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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Palin-drones

The Washington Post, although it features about four stories on Palin's latest ploys, has this cartoon which makes the point the best.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Church officers in major Christian denominations call Ryan budget morally indefensible

 South Dakota Democratic Party Chair Ben Nesselhuf pointed out this:   

Before the Senate held its vote on the Ryan budget this week,  Bishops from the Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist churches sent a letter to senators stating that the budget flies in the face of the most basic Christian values.  

The federal budget debate in Congress raises essential questions about our values and priorities as a nation. As bishops compelled by the Gospel to give voice to those who suffer at the margins of society, we speak not as policy experts or politicians, but as disciples of Jesus and faithful citizens.

If the moral measure of a just society is found in how we treat the most vulnerable, the budget proposal passed by the House of Representatives, which the Senate will vote on this week, fails the basic tests of justice, compassion and a commitment to the common good.

This budget eviscerates vital nutrition programs for mothers and infants (WIC), and makes cuts to Medicaid that will hurt sick children, struggling families and seniors in nursing homes. Proposed changes to Medicare will break the promise that all American seniors get the healthcare they need by forcing them to buy private insurance without assuring that it is affordable. It asks those who need our help the most to fend for themselves in a volatile marketplace where profit, not human dignity, sets the agenda. Unlike the Good Samaritan, who stopped to care for a wounded stranger on the side of the road, the House budget turns its back on the most vulnerable at a time of grave economic uncertainty even as it endorses policies that gives tax breaks for the privileged few. This is morally indefensible.

We urge Senators voting on the House budget proposal this week to consider the human costs of massive cuts to social programs and come together across partisan lines to shape a budget that defends human dignity and basic economic security for all Americans.
The complete letter including the list of signatories is here.  

Catholic Bishops sent similar criticisms of the budget to House Speaker John Boehner on the occasion of  him addressing the graduation ceremony at Catholic University.  A  summary of their letter reads:

The 2012 budget you shepherded to passage in the House of Representatives guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society. It is particularly cruel to pregnant women and children, gutting Maternal and Child Health grants and slashing $500 million from the highly successful Women Infants and Children nutrition program. When they graduate from WIC at age 5, these children will face a 20% cut in food stamps. The House budget radically cuts Medicaid and effectively ends Medicare. It invokes the deficit to justify visiting such hardship upon the vulnerable, while it carves out $3 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. In a letter speaking on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Stephen Blaire and Bishop Howard Hubbard detailed the anti-life implications of this budget in regard to its impact on poor and vulnerable American citizens. They explained the Church’s teachings in this regard clearly, insisting that:

A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.

Specifically, addressing your budget, the letter expressed grave concern about changes to Medicaid and Medicare that could leave the elderly and poor without adequate health care.
 We also fear the human and social costs of substantial cuts to programs that serve families working to escape poverty, especially food and nutrition, child development and education, and affordable housing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dowsing or dousing the DUSEL?

The future of the Sanford Lab at the Homestake Goldmine, is downright puzzling, if not uncertain.  Most perplexing is the role of the National Science Foundation.  It spearheaded the development of the lab with clear intentions and promotional energy up until last December, when its executive committee, the National Science Board,  declined to contribute expected funds to its continued design.  Then, it rejected providing $19 million which would have continued the design work on transforming the mine, and the Obama administration consequently dropped the project from its budget.   

The National Science Board has not provided a specific reason for its dropping the project and leaving its erstwhile partners in the project, the Department of Energy, and the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, to come up with any money needed to continue development on the project.  The National Science Board decided last December not to support the project, and the motives behind its reversal of support have not been made clear.

In the meantime, the Department of Energy came up with enough money to  keep the water pumps running in order to prevent the mine from filling up with water, and the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority signed a contract last week that awards $8.1 million to a Spearfish contractor to build one of the laboratories at the 4,850 foot level.  At the same time, the Sanford Underground Lab announced that it was cutting two jobs from the design team working on the lab.

