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

Monday, October 31, 2011

How to screw the reservations and feel good about it

Much has been written on the blogs about NPR's report concerning native American children taken away from their families and put into foster homes.  Among others, Cory Heidelberger, Denise Ross, and Bob Mercer have noted and commented on the story.  The story includes the suggestion that Gov. Dennis Daugaard was caught in a conflict of interest because he headed the Children's Home Society at the time he was lieutenant governor and could be seen as using his political clout with the state to increase the Society's fortunes by making it the prime contractor for placing children taken away from their parents into foster homes.  Daugaard went so far as to send out a press release prior to the airing of the NPR program which explained his role and the reasons that the Children's Home Society became the prime contractor.  Unfortunately, the Governor's role in all this became the focus of the story for many people, although Heidelberger and Ross tried to emphasize that the real issue was the placements of native American children into white foster homes. The 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, authored by former South Dakota U.S. Senator James Abourezk, specifies that every effort should be made to put native children taken away from their homes into native homes, and that a first priority should be to keep families together.  The story points out that 32 states appear to flout that law and South Dakota is the  biggest flouter.  It removes children from their homes at a higher rate other states.

The big question is whether this rate of removals is necessary and justified and if the state authorities make an earnest attempt to place the removals in native homes.  The story cites native homes that are approved for foster care but never receive a call.  The state receives federal money for the placements and appears to channel that money into white organizations and homes, as is the tradition in dealing with the indigenous people.  

That is not new.  From the outset, reservations were designed to serve the purposes of maintaining the Indian population in concentration camps and setting up those camps to be objects of exploitation by traders, contractors, and agents.  The justification for this treatment of the Indian people was established in the Declaration of Independence, which refers to them as "the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."  Old Tom Jefferson really nailed those babies.

That attitude persists today when people recall the Sioux uprising of 1862 during which 38 Dakota warriors were hanged for their role in it.  The good people in their outrage over the massacre of white settlers ignore the fact, as presented on a University of Minnesota-Duluth web page, that the "government was extremely dishonest in [its] treatment of the Sioux (or Dakota) Indians" and that "The Sioux were being taken for fools by the government and they didn't want to take it anymore."  However, this rather glib condemnation of treatment of the Dakotas does not indicate the fact that the Dakota people realized that they were the subjects of a genocide campaign in which their lands were taken away and then they were crowded onto reservations where essential food and supplies were denied them.  There was a desperation at realizing they were being subjected to a process of extermination.

The Sioux Uprising led to the western great plains Indian wars, the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868 and the establishment of all of West River South Dakota as a Great Sioux Reservation, and the eventual stealing and bilking away of most of that land.  The reservation system is part of  a genocidal scheme, in which the first premise is to kill off the food supply and take away the habitat of the Indian nations.  Then force the people into concentration camps located on the most unproductive landscapes and keep them subdued by parceling out food and supplies in a way that is a constant reminder of their subjugation.  Those reservations at once keep the Indian people in a state of need, but at the same time are invested with the history of vital nations.  The Indians of North America are living reminders of the perfidy and horrific violence with which the white culture appropriated their lands and their livelihoods.  They are living refutations of the white culture's pretenses to a superior morality and decency,  In an editorial in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, at once acknowledged the genocide against the Indian people and expressed the need for it to continue:  
our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.
He may well have realized he was speaking more for the realities faced by the white psyche than for the physical safety of the settlers.   Of course, his concern is for the discomfort that the Indians cause for the white psyche, not what the greed and perfidy of the  white psyche causes for the Indians. 

The white culture has never come to terms with the fact that Indian culture is rooted in values and ethical premises opposite to those practiced by whites.  In most Indian nations, one ascends to leadership through effective application of those values.  They include bravery, but emphasize diligence, generosity, and a hospitable regard for life.  That regard is carried out in the code of the warrior to defend and act against any forces that threaten the well-being of the tribe.  In most plains tribes, becoming a chief meant becoming poor.  A chief's first obligation was to see that the needs of his people were attended to, which may mean giving of one's personal fortunes.  The Indian culture was formed around those very precepts advanced by Jesus Christ, those precepts so thoroughly dismissed by many who call themselves Christians.  The concepts of working for the common good and well-being are portrayed by the American right as pernicious socialism, communism, and Marxism, and the practice of avarice is held up as a virtue upon which the free market operates.

