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, June 29, 2012

A sick language needs health care

The entire health care issue has been a plague of language, of words that have no integrity.  Words, as Emerson said, derive from natural facts.  Their power of naming and imagery comes from the actual, natural experience they invoke.  While computers, the Internet, and other electronic media have greatly enhanced the transmission of words, they have also infected them with a disease.

The words with which the Affordable Care Act has been addressed provides an unsavory look into how language has been reduced to an environmental irritant.  The words used to address health care reform seldom rest upon fact. The dissent against the upholding of the Affordable Care Act illustrates the case in point:  

But the health care “market” that is the object of the Individual Mandate not only includes but principally consists of goods and services that the young people primarily affected by the Mandate do not purchase. They are quite simply not participants in that market, and cannot be made so (and thereby subjected to regulation) by the simple device of defining participants to include all those who will, later in their lifetime, probably purchase the goods or services covered by the mandated insurance. Such a definition of market participants is unprecedented, and were it to be a premise for the exercise of national power, it would have no principled limits.

This argument is further reduced to the kind of conclusion stated on a right-wing blog:

No, Congress can't compel you to buy something you don't want just because it thinks it's something you should have.

 These statements make a point, but they falsely portray what the essential premise of the Affordable Care Act and the need for reform rests upon. That premise is quite different from these characterizations, and it has been stated by the advocates of the reform act and even by Willard Romney when he implemented health care reform in Massachusetts.  That premise is that there are many people who want and need health care, but cannot afford it.  It is the premise that has put health care reform into the legislative agenda over the years, and it raises questions of social justice and equality.  The focus on the aspect that young people who have chosen not to buy health care insurance will be made to do something they do not want to do excludes the considerations of economic inequality and justice from the discussion.  Those issues, raised by the Declaration of Independence and repeated dutifully in every recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance are the issues addressed by the Affordable Care Act.  

In his majority opinion in the Supreme Court decision,  Justice Roberts bases a great deal of his argument and discussion on the explanations of federalism put forth in the Federalist Papers. His discussion is limited to discussions of federal power and excludes those considerations of the role of  federal power in addressing issues of inequality and injustice, which are the reasons many people cannot afford to buy health care.  

As someone who spent a lifetime studying and teaching and trying to employ language of integrity as the essential tool of human intelligence,   I find the scope of discussion over health care--and all issues of the day--a mark of the degree of intellectual failure of our culture.  The easy transmission of language is also the root cause of its being reduced to the simple-minded, stupid level of bumper-sticker banalities.  It merely feeds the ignorance and deficiencies of grammar that have become the intellectual diet of a population overfed on popular culture.  The signal point of diagnosis is that even the Supreme Court and many of our professors have engaged in narrow-minded and banal discourse in order to be "relevant" to current culture--ignoring that current culture is impaired by ignorance.   That ignorance is also the premise of discussion about education. 

We call the courses of English speech and composition courses in rhetoric, but we fail to teach rhetoric as the arduous use of  language and the making of knowledge, which are, in fact, the essential definitions.  The only hope for a cure for our sick and crippling politics is an infusion of language of integrity based upon a full apprehension of the facts of life in which we live.

As it is, we are immersed in language that is contrived to exclude those facts.  And in that exclusion lies the assumption of our current political dialogue that we are not created equal and have no inalienable rights.  A language which does not register all the facts is too sick to work. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Back to the future in education

The other morning I heard an education contributor on CNN ranting that we, the public, supply money not to maintain buildings to keep a bunch of entrenched adults comfortable, but for the children so that they can get the best education possible.  He was speaking about vouchers which he contended could wrest education from the control of entrenched unions.

The constant characterization of teachers as a privileged group who lives luxuriantly comfortable lives, as if they were CEOs of our corporations, is a prejudicial falsehood about a class of people.  It fits into the category of the mythology of malevolence that insists that people of  color smell bad, steal whenever possible, cheat at everything, and are too inferior to do anything else.  The speaker on CNN, Dr. Steve Perry presents himself as a leader of educational reform, but one must wonder just what schools he is acquainted with to justify those characterizations.  He seems just another of those voices that disdains the teacher corps because they are part of the working middle class which is so detested as the cause of all ills in the minds of American conservatives.

