South Dakota Top Blogs

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

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Supremes, 43 million Americans, and Karl Marx

In the partisan frenzy over the Affordable Care Act and what the Supreme Court might do to it, the underlying reasons behind the bill have been  buried in the blizzard of propaganda and lost sight of.  The first issue the bill addressed was that 43 million citizens wer can't afford it.  Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcies bye not covered by health care insurance.  About a third of the nation go without recommended medical treatment because they families.  And the cost of healthcare keeps climbing.   Despite the insistence by those who oppose government-sponsored health care that the U.S. has the best health care system in the world, the fact is that the U.S. lags behind the systems of most developed countries.  

Congress is the focal point of the contentions about health care.  That fact is a serious misdirection of public attention, largely motivated by an audience-desperate media and the Internet.  The real issue is not the partisan deadlock in Congress.  Congress is merely a reflection of the American people, and politicians and media-types do not dare attribute the healthcare debacle to the citizens.  They want their votes, their attention, and their dollars, and they live in fear of offending the people out there by an honest reporting of their attitudes and actions and what their actual political stances reveal about them.

Politicians keep saying that the political divide in America is merely the difference of opinions among a people who love their country.  The fact is that the partisan camps have become camps of enemies.  The nation has reached a point that James Madison warned about in the Tenth Federalist Paper:  "So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts."

 Madison amplifies the reasons for those "unfriendly passions":

But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

Madison saw that the effects of animosity could be moderated by a republic with a separation of powers and the attending checks and balances among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and among the states.   The scheme he outlined has worked fairly well over a couple of centuries as the history of the U.S. demonstrates a steady diminishing of the "schemes of  oppression" through which one faction holds another in an unequal and degraded state of thralldom.  But that separation of powers is rendered ineffective and useless when the final arbiter of factional disputes, the judiciary, acts in the interest of one of the factions.  

That is the point where the angry animosities about health care bring us.  In recent decades the contending forces in American politics have abandoned the goals of workable compromise for the raging hostilities of class warfare.  The political propaganda that circulates through the national nervous system is the propaganda of hate and war.  It is not the propaganda of peace and mutual problem-solving.  The media feed on conflict to garner public attention and create audience by inflaming passions, not inciting a reasoned discussion of facts and circumstances.   As a nation, we have reached the point where the problems of contending interests are insoluble, and the moderating processes of government are ineffective.  Those who study the nature of  national discourse in its precedents and its effects upon the people have noted for some time that we have, once again, reached a stage where rebellion and insurrection appear to be the only option.  The people are divided into camps that hate each other, and some actively propose schemes of oppression on their perceived enemies.  So far, the class warfare is on the level of legislation against minorities, labor, women, certain creeds, and political affiliations.  The people have become mobs waiting for a pretext to vent their rage against each other. 

This is what makes any decision by the Supreme Court so crucial at this juncture.  The advocates of affordable and accessible health care have received a very clear message from their opponents that the opposition does not care if health care is not available to them.  Government sponsored health care is socialism or communism, the opposition contends, and must be prevented at all costs.  The opposition dismisses those for whom health care is out-of-reach as expendable, that amounts to 43 million Americans.  The stage for insurrection is, thus, set.  It puts the Supreme Court in the position of deciding whether the issue can be resolved by reasoned compromise or raging violence.  As Madison says, "It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.'

The Supreme Court is being tested for its state of enlightenment and whether it can rise to the level of statesmanship to moderate the contending passions.  

An informing aspect of this has been raised by the Pope.  He recently commented on the failures of Marxism to fulfill the expectations of people in the places where it has ruled.  He made those comments prior to his visit to Cuba.  The larger context for his remarks are that factions within the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in Latin America, are aligning themselves with Marxist principles as a way to free people from the schemes of oppression under which they live.  The failures of Marxism are apparent and thoroughly analyzed for why Marxism, as it has been formulated, has been simply another form of oppression.  However, for many it is the only hope to be freed from the oppression of inequalities that is in circulation.  And that fact  underscores the paucity of enlightenment and statesmanship operating in the world at this time.

Marxism has a horrible record for relieving the world of oppression.  But Marx had a very shrewd understanding of what brings humanity to the point of rebellion and insurrection.  However, his observations are shared by political philosophers of many beliefs.  And America has reached the point where the viability of the republic is under a crucial test.

That is the burden of the Supreme Court in addressing the issue of health care:  43 million people versus a scheme of oppression. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sandra Fluke: the new Emmanuel Goldstein

It is one thing to give the ignorant and mentally-challenged the right to free speech.  It is quite another to give them the right to amplify their free speech and make it part of competent dialogue, but that is what the Aberdeen American News, which is a perennial contender for the World's Worst Newspaper Award, does with its letters-to-the editor.  

In Sunday's paper, the AAN (which also stands for Asinine Always News) published a letter from an Elsie Arbach of Gettysburg.  She writes:  "I am curious as to why the extracurricular activities of Sandra Fluke are considered laudable and defensible. According to her testimony, they minimized her attention to her law degree."

Of course, Ms. Fluke's testimony, which can be read here it its entirety,  makes no mention of her "extracurricular activities."   She appears at a Congressional hearing to speak on behalf of women who are in circumstances in which they cannot afford contraceptives.  One of those women needs contraceptive pills to treat an ovarian disease.

