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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

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What has big business done for America besides bilk it?

The great American myth manufacturers association has created a set of deities.   It calls them entrepreneurs.  They used to be called confidence men, swindlers, and crooks.

The worship of the gods of fraud is called patriotism.  If anyone criticizes American big business for its predatory activities, that person is labeled unpatriotic.  If big business does anything to damage the nation, the activity is called building the economy..  If anyone objects to defrauding consumers, despoiling the land, or running scams and advocates some government regulation, the business community and its sympathizers scream socialism, government take-over. Big business portrays itself as the purpose of America.  

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with a real entrepreneur,  one who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business.  As we found out with the bailouts prompted by the Great Recession, the people running the key businesses today organize exploitation, operate incompetently, and assume no risk.  The taxpayers assumed the risks of the incompetent and avaricious welfare queens who call themselves CEOs and other levels of executives.

The list of misperforming corporations is daunting:  General Motors, Chrysler,Lehman Brothers, BP, Countrywide, AIG, all the major banks, Worldcom, Enron--almost every major company..

When the government bailed out the auto industry and expected some responsible accountability for the loans it gave, the right wing immediately shouted socialism and Government Motors.  When BP befouled the Gulf states and Obama set up some rules of financial responsibility for the mess, the right wing immediately screamed about government takeover.  Corporations can defraud consumers, endanger lives, befoul the environment, organize all manner of crime, and its called free enterprise.  Consumers and taxpayers can ask for some protections against destructive depredation and exploitation, and they are called Marxists and socialists.

If that is so, it is probably time to try socialism.  It can't be any worse than the four decades of reducing the middle class toward the poverty line that corporations have orchestrated, as the top one-tenth of one percent has increased its share of the national income by 385 percent while the bottom 90 percent has dropped back one percent.  The right wing loves feudalism and all the deprivations and oppressions it can inflict.

.Last week Obama's chief of staff William Daley met with industrial leaders for a whine and moan session about Obama's policies.  They complained about free trade, while they are the one's who have raced to outsource jobs.  They whined about not  being allowed to rape, pillage, and destroy our natural resources.  And business leaders quake at the  thought of not receiving special tax breaks that leave the financing of the country up to the struggling middle class.  But here are the facts about corporate taxes:

Americans blame wasteful or unnecessary federal programs for the nation’s budget problems. But routine increases in defense and domestic spending account for only about 15 percent of the financial deterioration, according to a new analysis of CBO data.

The biggest culprit, by far, has been an erosion of tax revenue triggered largely by two recessions and multiple rounds of tax cuts. Together, the economy and the tax bills enacted under former president George W. Bush, and to a lesser extent by President Obama, wiped out $6.3 trillion in anticipated revenue. That’s nearly half of the $12.7 trillion swing from projected surpluses to real debt. Federal tax collections now stand at their lowest level as a percentage of the economy in 60 years.
Business is the culprit behind the Great Recession.  Banks like to blame spendthrift home buyers for taking out mortgages they could not afford on homes that were overpriced by the housing bubble.  But the fact is that mortgage companies had the authority and unregulated power to assess the value of the mortgages and to insure that they were going to people who afford them on homes worth the price.  It was the avaricious frenzy of the banks that was in control    Now that the government is implementing the Dodd Frank bill and trying to set up a consumer protection agency to set some reasonable rules, the financial industry, after putting on a massive demonstration of why it can't be trusted, is howling and whining about proposed regulations. 

Obama's weakness as a president is that he persists in making nice with people who are fundamentally not nice.  

There are companies that try to provide a quality goods or service to consumers and make an honest profit in so doing.  But they defer to the corporate hierarchy and the great advocate for confidence schemes and pillaging, the National Chamber of Commerce, to speak for the business community,  If there is a Better Business Bureau,  let us hear from some better businesses.  

There are small businesses where people actually meet and serve the customers that sustain the economy. But they allow their efforts and their honesty to be represented by the schemers and apologists for the perfidy and corruption that drives big business.  To get a view of how Wall Street actually thinks and operates, read this article in The New Yorker which details a prosecution of inside trading and the kind of thinking and people who engage in it.  These are the people who typify corporate interests and methods and who are setting the economic direction of the nation.

When the USA was founded,  Jefferson and others envisioned it as an agrarian democracy, in which citizens worked their own land, were independent of businesses, and therefore did not come under rule of the corporate schemers.  As the country grew and expanded, it needed large organizations to organize and support the services that sustain us.  But look what we have ended up with:  BP, Enron, Worldcom, Galleon financial, etc.  

At some point, America has to face the facts of what corporate business is truly about.  It might decide to give socialism a try.   Unless good businesses can lead a reform that drives out the bad. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Wisconsin modeling government on reservation system

If ranting and raving won't work, grab 'em by the neck.
A Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice won an election to keep his seat on the Court by 7,000 votes out of 1.2 million cast, just in time to participate in a decision that strips Wisconsin state workers of their collective bargaining rights.  Walker's law was declared void by a circuit court because of the methods used in the state legislature to pass but the state supreme court overruled the circuit decision by  4-3.  The chief justice of the supreme court rebuked the majority decision as  “hastily reaching judgment” on a ruling that was “disingenuous, based on disinformation,” “lacking a reasoned, transparent analysis” and laden with “numerous errors of law and fact.”

During the week preceding the release of the decision, sources inside the court say that Prosser became so enraged at another justice over the proceedings that he grabbed her by the neck.   The incident is under investigation and has been reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal

Other news coming out of the Wisconsin State Capitol concerns a man who participates in a daily sing-along there every noon.  The singers have gathered since March to protest the governor stripping union members of their rights.  One singers says, "We are a gentle, loving people, and we are singing, singing for our lives."  This week one of the singers was punched in the mouth by a Gov. Walker supporter.

