggested that Northern did not know much about academic freedom or particularly care about it. 

The second reason I joined the union was that professors in the department I was joining, Language and Literature, approached me about joining.  Beginning that fall, South Dakota universities were operating under their first year of a collective bargaining contract.  The union was  brand new on campus.  About 75 percent of the faculty had joined.  The explanation of why the faculty had voted so heavily to form a union coupled with the information I had from AAUP made joining seem like a professionally wise thing to do.

When I met with the Northern president for my welcome aboard, I told him that I had concerns about the AAUP censure.  He explained that he had been in touch with AAUP and was working at meeting the conditions which would have the censure removed.  Many years later, after he had left the system, it was removed. 

I retained my membership in AAUP while being a member of the faculty union.  In fact, as an officer, I relied upon AAUP staff and informational materials more for advice on academic freedom and faculty governance matters than I did our parent union, the South Dakota Education Association.  The SDEA and its higher education affiliate modeled its collective bargaining representation after industrial labor unions.  Its staff and officers kept insisting that the college faculty situation was the same as that of the public school teachers with their boards and administrations.  They treated the faculty that way.  This was simply not true.  The responsibilities and duties of college faculty are markedly different; their relationship with administrators and with students is different.  AAUP understood these differences; SDEA and its parent, NEA, denied these differences.  That is a major reason why membership in the faculty union among South Dakota regental institutions declined rapidly after its initial years.

I cannot fault the SDEA totally for the loss of confidence in the union.  It did not meet faculty expectations, but those expectations were often misplaced.  The vast majority of the faculty thought that once the union had been certified and they paid their dues, they could sit back and the union would take care of everything for them.  They did not understand that they were the union and they had to participate in its running.  Our parent union did not understand that it had to inform faculty members in how to be members of a professional union; rather, it made claims about all the things it was doing for the faculty which did not stand up under scrutiny.

At one point, many faculty in the state realized that the union  was not working out as well as they had been told it would.  They mounted a campaign to end their affiliation with the SDEA and the NEA and join with  AFL-CIO.  At that time, I was an officer in the state organization, and my position was that if the union was to change its affiliation, it should be with the AAUP.  The effort to change the affiliation was voted down by the membership, but matters did not improve.

The problem, as I indicated, was that the faculty have to undertake a good part of the work.  Union staff members cannot do it all.  That work centers around matters of academic freedom and academic due process.  Faculty have to be as vigorous in discharging their responsibilities as they are in using their rights. The union does not, as is popularly believed, automatically come to the support of faculty who run afoul of the administration and the regents.  The union does have to guarantee that due process is followed; that faculty who are fired or the subject of disciplinary action have a full explanation of the charges against them, have a chance to present their side of the case before a hearing board that includes their peers, and that they are treated honestly and fairly.  Northern was censured by the AAUP because if failed to meet those standards.

The union does not stand in the way of anyone being fired or disciplined for just cause.  And it does not automatically defend and protect faculty whose performance is not up to standards.  It does insist that due process be followed in administering any discipline.  

The first two years of union representation in South Dakota went fairly well.  Even though most of the faculty did not take active roles in the matters of governance, enough of us did that we effectively dealt with problems that came up.  The first major problem we faced at Northern came when the president left to take the presidency of another university and we had a new president.  Most of the faculty were wary of the new man who, among the candidates who were interviewed, did not seem the best fit for Northern.  But the regents have the final say on the hiring, and they hired a man who created turmoil as soon as he hit the campus.  His first major move was to get rid of the administrative staff and replace them with people of his choosing who would be beholden to him for their administrative positions.  He got rid of the vice president and dean of the college, the director of admissions, the admissions staff, the vice president of student affairs, and he disbanded all the academic departments and reorganized the college to eliminate department chairs.  

Administrative personnel are not covered by the due process provisions in the collective bargaining contract, so the president can fire them at will.  And he fired anybody who did not take an obsequious attitude toward him.  What happened was that we had a number of administrators who no longer had jobs.  Most of them were tenured faculty who had been appointed to their administrative jobs from their teaching roles, and what the new president did not realize was that he could fire them from their administrative jobs, but he could not fire them from the faculty.  They came to the union for help, and, as they were experienced classroom professors, were assigned to teach classes in the disciplines in which they held rank.

As a member of AAUP, I consulted--sometimes on a daily basis--with the staff in Washington, D.C., on legal aspects and how best to resolve the matter of the displaced professors.  Being warned against taking actions that could result in another censure, the administration followed the recommendations and the fired administrators were quickly reassigned to teach classes.  They were experienced and their work in the class room was welcomed by the department heads, and they taught classes that required experience and advanced knowledge.  Those people who were fired and did not have faculty appointments were simply out on the street.  There was nothing the union could do to help them except encourage faculty and administrators who had worked with them to keep their eyes open for other opportunities and supply letters of support.