As a sign of its humane pity, white society likes to adopt and indoctrinate Indian children into its ways.  The removal and cultural modification of Indian children at once demonstrates a professed humanity, but also hopes to purge knowledge of their own culture from the children.  This was the objective of the Indian boarding schools, which tried to destroy knowledge of the Indian languages.  It is still the motive behind removing children from their culture and placing them in white homes.   Communist lore has its Manchurian candidate; Indian history has its candidates for boarding schools and white foster homes.   Onondaga Chief Canassatego noted this behavioral modification  process back in 1744.

There are undeniably domestic problems on our reservations, problems caused by the attempt to deny the legitimacy of native American culture and supplant with the official avarice and perfidy of our vaunted form of capitalism.  The Occupy movement is protesting those same qualities that native American leaders have decried over the centuries.  White America may wish to expiate its transgressions against the Indian people, but taking away and indoctrinating their children in a culture that denies and distorts their heritage is devious and self-deluding.  

While white organizations and people have benefited and grown prosperous from the money being pumped into the agencies that oversee the removal of Indian children is a long-established tradition in our treatment of the reservations, it perpetuates and renews the attempts to kill off a culture.  Once again, there is  talk of reconciliation between whites and tribes, but the tribes are overlooked in dealing with the domestic problems that lead to the removal of children.  And there is the huge question of how many of those removals are necessary and if the children could not be placed with family members and people of their own nation.  

As Corey Heidelberger said, the question of whether Gov. Daugaard had a conflict of interest becomes a trivial distraction to confronting the real issue.  And that issue concerns giving the Indian people the right to their own culture, settling the issue of the lands stolen from them, and recognizing the malignancy of the promotion of avarice that some tout as a basic America value.

 There are those who attribute the facing of our history and the strain of values that runs through it as a hatred of America.  There is a hatred of the debasing greed and racist and class hatreds that seem to possess America, particularly in its economic sector.  The Occupy Movement seems to perceive the realities of what America is becoming.  The Indian people have seen it for centuries.  

Some may feel honorable and generous in taking Indian children out of their culture and trying to give them the "advantages" of white culture.  But it is all just more screwing the people on the reservations. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What the Occupy movement signifies

The national press makes a fatuous comparison between the Occupy movement and the Tea Party movement, suggesting they are similar demonstrations by opposing groups.  They are confounded by the fact that the Occupy movement does not have a set agenda that it coheres around.  That should lead the interpreters of the movements to explore the differences and to a recognition that the Occupy movement is about something quite different than an attempt to exercise influence and power within the existing political structure.

Occupy gets ugly in Oakland

As occupy camps are being moved out by police, the protests are beginning to change from passive to active.   The Occupy demonstrations contain people and factions with divergent, often opposing, viewpoints,  and they have also been beset by some elements who see the passive demeanor as opportunity for thievery and other predations.   The press cannot relinquish its easy and irrelevant comparisons with the Tea Party.  The Occupy movement is spontaneous, driven, like the Arab Spring, by cell phone and laptop social applications.  The Tea Party was  highly staged and coordinated with corporate dollars aimed at a single message of shrinking the federal government by limiting spending.  The significance of the Occupy movement is in its dissimilarity to the Tea Party.  It has gained momentum from a totally different driving force.

If there is a single factor involved in the Occupy movement it is the recognition that America has become a plutocracy in which the resources of the country have come under the control of one percent of the population which is systematically eliminating the other 99 percent from any equity or opportunity in the economy.  Some in the movement vaguely hope that the spreading protests will translate into political action which restores opportunity for the middle class.  More radical elements think that American democracy has been broken by a corporate-driven agenda and has, in fact, failed.  That faction contends that under the guise of globalization, America has abandoned restraints on corporations and, therefore, allowed a massive selling out of American working people.  There is no chance, they say, to compete with China when the managing class has abandoned its American workers for the cheap labor of China and other Pacific Rim countries.  And, they contend, there is no way that American workers can be restored to affluence.  Under the global system, they are headed for poverty and the conditions of compliance with the managing class that will allow them any subsistence at all.  Only a revolution and total dismantling of the the system can provide opportunity to the occupiers of the middle working class.

A government study ordered by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee shows that the Occupy protesters are right.  Data and charts from the Congressional Budget Office portray the conversion of the U.S. into a plutocracy.  Here are a couple of the charts that show the  shift of money and power away from the people into small concentration of the managing class.  

See all the charts at Talking Point Memo

Read The Washington Post story on the report here.  

And in The New York Times.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hanging America's brain-laundry out to dry

Washing brains, sort of.

Cory Heidelberger at Madville Times hung a couple pairs of thongs out on his blog line for all to see, hoping, I trust, to expose what really was behind the  scanty panties.   One set was displayed by Rep. Kristi Noem; the other by Sen. John Thune. 