We surmise that the comment in the letter-to-the editor originates from the false libels against Ms. Fluke uttered by Rush Limbaugh.   He stated on air that Ms. Fluke had so much sex that she wanted the taxpayers to subsidize it because she could not afford it.  Limbaugh and Elsie Arbach simply lie about what Ms. Fluke said and her purpose for testifying.  We also surmise that Arbach is one of Limbaugh's ditto heads and neither knows nor cares if she is lying.  

But the responsibility for publishing this lie goes to the Aberdeen American News.  There was a time in journalism when letters-to-the-editor were fact checked.  They were checked because if a newspaper published a false statement about a person, particularly one that defamed their morality, the newspaper could be sued.  If a newspaper back then published a statement such as the American News did, all Ms. Fluke's attorneys would have to do is bring the transcript of her testimony into court and show that she did not say what the published letter said she did.  The falseness of the statement in the letter was sufficient evidence of the presence of malice and damages were presumed.

When I last worked for a newspaper, the editors and reporters dreaded the ritual of the editor walking out of his office with a stack of letters-to-the-editor, which he would distribute to the editors and senior reporters for fact-checking.  It was also our job, if we found falsehoods and errors, to call the letter writer and explain why we could not publish the letter.  We hated this.  The stupid people who write falsehoods about other people tend to get belligerent and abusive when they are told they have written a lie.  They usually went into a defaming rage against the editor who called them and then canceled their subscription to the paper.  It was not a pleasant part of the work week.

Case law since that time has changed the way slander and libel laws are applied.  Now one has to prove that a false statement did measurable damage regarding a person's profession or occupation.  The courts have, in effect, endorsed the presence and use of malice against people as permissible as long as it does not measurably affect their earnings.  

So, that leaves wretched publications like the American News free to publish whatever libels it pleases.    That does not absolve the newspaper from being party to a falsehood and a libel. The newspaper has a right to devote itself to partisan hackery, which is abundant on its editorial pages, and it is part of the free enterprise system of selling harmful junk to the public.

In Orwell's 1984, the novel contains a hate figure named Emmanuel Goldstein who is presented as an enemy of the people by the state media.  It is doubtful whether such a person actually existed, but the purpose is to excite and distract the people with hatred as part of the brain-washing process through which they are controlled.  Sandra Fluke was created by Limbaugh as a hate object and that hate object is passed along by the letter in the American News.

In so engaging in this kind of nefarious enterprise, the American News disqualifies any claim it makes to being a medium of journalism.  It is merely a facilitator of the angry and insane incivility that possesses American politics.  But its financial success probably relies on it serving that role.  Reading the Aberdeen American News is like smoking tobacco.  Or crack.  It is not anything like reading legitimate journalism. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Governor shows how it's done in middle school

Lunch was a bit somber Friday, but the intensity of a legislator we know who was the restaurant penetrated.  My family had come from the hospital where my mother-in-law had just been given the last rites.  The legislator was wondering if we had signed a petition yet to repeal South Dakota's atrocity to education, HB 1234, and he was worked up about it.

What he was worked up about was the attitude and spirit behind the bill that he found had nothing to do with what is good for the state, but everything to do with the state Republican attitude that its purpose is to defeat anything the Democrats propose, no matter how absurd, how dishonest, or how damaging.  After the state legislature passed HB 1234, that attitude was fully on display, he said, in the halls of the Capitol.

Our lawmaker friend said he had never seen any governor in the past come into the halls of the legislature to celebrate with or berate members of the legislature before.  After the passage of HB 1234, Gov.  Daugaard came into the halls with the Republican legislators and they were chortling in glee and high-fiving each other  like a bunch of middle schoolers who had just won some small athletic contest. It struck the legislator in the most emphatic terms then what the real agenda of GOP politics is in South Dakota,  to win at all costs, even if it means the destruction of the state. 

He said that demonstration inspired him to carry petitions to repeal the law and tell people about the incident whenever he could.  The GOP  is mindlessly in a rage to destroy everything that stands in the way of total domination by its puerile attitude and goals.  

The legislators fervor got through to us in the midst of a very somber time.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

The ascendance of James Crow, Jr.

It never occurred to progressives during the celebration of electing a black president in 2008 that Obama's election would inspire a resurgence of racial, religious, and gender discrimination.  From the outset, GOP leaders announced that their main goal for the country was to get Obama out of office.  While progressives were basking in the idea that America had surmounted its racist past by choosing a black man as its leader, the conservatives were boiling with an intense anger and resentment that propelled the nation backward into that pre-civil rights past.  The GOP, once the party of Lincoln that began the liberation of black America, now openly courted the forces of discrimination and oppression as it power base.  Its mission became the push backward to overturn the racial, ethnic, and gender equities that the civil rights movement had established.  The values that conservatives wanted to conserve were not the liberating and elevating ones of Lincoln, but the regressive and oppressive values of George Wallace and Orval Faubus, southern governors who openly professed their racial hatred and made it a governing principle.  

The GOP agenda is snarled up in its efforts to maintain the appearance of beneficence while serving the insidious purposes of the social regressives.  While indignantly denying any racial agenda, it has launched federal and multi-state legislative proposals to reduce voting rights, subjugate women, oppress labor, punish immigrant minorities, dismantle public education, and impose the Christian version of sharia on the nation.  The rage and incoherence demonstrated in its presidential primary campaigns is one symptom of its furor to reverse the equities that have been granted since World War II.  The rage to defame the designated groups is too volatile to suppress.  It keeps spilling out in words and deeds, often in absurd and obvious ways that fool no one but the perpetrators of the new Jim Crow. 