This kind of action relates to a comment at the Madville Times:  "The only politics dirtier than tribal politics is church politics."  

Anyone who has dealt with reservation politics knows the constant rancor, fractiousness, and 
inability to come to agreement on anything.  That's because reservation governance was deliberately designed that way by the people who put the Native Americans on reservations and devised ways to hold them there.  It was designed to ignore the traditional ways of reaching consensus and creating reasons for those in charge to impose their orders and control the residents.

The State of Wisconsin has taken adopted this mode of governance wholeheartedly, as the above referenced incidents testify.  It is not what we used to call democracy. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Who has the best grunt in tennis?

Never mind that the economy is not improving because it is reverting to corporate feudalism.  Or that Obama thinks dinging around in a 10-year-old war that doesn't accomplish much besides the deaths of Americans and the squandering of money must end.  The real burning issue that the world needs to focus on is grunting at Wimbledon.

 YaHOOOooooo = "Take that, bitch."

The officials at Wimbledon think what they call the grunting, especially by women, is ruining tennis.  They are referring to the sounds some players make when they drive the ball back across the net.  The idea is that if you accompany a really powerful stroke with a fearsome noise, your opponent will be intimidated. 

The Wimbledon folks call those noises grunting.   Now, to the minds of most people a grunt is that low noise of exertion that comes out of the bathroom that we are taught not to giggle at as children and not to mention when the utterer emerges from the bathroom.  I had one aunt who delicately referred to taking a Number Two as taking a grunt.  I looked up the word grunt in the American Heritage Dictionary, and it said, "Idiot, do you really have to look this word up?"  Then it said, "Well, if you must, a grunt is a deep guttural sound."  That conforms more to what we children were ordered not to giggle at. 

What I hear issuing forth from the courts at Wimbledon is not a grunt, then.  It is more like a yell or a wail of the type that signals when someone has achieved orgasm.   So I've been told.  It is kind of a battle or victory cry.

Tennis was my sport until I was warned by a physician that my knees were not standing up very well to my scrambling about the court.  He said if I wanted to continue playing I should probably confine my efforts to grass courts.  I grunted.  

Tennis was the only sport I was relatively competitive at.  In college, I was in a constant battle with Richie M. for the number eight spot on the tennis team, but I was good enough to travel with the team as a reserve even if Richie had whumped me during the week to earn the right to play.  That was the whole idea.  There wasn't money to pay for tennis travel, so the out-of-town trips were scheduled in coordination with the women's team, and that was an important part of the whole game.  When we traveled to or hosted tennis matches we got to mingle with women tennis players.  For a time, my girl friend was Kay B., a fine tennis player.  I am about 5' 8" in a street shoes, not sure in tennis shoes.  Kay was 6' 2".  We played together a lot.  Sometimes on the tennis courts.  The first time I faced her in tennis, I was a cocky little shit who thought I would go real easy with a woman opponent.  I was so cocky that I wasn't even gripping my racquet properly, and her first serve knocked it right out of my hand.  The good part was that the more I played Kay, the more I beat Richie.  

I don't recall that Kay grunted.  On the courts or anywhere else.  But I do know that decorum on the tennis courts was enforced.  One of our team members spit on the court while dancing around waiting for a serve, and the line judge stopped the match and made the spitter wipe up the spittle with a towel.  Team member Duane was good at setting up play so that he could unleash his deadly overhead smash.  He liked to yell "Bonzai" when he did it, and he was also warned to keep his mouth shut by a judge.   Decorum was part of the game and we were expected to keep grunting and other noise-making off the courts.

The sounds emitted by women on the Wimbledon courts have never bothered me,  but I have wondered if the energy with which they are made is not better channeled into the forehand or backhand strokes.  However, tennis is a sport of custom as well as skill, and the custom of grunting has been around for some time.  Every tournament should award a prize to the best grunt of the tournament.  That will require a grunt judge, but the more pageantry in tennis, the better.  Spectators need to do something besides move their heads back and forth, and appraising grunts can provide a break from head rotation.  

You can begin your appreciation of grunts with these videos of grunting from The Daily Beast 

The economy and Afghanistan be damned.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The destruction of public higher education

Chancellor Carolyn "Biddy" Martin announced her resignation as head of the University of Wisconsin in Madison to take the presidency of Amherst College in Massachusetts.  She is leaving a job at Wisconsin where she presides over 16,500 employees and 42,000 students for a job where she will preside over 203 full time faculty and 1,744 students.  She leaves a university that offers the entire range of undergraduate and graduate degrees for a college that offers the Bachelor of Arts in 36 fields of study.  Presumably, her annual salary, $437,000 plus benefits, will be equivalent.

Chancellor Martin's resignation from Wisconsin came suddenly, but not surprisingly.  In her efforts to find a way to continue the university's programs, she sought to make the institution independent from the state system of universities and the rules which governed the financing of the institution.  She and the new Governor Scott Walker agreed upon a plan to the  make the University independent, but the Board of Regents which run the University of Wisconsin system opposed the plan, contending that such a severance would be too disrupting and damaging for the other universities in the system.     A plan was approved by the Regents which gave the Madison campus more autonomy in meeting its challenges, but not a complete divorce.  

Being well acquainted with many people associated with the University of Wisconsin through collaborative work I have done with them, I sought some perspectives on Biddy Martin's decision to leave after she had contended she would like to end her administrative career at Wisconsin.  The common perception is that her association with Gov. Walker caused a wariness among faculty and Regents that damaged what had been a collegial relationship.  One professor said that the budget cuts and the need to respond could have been worked out with the university constituency, but the plan to cut the Madison campus loose came as part of the Governor's move to take away the bargaining rights of state employees and to turn government over to corporate interests, who are not friendly to college programs and interests.  My Wisconsin friend said he could see nothing but conflict and trouble with the intrusion of partisan politics into university business and he assumes Chancellor Martin saw the same kind of future.