What you think is promised
They were verbal thongs in the sense that they attract attention and divert it away from reality.  In this case thongs are used like a bull-fighter's cape, to attract attention away from the fighter so the bull can't gore him and to set it up for the kill.  Thongs seem to promise something that does not, in fact, exist.  

is not what is there.
The deceptions also operate as boogey-men, straw figures created to scare children.  One tells children that there are boogey-men lurking about, scheming to snatch their little asses in the night.  But you promise to protect the children, and when no boogey-man performs an ass-snatch, the children feel protected and trusting.   

Kristi Noem's thong is a piece of legislation that promises to protect farmers from being snatched by the Environmental Protection Agency for raising too much dust on their farms.  The EPA keeps tabs on whether dust in the country can harm people, but says it has no regulation for snatching farmers in the night who raise dust and does not plan on creating one.  But Noem promises to keep dusty rascals safe from the EPA.  

Thune's thong is almost identical, except he he fashions his thong around bovine flatulence.  His legislation is to prevent the EPA from coming in the night and snatching farmers for the farts their cattle emit into the air.  The EPA says it has no such regulation and has never planned to make one.  But John says he is protecting farmers from fart-based-snatching and is keeping those flatulence-coddling rascals safe from the EPA.

One might think that Noem and Thune are playing their constituents for fools.  Or one might think that Noem and Thune actually believe, or choose to believe, that the EPA is prowling around sniffing the air for dust and farts so that it  may persecute poor farmers. Or one may look at the proposed laws outlawing the EPA from doing something it never considered doing as part of a brain-washing enterprise to control and manipulate that part of the electorate which is vulnerable to such tactics.

Actually, brain-washing is a much misused term.  It was first applied to the tactics of North Korea to employ fear and coercion on prisoners of war to induce them to renounce their previous beliefs and adopt the North Korean communistic dogma.  Since that time, brain-washing has been used pejoratively to include any form of persuasion, including advertising, political messaging, and religious conversion.  There is an element of accuracy in these applications where the persuasive objective is to purge the brain of independent knowledge and replace it with a set of dogma determined by the so-called brain-washer.

When I was in the Army in the mid-fifties, some vacant barracks on our isolated post were used to compile a study on brain-washing ordered by President Eisenhower.  We were occasionally asked to help with some clerical work like collating, but we got to know the personnel conducting the study and something about what they were finding.  What they found is that G.I. prisoners of war who defected to the North Koreans often had personal histories of being oppressed and discriminated against.  The conclusion was that the Korean brain-washing was not what made them believe that the communistic regime might give them more freedom and equality than they found in the U.S.  They had experienced oppression and discrimination.  The study was a motive for accelerating the desegregation of the armed forces.  Most of the turncoats found that what the North Koreans promised was not what they received, and they repatriated.  They saw past the propaganda thongs that once enticed them. 

However, persuasive techniques are matters for the study of rhetoric and mass communications and are thoroughly studied  and analyzed in those fields.  You begin with the fact that human beings are herd and pack animals.  They like to be part of a society and will conform to the conventions of a society in order to feel a part of it.  To become part of a given society, members are required to pledge and display an allegiance.  So, they are willing to relinquish individuality to be full-fledged members of a society.

Part of the herd and pack instinct is to band together to protect against dangers.  The reptilian cortex of the brain perceives anything or anyone that is not part of the chosen society as a danger.  The reptilian impulse is to destroy anything it perceives as a threat.  In communications, the reptilian cortex can be manipulated to regard other people and differing ideas as threats to be destroyed. People in advertising and propaganda communications appeal to the reptilian part of the brain.  In politics it is a common tactic to tell people of the dangers that the opposing political party poses for them and to contend that their candidates in their roles as leaders will fend off those dangers and protect them.  That is why the legislation proposed by John Thune and Krisit Noem is purely a political ploy that has little relevance to real circumstances.   The legislation is conceived as thongs to divert attention away from the facts and to instill fear into the vulnerable constituency.

Noem and Thune play to the anti-intellectual streak in American society.  The founders, including those self-educated like Benjamin Franklin saw education as the force that could create and sustain democracy.   Education and knowledge, they insisted, developed the cognitive portions of the brain so that the repilian cortex was not in control.  Even the writers at Aljazeera understand the ant-intellectual strain in American life the founders interest in countering it: 

America has always had a critical thinking deficit, in that it has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism. This is particularly perverse, maddening and contradictory, since America's Founders were the most intellectual group that ever founded any nation we know of, and the desire to foster free and critical thinking, both in government and in the society at large, was one of their notable goals, as a direct consequence of the Enlightenment heritage on which America's Founders depended. 