One such instance of malicious contrivance was one of the last efforts of Andrew Breitbart, who devoted himself to the craft and dishonesty of fabricating misleading, often stupid lies out of videos.  Just before he died, he provided Fox News with a video that showed President Obama as a law student introducing and hugging one of his Harvard Law School professors,  Derrick  Bell.  The GOP has an essential interest in painting Derrick Bell as a raving "racialist" and accusing Obama of being one of his adherents.   Derrick Bell was a developer of the Critical Race Theory.   The Critical Race Theory as Bell conceived it provides an incisive explanation of what the GOP is promoting in its agendas of oppression. 

Derrick Bell posed the Critical Race Theory when gains made during the civil rights movement were stalling, were being blocked, or were in danger of being reversed.  As a legal scholar, Bell was primarily interested in how attitudes about race affected the law.  He examined the way racial biases affected the formation of law, its application, and judiciary challenges.  His basic premise was that racism is not a cultural aberration, but is ingrained in American society in ways that seem to many an integral aspect that defines the society.  

Two opposite perspectives operate in America.  One, which is usually but mistakenly identified as "liberal," is that social pathologies such as racism are undeniable aspects of society as demonstrated in history.  Slavery, the dispossession and oppression of the American Indian, women's suffrage and rights, religious intolerance and persecution, to name a few of those aspects, are facts of history that America has struggled to rise above.  It is tha struggle  which has defined the values and the unique force that America has represented to the world.  Freedom, equality, and justice were the goals set by the founders, and America has  worked gradually toward achieving them,  recognizing that there are those segments of the population which do not want those values to apply to all people.  

The opposite perspective is held by those who take offense against people  who openly acknowledge America's history, its transgressions against human rights, and regard the struggle to surmount its past and present inequities and oppression as the driving national purpose.  Those who are offended by this acknowledgment prefer to dismiss America's past transgressions against humanity and assert that America was created with a divinely bestowed exceptionalism.  They regard any criticism of America as a weakness,  an expression of anti-patriotic of values, an obsequious deference to foreign thinking.  They conceive of international bullying as the demonstration of national strength and leadership. Any apology for insults or violence done to others  is portrayed as an obsequious degradation of  America by them. Obama's apology to Afghanistan for the mistaken burning of Qurans has met with denunciations of his character and intellect for them.  However, anyone who does not treat those denunciations  with obsequy is upbraided for incivility. Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have shouted that they will never apologize for America.  

Emmet Till in his casket.
The picture that  launched the civil rights movement
The killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has been an explosive gauge of the state of civil rights, race, and violence in America.  It has demonstrated to the nation some stunning realities that cannot be obscured by the false rhetoric of dismissal and denial.  The killing has struck the nation with the kind of force that the lynching and murder of Emmett Till in 1955 had in forcing America to face the racial realities.  The killing of 14-year-old Till gave the civil rights movement the impetus to become the major  concern on the national agenda.  The killing of Trayvon Martin has brought the nation to that kind of confrontation with reality again.

Trayvon Martin

 The spirit of Jim Crow has emerged again as a force in American social and political life.  The work of America in trying to make liberty, equality, and justice its defining values is never done.  And there is always the chance that the forces of discrimination and oppression will become the majority.  Many would like to retreat into fascist chauvinism and insist on the America that once sustained slavery and conducted genocide against the American Indians and designated labor and women to the status of servitude. 

America has still to become America, if its people will allow it. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Piss on some corpses, burn some Qurans, shoot some kids

Gen. Patton once told his troops that war is man's greatest adventure.  What he did not tell them in that speech is that war kills people, innocent as well as soldiers doing what they are told, and it also kills that part of human nature that aspires to higher, peaceful things.  

Liberation of Dachau
When American troops liberated Dachau, they found piles of dead Jews and barracks filled with emaciated people.   Their reaction was to line up about a hundred German guards against a wall and machine gun them down. In the killing spree that followed, more than 500 German troops were reported executed, some by liberated camp inmates who killed them with their bare hands.  The troops that did the machine-gunning were referred to Gen. Patton for possible war crimes prosecution.  Gen. Patton dismissed the charges and absolved the men of wrong-doing.  They simply did, he said, what they were trained to do.  

Then comes the 38-year-old Sergeant Robert Bales last Sunday in Afghanistan who is accused of leaving his post on his base, walking into nearby villages, and shooting down 16 people, including nine children.   The sergeant was on his fourth tour of combat duty in his 11-year career.  The previous three were in Iraq, where he incurred a brain injury when a vehicle he was in overturned from a roadside bomb and where he also lost part of a foot.   No officials have offered any informed conjectures about why Sgt Bales may have done what he was accused of.    Some initial responses from the military indicate he had been drinking and just seemed to snap. Reports also claim that the day before the massacre, Sgt. Bales was next to a colleague when the colleague's leg was blown off.   A man who joined the Army in response to 9/11, serves four tours of combat duty in 11 years does not suddenly snap.  The issues that bring him to the point where, like the liberators of Dachau, he guns down a bunch of people are long in the making.   They are issues, however, that the advocates and perpetrators of war cannot and will not face.  Those who see war as a patriotic glory cannot afford to confront the insidious insult of an 11-year combat veteran being thanked for his service.  They refuse to consider that what is being said to the troops when thanked is heard as, "Thank you for your service, you fucktard.  Now shut up and do the obscene and insane things you are trained and told to do, and we'll support you with stupid bumper stickers and phony expressions of gratitude."