 The matter of abolishing the existing departments and appointing co-ordinators rather than department chairs was a sham.  It was supposed to save money by giving whoever headed the departments more classroom responsibilities and not as much released time for administrative duties.  It did not work that way.  The new president made the department head positions very attractive and comfortable for his sycophants and played favoritism openly and sometimes lavishly.  He developed a cadre around him who would do what he told them to without question and who acted as informants on the faculty.  He punished severely those who opposed any idea of his and rewarded the obedient ones quite handsomely.  The union was the major barrier to the kind of dictatorial power he hoped to exercise over the faculty.

The former administrators that the union helped keep their jobs and develope a satisfactory resolution to their situations did not become dues-paying members of the union, although they did give it credit for its actions on their behalf.  And the union assisted with her faculty problems.  One year some young faculty thought that academic freedom meant that they could turn their grades in whenever it was convenient and took off for the summer to work on projects they had lined up.  We union officers had to track them down and tell them if they did not get their grades in at the time specified, they would be fired for failing to discharge specified duties and obligations and for gross negligence in their conduct.  The grades came in, but one was fired anyway because they came in so late and were the subject of very justified student complaints.  The union supported the firing.

In other matters, the union stepped in and helped to ease out a man who had a problem with alcohol that was evident in his work.  We developed a section in the collective bargaining agreement through which professors who were not performing well would be put on constructive plans to improve their teaching and research, but would face dismissal if they did not improve.  We agreed to a plan for merit pay, but after a few years found that it was a ploy for rewarding favorites and did not identify meritorious performance and reward those who worked hard and effectively.  In fact, merit pay divided the faculty and was one of the motives behind many who dropped out of the union.  For merit pay to work, it must be administered by people of unusual intelligence and integrity and fairness, and those are not qualities that the new president wanted in his cadre.  He wanted only to build his power base.  Even the administrators who had to decide whose performance deserved merit pay said it was a near-impossible matter to designate one person more meritorious than others and it created a devastating morale problem.  - 

In cases where we found faculty being treated wrongly and unjustly, I wish I could say the union was more successful in resolving their problems.  Many of the problems that appeared unjust were the result of personal animosities between an administrator and a faculty member and the administrator used his position to fabricate demerits against the faculty member.  In a couple cases, the problem was that faculty members were clearly superior in their jobs than the people who were supposed to supervise them.  Administrators who feel threatened by their faculty want to be rid of them.  Even though we helped prepare very strong cases in behalf of the faculty,  and in some cases proved that administrators had simply misrepresented and lied about the faculty, we hardly ever prevailed.  The presidents are given final determination on such matters and they are more interested in maintaining loyal and obedient academic henchmen than they are in retaining bright and capable faculty.  The fact that our best efforts failed to obtain justice is such situations caused a further lack of confidence in the union.  In two cases, the defense presented through the union was rejected on the campuses, but went on to the courts.  In both cases the faculty were reinstated in their positions and were compensated for what they went through.  But those settlements are often reached in judges' chambers and the faculty and public do not hear about them.

A discussion about faculty unions takes place in The New York Times between Stanley Fish, a college dean, and a faculty member who worked under him.  Like many professors, Fish thought that unions were inappropriate for faculty members because it put them in the same category with ordinary laborers.  He explains how what has happened in Wisconsin with the taking away of bargaining rights from public unions has caused him to change his mind.   He provides a perspective and experience that many of us in the academic trenches can relate to.

Most of what people hear and believe about unions are not true.  Most of the problems in the world are generated by malicious people who aspire to roles of superiority over other people and do not hesitate to slander those people with mean and vicious falsehoods.  America is experiencing an upsurge in the influence of those kind of people.  And unions work for honesty, fairness, and justice in the work place.  That, of course, is not what people like Gov. Walker say.  That is because unions stand between them and the full reaches of dictatorial power they want for themselves.  Unions try to instill those qualities into the work place through negotiation and agreement.  But when that does not work, they have found more aggressive measures may need to be taken.  

The hatred of the working class has become so intense among those who wish to subjugate workers that the Governor of Maine has even ordered art work about the working class removed from the state capitol. 

We can hope that the better, more intelligent angels of human nature take over, as they did with Stanley Fish.   Otherwise, we will have warfare in the streets.  And I have lived through that, too.  I'd prefer returning to the bargaining table.  

Another oil slick threatens fishing and tourism in the Gulf

A Kristi Noem seascape:  oil, oil booms, and greasy waterfowl

While Rep. Kristi Noem floats around twittering that we should end the "de facto moratorium" on drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.  the people of Louisiana are experiencing another huge oil slick,  this time from a defunct well that workers are trying to cap. 

The full story is here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Who is failing our schools?

Any talented student who contemplates going into teaching would have to have second thoughts at this time.  It is probably the  most dishonored and denigrated profession in America.  An astute student would know that the idea of teaching because of a dedication to children and the future of the country is a fool's notion.  Teaching is no longer about inducing learning in children; it is about performing for a bunch of adults who have no real interest in education, but do like to exercise power over other people.  Any discussion of teachers produces storms of revilement, and those storms are the way the wind is blowing over the cultural landscape.