The reasons for the National Science Board's change in attitude about the project have been left to conjecture.  Over the years, we have heard many scientists say that South Dakota's emphasis on the DUSEL as an economic development scheme rather than an enterprise devoted to science was cause for concern.  This concern was informed by the actions of Barrick Gold, the mine's owner, when negotiations were going on to turn the mine over to the state.  Barrick Gold insisted that the state assume any environmental liabilities that the mine might have created.  The corporation threatened to turn off the water pumps and let the mine fill with water if it could not be relieved of any responsibility for those liabilities.  And that is exactly what it did.  Researchers who were looking for a means to conduct pure scientific research were wary and skeptical about any business corporations involvement in the underground lab, and they cited Barrick Gold's actions as the kind of result that corporate involvement could produce.  

Officers of the National Science Board said their withdrawal from the project was based upon dissatisfaction with the management model that involved the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the state Science Authority, and the involvement of the Sanford interests, which bought into the laboratory.  The problems they saw with management of the project were not specified, but a number of scientists have pointed out that the National Science Foundation supports the development of instruments, such as space telescopes, for conducting scientific research:  it does not participate in the building of research facilities in which such instruments are employed.  The emphasis of the Sanford Underground Lab as an item of infrastructure is the reason for the NSF withdrawal from the project.  An article in Science Magazine gives a more precise outline of what the NSF expects of the project:  

The project must win approval from the National Science Board, which sets policy for NSF, and observers say that board members will want good answers to three important questions before they sign off on the project. How would DUSEL stack up against other underground labs around the world? How will NSF and DOE coordinate efforts to ensure the project stays on track? And will DUSEL yield enough science to justify the investment? 

A significant development regarding the future of the laboratory is a study being conducted on the lab by The National Research Council, a unit with the National Academies which assesses and advises the government on matters of scientific research.  The report from this study is scheduled to be released this summer, and a summary of its progress was to be presented to a meeting of the National Science Board earlier this month.  The National Research Council summarizes its study this way:

Multiple research opportunities have been identified that would be enabled by a deep underground laboratory environment.  The primary drivers have been a number of physics experiments that require placing advanced detectors underground in order to protect them from cosmic rays.  However, opportunities have been identified in other fields (geosciences, engineering, environment, and biology) that would also benefit from the infrastructure needed for the physics experiments.  During the past several years, these research opportunities have been the subject of workshops, advisory committee deliberations, and National Research Council reports.  On the basis of the priority given to such activities by research communities, preliminary design activities have been undertaken by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) for developing a deep underground science and engineering laboratory (DUSEL) in Leeds, South Dakota. 

This study principally will be assessing the science questions that could be addressed if such a facility were developed, the impact that developing DUSEL would have on the research communities involved, and the need to develop such an underground program in the Unites States given that similar facilities exist or are being considered elsewhere.
Although the National Science Foundation designated the Homestake Mine as its choice for the DUSEL site, some of the other contenders for the site have not given up on development of their regional laboratory.  Scientists at the University of Minnesota have claimed that underground research can best be conducted by a group of regional labs in various locations rather than a single site, and they are aggressively promoting experiments at their Soudan laboratory in Minnesota's Iron Range country.  The National Research Council is studying all aspects of the laboratory's potential use and effectiveness for scientific research.

The future of the lab as a scientific venture is under examination, and whether it becomes part of the scientific community  or is dismissed as just another business scheme hinges on the National Research Council report and the direction that the development of the lab will take. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Premier Buncocard: the fleecing of America

 The press is the real culprit.  It sucks, and sucks, and sucks.  Literally. It perennially sucks the plutocracy, as Madville Times points out.  Often, its sucking function impedes articulation.  Nowhere has that been more apparent than in the announcement of Premier Bankcard that it is closing down its operation in Spearfish.  More than 300 people will be let go.  Overall, Premier is reducing its workforce from 3,000 to 1,600 jobs.  On the announcement of the closing of the Spearfish operation, the press dutifully quoted Premier CEO  Miles Beacom who said price and fee controls established in a new federal law cost the credit card company business. He said,  “Closure of our Spearfish facility is the direct result of our inability to price based on risk under the new (federal) regulations.”