This kind of general denigration of teachers and unions requires one to ask just what role those critics see for teachers and just who they expect to fill it.   It is as if supporting and developing a teacher corps that is anything but a bonded servant corps is an outrageous luxury that the miscreants who try to educate kids do not deserve.

There is historical precedent for this concept.  It is laid out in the following two examples of rules for teachers that were common in the late 1800s:

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps and clean chimneys.

2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.

3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.

4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly

5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.

6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society

8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barbershop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty

9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.




(Before or After School Session)

Wash windows & clean classroom with soap  and water once a week.

Check outhouses daily. (Plenty of old cata­logues are available at School Board office.)


(Forbidden Wear in Public at All Times)


(1)A bathing costume

(2) Bloomers for cycling

(3) Skirts slit to expose ankles

(4) Bustle extension over 10 inches


(1) Detachable collar & neck tie removed from shirt

(2) Shirt sleeves unlinked & rolled

(3) Hair closely cropped (unless bald or have disease of the scalp)


(Cause for Immediate Dismissal)

* Smoking of cigarettes, use of spirits, frequenting of pool or public dance halls.

* Marriage or other unseemly behaviour by women teachers.

* Joining .of any Feminist Movement, such as the Suffragettes.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

When the lord of the flies was a maggot

Karen Klein:  school bus driver and monitor
They are our kids.  No one really wants to talk about them.  Perhaps the video of school bus monitor Karen Klein being demeaned and abused by middle school students will force us to, just as the video of Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles police made us confront the fact of racial brutality among law enforcement agencies.  

School personnel don't want to talk tabout them.  If school administrators were perfectly honest about the peer culture in our schools, people of talent and sensibility would not go into teaching.  The administrators would not have much to administer and would find it extremely difficult to find and hire teaching talent.  

There have always been behavioral issues to confront in schools.  They are part of raising children.  In recent decades, however, those issues have become a dominating force in schools that influence the quality of education.  In the last three decades as report after report has been issued on declines in the effectiveness of education, they have contained a notable deficiency.  From "Nation at Risk" which came out in the 1980s, the reports notably exclude any information from teachers or other school personnel who deal directly with students.   For 20 years as a director of the Dakota Writing Project and an officer in the faculty union,  I participated in many programs and activities with teachers from K through graduate school that studied the factors that affected student learning.  A dominant issue among K-12 teachers was classroom and management and discipline.  The common complaint was that teachers spent so much time and effort on establishing and maintaining control over the classroom that there wasn't much time left to teach.  A common criticism they had for the Writing Project was that we didn't deal directly with those problems of classroom management and discipline.  

One of the most disheartening attitudes was in teachers who spent a lifetime teaching openly stating that retirement could not come soon enough for them.  The often said that student behavior had taken satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment out of teaching.  At a meeting with a group of retired teachers, I recall being more than a little struck by what seemed to be consensus that if the problems we currently experience in schools existed when they went into the profession, they would not have chosen to teach.  Some reflected the very words that Karen Klein's daughter reported when asked if her mother would forgive the students who so viciously tormented her on the bus:  "My mom says she's not ready," her daughter said. "She never wants to see those kids' faces ever again in her life. She's got nothing to say to them."  Many teachers have told me that in the past they looked forward to seeing their students after they left school and finding out how and what they were doing, but when they retired, there were quite a few students they hoped never to encounter again. 

Charles Blow recounted some of things said to Karen on the video:

They hurl profanities. One asks for her address because he says he wants to go urinate on her door. Others are more explicit about defiling her.

One boy tells her that she doesn’t have a family because “they all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be near you.” (Her eldest son committed suicide.)

One suggests that if he were to stab her, his knife would go through her “like butter.”
 The obvious question is, just what motivates that kind of malicious and cruel hatefulness and how does it develop?