The educational bureaucracies deserve much of the blame for our failing schools.  But they weren't always such dreadful examples of the bureaucratic mentality.  Over three-fourths of a century, I have observed and reported on how the educational bureaucracies got the way they are.

A big change in education came with collective bargaining.  But it wasn't the teachers who changed; it was the school boards, and the school administrations.  What changed was the kind of relationship the school boards and their administrative lackeys (that's what they became) wanted to establish with the teachers.

For a time, I was a stringer for a newspaper that covered about 12 school districts.  It needed reporters to cover the school board meetings at nights, and I found it a good way to pick up some cash and add to my journalism credentials.  The meetings I covered seldom had moments of disagreement and opposition.  The boards considered themselves as the conduit of information between the professional teaching staffs and the public.  The administrators considered themselves to be educators, first and foremost, with the management of personnel far down the list of duties.  The meetings were long and boring.  When issues came up, the board members relied upon the superintendents and the professional staff to thoroughly review the matters with them to include all pertinent information from both the educational and public perspectives.  Consultation and collegiality was the controlling procedure, collegiality meaning an acknowledgment of shared authority on school matters. 

School boards then were largely apolitical.  Very few school members had agendas other than to keep the schools running efficiently and effectively.  Except in very rare cases, the schools boards did not involve themselves deeply in matters of curriculum, textbooks, or teaching methods.  They did review those matters and discussed them thoroughly --which is why the meetings were boring to outsiders. If they had concerns or interests, they were dealt with, but the boards thought it was the job of the teachers to have knowledge about teaching materials and methods and to exercise their experience and knowledge in recommending and using them.

That cooperative arrangement ended with collective bargaining.  School boards changed from their role of a conduit of information and ideas to reshaping themselves as corporate boards of directors who directed all the management of the school systems.  Superintendents became CEOs, principals were no longer principal teachers but division heads, and teachers were regarded as a necessary evil, employees who needed to be monitored and given strict rules about everything.  When collective bargaining came to education, educators allowed the industrial concept of bargaining to replace the collegial exchange of information and ideas.  School boards adopted the adversarial approach, and to them teachers were adversaries. As a consequence, teachers were eliminated from a participatory role in the management of the schools.  They were regarded as low-level employees whose jobs were to carry out what was ordered from the boards.

A sign of their absence in the education process was evident in the first of  many so-called assessments of public education which came out in the 1980s, "Nation at Risk."   The significant aspect of that report is that no teachers were consulted and it totally lacks the perspective from the front lines of education.  Subsequent reports have also lacked any involvement of teachers, except for some token comments from teachers selected to agree with the main authors.  What is striking about the studies is that none of them have resulted in any change in the downward spiral of education effectiveness.  To the contrary, the sinking tests scores have accelerated.  Education has been stuck in the range of low-performance indicators for decades, and the only solution that has gone into popular circulation is that the low performance is because principals do not have the right to fire low-performing teachers.  America has retreated into the false mythology that education is unsuccessful because the classrooms are infested with bad teachers.  Americans tell themselves that if we could get rid of the bad teachers, which means also getting rid of the teachers unions, everything would improve.

When school boards and boards of regents decided that collective bargaining had to be an adversarial process in the model between labor and industrial management, they opted for a system of management totally unsuited for education.  This insistence on adversarial process  changed the teachers' organizations.  That change can be illustrated and analyzed in the case of South Dakota.  

Before it became a collective bargaining representative, the National Education Association was a professional organization that promoted education interests.  Teachers, administrators, and others interested in education belonged to it.  For teachers, it was the major sponsor of professional development programs, and its state affiliates organized institutes, seminars, and professional development workshops that teachers attended to stay up-to-date on developments and methods in education.

South Dakota provides a case study.  Once a year, the South Dakota Education Association sponsored a week-long teacher's institute at which experts from within and outside the state gave presentations on new developments and updates on teaching.  During that institute, schools went on a break so the teachers could attend.   Attendance was mandatory, I believe.  But the education associations were the central agencies in for professional development, and all educators, classroom teachers to state superintendents, attended to stay up-to-date and to insure that the entire education cadre shared the same information.

When the NEA became a collective bargaining agency, politicians, school boards, and their henchpersons decided they did not like a "union" given the status of a professional organization that could speak authoritatively to matters of educational management and development.  School boards resented having to treat "adversaries" as professional equals.  The former collegial relationship conflicted with the new priority:  the creation of a managing class and a managed class.

Governor Bill Janklow carried out the mandate to change the relationship between teachers and their managers.  He had a cozy relationship with the president of the South Dakota Education Association and the two came up with proposal to effect the change in relationship.  They ended the institutes during the school year and agreed that if they were to be held, they should be held during the summer so as not to interfere with student attendance days.

For a time, the SDEA sponsored a week-long institute just before classes commenced in August.  I participated as a presenter in some of them.  However, the timing in summer met with serious conflicts.  After classes end in May, many teachers are enrolled in graduate work and other activities for professional development.  That week before classes started was particularly bad, because that is when teachers are preparing their syllabi to employ and update their materials and methods for the year.  They, also, have their own families to prepare for the resumption of classes.  The number of conflicts and logistic problems was unmanageable, and the teacher institutes faded away because they were an interference, not an educational support.