To students of rhetoric and communications, America's decline of literacy--the understanding of rhetorical principles and communicative devices--has much to do with the political morass into which it is mired.  While those who claim they want to improve education focus on math and science, they ignore the verbal skills and knowledge that form the cognitive process, the development of that part of the brain which surmounts those primitive reptilian impulses.  One can find examples of the reptilian impulse as it has developed into a malignant pathology on the Internet. They display all the intellectual merit of rattle snakes striking at warm-air balloons.  Or dupes slavering at a display of thongs.

The dust-and-fart legislation proposed by Thune and Noem appeals strongly to that segment of society that defines social cohesion by the threats it imagines pose dangers to it.  It is aware of the deep social and political tensions that it creates and must have scapegoats to blame for them.  The study of rhetoric and communication is informed by the fields of sociology, social psychology, cognitive development, and clinical psychology which have identified the tendency to invest beliefs in manufactured circumstance as opposed to what exists in actuality as Shared Paranoid Disorder, or Folie a Deux (French for a "madness shared by two").   

The big question facing America today is how many people are not cognitively developed enough to see past John Thune's and Kristi Noem's thongs?  When they are in the voting booth, will vote like rattle snakes striking at balloons or dupes breathing heavily out of a lust for thongs and a fear of boogey-men?  Are their brains shaped by operant-conditioning, brain-washing if you will, or can they muster some of the cognitive skills that Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson envisioned?  

You will know if we end up living in a nation of laws composed of shared paranoia about dust and bovine farts. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Scenic, SD

Herman Cain made one of those blunders that reveals the intellectual and moral depth of the political party he is a part of.  Among the many things he has said which has received a wtf-are-you-talking-about? response was his contention on Face The Nation that the Occupiers on Wall Street and elsewhere are motivated by jealousy and envy of the rich.  He claims people like Cornel West of Princeton are out-of-touch with the real world when they  criticize his dismissal of racism as a factor affecting people's lives.  And his prescription for the Occupiers is to work hard enough to be able to afford a Cadillac rather than protest banks and their executives.

The first question Cain needs to answer, but won't be asked in the staged debates, is, "Work hard enough at what, when no jobs are available?''  The second question is whether the pizza ovens at Godfather's are the real world he is referring to.  A colleague of mine, a black physicist who was in graduate school at the height of the civil rights movement, says Herman Cain thinks the solution to America's economic troubles is to make every American an Uncle Tom.  Working hard means shucking, and shuffling, and saying "yes, massa" to the Wall Street  bankers who plunged American into the recession it is in.  That is Cain's version of  trickle down economics.  

But Cain's representations of the Occupy Wall Street protesters is consistent with the general GOP-conservative response.  It is not based upon any kind of knowledge or evidence of what the motives of the protesters are and who they are. The GOP strategy is to dismiss the Occupiers as the offal of American society, the unwashed and mentally impaired.  This tactic can be illustrated in the South Dakota Wart Collage, which has not deviated far from the obsessively malicious, petty, and stupid slanders established by Pat Powers as its modus operandi.  It begins its slander against the the Occupiers in Sioux Falls with: "Do you smell that? Sniff, sniff. What is it? Nope, not John Morrell. It’s occupy Sioux Falls. Those insightful protesters who have forgotten to bathe and bring porta potties to Wall Street have decided to bring a similar movement to South Dakota!"  We are reminded that John Morrell was recently fined and upbraided for polluting the air and water, but there is no penalty, except the the derision of the informed and educated, over polluting the language and the digital media which transmits it.   

However, the local yokels get their inspiration from national-level purveyors of infantile malevolence like Red States' Erick Erickson who wrote, “Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53 percent subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain.”

Although the right wing is quick to heap all manner of scurrility on Obama for not more effectively dealing with the recession, it cannot bring itself to acknowledge the cause of it--the greed, class presumptions, and foolery of the Wall Street compatriots.  Nor can it acknowledge its effects on the millions of people who have been thrown onto the path toward poverty.  The GOP abhors coherence.  The Democrats keep trying to argue with and reason with the opposition and are led into incoherence.

The Occupiers focus those who are attacking democracy and its opportunities through an economy that militates against the middle and lower economic classes.   What the Ocuppiers are protesting is apparent to anyone whose head is not welded into their lower colon.  And as a supporter of the Occupiers put it,  "We tried voting and were shown that it doesn't work."  What makes the protest so disconcerting to many is that  the Occupiers recognize that the political system is too broken to be useful for any honest democratic endeavor and must be circumvented if any portion of liberty and justice can be salvaged for ordinary Americans. The steadfast conservatives fear that the protests are a rejection of the political tradition that is so broken and excludes the working classes as worthless and inconsequential.  They fear that such rejection may means that the protestors will regard the right-wing as the same kind of enemy that the right-wing regards workers.  They fear the rejection of the  privileges that their notion of class bestows on the plutocracy.  And so, they resort to the inane scurrility that the upper economic classes reserved for the lower in the undemocratic past.  