Oh, and by the way, it would be most convenient if you would get your fucktard head blown off so we don't have to hear and feign concern about any post traumatic stress bullshit.  We'll give you a fucking hero medal to put on your grave marker.  Thanks for your service.  

 The military services do an excellent job of training the troops in the arts and sciences of killing.  That training includes some measures for survival, but little consideration is given to psychic survival, how to deal with the results of rage and violence that are part of the combat experience.  When the American troops liberated Dachau, the combat troops who entered the camp were not prepared for the boxcars full of dead inmates or the grotesque emaciation of the living.  Their revulsion and rage over what they encountered induced the need to eliminate the cause of the atrocities they witnessed.  Atrocity was met with atrocity.

 The war on terror has not been fought in the primary area that acts of terror are intended to attack.  While acts of terror may inspire fear and intimidation, their most pronounced effect is to disorient their targets, intellectually and morally.  Much talk and blame-placing has been expended on whether the U.S. government should have anticipated and prepared for the 9/11 attacks, but as I mulled them over with other veterans, we all shared an incredulity that 19 men could be found who would volunteer for suicide missions.  We found the idea ludicrous that a commander could ask for 19 volunteers to step forward from his troops and volunteer for such a mission.  Such a request would be met with derision.   The idea of such a mission was so far outside of western culture and history that we regarded it as an absurdity.

America and the rest of western culture regarded the Muslim religion as just another creed that promoted peace, goodwill, and rules of behavior that avoided what it defined as sins.  We chose to overlook the fact that many tenets of Muslim practice are in direct opposition to the rights and freedoms conferred by American democracy.  Our thinking was so entrenched in the idea that America's enemies would come from political organizations, such as communists and fascists, that we could not conceive of the idea that the most successful attacks to be waged against America would come under the auspices of a religion.  Many Americans, particularly those of us on the left, have cautioned against equating all Muslims with the Islamic jihad.  We have insisted on full exercise of the First Amendment,  denying that the insidious forces that gather to kill do their organizing  under its protection.  We've allowed sects which exist for the destruction of everything America stands for to exist and develop under the rubric of religious freedom.  If any political group were to openly plot sedition, treason, and destruction of the Constitution in such a way, all the possible strictures of law would be applied to suppress and expel it. 

A basic tenet of the Muslim religion permits violence and warfare in the pursuit of sectarian goals.  This difference was emphasized during the heyday of the civil rights movement, when Martin Luther King, Jr., cited Christ in his nonviolent, passive resistance to Jim Crow while Malcolm X said, "I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don't call it violence when it's self-defense, I call it intelligence."  

Let it be acknowledged that there is a constant in the history of Christianity where atrocity is committed in the name of the Christian god.  In America, it begins with the destruction of the Pequod Indians at Mystic, Massachusetts.  It raged during the prolonged violence between Irish Catholics and Protestants.  And it was the motivating force in the Bosnian War when the Serbian Orthodox Christians not only exterminated the Muslims, but also the Croat Catholics.  In our country, those who lust for violent dominion ensconce themselves in Old Testament passages on vengeance, and choose to ignore The New Law laid down by Christ in the New Testament.  However, the mainline Catholic and Protestant denominations give at least lip service to Christ's mandate for reconciliation, peace, and good will.  That said, the fact is that damned few Christians take Christ's words seriously,  although some subscribe to convoluted theological obfuscations to justify their need for  violence.  

Despite the doctrinaire hypocrisy of American religious faiths, Americans cling to  a vague, vestigial notion of respect for diverse life, probably in the hope that if they cannot muster it themselves, other people will give them respectful regard.  And it is clinging to that notion that makes 9/11 and the constant atrocities of the Jihad so effective.  In Iraq, when the local forces weren't setting of bombs against the NATO troops, the Shiites and Sunnis were bombing each other.  And when they could, the Islamic forces would video tape a beheading for the edification of their enemies,  It is the constant killing of anyone at any place by Muslim factions that so wears away at the American pretense for tolerance and justice.  It is hard for people to believe in tolerance and justice in circumstances where such concepts are systematically derided and denied.  This is the huge psychological force that works constantly on our troops, and it makes it seem absurd for Americans to cling to the concepts of just and fair conduct when those concepts have no  relevance to their lives and are used to mount attacks against them.  

The damage that war inflicts upon the human brain is not only from explosive devices.  It is also caused by the constant denial of moral standards as operative forces.  However, the effectiveness of Islamic assaults comes not through just the constant mindless violence.  it also comes when the country that soldiers believe they are fighting for demonstrates a hypocritical treachery.  When political campaigns turn from the critical discussion of national goals and policies for achieving them into the ad hominem assaults against character and intellect,  the tactics of the Jihad easily displace the moral certitudes for which the country makes claims. The outrage at the burning of Qurans seems preposterously absurd in the  face of mass suicide bombings and the subjection of women to unspeakable denials of humanity. To those soldiers who have been designated as expendable human beings by their countrymen, responding to atrocity with atrocity seems part of the way the world is working.