The state NEA affiliates found that, despite their best efforts, their focus became collective bargaining issues of wages, benefits, and working conditions.  They were effectively excluded from participating in the planning and logistics of delivering education.  

The most effective teachers quickly realized what a devastation the changed, imposed relationship was to education.  They considered the agreement by the SDEA president with the Governor a near-fatal blow to the professional status of teachers.  

Now, many states--Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, others--want to eliminate the union influence altogether.  

The decline in student scores coincides with the diminishing of the teachers' voice in the running of education.  The people who work the front lines every day, who know and understand student needs in very specific terms,  who actually deliver the instruction have been cut out of the learning equation.  They have been reduced to low level subservient drudges who get complemented only when they give up their personal intelligence and initiative in the service of those who presume to run education.

Many, many of my colleagues in education insist that the decline in American education correlates directly with growth of conservative ideologies.  The more the teaching corps is attacked with false and specious charges, the lower student performance sinks.

I have not the evidence at this time to make that direct correlation, but it is clear that the prevailing attitudes toward teachers have a deleterious effect on the learning process.  Teachers are held responsible for what happens to education, but they have been stripped of their authority in meeting their responsibilities.

I noted in my last years of active teaching in college that the quality of people going into education was diminishing.  The brightest and most talented students were going into other fields.  Many that I could who went into education decided not to take teaching jobs at graduation.  Their student teaching experiences showed them the system was no longer geared to support teachers and learning.  So, they went off in other directions.

In those later years, I found myself advising my teaching majors that it was wise to prepare for an alternative career, because reports from former students who had gone into teaching were that teaching was not a place for the talented and ambitious.  They would meet only frustrations which served student failures, not teacher successes.

If I were to rank who is failing education today, I would put teachers at the bottom of the list.  I would put school boards, state departments of education, and administrations at the top.  People who have no education in subject matter and teaching process, who have  no experience in classrooms, and who read only the anti-education propaganda in the media are designing our schools and curricula.  They are incapable of grasping what a cataclysmic failure No Child Left Behind turned out to be or why.  Their only solution is to revile teachers and their unions and withhold even more support.

So be it.

I do not think that any college student with brains, talent, and ambition would choose to go into teaching under the current conditions of education.  Rather, they would best serve the interests of America and its children by finding ways to circumvent the prevailing attitudes and values, and regard real education as a form of subversion, as some educators regarded it in the 1960s.

Most of what is being talked about in education depends upon bonded servants who have little intelligence, little education, and no ambition doing what they are told.  And what they are told to do is not education.  It is merely operant conditioning, as with Pavlov's dog.  

My advice to the bright and educated:  If you want to teach,  really teach, consider another country.  America wants wage slaves, not teachers.  

Everyone except the teachers has failed our schools.  

For a quick diagnosis of what is wrong with education and what is right,  check out this young man. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Building the insurgency

The main defect in the new media is that it calls wolf so much that people lose the ability to discern real facts and dangers.  The American right wing is yelling communism and Marxism so much at the Democrats that the country is largely unaware of the forces that support a left-wing totalitarian take-over of the U.S.  And a majority of Americans are unaware of the U.S. plunge into a fascist, corporate plutocracy despite the fact that evidence is constantly slapping them in the face and diminishing their earnings. 

 As we sank into near depression depths a few years ago, the neo-con, neo-fascists howled in alarm that the attempts to rescue the economy from total collapse were Marxist-like attempts to nationalize the financial industry, the auto industry, and a whole bunch of other businesses.  When the Obama administration set up rules for BP and its drilling cohorts to be held responsible for the Gulf oil spew, Republicans denounced the attempts as a violation of the sanctity of corporate capitalism.  There is a small, but growing, group who see nationalization of industries as the only way to create fairness and responsibility in the economy. They look at the changes in the Venezuelan and Bolivian economies brought about through nationalization of the energy industries, and they especially watch Brazil with its vast offshore oil reserves.  Brazil on one hand offers other countries, including the U.S., opportunity to participate in the development of those reserves, but on the other hand looks to a degree of regulation that will channel profits into the national economy.  The London-based BG Group has committed to spending $30 billion in the development of Brazilian oil reserves.  Brazil is a leader in the use of alternative energy sources and has indicated it intends to stay on that course, using petroleum sales to further develop its energy independence and use of renewable fuels. 

There were some voices in the background during the barrage of charges about Obama taking over private enterprise that thought such a prospect was the best that could come of the financial debacle caused by Wall Street and the failing corporations.  There is a a  growing number of people who find a startling absence of liberty, equality, and justice in contemporary American life, and the extreme left may offer to some the only option.  Venezuela, Bolivia, and some aspects of Brazil offer models to the growing poverty class of America.