Bullying is receiving intense attention in schools and educators are proposing a multitude of approaches to deal with it.  The problem is that schools are not where bullying is learned and they have little authority and resources to remedy it.  It is certainly practiced in schools, despite efforts to provide a learning environment for all students.  To see where the bullying is taught one need only browse the Internet, watch cable news television, listen to talk radio, read the comment sections of the news media.  Computer and video games provide an intense conditioning toward anger and violence. American children are immersed in an environment of vilification, verbal abuse, and those things that accompany a frenzy for wealth and dominance.  The news is a constant  roar of how bad their teachers are and how working people looking for equity are the source of all economic ills.  The children on the bus also taunted Ms. Klein over being working poor.  It was also a point raised in the many cases of bullying that ended with the suicides of its victims.  It is an attitude many children come to school with.  

I think often of late of a man I met in the secret service who came to faculty offices in the course of checking out former students who had applied for jobs in the military and government services that required the highest levels of security and integrity.  The college where I taught at the time was a source of such talent.  Once over coffee, I inquired about the process of discerning what people could be trusted the most.  He commented that one of the best ways to assess a person was to watch his/her children at play.  He said they replay the things said and thought in their homes in ways that reveal what attitudes and values exist there.  It is not an infallible test, but more often than not it indicates what agenda the parents are actually pursuing.   

That is not to say that children don't pick up attitudes from other children.  Most parents come to realize what an influence peer culture students encounter at school have on them.  Most teachers are crucially aware of it.  In America, juvenile culture is considered a huge market.  In appealing to that market, corporations have sought to make it autonomous in ways that disconnect it from the values and influence of parents.  

In the constant comparisons of American standardized test scores with those of other countries such as Japan, Korea, Finland, the  assumption  concentrates the focus of concern on teachers, to the point that America is suffering an obsession with what is a bad and what is a great teacher.  The culture that the students come out of is totally ignored.  While it is a part of maturing for children to struggle against the restraints imposed on them by elders, those countries where academic performance seems better maintain a relationship that is at least respectful and benevolent among the generations.  In American culture, the groups that perform highest academically are those that maintain some veneration between the young and the old.  The U.S. has still to examine those students who do perform at high levels to see what factors contribute to their accomplishment.  Educators who work with those students directly know that they are the students free from a vicious competition for power status and the mindless, raging hatreds it spawns.

The nastiest irony to come out of the incident with Karen Klein is that some of the offending students received death threats.  That probably reveals the essential decadence of the culture our students live in as eloquently as anything could--at least for those with intelligent enough to grasp irony.  

The biggest danger flag for the education of our youth is those educators who have reached the point where they never want to see the faces of some students again and have nothing to say to them.  And that includes much of the Republican Party and those who have come up with oppressive and degrading schemes such as HB 1234 in South Dakota, where the desire to diminish and denigrate prevails.  

The people get what they want.  And when they want denigration and oppression, what is there to say to them?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

One says he didn't; one says he did

The Washington Post is trying to be fair and balanced.  Today, it tried so hard to balance that it fell off the journalistic high wire.

It assigned reporter Glenn Kessler to operate a fact-checking column.  Many readers have noted that fact checks get so convoluted in chasing down facts that the facts get buried under long, confusing, and sententious explanation that does not really determine if a statement is factual or not.  

Kessler took on an ad put out by the Obama campaign.  It gave Obama and his campaign four Pinocchios for saying, among other things, that the ad accused Romney's Bain Capital company of outsourcing American jobs.  That is Kessler's device for saying Obama is a liar.  Actually, it's his way of saying he's a fucking liar.

Kessler writes:

The Obama campaign fails to make its case. On just about every level, this ad is misleading, unfair and untrue, from the use of “corporate raider” to its examples of alleged outsourcing.  Simply repeating the same debunked claims won’t make them any more correct. 

Then later today another headline appeared in the Post that stated:

Under Romney, Bain invested in companies that sent jobs abroad 


 The story is by reporter Tom Hamburger, and its lede is

Mitt Romney’s financial company, Bain Capital, invested in a series of firms that specialized in relocating jobs done by American workers to new facilities in low-wage countries like China and India.

During the nearly 15 years that Romney was actively involved in running Bain, a private equity firm that he founded, it owned companies that were pioneers in the practice of shipping work from the United States to overseas call centers and factories making computer components, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Now that we've got that straight....