Obama's attempt to maintain reasoning cordiality with the Republican Party is the real reason behind his slumping poll numbers with progressives.  Among blacks, his approval rating has slipped from 83 percent to 58 percent.  However, the media does not delve into what disapproval means and what the polls are actually registering.  Patrick Davis Consulting provides insight into what the polls mean through a  discussion with a Democratic pollster.  And the information revealed in that discussion sheds a great deal of light on what is motivating the Occupiers.  

Black voters have said they are "disappointed" in President Obama.  Davis quotes his conversation with the pollster:

“However, we discovered that they were not disappointed in the job he was doing, but rather the job he was unable to do. Like all of us, they wanted hope and change and thought Obama was the person who could finally give it to us. After a year and half, they had determined that they probably would not be getting change – not because Obama wasn't trying, but because the system was set up for him and anyone else to fail. They were disappointed because they felt that if Obama couldn't change the system to make it work for people, then no one would ever be able to.”
And like many, Davis sees this as setting up a potential loss for Obama:  

Black America climbed the mountaintop only to find a sheer cliff on the other side. Barack Obama might be their man, but if he can’t do it, no one can. And if Obama can’t convince black voters that progress is possible, then he can’t convince them to turn out in 2012 like they did in 2008. And if that’s true, then Obama can’t win reelection. Game over.

Many of the young people who supported and voted for Obama feel the same sense of hopelessness.  They are not disappointed in Obama or his agenda.  They are disappointed that the Republicans have been able to erect such obstacles and impediments to accomplishing what Obama promised.  And they think that if he cannot do it, it can't be done.  So, if anything is to be done for American workers, whether laborers or professionals, it is time to examine the efficacy of our political system and martial the force of the masses affected by it.  It may well mean the end of American democracy as we have come to define it.  

And that end might be accomplished by occupying Scenic, SD

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Native American Day Colloquy

From Facebook:

Comment to posting of picture:

Bill Onesty If anybody REALLY feels this way, you should leave the US now, give all you own to a native, and find someplace that will give you permission to live there and that hopefully did not take its land from some other indigenous people. Otherwise I am tired of hearing this crap, jokingly or not.

A posting from Jessica Tebben:

Do you suppose the Polish have an Adolf Hitler Day?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs isn't the one who made us stupid

As someone who toiled for many years in classrooms where competent reading and writing were the controlling objectives,  I note that truly stupid people are actually quite rare.  Reaching those objectives was done by pointing out to students where slovenly habits contributed to poor reading comprehension or to fatuous statements that were less than credible to alert and astute readers.  Seldom did I encounter a student who made the choice to defend a stupid interpretation or statement.  In nearly all cases, students made efforts to correct and amend errors of reading or writing.  Computer systems were a great boon to this process, because they provided a way for all students to actively participate in class discussions, and they did not want their responses to reading or assertions they made in writing to appear stupid to their peers.  

My colleagues claimed that my observation that truly stupid people are a rarity was based on a self-selected group of people and did not describe the human population as it occurs in the larger world.  Students, they pointed out, came to college for the purpose of becoming informed and to avoid the morass of stupidity that thrives on bad information and thinking.  They, for the most part, made a conscious choice not to be stupid and concerned themselves more with the processes of disciplined thought and expression.  The opinions they ended up with were less important to them than the rigors of arriving at them.

When Steve Jobs  made the Apple IIe available for use in schools, he helped establish a technology that greatly facilitated education.  Professors in prestigious universities used it.  Elementary teachers used it.  I used it.  My first computer was an Apple IIe that I still miss for some of the things that it could do.   Desk top computing has advanced far since then, particularly with multi-media and printers, but the Apple IIe changed the way we thought about and delivered instruction.  

In those early times, some college faculty belittled those who used Apple's user-friendly systems as being too mentally slow to grasp the basics of computing.  I used both:  IBM-based at work; Apple at home.  Apple's user friendly system made it possible to focus on the work to be done; the IBM system then required much fiddling around to achieve the results one wanted.  Apple users were more interested in computers as tools that could greatly facilitate work.  IBM users were often more interested in them as toys that could confer some kind of technological status.  The disputes among faculty regarding the systems were silly.