The efforts to use the fiscal crisis in America as a means to nullify labor unions and other forces of the middle class have portrayed an America that is stridently fascist in its direction.  The forces of small, totalitarian government are being posed against those who look to government to administer social and economic justice.  The right wing has re-instituted class war in its most basic form.  But the propaganda battles being carried out on cable television news and the Internet are obscuring the growth of an insurgent force that is becoming convinced that open revolt might be the only course to regaining any liberty, equality, and justice in America.  The massive labor demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin, are an indication of the ability to mount an insurgency.

But there are many fronts where that possibility can be found. Interested Party has noted evidence of a new insurgency among the indigenous people of North America.  This is something that, as a scholar in native American literature and culture, I have  been asked to examine.  A few years ago, when the suicide and crime rates on the Standing Rock reservation became alarming, I became involved in efforts to find a solution to the problems.  The first measure was to augment the tribal law enforcement agencies with personnel from the BIA.  The crime rate went down, but the suicide rate did not.  The causes behind the unrest and the despair were not by any means eliminated.

We have put great hope into the tribal colleges on Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Rosebud, and Pine Ridge to provide some solutions to the poverty and despair on the reservations.  A common platitude is to make the native people like the general American population.  It was hoped by many that the colleges could work effectively toward that end.  But the colleges are also places that preserve and practice the native values.  And the more the Indian students see of American culture, particularly in the direction it is taking now, the less they want to do with it.  Their knowledge of history is not limited to the conqueror's self-crowing about superiority, but includes tribal history and it embraces a new scholarship.  Recent books like Sitting Bull, Prisoner of War  by Dennis C. Pope and The Killing of Crazy Horse  by Thomas Powers have verified the accuracy of oral histories and provided an authenticating dimension of documentation.  That the Indian wars were, in fact, campaigns of genocide and that the reservations were designed to be concentration camps that would result in the eventual decimation of the native populations are recorded in the military records and personal papers of the participants.

What indigenous culture would emulate the culture that wants to kill it off?  America's indigenous people have lived with that question for centuries and have chosen not to submit to subjugation and denial as a condition of life.  The new interest in warrior societies is a parallel to the knowledge being created about American Indians and the growing confidence in the moral rightness of their own culture, which contrasts so starkly with the predatory oppressions of the white culture as it is defining itself in contemporary times.

The strident claims of the right wing about the superiority of American exceptionalism have totally missed the point about what is exceptional in America and have made stand out in bold relief the malignant moral deficiencies that are apparent to those America has chosen to exclude from liberty, equality, and justice.  

The insurgency that is evident among the indigenous people is becoming more pronounced in the middle class, that has come into recognition of how maliciously it has been betrayed.  

When America finally erupts, it won't look like Egypt or Madison, Wisconsin.  It will look like Iraq. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Music was the driving force

When I came to Aberdeen in 1979, the culture shock was damned near fatal.  Until then, I did not realize how isolated sections of America could be  in terms of communication and culture.  I took a job at Northern State (then it was a College) under the assumption that with the nation's extensive communication systems, one would be connected to the larger America no matter where one went.   I was terribly wrong. 

Kristi Noem's statement in defense of voting to cut the funding for NPR triggered strong memories of the situation: she said, "Things have changed over the years as far as having different places that we certainly can get our information in this day and age."  Cory Heidelberger and Doug Wiken have pretty well-covered the mentality behind that Noem-skull statement, but I am struck by the fact that Aberdeen, for example, has less access to information than it did when I moved here more than 30 years ago.

At that time, Aberdeen had two radio stations with locally produced news and music, and it had a television station that had a local news department.  One radio station featured country music and the other top-40 rock-and-roll, but they both had news departments that connected local newscasts with network news.  News provided some connection with the larger American culture.  My problem was the music.  

 I am  not much of a fan of country music or rock-and-roll.  I get quickly bored with those genres, but I have a need for jazz.  I will not go into what created that need, but a few days without jazz is worse than a few days without food for me.  There was no jazz to be heard in Aberdeen and reception of radio stations from afar that carried jazz was chancy.  That included stations in Chicago and WCCO in the Twin Cities. 

One station did have a big band show once a week, but some of the big bands it played were a bit on the schmaltzy side.  The other stuck with rock-and-roll.  However, at that time Fargo had a public radio station that carried jazz 24 hours a day.  Only occasionally could its signal reach Aberdeen.  I can remember when my hunger for jazz became so intense that I got up in those dark and dank hours of the night, got in my car, and drove to the northeast until I picked up that station in Fargo.  When I got in range of the station I would pull over and listen for an hour or two.  I needed to hear some sounds besides what I had in my record collection, not all of which made it to South Dakota.  

When it came to classical music, which I like, also, I never found any within radio range.  Music was a main factor in bringing public radio to Aberdeen.

Before I relate that development, I think it important to emphasize the news coverage that was available.  KKAA, the country station, had a news staff, at that time headed by Mike Marek.  KSDN's news director was Gene Reich.  Both stations covered city and county government, law enforcement and public safety, and the surrounding communities.  KSFY did television coverage of the same.   Another country station, KGIM, went on the air and had a full-time news director.  The broadcast stations also did a considerable amount of news exchanging across the state, so one could get constant information about government and events within the state.  My wife has worked as a reporter for both KKAA and KSDN.  