The university has an annual budget of $2.7 billion.  Thirty-two percent of it comes from federal dollars, mostly for research funding.  The next largest source is gifts and grants from alumni and non-governmental research projects.  Next in line in size is program revenue, such as football tickets and dormitory space.  That is  followed by tuition.

State funding is least at 17.6 percent of the budget at $475.2 million, but cuts of $92 million are scheduled over the next two years. My friend from Madison says that Gov. Walker's belligerent and insolent handling of the state budget and the people who work for the state spread a huge stain over the state that tarnished Chancellor Martin because she appeared to participate in the political putsch he led.  By contrast are other governors who cut budgets but with the cooperation of their states' constituents.  Gov. Markell of Delaware was reported by the Washington Post to point out that he invited the labor unions to the negotiating table and surpassed his target budget cut by 30 percent.  Gov. Hickenlooper of Colorado engaged the state legislature across party lines and passed his new budget with 75 percent in both state legislative houses.  To faculty members, staff, and students,  Gov. Walker's display of needless aggression raised the alarm about a dictatorial intrusion by a political party and by corporate interests into the business of the university.  That  attack by Walker also raised the alarm among the other universities in the system and was the reason for strong resistance by the other universities and the Regents to the proposal to make Madison independent.  They saw Walker's belligerence as an attack on academic freedom and principles.  

Wisconsin is not alone in seeing its leadership step down amidst strife that has seems to have no resolution because of the belligerent and disrespectful attitudes displayed by in-power political factions against their missions and their constituencies.  In what is an unusual trend, University of Arizona, George Mason University, University of New Mexico and Rutgers have all had resignations from their top executives.  Like Martin, most of them seem headed for private, well-endowed institutions where partisan politics will not frustrate the decision-making and the administering of the institutions.  

Public education and the people who  try to deliver is under attack at all levels.  While many private schools in the primary and secondary levels are denominational or  shaped to meet particular political beliefs, the well-endowed universities use their independence to enforce academic freedom and the business of free inquiry, examination, and exchange of ideas.  

My friend of Wisconsin says what is taking place in his state is a reversal of the building of public universities that began with the passage of the Land Grant College Act in the heat of the Civil War.  He says a number of key colleagues at Madison have already taken jobs elsewhere, but he said others are questioning whether it is possible to make a commitment to the traditions and principles of higher education.

The significance of Wisconsin is in the intrusion and dictatorial control and denial of some established rights of those who do the state's work.  

When the rights to inquire and have a voice in one's work are taken away,  democracy itself is disappearing.  Not many of us can find an Amherst College to  retreat to. 

I wish the Republican Leadership Conference could do for the nation what it did for Reggie Brown

I probably would not know who Reggie Brown is if he hadn't been ushered off the stage in the middle of performance at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans last weekend.  I had to watch the video to find out what he did that was considered inappropriate.  It turns out that what he did was be funny, although the targets of his humor obviously did not think so.  

One headline on Youtube said he was yanked off stage because of his racist comments.  But none of what he said disparaged any race in any way.  Rather, his routine satirized the racial and religious hangups that obsess so many in our culture.  

Hie commented that February was his favorite month.  It's black history month.  Michelle, he said, celebrates the whole month.  He only celebrates half.  

What those lines make fun of is the obsession with racial ratios that once were used to qualify mulattoes for which race, and are still operative in the small minds of many.  

His comment that his mother loved a black man but was not a Kardashian strikes at the reality-tabloid mania and what it says about the obsession with racial intermixing.

When Reggie Brown shifted from making fun of the Obama gossip to the foibles around some Republican candidates the Leadership Conference decided to end his performance.  He even ventured into some jokes about the popular conception of Mormonism when he talked about Mitt Romney.  He conjectured about what the atmosphere of the White House would be if Romney were president with First Lady One....First Lady Two...First Lady Three.

As Larry the Cable Guy says, now that's funny.  At least to old men who cherish moments of well-focused satire. 

Most sentient people would know that Romney is monogamous and the line is an absurdity meant to elicit giggles at the preposterous notion of multiple women sharing the first ladyship.  But to some, that would be offensive.

Satire is a dangerous business.  Some people hated Mark Twain for it.  Still do, I found out after teaching Twain.  Their brains can't handle any humor that makes fun of human stupidity and perversity.  So be it.  The freedom to be illiterate is one of major celebration these days.

But like many people, I would not have known who Reggie Brown is what he does if he hadn't received headlines for getting escorted off stage.  That also earned him appearances on Monday morning news shows.  

What is remarkable about Reggie Brown is the degree of finesse in his impersonation.  He does Obama with the evocative polish that Tina Fey does Sarah Palin.  He has Obama's vocal inflections, his gestures, and particularly that smile down to the point that one forgets one is not looking at Obama for moments in the performance.  He is so polished that his mimicry is respectful, not derisive.

Reggie Brown will probably get a lot of work as a result of his stage exit at the Leadership Conference, which was intended to be an ignominious one.  I look forward to sharing some giggles at some sharp-witted and well-delivered satire.  It's one of the few benefits our current political milieu can provide us. 



Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Great Feudal Estate of America: How the USA got that way

Top 0.1% 152,000 $5.6 million +385%
Top 0.1-0.5% 610,000 $878,139 +141%
Top 0.5-1% 762,000 $443,102 +90%
Top 1-5% 6.0 million $211,476 +59%
Top 5-10% 7.6 million $127,184 +38%
Bottom 90% 137.2 million $31,244 -1%
SOURCES: The World Top Incomes Database and reports by Jon Bakija, Williams College; Adam Cole, U.S. Department of Treasury; Bradley T. Heim, Indiana University; Carola Frydman, MIT Sloan School of Management and NBER; Raven E. Molloy, Federal Reserve Board of Governors; Thomas Piketty, Ehess, Paris; Emmanuel Saez, UC Berkeley and NBER. GRAPHIC: Alicia Parlapiano - The Washington Post. Published June 18, 2011.

 Congress debates matters such as the national debt, healthcare and welfare, the possession of various sets of genitalia and what it wants people to do with them,  but the real matter affecting the welfare of the people and the decline of the republic is dismissed for the most part.  Today the Washington Post made the matter its lead story.

It's the old more-for-the-greedy; less-for-the-needy routine, but with studies that show just who the  greedy are:

For years, statistics have depicted growing income disparity in the United States, and it has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. In 2008, the last year for which data are available, for example, the top 0.1 percent of earners took in more than 10 percent of the personal income in the United States, including capital gains, and the top 1 percent took in more than 20 percent. But economists had little idea who these people were. How many were Wall street financiers? Sports stars? Entrepreneurs? Economists could only speculate, and debates over what is fair stalled.
Now a mounting body of economic research indicates that the rise in pay for company executives is a critical feature in the widening income gap.
It also gives more precise motivation behind the anti-worker measures in states such as Wisconsin and what economic principles are behind those measures.
We keep pointing out that the matters of our economy, our national debt, our foreign policies, and the future of our nation are taken up in the national discussion in ways that lay a fog over what the real sources of our problems are.  The change will not come through our current political system; it will come only through a new revolution, and political scientists and commentators are loath to even speculate where revolution will take us this time.

Read the statistics that describe the whole situation. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rep. Noem defends ethanol pumps from Republican budget cuts

The ethanol industry has been one of the biggest boons to South Dakota's economy.

The Senate has already voted to cut ethanol subsidies.  When further cuts were proposed  on the House floor, Kristi Noem rose in opposition.  Here is The New York Times version of her stance:  

In a series of amendments, the House floor was often divided less by party than by regional interests. Some Republican measures that would curb ethanol support or make other cuts to agriculture programs were denounced by other Republicans, even those who advocate cuts in spending.

For instance, Representative Kristi Noem, Republican of South Dakota, who is among the very fiscally conservative freshmen, rose in opposition to a proposal from Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, that would have cut subsidies for ethanol pumps. “Agriculture has been significantly cut,” Ms. Noem said.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The dick has twittered

No jizm trail on a blue velvet dress, just a grey bulge:  it's like reading a Rorschach blot
Maybe, someday, better, more informed heads may prevail and the real significance of the Anthony Weiner business will be examined in terms of what actually happened and in context.

The Weiner affair is about sex and no one had sex. Or came close to it.  That we know of.  

The new media has intruded upon human communication in ways that merge real life and virtual life.  It has also made a generational shift in terms of who sets the customs and standards of society.  That shift, however, has been in motion for some time.

Adolescent culture has become dominant.  It became so when businesses realized that young people comprise a huge market force.  It began when the music business focused on adolescents in the kind of music it sold, and that expanded to entertainment, particularly the movie business.  Every summer we experience a weekly release of films that aspire to be blockbusters, films that are so popular to weekend movie-goers that they return millions and millions of dollars above their production costs.   Adolescents, and people of that mental age, comprise the largest part of those weekend audiences.  So the movies are created to appeal to their tastes.  As is the music, now issued through iTunes and other MP3 media sources.  And the clothing industry focuses on teen-devised fashion as a major component of its design and production. 

Mobile phones and the other computerized communications devices have also been designed to meet the interests of adolescents.  It is hard to imagine  teenagers without  mobile devices held to their ears.  Teens dominate the social media.  They were the first to appear in pubescent nudity on web cams.  They invented what we call "sexting" and the use of mobile phones and their applications for implementing their social divisions and exclusions, which includes the electronic forms of bullying.  Teen society reverts to the social instincts of the dog pack, the chicken flock, the cow herd.  It is primitive.  It is brutal.  It is motivated by the quest for status and power.  It is not moderated by those concepts of equality and justice that are the province of the better angels in human nature.  Those are the concepts of examined experience and maturity and education.  

 Anthony Weiner got caught up in the social media by conforming to the customs and behavioral practices common among our children.  He flirted as adults in real life do at cocktail parties, and then dismiss the suggestive talk as the work of their libations.   He apparently enjoyed the titillation of corresponding with women in ways that verged into sexual innuendo.   The factor in flirting through the social media that is seldom present at cocktail parties is that it leaves a textual-sexual and image record.  That record, when found, can be used as ammunition in the malevolent warfare we now accept as political discourse.  Weiner's indiscretions became the dominant focus of political propaganda writers and the media.

An often cited charge among Weiner's exchanges with women is with a 17-year-old girl from Delaware.The texts show no sexually suggestive messages, but rather an adult politician cultivating a potential supporter by using what he apparently regarded as a teen-hip level of communicating.  Still, his messages to the young Twitter follower are presented as suspect because of the nature of the messages he made with five other women.  

The significance of that focus on the young Delaware woman is how easily the media and the public can be led into a salacious frenzy through imposing their obsessive preoccupations onto banal exchanges.  Weiner's plight says as much, if not more, about the state of our culture as it does about Weiner's foolery.  

Weiner's serious offense was that he lied so flagrantly to the nation and to his leadership. That calls into question any trust placed in him.  

Now Weiner has announced his resignation and the media, Congress, and the public can get back to the serious business of hunting down another wienie to satisfy the quest for titillation and indignation.  