He said further, "It took away our ability to price the card for the risk," Beacom said. "We've been testing a number of products that just have not performed."

 No one in the press or anyone else asked how Premier Bankcard prices according to risk and specifically how the new credit card regulations affected their ability to do so.  Or just what the new regulations did to limit their ability to operate.   To much of American business, any government regulations, especially those which put restraints upon criminal predations, are considered odious, burdensome, and job-killing.  In the mind of the corporate plutocracy, consumers are regarded merely as cows to be milked and bilked and  sheep to be fleeced.  The biggest and falsest myth about American business is the one about competition.  The idea is that successful business is one that produces a superior product with superior service and earns its place in the economy through merit and performance.  That is the line fed to the fools, the consumers, but the real art of business is to market shoddy, worthless  junk through false and deceptive advertising.  

While CEO Beacom of Premier Bankcard blames government restraints as the reason for Premier's inability to compete in the credit card market and its halving of its workforce, tells quite a different tale, as it includes the Premier Bankcard in its list of razzies, the worst cards on the market:     

First Premier Bank built its brand by offering unsecured MasterCard accounts to consumers with damaged credit profiles and low FICO scores. Fill out an application, and you'd get a card with a $300 credit limit. It just happened to be preloaded with up to $270 in processing, enrollment and service fees. Consumer advocates and lawmakers hated cards of this kind so much, they campaigned for new Federal Reserve rules that capped initial service fees at 25% of a card's credit limit.

CEO Miles Beacom openly complained that the restrictions hurt his company's ability to help Americans rebuild their credit. Claiming the need to mitigate risk, Beacom launched trial offers for a new First Premier MasterCard with an astonishing 79.99% APR. We are guessing the response hasn't been that strong, since the issuer reported laying off nearly a third of its employees during 2010.

Another aspect of the credit business is that with the coming of the Great Recession in 2008, consumers greatly reduced their use of  credit.  Some were thrown out of work and had no means to pay bills, let alone use credit.  Others saw that it was prudent to curtail their use of  credit.  Premier Bankcard gives no information on the role the recession played in what appear to be declining fortunes.  It, rather, blames the government for the performance of its shoddy, inferior product in the marketplace.  

The new credit card regulations do not in any way interfere with a card company's ability to offer and maintain a viable and profitable service product.  They do address some of the more outrageous practices over which consumers had no control and often no reason to expect was part of the credit arrangement they signed up for.  The new standards are summarized as follows: 
  •     Restricts all interest rate increases during the first year
  •     Restricts interest rate increases on existing balances
  •     Increases notice for rate increase on future purchases
  •     Preserves the ability to pay off on the old terms
  •     Requires fair application of payments
  •     Provides sensible due dates and time to pay
  •     Protects young consumers
  •     Restricts issuance fees on fee harvester cards
  •     Requires enhanced disclosures
  •     Places limits on fees and penalty interest 
  •     Requires banks to review rate increase every six months
  •     Establishes gift card protections 
When it comes to marketing cards, the new law requires that a company review a consumer's ability to pay back the debt before issuing a card:
‘‘A card issuer may not open any credit card account for any
consumer under an open end consumer credit plan, or increase
any credit limit applicable to such account, unless the card issuer
considers the ability of the consumer to make the required payments
under the terms of such account.’’
Given the logic of today's business models, it is probably impertinent to ask why a company would give a person credit when it determines the person has no ability to pay it back.  But the stated regulation still gives the company discretion in the matter.  

The most alarming aspect of the Premier Bankcard debacle is that people are willing to base their futures and their lives on an inferior, shoddy, and stupidly malign business practice.  A barber interviewed in Spearfish noted, "I know a lot of people that work out there and considered it a career for them; and now, that's over with unless they move and relocate."