America has  no coherent battle plan for dealing with the disorientation delivered through atrocities delivered in the name of Allah.  The mental health of the troops are not much of a consideration.  And the problems become worse when the country they return to is largely dysfunctional.  Maybe we can finally learn something about war from Sgt. Bales.   Most likely, not.  May as well take a wiz and burn a Quran or two.

What the troops are fighting for.

No racism here. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A big, scarlet letter A for A--holes

The national obsession with punishment has reached the  point where one writer sees the rate at which we put people in jail in America  no longer as a solution for crime, but as the symptom of an epidemic in mental health raging through the populace.  Incarceration is one of the things for which  South Dakota leads the nation.  It has twice as many people in jail as its neighbor North Dakota.  The case is made in a new book A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America by Ernest Drucker.  By 2010, the U.S. had 1.6 million adults in prison.  

Drucker points out that prison doesn't solve problems with crime, but rather intensifies them.  Half the people who get out of prison end up back in within three years.  That's because convicts are branded and are deprived of the ability to get along in society. Drucker writes,  "Denying ex-cons access to the jobs, school or housing they need, is a recipe for driving them back to prison."

 I have long been skeptical that prisons serve a constructive purpose, for the most part.  Fifty years ago, I worked on a series of stories the newspaper I was at did on convicted criminals.  My main interview was with a very old prisoner who joined a religious order and became the assistant to a Catholic chaplain.  During the interview, I asked him what people in prison were the most dangerous and posed the biggest threats to public safety.  He said the wrongfully convicted..  For them, the idea of justice had totally failed and developed a desired to get revenge on a society that wrongfully sent them to jail.  Furthermore, he said prisons do not encourage the convicted to change their lives in constructive ways, but provide them thorough schooling in crime.  It provides them with motives for being anti-social.  His comments were predictive when the same prison he was at in Illinois released 13 men from death row when DNA evidence proved they were wrongfully convicted.  

Prisons, however, are the most obvious symptom of a society that has become obsessed with punishment and ostracizing people from society for absurd reasons.  Our schools, which are under attack for academic reasons, are places where absurd obsessions with punishing kids have become prevalent.

In Sioux Falls, a 15-year-old middle school student was suspend under the zero tolerance for drugs policy  because he gave a classmate a dietary supplement capsule of fish oil.  His parents protested because the kid is a promising athlete and the suspension for drugs on his record would spoil his chances of qualifying for an athletic scholarship to college.  The first question that instance raises is about the competence of the people who handled the situation.  The punishment was reduced, but a school spokesman said, "Even if it is an over-the-counter drug, it may be a threat to another student. We certainly have our eyes out and want to protect every student while they are in the school building. Our policies are designed to do that."   Of course, the question is how that protects the future of the student who gets punished on a drug count for trafficking in fish oil.  

However, the idiotic paranoia that drives schools into absurdity was typified in a comment on the story in the Aberdeen American News:  "The school did the right thing. Using the Athletic Scholarship argument gets the case the publicity needed to send a message to the kids that it really is ZERO TOLERANCE.  Don't ever think a kid won't try to tamper with a harmless vitamin capsule. They have come up with other even more sneaky schemes."  

This is the thinking that is shaping school policies.  These schools are not places anyone with a three-digit IQ would want to send their kids.  

Another example occurred in North Carolina where a nine-year-old boy was suspended for sexual harassment for calling a teacher cute--but not to her face.  The Huffington Post explains it this way:  "After a substitute teacher overheard 9-year-old Emanyea tell another student a teacher was 'cute,' school officials put him on two-day suspension for sexual harassment."  He is also alleged to have said the teacher was "fine" in a suggestive way.  

Justice was eventually served when the school district investigated the situation and determined that no sexual harassment was involved.  Then the school district
gave the principal Jerry Bostic one hour to decide whether to quit or be fired. He retired.

But that raised another question of excessive punishments:  Bostic said, ""One mistake in 44 years, and I'm not given the benefit of the doubt. I really don't believe I was treated fairly."  

When we are among the world leaders in the rate of incarceration and students are shone the levels of intelligence demonstrated above by school authorities, Drucker's diagnosis of an epidemic becomes enlightening.  There is a movement in society much more concerned with oppressing and tearing down than in the possibilities for freedom and building up.  It is reflected in the condemnatory propaganda that dominates our election campaigns.  It is more evidence of the massive intellectual failure that is reshaping America. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Nation at Tsk

The furor to "reform" education began almost 30 years ago with the release of the Nation at Risk study in 1983, which stunned the nation with this report: 

"Some 23 million American adults are functionally illiterate by the simplest test of everyday reading, writing, and comprehension. About 13 percent of all 17-year-olds in the United States can be considered functionally illiterate." 
I hasten to pose a caveat about the report.  Many critics said that the report was a collection of impressions that did not accurately reflect the actual situations in our schools; it was not based upon the careful collection and analysis of data.  The report was hastily put together, and although it identified many things that educators agreed were problems, it was not comprehensive enough to offer the specifics and details need for viable solutions.  Nevertheless, the report was considered a place to begin for addressing problems that teachers, administrators, and college faculty recognized as issues.