When Isaiah  said a child shall lead them, he probably did not mean that we would adopt childish, Lord-of-the-Flies society as the model for adults.  But it has come to pass. 

Paul had a different take in his letter to the Corinthians:  "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned as child;  when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways."  But that is not the American way. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why there won't be good jobs in America

The jobless rate is a political issue first, an economic one second.  The facts show that the political choices Americans have made are what has created a near-unsolvable job situation.  Americans have chosen to support corporations over working people.  Many of the jobs America is missing have been outsourced.  

The facts are contained in this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which shows the share of the national income earned by working people:

Workers' share of the national income has been in a state of constant decline for ten years.
Compare the rapid sinking of workers share of income with corporate profit earnings:  

In the same ten years that workers' share of income have fallen, corporate profits have hit record levels.
 There are not jobs because paying people to work interferes with record profits.  It's the way of the current version of the capitalistic system. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Becoming a conservative convert; giving up on democracy

David Mamet, playwright, professed conservative
Conservative circles are doing much crowing because America's premier playwright--who is also a screenwriter, director, producer, and essayist--has made a noisy conversion to conservatism.  In 2008, Pulitzer-winner David Mamet wrote  an essay in Village Voice titled "Why I Am No  Longer 'A Brain-Dead Liberal.'"  This spring he published a book The Secret Knowledge:  On the Dismantling of America Culture.  Conservative propagandists are seizing on Mamet's loud proclamations as a kind of proof that the conservative attitude has been right all along.  

They could not have read Mamet's rationalizations for his conversion from a liberal by context and habit to conservatism.  That  is, unless the neo-conservatives are ready to deny liberty, equality, and justice as part of their belief system.  In the "Brain-Dead Liberal" essay Mamet explains his change of mind from liberal orthodoxy to conservative orthodoxy:

I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

He further  makes this observation:

I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.
He concludes:

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

... people are each out to make a living, and the best way for government to facilitate that is to stay out of the way, as the inevitable abuses and failures of this system (free-market economics) are less than those of government intervention.

His new book is a series of essays that expand on these idea, not with argument, but with the emphatic recitation of neo-conservative cliches on liberal education, the New Deal, Al Sharpton, global warming, "Obamacare,"  the bailout of the auto industry, and the usual resentment and whining about taxes.  

I cannot offer a legitimate review of the book because I have not read all of it.  I put it down and gave it away because of statements like this:  “The Left insisted that we abandon, in 1973, a war we had just won in Vietnam…”   If I want to read falsehoods, I will choose fiction rather than a political polemic which falsifies events in history I have lived through.  

I have taught Mamet's work  in American drama courses.  A distinguishing aspect of his drama is his ability to give incisive portrayals of the way "lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals" dominate so much of human life.  His Pulitzer-winning Glengarry Glen Ross is a deep probing of the values of the "
greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt" as it operates in American business.  (The film version, adapted by Mamet, is a powerhouse featuring actors Al Pacino Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey and Jonathan Pryce.)  It explores two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen who are told that two of them will be fired and the two who remain will be those who sell the most in a real estate development called Glengarry Glen Ross.  A sleazy office manager, has a list of leads, who he parcels out according to his  own power-hungry whims.  As an act of revenge, some of the salesmen conspired to steal the list of leads and sell them to a competitor real estate firm.   The drama explores the social psychology that motivated the real estate bubble which underlies the Great Recession we are struggling to climb out of.

D.H Lawrence, the English novelist who took up residency in New Mexico, once advised critical readers to trust the tale of writers not the teller.   In Mamet's case, this seems advisable.  What he portrays in his writing, which actor Jack Lemmon summarized as how "the morals and ethics are in America and how they have eroded in the quest for success," lends an insidious element to his contention that the market forces are superior to any government intervention.  When he states in his "Brain-Dead" essay that  "I began to question my hatred for "the Corporations"—the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live," he is making an admission that the material comforts and conveniences produced by human predation trump any moral or ethical considerations for him in the long the run. 

Mamet's reasons for his embrace of neo-conservatism are at once a definition of its premise and the admission of a moral defeat.  He contends that human nature is essentially perfidious, that nature cannot be surmounted, and so he accepts it as the determinant rule of human life.  Those lofty aspirations in America's founding documents--liberty, equality, and justice--are superfluous and irrelevant to the controlling realities of human nature. Democracy, rule by the people, is ultimately ruled by the contending forces of  greed, lust, duplicity, and corruption.

As one of America's most prominent literary figures, Mamet may well define contemporary America with more reality and precision than all the hopeless aspiration striving for true liberty, equality, and justice.  His dismissal of government intervention in the affairs of mankind, however, is done in the face of some salient events in American and human history.  Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Eisenhower's ordering troops into Little Rock, Kennedy's plan to reach the moon, Lyndon Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights Act are milestones in the quest for liberty, equality, and justice.  Mamet's statements relinquish the progressive motive to a corporate-run world that supplies a lot of fraud and oppression along with what it thinks is neat stuff.

David Mamet has done something that is deadly for artists and teachers to do.  He has deferred to the small-minded, petty, and mindless imagery of partisan politics.  Artists and teachers may form political viewpoints from their examinations of life, but when they allow the trite and unexamined expressions of attitude to become their means of thought and expression, they betray their talents and their work.  Mamet has done just that.  I will continue to admire, read, watch, and teach his dramatic writing, but, as in this case, I won't waste time with his partisan hackery.  

Neo-conservatives may celebrate Mamet's vision of America; others who believe that liberty, equality, and justice are worthwhile pursuits will just have to pursue them in other places.    

Read more about David Mamet.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

*'Jesus wants me for a douchebag'*

While teaching journalism courses and advising publications, I was still teaching the dangers of libel as covered in text books and professional journals, but the rules were changing.  They were changing not by revisions of applicable laws, but because of a changes in the way those laws were regarded by the courts and by custom.