With  my own Apple, I was able to take advantage of the first mustering of the Internet.  I joined a database through which one could exchange documents and post messages.  That early system was very expensive and full of bugs.  Each connection made to the data base was by a long-distance telephone call.  And if you had call-waiting, an incoming call would disconnect the modem on the computer.  But it was useful.  One time I rushed off to deliver a paper at a meeting and when I got there, I found I had taken an early draft of the paper, not the finished one.  The draft I wanted was on a disk at home, and I was able to retrieve the finished draft from my computer at home at the computer lab of university a thousand miles away.  

There are some detractors of Steve Jobs who blame him for the unleashing digital gadgets on the world that distract people from more useful and constructive pursuits.  The New York Times asked people which Steve Jobs invention mattered most to them.  The huge majority of the people commented positively on the ways Apple products enabled and enhanced their pursuits. But there are a few detractors.  One person commented that "he made people think they needed increasingly expensive gadgets to do unnecessary things and added to the economic mess and greedy world."  Another said, "there is a portion of society that cannot afford Mr. Jobs products.I have never seen one of his products produce a grain of rice or clothe..."

Those comments are incredibly obtuse and stupid.  They have no conception of how Apple products have contributed to the productivity and efficiencies of the people who use them as tools.  Those, comments, however, are illustrative of the down-side of technology.  They enable small-minded people to register their ill-informed and ill-formed opinions and lower the level of discussion with their clutter.

When one looks at the messages posted on discussion boards and the social media, one finds that my colleagues who give humanity so much credit for stupidity are apparently right.  The rule of freedom of speech disillusions many people into thinking that anything they utter is born from applied knowledge and intelligence, and there are times when Internet threads give good evidence of a huge mass of people who have chosen stupidity as a way of life.  

Steve Jobs did not make them stupid.  Nor did he create those people who careen around town in their cars with their cell phones plastered to their ears, or text while driving,  or constantly spew out twitters and posts that are incomprehensible probably even to them.   Their use of technology gives us definitive insights into their intelligence and character.  And such glimpses are depressing.  

Our conservative compatriots like to harp about people taking responsibility for their own lives.   People are free to choose ignorance, stupidity, and meanness as the ruling standards of their lives.  What Steve Jobs provided us is a way to tell who they are. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

When democracy fails

A Don Burnet photo  circulating on Face Book
One of the failures of the Democratic Party is explaining what has, in fact, happened to the American economy and what it means in terms of a political future.  A significant message has been obscured by the rattle and prattle of the "interactive" media and cable television, which embraces the rattle and prattle.  As a scholar of American literature and culture, I find that the message that is lost is one that explains the formation of America and is indelibly recorded in its literature.

A historian, Edmundo O'Gorman, stated that America had to be invented before it was discovered.  He examined the motives behind the immigration to America and what forces shaped it.  In looking at England, for example, an essential factor cited is that five percent of the people owned about 90 percent of the nation's wealth.  The people came to a realization that any kind of acceptable life not defined by oppressive servitude would have to be constructed in a different place where the rules of feudalism did not apply and the wealth and political power was distributed among the people.  

The rule by aristocracy (plutocracy, actually) obviates any notions of equality, freedom, or justice.  So, the idea of an America had to be invented and then a place had to be found to give it a try.  From the beginning, applying the concepts of American democracy was a struggle, but the founders understood the concepts and put them in the articles of incorporation.  The struggle to achieve those concepts listed in the Declaration and enabled by the Constitution was a bloody and arduous one.  The vestige of feudalism implanted in America was the plantation system manned by slaves.  The Civil War was in actual a battle over whether the racial divides and the class discrimination and oppression  of the feudal system would be allowed to exist in the United States.  Then it had to set about giving equality, freedom, and justice to those originally excluded:  women, racial minorities, differing cultural and sexual orientations.  And it had to build a wall between the secular democracy and those who think freedom of religion means the right to bring their sects into the governing system.  America was a force in the liberation and equalization of people.  It never has fully come to terms with the transgressions against the Native Americans.

The current resurgence of conservatism in America is a regression to those times of a privileged elite and a massive underclass that exists under its feudal terms.  We are back to a time when 5 percent of the people own 80 percent of the wealth and garner for themselves a similar ratio in the earning power.  The main reason we can't come out of the recession is that the forces holding the wealth do not want a recovery.  Instead it attacks those institutions which have elevated people in the struggle for equality and freedom and consequence:  public education, labor unions, and the liberal movement  in general, which has led the struggle for democratic equity.

Bob Schwartz has posted a George Carlin piece, complete with transcript, and correctly relates it to the protests growing throughout the nation. The Washington Post has a piece on the whys of the exorbitant executive pay in America, an elaborate justification for the return to feudalism. 