The great ennui and the GOP school bus

While attending the state Democratic Party convention Friday and Saturday, I was struck by a difference that is becoming apparent within the progressive thinking citizens.  The convention was attended by people who still think the political system can be made to work.  They contrast sharply with a growing number of progressive thinkers who think the great American experiment has failed, and that under current circumstances it cannot be made to function.  

I became most acutely aware of this thinking prior to the election of 2010 when I was involved in trying to recruit candidates to run against John Thune. A number of people of leadership talent and accomplishment had been identified.   They all had excellent records of work and achievement which overshadowed Thune's dogged recitation of party-line talking points.  They all shared another common trait, too:  they thought that participating in the kind of campaign that Thune and his manager, Dick Waldhams, conducted was too degrading and damaging to be worth exposing their reputations and their families to it. Their general consensus was that there are issues that need serious, critical examination and solutions, but the personal accusations against the character and integrity of individuals by the likes of John Thune creates divisions within the political constituency that makes it impossible to address the essential issues within it.  The animosities create an impenetrable communication barrier.  It is not possible for voters to suspend hostilities and discuss with any rationality or sound information the problems they perceive in common.  The need to blame and disparage surmounts common interest and informed thought.

Those who we approached as potential candidates all were fully informed about the attack strategy used on Tom Daschle:  citing the focus on his Washington, D.C., home as evidence of choosing an expensive lifestyle and abandoning his South Dakota roots; the attacks on his wife as a trophy beauty queen; citing Daschle's success in Congress as a betrayal of his state; calling into question the patriotism of a veteran by making opposition to war an act of traitorship; in general turning the achievements and integrity of character into insidious betrayals of the people.  

In rejecting the idea of running for office, one of the candidates summarized the situation for all.  It is one thing for political leaders to introduce ideas and engage in debates over issues, but when people have hatefully closed their minds to any substantive considerations in favor of clinging to slanderous hatred, running for public office is an act of suicide.  One does not accomplish so that achievements can be dishonored and wasted; one does so to build a life and contribute to the human community.  The toxic politics of today does not tolerate or permit that.  The idea of serving a public that is predominantly concerned with the character assassination of its perceived opponents more than it is in building a tolerant, supportive community is an absurdity.  The current politics of personal destruction and obstinate obstruction has paralyzed America.  

The campaign of Kristi Noem against Stephanie Herseth Sandlin followed the Thune pattern against Daschle.  Noem harped and pounded on Herseth Sandlin for being a submissive and collusive disciple of Nancy Pelosi's, despite the clearly evident fact that Herseth Sandlin was a leader of the Blue Dog faction which openly opposed Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership on many issues.  

The Republican Party carried on a massive campaign to brand Pelosi as an odious, conniving witch.  Making Pelosi the object of revilement and accusations of evil in taking her on as an opponent is part of the Republican playbook that has become a hallmark of its campaigns throughout the nation.  Noem dutifully recited the hate propaganda provided her, but showed no capability at all in debates for having knowledge of or any ability to address substantive issues.  

One of the candidates we approached about running commented on turning down a possible candidacy said, the voters have spoken and they certainly don't want the likes of me.  He also commented that the toxic attitude makes it  impossible for even the most dynamic leader to change their minds.  Only a catastrophe like the Great Depression or a huge natural disaster can register with the voters at this point. Ultimately, the voters get what they want and they choose. 

At the state convention, I had some conversations about those whose absence was notable.  We noted that a number of people who had been strong supporters of progressive politics had left the state, and some who remained clearly had developed interests centered in other places.   When the electorate can no longer tolerate and find ways to accommodate conflicting beliefs and behaviors, fighting for such things becomes pointless and foolish.  So, people move on and establish their lives around more tolerant or compatible circumstances.  That is why immigrants came to America throughout its history. 

The traditional and social media constantly inform us of what our nation has become, and the dissatisfied get the message.  Most are merely controlled by it.  While we argue about education reform and the many legislative efforts to disenfranchise teachers, labor, women, and immigrants of their rights, Congress, the media, the internet display a culture that is shaping the real culture our children are becoming.  The following video of a school bus monitor being abused and degraded by a bunch of middle school children is the ultimate issue of our culture.  What is displayed by these children on the school bus is not what they are learning from school.  It is what they have absorbed from the culture around them.