I practiced journalism in a time when the rules were simple:  if you libeled someone, you and your publication would pay heavily in damages for doing so.  If the facts stated were untrue and potentially damaging, the damage was presumed.  The victim did not have to prove damage.  The fact that something damaging was said or published and was not true was sufficient to provide recompense to the person defamed.  And the defamed did not have to show that the damage had hurt them in their occupations; if it defamed them socially, the damage was presumed inflicted.

I and my journalistic colleagues spent a prodigious amount of time insuring that nothing libelous ever made it into print.  If we had information about a person that was damaging but true, we had to make sure of our facts and literally build a court case in support of them, should they be challenged. The press had two responsibilities that defined the matter of libel:   it took serious its responsibility to monitor acts by officials and others that affected the public, and  it worked prodigiously to report those acts; it took just as seriously its responsibility not to unfairly and falsely tarnish or destroy the reputation of any individual.

Among writers, editors, teachers, and other students of the language, keeping the integrity of the word was a sacred calling.  Students of language understood that free speech had to be practiced with a commensurate responsibility to keep speech free of malignancies that decay and destroy language and the trust in it as a constructive tool.  

That reverence for careful and responsible use of language has been severely diminished by the new media.  Blogs, their comments, and discussion boards in general show the severe deterioration and state of decadence to which language can be reduced.  Now people feel free to utter any malicious, nasty, ignorant, and scurrilous thing that pops into their minds.  The new media is an eternal playground on which people give in to their infantile and malevolent urges to bully and malign, and that playground defines a part of the culture that shapes much of current society and politics.  People are not afraid to appear stupid and mean anymore and, in fact, take great pride and pleasure in displaying those characteristics.  Part of this is because of the serious decline of language arts education, which is really in a much more deplorable state than the U.S. lag in math and science when compared with other developed countries in the world.  Juvenile bullying is regarded as witty repartee, and the most uninformed, ill-formed opinion is regarded by its utterer as a jewel of free speech when in reality is merely mental fecal spatter on face of discourse.  Free speech is valuable, but not all free speech has value.

An example of the decline of rhetoric into the detritus of decay is part of a political campaign in Rapid City.  Flyers which have been produced and distributed against city council candidate Ritchie Nordstrom have been covered by Cory Heidelberger at Madville Times and Kevin Woster at the Rapid City Journal.  The mailing is the work of Family Matters PAC, a group which claims to uphold Christian family values.  The only thing remotely Christian in the mailings is that they perversely refute the commandment not to bear false witness.   Their  only purpose is to make false and defamatory representations about the council candidate.  

The situation could be called ironic if it were not so decadently perverse.  People use a Christian posture to preach a theology of hate, intolerance, and falsehood.  They allege that candidate Nordstrom's support of equal rights for all people comprises "a radical homosexual agenda."  The appeal of these flyers to gay haters is of precisely the same appeal of the KKK to the anti-Semitic and anti-racial-minority hatreds harbored by some people.  It is the same appeal the Nazis used to mount their pogrom against the Jews. 

And, like some of those Nazis, they claim their defamation rises from a Christian motive. The only relationship the pink flyer campaign has to Christian principle is in its flouting of the commandment not to bear false witness.  The perpetrators of the flyer baptize themselves by  immersion in falseness.

 As it turns out, Ritchie Nordstrom received the largest number of votes in his district and is headed for a runoff election.

What goes on in Rapid City is a symptom of a very serious national malaise of the soul.  People of a certain political strain seem most vulnerable to it.  And one of the most prolific vectors that spreads disease of mind and soul is the nightly talk radio show Coast To Coast AM, hosted by George Noory.  Noory presents an unctuous front and a smarmy claim that the show, which obsesses on paranormal kookery, extra-terrestial aliens, and every conspiracy theory that dementia can dream up, is the only medium that concerns itself with truth.  

An example of the show's truth-telling is one of its regular visitors, Jerome Corsi who was a co-author of the book that Swift-boated John Kerry by making up falsehoods about his war record in Vietnam.  Among Corsi's exercises in truth-telling are these observations:

  • on Islam: "a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion"
  • on Catholicism: "Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn't reported by the liberal press"
  • on Muslims: "RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters -- it all goes together"
  • on "John F*ing Commie Kerry": "After he married TerRAHsa, didn't John Kerry begin practicing Judiasm? He also has paternal grandparents that were Jewish. What religion is John Kerry?"
  • on Senator "FAT HOG" Clinton: "Anybody ask why HELLary couldn't keep BJ Bill satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?"

The latest truth pursued by Corsi is Obama's false birth certificate.  His latest book is  Where's the Birth Certificate?: The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President The book was released after Obama produced his original birth certificate.  Corsi appeared on Coast To Coast AM last week claiming that he can prove the certificate is a forgery.  The claims of forgery are refuted by experts on the scanning of documents.  But one of the claims of forgery is that the official physician who signed the certificate put a smiley face by his signature.  Such claims send Noory into an ecstasy of praise has he lauds the truth-telling that takes place on his show.  He brings up the general disrepute that Corsi is held in by journalists, but then asserts that Corsi is just another journalist reporting what he finds in the online news publication WorldNet.Com,  which is one of the more extreme right-wing propaganda sites that publishes the character assassination of the more extreme and unbalanced wingnut hacks.  

When Corsi was finished with his unsupported and largely refuted claims on Coast To Coast, the next guest was a Dr. Dan Horowitz who came on to claim that the E. coli epidemic in Germany and other countries in Europe was a deliberate attack of biological warfare with a strain of bacteria that was designed somewhere for the purpose of killing off people to reduce the world population.  He said, "The kidney complications and hemorrhagic nature of this new strain of E. coli is suspicious-- it looks like a lab-created mutation, similar to how Ebola works. This seems to smack of the globalists' depopulation agenda," he said, adding that  military experiments have used E. coli as a weapon.