Nation at Risk cited all areas of education as deficient, but emphasized the role of  the language arts as underlying all academic achievement.  Knowledge is stored in language and transmitted by language and understood with language.  In current proposals to address the deficiencies in education,  language is diminished, sometimes outright dismissed, as essential to any learning.  That case is most glaring in South Dakota's reform measure, HR 1234. which gives math and science priority and superiority over language studies and competence.  This is despite the fact that the test scores upon which the rationale for HR 1234 show deficiencies in reading comprehension.  The  measure which was passed by the legislature but may face a referendum vote, if the SDEA and its allies muster 15,000 petition signatures, is so totally devoid of established cognitive theory that it is a travesty.  Still, the promoters and many editorial commentators in the press do not understand why teachers so roundly oppose and reject HR 1234 as having any intellectual legitima
The South Dakota concept of teachers
HR 1234 is actually an expression of attitude and of class discrimination.  It authors and promoters regard teachers as work animals who will pull a little harder if they are offered a slightly larger bag of oats if they outpull those with whom they are harnessed.  Those who don't earn the extra bag of oats or swath of hay will have to learn to live and work in ignominy.  Some will be fired.  And the new beasts will not have the continuing contract provisions that define teaching as a career profession as opposed to an endurance contest, like professional athletics.  When someone decides they aren't performing, they will be dismissed as candidates for the glue factory.  The South Dakota concept of for teachers is a labor camp in which they are expendable at will.  

Many in South Dakota buy into the platitude that schools should be run like businesses, not recognizing what bleak and hopeless places many businesses are.  HR 1234 draws upon a notion from business management about personnel incentives, oblivious to the fact that competent and ethical businesses have found that those theories do not work.  Applying worker management concepts to education is like applying alchemy to rocket science.  It is the product of fatuous ignorance.

Nation at Risk, with all its omissions and weaknesses, at least showed some acknowledgment of the components involved in strengthening education.  In regard to teachers, it made the following observations and was a model of comprehension, compared with measures such as South Dakota's HR 1235:

  • The Commission found that not enough of the academically able students are being attracted to teaching; that teacher preparation programs need substantial improvement; that the professional working life of teachers is on the whole unacceptable; and that a serious shortage of teachers exists in key fields.

  •  Too many teachers are being drawn from the bottom quarter of graduating high school and college students.

  • The teacher preparation curriculum is weighted heavily with courses in "educational methods" at the expense of courses in subjects to be taught. A survey of 1,350 institutions training teachers indicated that 41 percent of the time of elementary school teacher candidates is spent in education courses, which reduces the amount of time available for subject matter courses.

  • The average salary after 12 years of teaching is only $17,000 per year, and many teachers are required to supplement their income with part-time and summer employment. In addition, individual teachers have little influence in such critical professional decisions as, for example, textbook selection.

  • Despite widespread publicity about an overpopulation of teachers, severe shortages of certain kinds of teachers exist: in the fields of mathematics, science, and foreign languages; and among specialists in education for gifted and talented, language minority, and handicapped students.

  • The shortage of teachers in mathematics and science is particularly severe. A 1981 survey of 45 States revealed shortages of mathematics teachers in 43 States, critical shortages of earth sciences teachers in 33 States, and of physics teachers everywhere.
  • Half of the newly employed mathematics, science, and English teachers are not qualified to teach these subjects; fewer than one-third of U. S. high schools offer physics taught by qualified teachers. 
None of the proposals for improving education, such as HR 1234, have gone back assess whether those factors specified in HR 1234 are still problems and have been dealt with.  Rather, the current solutions have been to take away bargaining and workplace rights and move toward operating the schools like labor camps whose dominant message is that teachers are expendable.  

Most significantly, no one who has any knowledge or experience with the dynamics of education has examined the factors where education is successful.  Rather, the current devices are designed so that the ignorant and resentful can gather around and decry the state of education and cluck their inarticulate tongues:  tsk. tsk, tsk.  

The public may remain ignorant and stupid about what produces effective education, but the teachers have a moral and intellectual responsibility not to let the ignorant and stupid define the terms of their profession.  As one Manhattan teacher put it, “How many times do we have to get kicked in the teeth before we realize we can’t work with these people?” Another quotation that is relevant, and draws upon the resources of language, comes from a mystery novel I read recently.  A woman librarian comments that "'asshole' is the most exquisite and versatile world in the English language."   National professional organizations and the SDEA have to recognize that their efforts to accommodate ignorant and power-lusting assholes has contributed to the decline of the profession and the effectiveness of teaching.  You cannot reason with assholes, and when you try to engage them, you will only get shat upon.  Teachers organizations have to reclaim the professional status that has been systematically stripped away from them, and they will need to operated with absolute independence and contradiction to the school bureaucracies so bent upon selling them out.  In South Dakota, the decline of the SDEA as a professional resource and voice of the teachers was set in motion by the agreements SDEA president Dianna Miller made with Gov. Bill Janklow at the time that Nation at Risk was published.  They began the systematic sell-out of education in South Dakota. 

Teaching is an arduous and complicated process.  Even if the general public wants to  regard it as a designation of bonded servitude, teachers and those who know and respect the processes of education can resist and restore the intellectual integrity of teaching and learning.  You may find yourself confronting assholes, but you don't have to consort with them.  

Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rush Limbaugh as Secretary of Education

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” The_Craven
I entered college as a freshman seven years after the end of World War II.  There were many men on campus under the G.I. Bill.  The unifying emphasis that pervaded all campus activities was:  we can't let something like World War II happen again.