A good example of where and what teaches children to behave this way comes from American Family Radio, which purports to be a "christian" network.  It is actually a conservative hate propaganda operation that advocates and foments the kind of behavior displayed by the children on the bus.  Last night one of its hosts, Kevin McCulloch, took up the matter of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee voting to charge Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress.  (Like Stephen Colbert we were surprised that they could find someone who already did not hold Congress in contempt.)  McCulloch gave his listeners a version of the basis for the contempt citation which contained absolutely none of the facts that the mainstream media have reported.  His emphasis was that President Obama and Holder are conniving liars. 

In a pointedly racial listing of names he added ranking committee Rep. Elijah Cummings as part of a black triumvirate bent on imposing nefarious and criminal acts on the American people.  He provided his listeners with Cummings' office telephone number no  less than ten times and urged to them call Cummings and demand answers to questions which have no answer because they are based upon the untrue fabrications McCulloch made up to incense his "christian" listeners.

McCulloch and the middle school kids on that bus  represent what America is becoming.  Most progressives choose simply not to get on that bus.  Rather than fight and and get drawn into the degrading and destructive culture designed by the likes of Romney and McCulloch,  the progressives choose to focus on places where a malice-free life is possible.  That includes other places than conservative South Dakota.  And other places where hatred and repression is not the agenda of a major political party.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Teacher Boner Bill

Newspaper stories have noted that in his response to the 30,000 signatures submitted to put HB 1234 on the ballot this fall, Gov. Daugaard has engaged in one of those shameless acts of verbal shystering that does to language what counterfeit bills do to currency.  it makes it useless in dealing with reality.

Daugaard and the teachers.
Gov. Daugaard is now referring to his extraordinarily egregious bit of legislation as The Teacher Bonus Bill.  It is truly The Teacher Boner Bill.I do not mean boner in the sense of an erect male member.  I mean boner in the sense of a genuinely stupid blunder.  It is Daugaard's boner.  It is sticking out there like an erection at high mass.  

There is a bit of imagery evoked by the word boner that might appropriately apply.  When drill instructors inspire overt hostility and menace from a recruit, it is customary for the drill instructor to get in the recruit's face and say "You got a hard on for me, private?"  And then invite the recruit for an opportunity to vent his anger and hatred through physical combat.  However, this bit of parade ground drama was all a matter of bluff and ritual, because any drill instructor who actually provoked hand-to-hand combat with a recruit would soon find himself standing before a court martial.  And any recruit who swung at a drill instructor would be cooling his ass in the stockade.  

I never used that line when encountered by belligerent subordination.  My fighting weight at that stage in my life was 130 pounds and most recruits were bigger than me.  I chose to assault them verbally.  When a recruit glared at me, I would say something like "Private Piddly, if your hemorrhoids are bothering you that  much, you ought keep your head out of there."  That would really incense the recruit, but make the other men snicker and giggle, and then I could dress them down for being disorderly in the ranks.  And then the first sergeant would dress me down for practicing my standup routine on the troops instead of honing their soldiering skills.  

However, Gov. Daugaard and the GOP in general has a big hard on for teachers.  When a drill instructor says "Have you got a hard on for me?" he is not making a sexual reference.  He is using it as a metaphor for the urge and desire to inflict violence.  In that sense, Gov. Daugaard has a big hard on for teachers, as does his GOP comrades.  And for unions.  And for immigrants.  And for women.  And for working people in general.  The plan is to beat the people it wants as serfs down into submission so that it can achieve a corporate serfdom, and finally rid America of all that socialist-like nonsense Tom Jefferson raised in the Declaration of Independence--freedom, equality,  justice for all.

The Daugaard Boner Bill attacks freedom for teachers by creating a system that forces them to teach to tests, not teach what they know and have developed through education and experience and professional development. And he strips away continuing contracts so that teachers can be easily fired if they decide to actually teach rather than program and indoctrinate.   He attacks equality by establishing that teachers are not equal but are graded according to worth by what they teach.  And he dispatches justice in the teaching business by taking away due process that might encumber the firing of any teacher for whom the administrative lackeys develop a hard on.