George Carlin's quick and incisive commentary can be viewed below: 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The death of American science in quick stages

One science journal carried this headline last week: 

Tevatron closes Friday, big American science dies a little inside

The Tevatron is shut down and American science takes a back seat.
The occasion was the shutting-down last Friday of the Tevatron particle-collider at the Fermilab, a machine that put America in the forefront of physics research and science.   Many scientists see the closing as relinquishing America's leadership in science to Europe.  The research done with the Tevatron will be done by the Hadron super-collider near Cern, Switzerland.

NPR described the occasion:  "For about a quarter of a century, the Tevatron was the most powerful machine of its kind in the world, but scientists gathered Friday to shut it down in a brief and bittersweet ceremony."

Many reports noted this year America has taken a couple of giant steps backward as it ended its space shuttle flights, relinquishing transportation to the space station to Russia, and putting Europe in the lead role in physics research with the  closure of the Tevatron.

In South Dakota, the downgrading of the Homestake proposal from a national Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory to the much smaller Sanford Underground Laboratory is consistent with America's faltering leadership in science.  Some of the experiments envisioned for the DUSEL have already gone to a mine in Canada.

The journal Dvice lists the factors that are forcing America to the back of the science bus:  "The floundering economy and the politicization of science has meant that there's increasing reluctance to fund major research that doesn't have immediate and tangible benefits, and the SSC and the space shuttle program are both victims of this harsh climate." 

The downgrading of science in America is a deliberate choice.  The ballot box won over science.  And over American preeminence in the field. 

Class warfare? I should hope.

The old Moline High School
As a student at Moline High School, which sat on the crown of a bluff that looked over the Mississippi River into Iowa,  my goal, along with most of my fellow students, was not to end up as shoppie down on Third Avenue.    Third Avenue extended from the Farmall Plant on the border in Rock Island to the International Harvester East Moline Works on the border of that town.  The avenue ran between the river and the railroad tracks, dominated by the factories of Deere and Co. and Minneapolis-Moline and a multitude of foundries and other smaller factories that served the farm equipment industry.  It was a grimy, and squalid street, hazy and soot-stained from the smoke pouring out of the stacks. 
Third Avenue ran along the railroad tracks.
                                                                        Another prominent business interspersed among the factories was the taverns,  commonly called gin mills.  Men  often ran to a tavern during their lunch hour or break to knock back a boiler-maker or two or more.  A boiler maker is a shot of cheap whiskey or other kind of booze and a glass of beer. It was common when workers returned to work to be impaired enough so that their hands got caught in factory machinery and  their fingers were severed.  

A case of  shoppie's hand.
Students, in a parody of shop workers, would hold up a hand with only four fingers showing say, "Can I borrow five cents?"  it was a reminder of what we did not want to  be when we grew up. 

Factory work was dirty and arduous, and the repetition of piece work was mind-killing.  In my lifetime, factory work was still a very seasonal business.  It was especially busy during the summer months.  When we graduated from high school, many of us took summer jobs in factories to earn money for college.  Ironically, the work we despised  provided some of the money that would help us prepare ourselves for better lives.  While a few shop-working parents felt betrayed by their children's disdain of factory work, most parents encouraged their children to aspire to something better.  They saw factory work as a transition to better prospects. 
John Deere plow factory in Moline. 

Industry provided a way for people to leave their fealties to the land-based aristocracy of the Old World and forge new lives out their labors.   When John Deere moved his plow factory to Moline, immigrants flocked there to find work.  Other factories also were built there to  take advantage of the growing demand for agricultural equipment as other immigrants filed homesteads throughout the U.S.

A giant replica of the wagons my grandfather built. 
My grandfather, a carpenter, packed his trunk of saws and woodworking tools in Sweden and took a boat to the U.S where he headed straight for Moline.   He went to work building wagons at the Moline Wagon Co.  Like many immigrants who were looking for a stable center for their families, he invested some of his earnings in land and also took up farming. 

The story of immigration to America is largely told in terms of pioneering and the hardships of clearing the land and establishing communities.  A part that is seldom addressed is what drove the immigrants to America to seek opportunity and what they expected.  They were leaving the Old World to escape the  lingering feudalism that predestined them to a life of poverty and servitude on land owned by the aristocracy.  Their motive was not to submit to another set of masters who controlled their lives in America, but to forge a system that would, in fact, produce the freedom, equality, and justice that America promised.  Work in American factories was oppressive, drudged, and depressing.  But it did provide opportunities for workers to obtain some benefits for their labor.  But they were still squalid and oppressive places to work.  The dominating goal of the workers was to create lives that transcended servile drudgery. 