That emphasis was apparent in the role of the freshman composition course.  It was conducted under the premise that you cannot deal competently with any intellectual activity if you do not have a grasp of what rhetoric is and what is good and bad rhetoric.  My instructor was Dr. Traugott Richter, a rather stern and intimidating man.  We spent much time on a section on propaganda and rhetorical fallacies to sharpen our critical knowledge of the relationship between logic and verbal competence.  We had weekly papers to write which we turned in on Mondays.  Toward the end of the  week, Dr. Richter returned them, but he carried a stack of index cards on which he recorded writing errors he had encountered in our papers.  He would give the cards to students and ask them to reproduce the offending writing on the black board, and he would lead us in an analysis and critical discussion of the errors.  Students snickered and chortled at the logical fallacies and grammatical deficiencies, and it became a goal as we wrote our papers to not have an example from our papers put on the board.  As the year progressed, the examples put on the board began to shift from examples of bad thinking and writing to examples of what was clear, logical, well supported, and well expressed.  

That emphasis on composition established the foundation for discourse throughout the campus.  My geology professor, who was internationally known, had majored in English as an undergraduate and graded our papers and examinations on the quality of writing as well as our command of geology.  Twice a week, we were required to attend chapel, and the lectures were carefully written to illustrate careful and critical thought and  expression. We discussed and debated ideas we had heard in chapel. In a social psychology course, the students were asked to write a report and analysis on advertising techniques they came across and identify those which used propaganda techniques or were based upon rhetorical fallacies.  When we came across propaganda or fallacies during the course of our day, we often derided the attempts to dupe people.  We felt insulted by advertisers or politicians who used such tactics.  The place I went to college was typical in its approach to rhetoric and literary matters at that time. 

A common observation among my contemporaries is that what passes for political rhetoric and discussion today would have been met with derision and contempt by people who claimed to be educated during our college days.  Freshman composition was not a well-loved  course in that time, because it was rigorous and one had to pass it to earn a college degree.  A commonly used text book was Modern Rhetoric by Cleanth Brooks, a prominent literary critic, and Robert Penn Warren, a celebrated novelist.  I still have my copy.  I used it as a reference in my writing courses, but over time, students lost interest in rhetoric as intellectual transaction and emphasized self-expression as the primary function of writing courses.  They often said that everyone has opinions and a right to express them and that they are equal the opinions of anybody else.  They resisted the premise that, to be accepted as worthy, opinions had to be based upon verifiable fact processed by logical reasoning that had to withstand knowledgeable criticism.  As evaluations, which included student opinion surveys on instruction, became the criteria on which instructors were to shape their courses and students were regarded as consumers who were always right, the study of rhetoric as a discipline was de-emphasized in favor of expressive communication which was more pleasing to student egos and fawning evaluators.  In colleges, the rule of what was popular led to reducing the number of required courses in the literary and communicative arts.

The reduction and elimination of the language arts in our education has led to a time when Barbara Bush has commented on the sleazy nature of rhetoric in the current primary campaign,  and commentators are wondering if the state of political discourse can go any lower.  That raises the significance of Rush Limbaugh's recent attack on Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown U. Law School student who was not allowed to appear before the Republican-run hearing on the coverage of contraceptives as medical necessities.  Limbaugh claimed that the testimony she offered to a Democratic-convened hearing was that she was having so much sex that she could not afford the contraceptives.  That representation of her testimony was an outright lie.  Her testimony centered on the used of contraceptives for medical therapies.  Furthermore, Limbaugh's statement which leads to calling her a slut and a prostitute is a brazen libel which has no basis outside of Limbaugh's intention to smear  her with a patent falsehood.  What Limbaugh was doing to Ms. Fluke is what Joseph Goebbels did to the Jews: defamation that has not the remotest pretext to actuality.  (Rachel Maddow took on the factual and logical stupidities of Limbaugh's comments.)

Limbaugh's alleged apology to Ms. Fluke is merely an exacerbation of the original libel.  He tried hide behind  the entertainer's role by saying he did not intend the attack to get personal.  That is a further lie.  His comments were very personal misrepresentations about what she actually said and about her character.  He did not acknowledge that his representations were totally concocted out of his own bent for malice and were efforts to portray her in ways that would stimulate the hatred and anger of his audience.  Ms. Fluke wisely dismissed this so-called apology, because Limbaugh did not acknowledge the falsehood he created, but tried to cover it under another falsehood.  

Sixteen years ago, Al Franken published Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations which confronted the deteriorating state of political discourse in America. That expose of Limbaugh's intellectually and morally deficient performances did little to affect his popularity among those who hung on and repeated his every word as drooling disciples.  His reign as the voice of conservatism indicates something that has happened in our education system.  And the current attempts to improve it by making teachers scapegoats for deficiencies imposed on it by intellectually challenged school boards and regents will only insure that there is an illiterate audience that can be duped and manipulated by Limbaugh and others like him.

 The stupifaction of America that permits the absurd libels of Limbaugh to pass as political discourse shows no signs of relenting,  certainly not in South Dakota with the passage of HR 1234 which purports to improve education.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Black days at Whiteclay

Drunk in Whiteclay

Pine Ridge is much in the news today.  Madville Times recaps the blockade of trucks trying to drive through the reservation with tar sands and pipeline supplies. 

The New York Times has a front page story on the Oglala Sioux Tribe's lawsuit against Whiteclay, NE, beer store owners and Anheuser-Busch in its attempt to get some kind of control over the rampant alcoholism that is a determining feature of reservation life.  

I ask that you bless our elders and children and families and friends,
And the brothers and sisters in prison.
I pray for the ones who are sick on drugs and alcohol
And for those homeless and forlorn.
[An earth healing prayer.]