Then this week, Noory had on another conspiracy theorist who made the same claim.  His name is Steve Quayle who stated, "This is a specific biowarfare agent that has been designed to thing well, and that's kill people." The strain, he  said, could perhaps be traced to a laboratory dealing with antibiotic resistance, and may be related to a scheme against natural foods. 

While Horowitz and Quayle depart from the personal defamation and fabrications make by Corsi against Obama, their attempts to incite fear and hatred against some unknown group  has the same intention.  These kind of messages go out from Coast To Coast every night on more than 500 radio stations to reach 4.5 million listeners.  It broadcasts misinformation in the guise of entertainment and discussion.  Unlike cable television prattle shows, it offers no discussion, however, that refutes or criticizes the contentions which often spin off into pure insanity.

Just as the libelers in Rapid City hope to gain power and influence by making false allegations against individuals and obtaining power through fear, the purveyors of preposterous conspiracy theories damage the trust that people rely upon for language to be a constructive medium.  Instead, language becomes a vector of the cancer of hatred, fear, and suspicion.  

And the defamers and spreaders of false rumors are always called upon by some god or motive of high purpose to unleash their hatred and fear.  They provide a portent of what is to come if their influence on the media and our educational institutions is not reined in. 

I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner---

anything but an Anthony.

The most disturbing but significant aspect of the Weiner twittering is the obsessive fixation of the news media.  American journalism has gone tabloid, apparently under the assumption that a fixation on the seamy and lurid is what America wants above all else.  The incident needs examination and coverage in the form of periodic updates, but to fill the 24-hour news cycles for four or five days makes the problems that gave Weiner the urge to photograph and transmit erectile imagery seem insignificant and trivial.  That the news media would put so much effort and emphasis on an online, clothed whinky-doodle episode should be of much more concern of those who examine the state of the nation.  The nation's preoccupations with the Weiner episode is much more serious and alarming than the incident itself.

What Weiner did has become commonplace among a large constituency of society.  The social media and the technology which enables it is the special province of juveniles and adults who choose to act as juveniles.  The new media has changed the way people establish relationships with each other. As a Washington Post article points out, people are finding that virtual relationships result in some dire realities.   Thought and reasoning have been displaced by impulse.  We live in an uncerebral society.  A highly successful and  respected high school counselor I knew often pointed out to adults that the thing one had to remember about kids is that they can't think beyond lunch.  The new media has made many adults as impulsive and short-sighted as children.

Do not, however, blame the technology.  It only facilitates a human impulse that many so-called adults harbor.   The real problem with contemporary society is that rather than mature, experienced, and thoughtful adults setting the social parameters for children, kids have set the patterns of behavior and social interaction among for the adults.  We are hung up on high school, and the social and sexual furor that runs through adolescence.  

A number of commentators have suggested that Anthony Weiner fell victim to a deep mental issue that needs psychiatric examination.  The fact is that Weiner engaged the social media in a manner that is commonplace among high school kids.  Like many adults, he relived adolescence in his virtual life.  

After World War II, our culture moved into its obsession with youth.  Youth became a market that drives our entertainment, our popular culture, and our technology.  The quest for young bodies and unfettered, impulsive minds is a market that comprises a huge part of our economy.  Anthony Weiner is merely a very visible emanation of the youth cult, which might well define our culture at this point.  The quest for youth ends up with idiocy. 

The American high school is the great transformative engine in our culture.  It gives children the educational and social basis for becoming productive and fulfilled adults.  But education takes an increasingly diminished role in the high school experience for many.  Parents relive their adolescence through their kids, rather than prepare their kids to become adults who can function effectively and responsibly.  Parents and teachers emulate the society of the kids, rather than kids striving to become adults.  Alexandra Robbins, author of the book The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth visited seven high schools to analyze what life was really like for adolescent students.  She found that even teachers were emulating juvenile society:

...the adults who are supposed to be modeling social behavior for students are in some cases openly forming their own cliques, with names. That blew my mind. Even schools where they're paying thousands of dollars to sponsor anti-bullying programs and trying to ease social tension among the student body -- these same schools have teacher clique issues that they're not addressing. There was one teacher clique called Teachers Against Dumbasses.

I first became aware of the hold that adolescence has on adults through two women I knew quite well.  They were both mothers of big families, and talked often of their daughters.  One woman was pursuing advanced degrees in adult education and the other was in a Ph.D. program in American studies.  One taught in an adult education program for which I was a consulted, and the other taught courses in the college department where I worked.  And both were in clear competition with their own daughters.  When their daughters excelled in some academic enterprise, the women tried to outdo them.  

They were greatly talented women, but seemed trapped by trying to relive adolescence to find some satisfactions that they seem to have missed the first time around.  But in both cases, as they approached full middle age, their talents were compromised by personality issues that affected their relationships with other adults and their daughters.  Their attempts to regress into youth ended in broken maturity.  
Anthony Weiner with his wife Huma Adebin.

Anthony Weiner seems to have been caught up in a kind of adolescent social-sexual frenzy.  But in the fixation on Weiner and his twitters and his desperate lying, the nation's media and its audience seems to be caught in that frenzy even more. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is child porn the new Salem witch hunt?

All I know about child porn comes from the term itself. I assume it is pornography that involves children. Just what parameters of decency it violates that make it such an egregious crime are matters that I cannot imagine. Furthermore, I have no idea where one would go to find it. And I don't plan to search. Having a search record on one's computer is extremely dangerous. People are convicted to prison constantly for having child pornography on their computers.