The only bonus included in the bill is some paltry sums to be awarded to those teachers who can act as role models for sucking and displaying the abject humiliation that the neo-feudalists want from their servants.  

In using the term Teachers Bonus Bill, Daugaard and his cohorts think all people are as verbally stupid as they are and will see the bill as the opposite of the destructive and insulting measure it actually is.  

Daugaard doesn't just have a boner.  He is one.  Big time. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reasons why Obama must be defeated

Cable television and blog asylums are so entrenched in trivia and the latest idiotic contrivances of the GOP brain trusts that they forget there is a sizable portion of the citizenry that want a progressive agenda for the country.  The Huffington Post reports on one of those people, a former law professor of President Obama's at Harvard. He says Obama must be defeated because "He has failed to advance the progressive cause in the United States."

Professor Roberto Unger enumerates these reasons:

·         "His policy is financial confidence and food stamps."

·         "He has spent trillions of dollars to rescue the moneyed interests and left workers and homeowners to their own devices."

·         "He has delivered the politics of democracy to the rule of money."

·         "He has disguised his surrender with an empty appeal to tax justice."

·         "He has reduced justice to charity."

·         "He has subordinated the broadening of economic and educational opportunity to the important but secondary issue of access to health care in the mistaken belief that he would be spared a fight."

·         "He has evoked a politics of handholding, but no one changes the world without a struggle."

A Youtube version of his comments is available at the Huffington Post link.

Monday, June 11, 2012

There are no jobs. Probably never will be.

American business has focused the last 30 years on eliminating the cost of labor.  With massive downsizing, outsourcing of work to countries with low standards of living, and new efficiencies in automation, American business has very significantly reduced the need for much of a work force.  American business was quite willing to relinquish manufacturing, in which America led the world when it was creating the worlds most successful and powerful economy, in order to eliminate its reliance upon labor.  So, now we are faced with perennially anemic jobs reports that portend a feeble economy and a descent into poverty for the American work force.  This is what American business has striven so mightily to achieve.  It succeeded.  So, why do business leaders and politicians express wonder at the weak, depressing job reports?  The economy is in the shape that three decades of concentrated effort to subjugate the working class put it in. 

The U.S. has compiled a record of 30 years of wage stagnation and job losses.  It has all the financial statistics showing the burgeoning growth of wealth for the top financial 10 percent of Americans with the top 1 percent holding a phenomenal percentage of the nation's wealth and garnering earnings just as phenomenal. I repeat those statistics, here, and they should be repeated until Americans understand that they mean America the democratic republic is no more: 

  • The top 1 percent of Americans hold 23.5 percent of the wealth.
  • The top 10 percent of Americans hold 83 percent of the wealth.
  • The top 1 percent of Americans gather 10 percent of the income.
  • The top 10 percent of Americans gather 49 percent of the income.
  •  The bottom 90 percent of Americans share 27 percent of the nation's wealth.
  • The bottom 90 percent of Americans divide 51 percent of the nation's income.   
The social regresssives whine and complain that the citation of such statistics is class warfare.  Of course, it is.  It is compelling evidence of the war that the self-appointed managing class has waged against the working people of America.  And it is the measure of the success of that war.  The holders and seekers of that vast wealth have, furthermore, succeeded in turning the once-vaunted free press into a very effective and successful brain-washing apparatus.  The American people believe with a huge predominance that their economic future lies with corporations, small and large, which control the route to economic opportunity and parcel out livelihoods only to those willing to submit to them.  The definition of patriotism has become utter submission to those who act as lords of the corporate manor. 

If real, live human persons did the things that corporate "persons" do they'd be charged as traitors, subversives, bribers, organized criminals, and sociopaths.  