Monday, March 5, 2012

O, where are the Nazis of yesteryear?

Like it or not, Nazis are in the news.  Not just the professed Nazis, such as Arthur Jones who is running for the Illinois legislature and calls the Holocaust a big lie.  But also the old Nazis that we--well, most of us, I hope--revile.  

I am not referring to the fact that the puerile name-calling spats of the national dementia that has taken over partisan politics often evokes the word Nazi.  I refer to the re-examination of what happened in Europe during the reign of the Third Reich.  I have written about it before to note that 65 years after World War II, the world has reached enough distance from that time in history to be able to confront and consider some very unpleasant facts that do not compliment the human race. 

It has been known that there were people willing to collaborate with the Nazis and engage in acts of betrayal and oppression of their fellow humans, who they did not wish to consider, human.  However, the matter has been perceived as a good guy-bad guy situation in which the Nazi resistance was the good guys and the   collaborators were the bad guys.  In that perception, there was a  mass of good citizens who were working each day, going about their business, unaware, for the most part, of what was going on around them.  That perception is what has been challenged by the facts and artifacts of history and a very large body of literature and art that examines those facts.  It has changed to an acknowledgment that the Nazi invasion of Europe and the Holocaust occurred with the full consent and participation of people in the civilian and military population. In some cases, people cooperated with the Nazis as a means of survival.  But what is being examined today is that many of the people who, after World War II, disavowed connections with the Nazis were, in fact, enthusiastic supporters and participants.  

This current examination is not just of people in Germany.  It includes people in the nations that Germany invaded and occupied--France, Poland, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries.  Many people welcomed the coming of Hitler and actively assisted in the Holocaust against the Jews and in betraying those who resisted the advance of Naziism.

My correspondent Anne, who has lived and studied in Germany, noted recently that she counted more than 30 films at Netflix that dealt with Nazi sympathizers and resisters during World War II.  She comes from a military family that lived in Germany for tours of duty, and she says that her interest in Germany and the matters of Nazi collaboration and resistance were sparked by the fact that her father remained carefully aloof from the German people while he served in their  midst.  She said that he often claimed that Nazi social and political values did not end with the war.  He also pointed out often that the people of Europe were confronted with two horrible, horrible choices that seemed to dominate the political activity:  the Naziism of Hitler and the Bolshevism of Stalin.  Both of those extremist factions imprisoned and killed opponents and others they hated with a relish.  As resistance movements to the Nazis developed, they were often organized and led by Bolshevists of the Soviet stripe.  People were caught up in a confusing and frightening turmoil, but for many, the Nazis were a conscious preference.  

The degraded political state of America.
In the current political talk in America, the term Nazi is flung about as an inflammatory insult and accusation, as is communism and Marxism.  The use of those terms is meant to accuse   current political figures and parties of being the odious kinds of things that Hitler and Stalin were.  But that is not their real significance.

The real significance is that people who are genuine students of what World War II represented and was fought for see a trend in the mindsets of the people in which hatred and passion runs so high that they are willing to condemn and betray their fellow citizens.  The same hate-motivated and manipulative propaganda that many accepted as their voice in mid-20th century Europe has gained a popular currency in America.  One faction accuses another faction of trying to fleece the country as an "entitlement" society.  The propaganda focuses on public figures and portrays them as odious villains.  In South Dakota, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin was defeated for re-election largely because her opponent accused her of being a close associate of Nancy Pelosi.  When pollsters asked anti-Pelosi zealots what Ms. Pelosi did that they objected to so vehemently, they could cite no specific political actions, but only that she was a leader in the Democratic party that her opponents unfailingly spoke of in terms of revilement.  It revealed that what was supplying much of the political energy was a hate-based furor over people of different classes and different ethnic backgrounds.  A seething racial hatred of Obama is a basis for a political appeal.  The vows to vanquish Obama are an appeal to those who want to vanquish people of his  race.

For a long time, Rush Limbaugh has been the voice for many Americans who are caught up attitudes of hatred and revilement.  Although, some try to dismiss his constant defamation as entertainment, the question is just who finds defamation entertaining?  His latest assault on Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student, cannot be any way dismissed as show business.  Limbaugh has served as a propagandist of the magnitude of Joseph Goebbels.  His disciples do not repeat his defamation as jokes but as political doctrine.  He is not what is significant.  His disciples, referred to as ditto heads, are.   

The evocation of Naziism and Stalinism does not have any credible correlations with political leaders.  It does have a direct correlation with the attitudes and trends among the people.  There is a faction of people who do not want to consider and acknowledge the problems and aspirations of other people and to work toward solutions and compromises.  They want to condemn, hate, and oppress.  The grammar they speak is governed by bigotry.  The human capacity for good will and beneficence cannot be dismissed, as it has guided America through its evolution toward human rights and respect.  However, neither can the capacity for hatred and oppression be dismissed.

We won World War II and led the world in a display of  good will and good works as we encouraged a defeated people to regroup and rebuild a society based on beneficence, not malice.  But malice has emerged again as a political force.  For those who understand the import of Naziism as a malignancy of the people, the use of the term draws parallels that are significant far beyond the juvenile name-calling of political campaigns.  An apprehension of history of Naziism among the people is a reference point for the political course of a nation.  Hatred and oppression are aspects of human nature.  They will dominate, if we let them.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States