That circumstance is what sets off my alarm. The statute on child pornography is quite broad. It defines child pornography as the depiction of any prohibited sexual act with a child. It also has a number of mandates requiring people who might deal with photography films, videos, and computers to report any instances where they find child pornography on media they handle in the course of their businesses. I am confounded by how possession of some depiction of a pornographic act with a child can be conflated into a major crime. If the person who is alleged to have such a depiction but has not acted out any such acts, I ask how the absence of an anti-social act but mere possession can result in a harsh prison sentence and a record of sexual offense.

What brings this to mind is a story in the Rapid City Journal about a 19-year-old who was sentenced to180 days in prison and put on probation for seven years for having child pornography on his computer. He plead guilty to one count which prosecutors said was very disturbing, and his defense lawyer said he acknowledged he was wrong to download the depiction. He was 18 when arrested. No information was contained in the story about who found the depiction and turned him in. So, we readers of this report are given no indication of why he underwent such a harsh prosecution and sentence. What seems to be a mental health issue is regarded as a crime that puts a teenager in prison for six months and puts him on probation for seven years. Any chance he has to build a constructive life is pretty well destroyed by a prison record and being on probation until he is 26. I don't grasp the magnitude of the offense or why he is sentenced to severe punishment rather than a program of rehabilitation. Nor do I understand the quality of justice demonstrated by the prosecution and the defense.

There are many compelling reasons why I have become suspicious and skeptical about child pornography charges. One of them regards a Sioux Falls attorney who was charged with possession and distribution of child pornography but was acquitted by a jury because he was looking at the pornography in preparation for advising clients. South Dakota law protects police officers and lawyers who gaze on child pornography in the course of their work. Federal law does not.

The question that comes to my mind is how this case got to court. If the police and prosecutors had investigated with due diligence, it seems the case could have been resolved without charges being filed. The stories did not indicate just who informed on the lawyer or why such an aggressive prosecution was mounted. Anyone who has witnessed some of the vindictive and prejudicial motives that operate in our justice system must wonder who was out to get this lawyer.

And that gets to some other experiences. I have supported and worked with organizations that investigate wrongful convictions. In one case a local man gave a neighbor woman permission to use his computer while he was out of town on business. She found child porn on it and turned him in to the police. Although convicted of the charge, he denied ever looking at or downloading child porn, and said he did not even know it was on his computer. An investigation revealed that he was very generous about letting other people use his computer, but we could not, of course, identify someone among the many people who had used his computer with evidence that one or more of them had downloaded pornography. The one interesting fact provided by the computer expert in the case was that the woman who found the child porn had to make a concerted and aggressive effort to search the files on the computer.

Another case involved a government official on whose work computer technicians found some pornography. He was forced to resign, but filed a report with an agency that looks into instances of wrongful accusation. We found that a young man in his office had often been seen using the computer when the official was out of the office. However, the official got a better job and willingly departed, but the investigating organization sent the officials who asked for his resignation a letter detailing the information produced by the investigation, along with a severe reprimand for prosecuting a careless and easily disproved accusation.

There were other cases of the sort that have shown the need to rewrite some laws to make officials, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors liable for wrongful accusations and prosecutions that stem from slovenly investigations and malicious prosecutions.

There are people who feel that they have power and consequence only when they can destroy the lives of other people.  There are others who harbor malicious hatred of individuals.  They do not seem to hesitate to use the law and the justice system to realize malevolent self-esteem and pleasure.

It appears that child pornography laws and the justice system is put in service of those motives.  Just as the State of Illinois has engaged in a stringent critical review of its justice system when it pardoned 13 men from death row because of wrongful convictions.

The stench of malice pervades the matter of child pornography prosecutions and convictions.  

Attacks on middle class insure failure of America

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich gives a detailed explanation of why our economy is faltering and why it will continue to do so unless the policies which have destroyed the middle class for the last thirty years are reversed.  His analysis, which is a summary of testimony he has presented to a Senate committee, makes clear why the anti-labor policies and actions of politicians such as Gov. Walker of Wisconsin can result only in the further decline of the American economy.

Reich explains the basic causes of the economic downturn:

  1. "The pay of well-connected graduates of prestigious colleges and MBA programs has soared. But the pay and benefits of most other workers has either flattened or dropped. And the ensuing division has also made most middle-class American families less economically secure."
  2. The government " slashed public goods and investments -- whacking school budgets, increasing the cost of public higher education, reducing job training, cutting public transportation and allowing bridges, ports and highways to corrode."
  3. The government "shredded safety nets -- reducing aid to jobless families with children, tightening eligibility for food stamps, and cutting unemployment insurance so much that by 2007 only 40 percent of the unemployed were covered. It halved the top income tax rate from the range of 70 to 90 percent that prevailed during the Great Prosperity to 28 to 35 percent; allowed many of the nation's rich to treat their income as capital gains subject to no more than 15 percent tax; and shrunk inheritance taxes that affected only the top-most 1.5 percent of earners. Yet at the same time, America boosted sales and payroll taxes, both of which took a bigger chunk out of the pay the middle class and the poor than of the well off

Reich explains how the middle class coped with these changes in the policies working against it:

  1. "Women move into paid work...But the vast majority of women who migrated into paid work did so in order to prop up family incomes as households were hit by the stagnant or declining wages of male workers."
  2. "Everyone works longer hours."
  3. These factors did not suffice and made people "Draw down savings and borrow to the hilt." 
 The circumstances of the fall of the middle class are, of course, created by political decisions.  With the GOP devoted to the subjection of the middle class and the creation of a plutocracy, those policies which obsessed about the size rather the performance of the government and operated on trickle-down economics will keep the U.S. plunging downward as long as they prevail. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States