The outsourcing of jobs was a ploy to get around labor contracts and health and safety regulations.    Apple's use of Foxconn in China and the conditions under which its iPhones were manufactured is evidence of how global corporations view their workers.  The workforce in China is so impoverished (the top workers at Foxconn earned $450 a month) that they were willing to endure almost anything for a chance at subsistence survival.  The workers cannot strike or bargaining collectively for better conditions.  They threatened mass suicide, following an alarming incidence of suicides in the plant, as a better option to their working conditions and compensation.  Southern America enjoyed a life of opulence and power on its slave-based economy.  Corporations find a personnel policy based upon gratitude from workers for allowing them to live at all is the best.  Labor negotiations and health, safety, and environmental standards are an irrelevant nuisance to what is regarded as good business.  If America is to compete, in the minds of the corporate hierarchy, its workers must accept a new ignominy if their lords decide to allow them to live.  

Another aspect of American business is that the financial sector has become the dominant force.  Venture capitalism is intertwined with speculation and manipulation of junk bonds and derivatives, which are totally divorced from productivity and functional economic exchange.  In the ecosystem, we know that nature will collapse when parasites and predators become the dominant factors at work.  And that, essentially, is what has happened to the American economy.  Those who create and produce have been relegated to expendables by those who leech and prey.  An economy geared to the subsidiary and derivative business schemes will not produce jobs.  It will produce only carcasses. 

President Obama has a huge weakness.  He clings to the idea that maybe he can compromise with his opponents to find ways to produce jobs.  The financial sector and the manufacturers, such as the auto-makers, were very willing to accept bailouts and loans.  But when asked to restrain destructive and predatory business practices and accept rules that contribute to the health, safety, and well-being of the working classes, they turn against him.  

There is a growing number of working people who really don't give a shit whether Obama gets re-elected.  It doesn't matter if Obama or Romney is president as long as corporations operating under the current anti-worker attitudes and philosophies control the government.  

The only option workers really have is not between Democratic and Republican candidates; it is in choosing between countries or governments.  This country is trending toward Wisconsin's Scott Walker, who envisions America becoming a Foxconn, where workers have no voice, only the ultimate act of suicide to express their discontents.  The other choice is in assessing whether our current Constitution actually provides the means for freedom, equality, and justice.

Those concepts are not  in the corporate vocabulary.  

[For a quick review of  American trends for workers, check out this piece on public workers and this one on restaurant workers.] 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A requiem for working people

I am among some academic colleagues, which include political scientists, who avoided any predictions about the recall election in Wisconsin.  We regarded the outcome of the election as a significant indicator of the direction that America is taking. 

I opposed Scott Walker because he is a dictatorial tyrant who has no compunction about stripping people of their rights and reducing their status to a subservient inequality.  Wisconsin led the nation in progressive politics.  Now it is leading it back into a system of overlords and serfs, and Scott Walker is a willing instrument of that regression into feudal state.

His corporate bosses came into the state, supplied 66 percent of the $30.5 million Walker collected for the campaign.  He outspent his opponent 8 to 1.  

Walker and his supporters speak of beating the union thugs and taxpayers  being forced to pay for exorbitant benefits they gained for their members, who are the teachers, the nurses, the police, the firefighters, the road workers who maintain the highways and plow the snow, the office people who keep the essential offices of government functioning.  

The right to bargaining collectively does not, as many people who voted for Walker seem to contend, give unions the right to extort the government agencies into paying over the benefits it demands.  It simply gives the members the right to form a collective voice and to present their proposals at a negotiating table where both parties have the opportunity to prevail.  The law also prohibits public employees from striking.  

The "union thug" meme does not in any way represent the how unions work or how they have worked in Wisconsin; but it does illustrate what $30 million can buy in terms of brain-washing propaganda and how successful that propaganda has been.  The workers in Wisconsin who are so  resentful of the benefits earned at the bargaining table for state workers are smarting because no one has represented them so effectively.  They cannot consider that perhaps the union gains were possible because of the ineffectiveness of the way management represented them at the bargaining table.  A majority of Wisconsinites have bought into the idea that unions are groups of oppressive gangsters and that their only hope for economic equity is to submit to and suck the one percent.  

Those who deny that the money spent in the election had any effect on the minds of the voters simply do not understand the fact of operant conditioning in a totalitarian society or what it was that George Orwell was portraying and analyzing in 1984.