I suppose that when an economy shifts from producing competitive goods and services and bases itself on the marketing of the inferior and shoddy through milking, bilking, and fleecing, the greatest expectation some can have in life is to be a milkmaid or a sheep-shearer, hoping to catch some of the offal of the business model.  Some even elevate Premier Bankcard to the status of a savior:  

The regulations that led to this layoff is another example of outright hatred of those less economically fortunate.
Have bad credit problems because you were laid off or had hours reduced and want a chance to rehabilitate your credit rating? Tough.
Need credit for an emergency? Tough
Don’t want to use Pay Day Lenders? Tough.
Can’t rent a car, buy a plane ticket, or rent a hotel because you don’t have a credit card? Tough.
You liberals might feel good about yourselves and your sanctimony but your actions are hateful to the poor.

A phenomena in popular culture has been the fascination of the public with films and television shows about Mafia families.  They get caught up in the drama of the family life, but seem oblivious to the way the Mafia families make their livings.  This and the press and public attitudes expressed toward Premier Bankcard may well indicate a vast moral shift in the politics and purpose of America.

To some, the fleecing of America has become a spiritual and patriotic cause.   

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Treat your friends to torture today: it works.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is a strong advocate of torture.  He advocates it because he says it works.  

So do gas ovens.  Firearms.  Nuclear bombs.  Police states.  Lung cancer.  You name it.  It all works.  Sort of.

The big question is, just what work does it accomplish?  

Torture provides people of a sadistic nature with some pleasure.  I doubt if when it comes to torture, there are many sado-masochists out there, aside from those who engage in it for kinked-up sex.   Most people who advocate torture want to inflict it.  They don't stand in line to receive it. And that leads to some observations on how torture actually works.  

As someone who has been involved in making and eliciting communication,  I know something about the effects or torture and coercion.  I was assigned to take some special training in the subject while in the Army.  In gathering intelligence, a crucial aspect is establishing the truth, accuracy, and reliability of information that is gathered.  Bad information can lead to disasters.  That's why our opponents and enemies spend so much time disseminating misinformation and disinformation.  Anything but the the truth.  They hope we'll fall for some false information and expend our resources and energy on pursuing it.  

 There is a much-proven fact about information elicited by torture and other forms of coercion.  It is often false.    It is false because when people are experiencing pain and panic or acute discomfort, as with sleep deprivation, they get to the point where they will say anything to end their misery.  They will tell their interrogators what they think they want to hear, and they will not hesitate to make to make it up.  When interrogators obtain what they think is a significant piece of information, they must set into a motion an extensive process of checking out and testing the information for fact and accuracy.  Pursuing false information is expensive and can consume all the resources the investigating agency has.  Acting on false information can destroy a nation.  Intelligence gatherers have to be extremely wary about being duped into disaster.

People under torture and coercion will confess to crimes they did not commit.  When the State of Illinois released 18 men from death row because of wrongful convictions that were proven wrong, many of those convictions were based upon false confessions.  The psychology behind why people will confess to something they did not do or make up false information is complex and convoluted, but it reduces down to the fact that they want the misery they are in to end, even if it will take their own death to end it.  Good, competent interrogators know and understand this.  People who inflict torture because they enjoy their power to torment someone else do not understand this.  Their psychological motives are not focused on getting information but on gratifying their desire to exercise power they realize when they can hold someone else in torment.  

People who advocate torture and want to practice have some personal issues involving their own state of mental health.   They have pathologies that disqualify them from any claim to credibility or good purpose.

In the final analysis,  the information that torture reveals is mostly about the kind of people who wish to inflict it.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

By their fruitcakes, ye shall know them.

U.S. politics has become like holding a debate in an insane asylum with the inmates setting the rules every few seconds or so.  As a bibliophile who looks for texts to help make sense of WTF is going on, I think of three sources.  The first is a play by Peter Weiss that came out in the early 1960s:  The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.  A lot of people today do not know what an insane asylum is because we have closed most of them and mainstreamed the inmates back into society, where they run for president.  At any rate, the play, title often shortened to Marat/Sade, portrays what is essentially a discussion of revolutionary attempts to deal with human suffering and class struggles that is often interrupted by deluded inmates, intrusions of the "doctors," and the nutcase rants of the director, the Marquis de Sade.  It portrays our current social and political milieu.