Then came labor unions.  They improved matters for both the companies and the workers.  For workers, collective bargaining put contracts, not arbitrary and often disdainful bosses, as the controlling factor of working conditions, worker treatment, and wage equity.  For companies, it helped make workplaces safer and more efficient, help create a stable and reliable workforce, and established a system for dealing with problems that effected those in management as well as those on the assembly lines.  Together, unions and management changed the nature of the jobs from dogged drudgery to jobs that gave people satisfaction, respect, and stability.  For those of my generation, we began to think that one could do worse  than factory work.   The jobs that were created elevated the workers out of poverty into a middle class.

Globalization has been used as the mechanism to dismantle the gains of the American middle class.  The Republicans constantly howl about class warfare when one brings up the growing inequalities between the rich and the lower economic classes.  The conservative mindset has blocked out the fact that the invention and building of America has, from the outset, been a process of divorcing the workers, whether manual or technical or intellectual, from the rule of an upper class whose dream of America is to restore wealth and power to an upper class that could not care less about the well-being of the working class.

That trend began a reversal in the 1980s with trickle-down economics that was based on the notion that all productive work is created by a managing class and had to be created on their terms.  Led by the GOP, the business community relinquished manufacturing jobs to low-wage, sometimes prison labor countries in the Pacific Rim and told Americans that the disappearing jobs would be replaced in the service industry.  That shift of manufacturing off shore happened, but the service industry did not replace them with equivalent work.  Instead, it systematically returned the workforce into a dependent class with few opportunities.

 Since the 1980s and the application of trickle-down and class-centered economic measures,  the working people have been displaced from their middle class status with a relentless and deliberate shove into a status of dependent servitude. The trend is well-defined and well-documented.  This is the reversion to a feudal system that the Republicans want, and the Democrats have been more than a little feckless in telling the working class what is happening to it.  As soon as someone calls for equity in the marketplace and provisions for workers to earn some benefits from their labors, the Republicans start yelling class warfare.

From its inception through its building,  America has been a struggle between the classes.  People who work have sought equal status with those who work them in order to achieve identities not based upon definitions of inferiority and servitude.  Democracy is by definition a process of equalization in asserting that equality means that no person is to be considered any more or less valuable than any other.   The conservative movement seeks to refute that notion.

It has attacked and is trying to dismantle all those things that have contributed to the freeing of the working class:  public education, accessible health care, labor unions, livable wages and benefits.  

Democrats, like Obama, prefer to believe in the possibility that the political parties can compromise.  But more and more workers realize that their freedom, their equality, and political justice are being compromised away.  The struggle in America to overthrow slavery, race and sex based denials of franchise, and to attain economic equity through a fair wage for ones labors is currently represented by the GOP as an unpatriotic drift toward socialism and communism.  

Some Democrats have pointed out that this is a reversal of the very premise of American, but the belief that the two parties can come together for the good of the country has weakened the message and reduced it to the level of the partisan bickering that obscures what is happening to the  middle class.  

A few people have begun a movement with Occupy Wall Street that has spread throughout the country and confounded the press.  The press is confounded because the movement has no leaders, no statements of doctrine, no stated objectives, other than to dismantle a system that threatens to enslave people.  The movement is the tacit recognition that the two-party system in America has failed, that the forces in which the wealth and power of the  nation is concentrated are working toward a neo-feudal estate as the future of America.  

Messaging, the movement realizes, is just another form of advertising that tries to dupe people.  It is time to ignore the messaging and look at hard facts and revolt.

The real message is contained in these charts:
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.

And from Mother Jones: 

How Rich Are the Superrich?

A huge share of the nation's economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.

Average Income by Family, distributed by income group.
The richest controls 2/3 of America's net worth

Note: The 2007 data (the most current) doesn't reflect the impact of the housing market crash. In 2007, the bottom 60% of Americans had 65% of their net worth tied up in their homes. The top 1%, in contrast, had just 10%. The housing crisis has no doubt further swelled the share of total net worth held by the superrich.

Winners Take All

The superrich have grabbed the bulk of the past three decades' gains.

Aevrage Household income before taxes.

If the middle class wants to save itself from debilitating poverty,  it will need to understand that war has been declared upon by a caste that covets all the power and wealth of America for itself.  It needs to understand the portent of Occupy Wall Street, as an effort to reclaim the progress toward democratic equity made by our parents.   The political messaging is irrelevant to the harsh facts.

Protestors occupy the Brooklyn Bridge to reclaim their American birthright from the neo-feudal classes. 

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