Consolidation in the broadcast business and changing media eventually led to staff and programming reductions that eliminated any locally centered broadcast news departments.  The only medium in town that does any first-hand reporting is the newspaper.  Broadcast news comes from network casts or reading from the news wire.

At the time public radio came to Aberdeen and South Dakota, there was no lack of news coverage and effort.  There was a paucity of choices when it came to music, however.  During that time, plans were in the works to expand the radio station at the University of South Dakota into a network that covered the state.  The late Jack Bergren, a professor of vocal music at Northern State, worked fiendishly hard to make sure that Aberdeen would have a broadcast tower and that music would be a major part of the programming.   He recruited both moral and financial support for South Dakota public radio, and he created an audience for the public radio venture before it went on the air.

I had enjoyed public radio while living in Iowa and Illinois and, with my need to hear music, was anxious for South Dakota's system to go on the air. I happily lent what support I could to Jack Bergren's efforts.  I was rewarded.  SDPB radio had classical music in the mornings and late at night and jazz in the evening.  The jazz program often featured entire albums.  Now Jazz Nightly is presided over by Jim Clark, who is a jazz disc jockey in the great tradition.  He knows the music and knows how to program to meet the diversity of jazz tastes.  

For Aberdeen, at least, and I assume for other parts of the state, music was a driving force in building the state's public broadcasting network.

KKAA news director Mike Marek became the news director of South Dakota Public Radio.  He covered the state with a thoroughness that no medium had done previously or has done since.  An hour-long news show featured stories from radio reporters throughout the state.  That was a time when news coverage was extensive, convenient, and very professionally done.  It  dealt with facts, not opinions.  

When Kristi Noem says "Things have changed over the years as far as having different places that we certainly can get our information in this day and age" what she said was true, but not in the way she meant it.  Public radio in South Dakota is one of the few professional-level broadcast news sources remaining, and the only one that gives a  professional level of coverage to state and national news.  At this time, I will not go into why I, and many others, do not think that the commercial television coverage is anywhere near adequate or competent.  Suffice it to say that Noem's statement is absurd in light of what has happened to the broadcast media in the past twenty years.  

The conservative movement in America is using the budget problems to kill off any influences that deviate from their party line.  In multiple states, one of the biggest obstacles to corporate totalitarianism, the labor unions, are facing attempts to destroy them.  The thinking is obsessed with eliminating public broadcasting news, which has set a professional standard that conservatives want eliminated.  Their idea of news is the phony contrivances of James O'Keefe, whose efforts to destroy NPR have been quite thoroughly proven to be falsehoods.  

But you would never know if you consulted only the media approved by Noem and those fascist ideologues that call themselves the GOP.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Collective bargaining is not a right.

Neo-fascist scripture
Neither is life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.

Unless you live in a culture which proclaims them as rights under a government which declares them so and upholds them as rights. 

It is a matter of the scripture of neo-fascism, which conservatism in America has descended into, that laborers have no rights in the workplace, where their existence and terms of life are at the total discretion of their employers.  

That view enjoys widespread currency in fascist America, but does not prevail in the rest of the developed world.  Labor unions have been the scourge of dictators, even those such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who shares much in common with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on that point.  Chavez claims that he has made Venezuela one of the best places in the world to be a worker, but his government has  has systematically tampered with workers' rights and undercut established labor unions while favoring new, parallel unions that support the Chavez agenda.  While the Chavez strategy is different, his and Walker's objectives are to remove the workers from any influence in the market and make them obedient to some managerial entity. 

As a direct experience of World War II and the fight with fascism, the United Nations took on as its primary task a Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of its International Bill of Rights.  Article 23 states: "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests."  And that confers the right to collectively bargain, as  specified by the International Labour Organization's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work which defines the "freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining" as an essential right of workers.

This insistence on workers as equal beings who have rights is what the conservative movement holds against the U.N.  

A further endorsement of those rights is expressed by a 2007 opinion of the Canadian Supreme Court:  

The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work... Collective bargaining is not simply an instrument for pursuing external ends…rather [it] is intrinsically valuable as an experience in self-government... Collective bargaining permits workers to achieve a form of workplace democracy and to ensure the rule of law in the workplace. Workers gain a voice to influence the establishment of rules that control a major aspect of their lives.

But, of course, the Canadians with their universal health care and other socialist practices are in the same Marxist category with the U.N.  They don't understand that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is only for the managing class.  Let's get back to our Constitutional foundations and give the vote only to white, male property owners, whose property includes slaves, and take this nation back and get it on track.  

Strict construction, here we come.   

Monday, March 14, 2011

Herseth Sandlin closes campaign committee

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has closed down her campaign committee, according to a report by Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.  While that does not eliminate the possibility of running again for her old seat or for a Senate seat in the future, as Cillizza says, it is a good indication of her intentions.

Herseth Sandlin has joined a law firm that has a strongly bi-partisan staff of lobbyists on agricultural issues, an area that has been a focal point of her career both in Congress and in prior work.  While she is prevented by law from directly lobbying her former colleagues, she can work on policy and utilize her knowledge and her contacts in its development.  