You can see the movie on YouTube.
Another play I have thought of frequently in recent years and would like to see again is The Madwoman of Chaillot by Jean Giroudeaux.  It, too, deals with the efforts of the poor to obtain some rights in a society that connives to prevent them from having any. 

Perhaps a source that might be more germane to the South Dakota experience is Black Elk.  In his analytic vision, he sees a time when the people "walked the third ascent, all the animals and fowls that were the people ran here and there, for each one seemed to have his own little vision that he followed and his own rules; and all over the universe I could hear the winds at war like wild beasts fighting."  He further chronicles how the incoherence he perceives means "the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead."  When people lose the ability to communicate, but think their individual howls into the wind contribute to any constructive possibilities, they have lost an essential of human life.

Those works of Weiss, Giroudeaux, and Black Elk all center on the poor and how the powerful oppress, persecute, and kill them or create conditions for them in which death is imminent.  

What brings these works to mind is the startling accrual of evidence that the nation suffers from a preponderance of intellectual and moral failure.   In one poll, 51 percent of the Republicans who intend to vote in the primaries believe that President Obama is not an American citizen. Perhaps the most listened-to radio show in the country is Coast-to-Coast AM which is a talk show that invades most media markets at midnight every day of the week.  The show has some interesting programs and one weekend host, Ian Punnett out of St. Paul, who brings an element of intelligence to the show.  However, most of the shows dwell on conspiracy theories, that one would hope would be confined to asylums, and obsessions with the occult--extra-terrestrials, ghosts, weird creatures unknown to science, and any kind of spook people can imagine or hallucinate.  The show claims to dwell on these matters as the only media source that pursues real truth for the American people.  Its  main host is also persistently anti-Obama.  He opens the show each night with some look at the news and calls in "experts" who help him confirm what a devious fool President Obama is.  The main host and his guests often complain that those who experience UFOs and kidnappings by aliens and ghosts are disparaged by the social majority.  What is scary is how many people listen to the show and do not find cause for derision.  The show's dominance of midnight airwaves shows a regressive movement of American culture back into an age of superstition and ignorant fixations.  Although, the main host of the show, who opens most evenings with some anti-Obama ploy, claims that the show broadcasts truth not available through other media sources. 

The devout beliefs in demented cults and absurd defamation, such as Obama's Kenyan birth, indicates a cultural shift in the national mentality more than a political one.  American politics are schizophrenic.  Schizophrenia can be a matter of social psychology as well as individual psychology.  However, at the social level, symptoms of the disorder occur in definable segments of the population.  They may take on the appearance of political and social attitudes, but at root display a split from reality that is accompanied by a nurturing of ill will.  When people make up derogations and falsehoods about other people and then believe in them passionately, they create a group dynamic that does not proceed from actuality.  Rather they create a mythology around their hatred, prejudice, malice and ill will.   Perhaps the iconic version of this in America is the Salem witch trials.  They impose their ill will, whatever its emotional source, onto society.  Exacerbated by the electronic media such as talk radio and the Internet, people feed on each other and the group dynamic is driven by shared hatreds and ignorance,  an obsessive evil, not the better angels of human nature.

The  most pronounced symptom of the malaise that dominates so much of America's discourse.    People who gain public attention through words and deeds of ignorance, ill-will, and stupidity are held up as leaders. Discourse in politics has become a discourse of malice, and it is wrong to call it rhetoric, because it does everything but make cogent and rigorous arguments that can engage people in productive thought.  It is the squabbling, accusations, and malicious fantasies of those who have supplanted reality with the rituals of hatred.  The media in its absurd efforts to be "interactive" post questions and invite answers about which the respondents have no information or intellectual wherewithal to process information competently if they did possess accurate information.  Media comment sections and discussion threads of blogs do not inform us of anything but the fact that there is a huge horde of ignorant and malicious people out there willing and ready to spread their ignorance and malice.  