In December, Herseth Sandlin indicated that the probability of running for office again was less that 50/50.  Those who claim some insight into political thinking have kept asking about her intentions, but she has not fed into the speculations.

The political commentators seldom consider the priorities of family and the assessments of where and how one can make the strongest contribution to public service, if that is the work they choose to do.  Running for political office is a tremendously wasteful process, and the positions and imagery that seem to sway voters have little to do with actual issues.

Rep. Kristi Noem's  two and a half months in the House have demonstrated that her performance has little relationship to what she chose to project on the campaign trail.  She has quickly become involved in the Washington power elite in great contradiction to the qualities she professed in her criticism of Herseth Sandlin.  In assessing political prospects in South Dakota, one cannot ignore the facts of what people have voted for, whether they voted on actuality or campaign mythology.  

The Democratic Party would like to have experienced and highly-regarded people like Tom Daschle and Herseth Sandlin to front campaigns in the future, but the voters of South Dakota have spoken on both the state and national levels and have defined themselves.  If the Democratic Party wants to be a contender in South Dakota, it will have to find and develop new talent.  The forces that motivate the "brain drain" from South Dakota work on the leadership level as powerfully as they do on college graduates.   If one has intellectual talent, one has to forge relationships outside the state to put it to use.  And those relationships create great jealousy, resentment, and animosity in the provincial minds.  

Herseth Sandlin can probably do more for the state through work in Washington, D.C.  While the state legislature deals with internal budget shortfalls, the overriding fact is that South Dakota is dependent upon the federal government for its well-being, despite the fact that it likes to live in the delusion of independence and self-sufficiency.  

Campaigns and elections have consequences.  The irony in South Dakota is that while some will see Herseth Sandlin's direction as a further rejection of South Dakota, she will be engaged in work to protect its people from what they voted for. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lullaby for Scabland?

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's stripping of the rights of public employees to collectively bargain was just one of the measures he took in turning the state over to corporate interests.  In his "open for business" campaign, he also signed off on tax breaks for corporations and took steps to eliminate environmental rules, which corporations don't like to be bothered with obeying.

The efforts to destroy labor unions and devalue the Wisconsin labor force has had destructive consequences for the public image of Wisconsin. The efforts by government mesh with what has taken place with labor in the private sector.

Along with the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin dairy products, and leadership in conservation and environmental programs, Wisconsin is home to the Harley Davidson brand.  Although that brand is in the process of rebuilding after some downturns that coincided with the Great Recession, it has begun to lose its luster among its customer base.  The people who have made the Harley Davidson motorcycle the machine of choice are American laborers who make up a majority of its biking fans.  Although the bike still enjoys a demand, some dealers are hedging their futures by lining up other brands. 

Last summer, Harley Davidson threatened to close down its operations in Wisconsin and move them to Kansas City if it did not get concessions from the labor union.  It got them.  They include a seven-year wage freeze, with the possibility of pay raises, and higher health-care expenses. The new contract also calls for the use of seasonal, or "casual," employees who would not be entitled to medical or retirement benefits and would receive less pay for the same work done by regular, full-time employees.  The union also wanted assurances that the company would make efforts to keep jobs in Wisconsin, but received only oral assurances that no one believes mean anything.

While the struggle between the Wisconsin Republicans and the unions was revving up in February,  Harley Davidson obtained more concessions from its workers in Kansas City.  If it was not granted the concessions, the company threatened to move its Kansas City operation to York, Pa.  Currently, it has 685 full-time hourly unionized employees but will probably be reduced to 540. The company expects to add 145 flexible positions that will be filled by union members, but they will work only as required to cover increased production or to fill in for other employees on vacations and other absences.  Harley Davidson won similar concessions from its York, Pa., employees after threatening to move the York operation to Kansas City.

Interviews with employees in Wisconsin and Missouri indicate that they made the concessions to keep their jobs at a time when the unemployment rate made finding other work unlikely.  Labor analysts point out that what the company lost in its maneuvers was a work force that took pride in the brand and company and will now work for  mainly for subsistence, without much interest in company or product.  Harley Davidson has in the past advertised that it has a unique relationship with its employees, treating them like family, and that employees are among its most enthusiastic customers.  Its threats to close its plants if concessions were not  made have changed that relationship.  

Market analysts say that the attitude of  workers toward the employer will have an effect on the laboring people who make up the primary market for its motorcycles.  A dealer in the upper Midwest says when the working people lose their respect for a company, brand loyalty suffers.  

Harley Davidson dealers are not permitted to sell competing brands of motorcycles.  Some have expressed some concern about the employee attitudes, which one dealer said might be reflected in his service department.  He got into an argument with a lead mechanic who he spotted on a poker run riding a bright yellow Honda.  This, he said, was a departure from the relationship Harley Davidson had tried to cultivate with its customer-employees.

Harley Davidson's changing relationship with employees illustrates the trend that Gov. Walker and the Republican Party are pushing in Wisconsin.  Harley Davidson has bragged that it does not sell mere products, but sells a lifestyle.  If the Governor and his supporters have their way, the traditions of Wisconsin and the lifestyle it created will change drastically.  

Wisconsin will simply be a competitor to supply cheap and voiceless labor.  It's open for business, and in the minds of many, the Governor has sold out its working people.  They think you may as well buy Japanese and Chinese and Indian rather than products from a local scab economy. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The old man and the seafood

Want some seafood, mama; oh, won't you give it to me,
'Cause I am happy as can be when the seafood comes to me.

What shall I serve the sushi on, dear?  (Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh.)

Here is the recipe for Nyotaimori (Yo-too-more-ee).  That's Japanese for sushi on a naked woman.  You begin with a naked woman.  She lies down on a  banquet table with a heated pad.  Then you cover her with delectable slices of sushi.  You know, raw fish.  Which is cold.  Which is why she is on a heated pad. 

Twice a month the Hapa sushi restaurant in Boulder. Colorado, puts on this spread.  There is, however, no slurping the sushi right off the platter.  It is there for artistic purposes, to whet the appetites. 

Do not try this at home.  You might get sliced up with the sushi.

If your mullticultural and gustatory interests are whetted,  read about it all here. In the University of Colorado student newspaper.  Oh, those student journalists. 

Illinois bans the death penalty, but for how long?

Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois signed a law yesterday that bans the death penalty in Illinois.  In his case, it represents a change in stance.  Some stubborn facts about the death penalty could not be dismissed.  In the past decade,  Illinois has exonerated 20 people on death row who, largely through DNA testing, were found innocent of the crimes for which they were being sent to death.

My own stance on the death penalty has been one of diffidence, although most leaders in the church denomination I belong to think it is immoral.  They insist that Christ specifically forbids killing and the custom of deadly retribution.

My own attitude toward the death penalty was overshadowed by the larger issue of wrongful convictions.  About 45 years ago, the newspaper I worked for did a series of interviews of inmates in Illinois prisons.  I did a lengthy one with a man who had been sentenced to life and became a Roman Catholic Brother who assisted the priests who were prison chaplains and served the ministry within the prison.  The man was a wise and shrewd observer of prison.  He told me things that have haunted me ever since the interview.  One question I asked him was, who were the  most dangerous men in prison.  He said the wrongfully convicted.

The convict brother explained that the wrongfully convicted have had demonstrated to them the absence of justice.  He said that even those who persisted in being forgiving and not vindictive had permanently had their thinking changed.  Those who did not devote themselves to benignity were bent on exacting from society the kind of injustice that had been inflicted on them.  That is why the brother considered them so dangerous.  They had the motives for revenge; prison taught them the means.

As a consequence of that experience, I have worked with projects that investigate and try to rectify wrongful convictions.  For the reasons laid out above, I hold an urgency about releasing and making reparations to those  who are wrongfully incarcerated.  In cases where convictions have been overturned, I have been enlisted to use my role as a professor in the rehabilitation of the people concerned.  In other cases I have assisted in my role as a journalist in examining some cases.

One of those cases was in South Dakota.  A man had been sentenced to life for an assault on a child.  The man had a long record of problems with substance abuse.  At the time of the crime, he was in such a state of intoxication that he could not provide information that would help with his defense.  Although not an admirable person, some members of his parents' church, who were involved in the justice system, saw huge flaws in the investigation of the crime and in the conduct of the trial.  There was compelling evidence that the man was too incapacited to commit the crime with which he was convicted.

A main point that stood out as dubious was the testimony of some witnesses.  The investigation of the case ended when the man committed suicide and the family requested that the matter be dropped.  However, the organization that sponsored the case review has declined to close the case and is keeping it under review for possible developments.

Gov. Quinn came to the conclusion that the justice system is too flawed and is set up to railroad too many innocents.  The case I cite above appears to be more evidence of that.  The system itself  is unreliable and vulnerable to the egotistical motives of law enforcement and judicial authorities.

The prison system does more to confirm the tendencies of criminals and to frustrate rehabilitation than it does to serve justice.  It turns the wrongfully convicted to vengeance.  It is ineffective in making criminals anything other than more dedicated, effective criminals.

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate and the highest prison population in the world.   These rates reflect the political priorities that dominant the nation. The U.S. is defining itself  by abolishing labor unions, by the money and people it pours into prisons,  by its subservience to corporations, and by its persecution of the middle class.  As soon, as Gov. Quinn signed the ban on the death penalty, the GOP announced its efforts to revoke the ban.  My Pine Ridge sage says that the GOP doesn't think America is being America unless it is oppressing and killing people. 

President Obama has taken seriously the desire expressed by Americans to stop the partisan wrangling and work together.  He and other conciliatory liberals see this as giving concessions to a GOP that is unabashedly fascist in its pronouncements and policies.  One should not regard the Illinois ban on the death penalty as progress.  Unless the liberals are willing to get militant, that ban will not last long. 

That's just how it has become in America. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States