A prime example came when Madville Times put up a post about the fact that the state GOP went outside the state of South Dakota to choose an executive secretary.  The thread of discussion soon devolved into exchanges of petty but virulent ill-will with some respondents trying to salvage some fragment of civility from the exchanges.  Somehow the exchanges turned to that perennial fix on the poor as the ultimate test of political intention.  One respondent posted these comments:  

Stan, nobody hates the poor more than liberals. Yes they talk a good game but their policies are a direct attack on employment options for them and deny them a chance to provide for their families.

This blatant assault on the poor for political power in light of their manipulative “pro-poor” rhetoric makes their hatred even more egregious.

Cory, when I read your attempt to claim to know the motives of the GOP, I am absolutely convinced you are a person who hates the poor and loves manipulating them to support your world view.
What is significant about the statements is that they reveal why our teachers, our schools, and our social programs, even our scientists who study the causes of global warming are under such intense attack.  Public education has become an object of scorn.  One of the first things that frontier communities did as they organized themselves was to  establish schools.  Education was revered as the means to a better life for future generations.  Although teachers were often put under stringent codes of behavior, they were also given authority and trust in directing the education of their students.  Now teachers, their organizations, and the schools they work in are under severe attack.  We hear constant charges about the failure of public education, but few people make a connection between that failure and the incidence of bullying that takes place in schools.  Kids are reflecting the immersion in ignorant hatred and resentment of the larger society.  American education is failing because it is so beset by an ignorance and petulance  that does not wish it to succeed, but only to serve the purposes of the ignorant and petulant.  The comments quoted above show the severity and cause of the failure of education.  As well, it shows how the poor are used as the occasion for malice. 

Black Elk's vision of people running amok guided by their own rules and contrived versions of  reality is a fact-of-life.   Our public schools are hamstrung by the conflicting imposition of idiosyncratic rules with which people want the world run.

No reconciliation seems possible.  Just as we have red states and blue states forming around the divide between ignorance and knowledge, between ill-will and good will, the only refuge from angry and destructive conflict seems to lie in a society divided along those lines.  Looking for a good school for our children may well require some dislocations into other countries. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Over the river and under the burka

Officials say they found a stash of pornography in bin Laden's intelligence trove.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Want to see what it's like to live in a Freedom of Information Act state?

The Rock Island, Illinois, County state's attorney resigned last month after getting hauled into to court for supplying alcohol to a 17-year-old girl.  Just what was going on?  The newspaper I once worked for and other news media wanted to know.  They asked for details about the case under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, but were denied. One of the media filed suit.  Last Friday the Illinois State Police released over a thousand pages of its investigative files.  They include all the reports of investigators and the evidence collected, such as cell phone text messages, receipts, interview reports.   

The newspaper has published all the documents on its online site:

The case is seamy.  If you like seamy, you can read all about it here.  And here, at another newspaper I once worked for.  In any case, take a look at the files which have been released to experience what it is like to live in a state where you have the right to see the work that the people who work in your behalf and who you pay do their jobs.   More files are to be released as the State Police process them by redacting names for public scrutiny.

The State of South Dakota makes a lot of noise about open records and accessibility, but even its recent open records act makes it possible to conceal much of what government officials are doing.  One provision of the act stipulates that information will not be released on correspondence, calendars, appointment logs, working papers and records of telephone calls of public officials and government employees.  That covers almost all the work done.  In contrast, see the kind of information released in the Illinois State Police documents.  Names are redacted, but the substance is clearly presented.

The major concern in South Dakota is to keep secret the dealings that businesses have with and in the state.  

Citizens of South Dakota have no notion of what officials are doing in their behalf and how they are carrying out there duties.  A prime case involves the death of Prof. Morgan Lewis who was found dead on the NSU campus November 1, 2004.  At first the death was termed a homicide.  Then it was declared a suicide.  A big area of doubt was conflicting evidence that was never explained. If South Dakota would and could supply records as complete as those released by the Illinois State Police in the case referenced above,  those doubts could be resolved and citizens would know one way or the other what kind of work their police are doing.  As it is, doubt and suspicion remains.  

Here is what the catalog of documents looks like:  (Go ahead.  Take a peek.)

Terronez SW Unseal Order PG 2184.pdfTerronez SW Unseal Order PG 2184.pdf 31KB


Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States