Mitt Romney has attacked unions and upon news of Walker's win, a campaign staff member immediately tweeted: "Pack it in, Unions. It's over."  Unions and the voice it gives workers are the biggest threat to the plans of the one percent for the total subjugation of America.  They must be demolished, as they are in Wisconsin.  They represent the major barrier to people obediently and unquestioningly voting the way the brain-washing campaign instructs them to.  

Perhaps, the most facetious thing to come out of Walker's victory is his announcement that he is inviting all Wisconsin legislators, Democrat and Republican, over to his house to a convivial peace gathering over brats and beer to start a unification process.   The expectation seems to be that the losers will accept the "union thug" label placed upon them and grovel in humiliation.  Scott Walker declared himself an enemy of unions and his state workers and it would only compound the defamation to accept any efforts at conciliation.  It is one thing to give earnest consideration to his proposals in the halls of the legislature, but making nice on a social level would be a further betrayal of the people who have been so maligned and defamed.

In protesting Walker's actions, the workers of Wisconsin have used every means provided and permitted by law to address them.  Peaceful, massive demonstrations and political activism have not worked for them.  The system has not merely taken away their voice, but the propaganda blitz has denied any respectful and honorable consideration of their concerns and what they actually contribute in terms of their work.  The damage has been done and there is no way to repair it.  It is a fact of life and the workers and those who represent their interests could better expend their thought and energy on new and better strategies for restoring freedom, equity, and justice to them and, if possible, to the political process.

I have been a part-time resident of Wisconsin and a longtime observer of working people's efforts to gain a voice in their own destiny.  Collective bargaining became law as a  result of some very violent and destructive confrontations between labor and the management that regarded and held it in such inferior status.  When Scott Walker took away the collective bargaining rights, a few people spoke out from memory of the bitter, angry times that led to the establishment of collective bargaining by law.  

Those peaceful protests of tens of thousands of people at the Capitol in Madison were an attempt to work within the system.  But when the system designates those people as predatory thugs and takes away their right to have a reasoned voice at bargaining tables, the system is not working.  When a system does not work, people can either submit or try something else.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

The regression of Wisconsin

I had an affinity for Wisconsin. I planned to retire there. In the early 1960s, I was among a group of people who purchased some desolate, depleted land near the Wisconsin River and reclaimed it by turning it into a pine forest. We nurtured those trees from seedlings, through thinning cuttings which supplied pulp wood, and into a mature forest of towering, fragrant pines, with some bird-planted hardwoods showing up under the canopy. My little hunk of forest was in the sand county that was the subject of Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac and where Frank Lloyd Wright operated Taliesen, his architectural school.

My original plan was to build a retirement cabin and work studio in the pine forest, but did not work out for many reasons. One reason was the cost. The pine forest and the surrounding landscape became a favored place for building gated neighborhoods of luxurious homes. The property taxes for the area skyrocketed. And as the nature of the homes went from relatively modest cabins designed for living and enjoying nature to wildly ostentatious, the nature of the neighborhood changed. I enjoyed many years of working on and in the pine forest. I repaired to the peace and beauty of the pine forest to work and wrote most of my doctoral dissertation there.

When I sold the place, many people thought we made a huge profit on it. There was really no way to calculate the amount invested in terms of work and development put into the place. As the trees begin to grow, they need attention for fire and disease control. As they develop, the lower branches which receive little sunlight die as the heads of the trees reach for the sun and shade them. The dead branches, called slash, have to be removed. The amount of money invested in lopping shears and chain saws can be calculated, but the value of the large amounts of time required cannot. And the depleted soil required fertilization to get the trees started and to keep them growing. That was a process of spreading it by hand with buckets and coffee cans. It consumed days and days of labor. By the time we deducted capital gains taxes, property taxes, and maintenance costs, those of us who sold our sections of forest did not really make anything over the years. We did have enjoyable and productive years in the forest, however, and perhaps some regret that we improved the environment to a point where it became attractive as a show setting for the bourgeois.

Most of the people who initially were involved in growing the pine forest were professionals who used it as both for recreation in nature and as a place of tranquility and beauty in which to do productive work.

I cite the change in demographics as one of the factors, and likely a big one, in how Wisconsin changed from being the center of progressive politics to taking a lead in denying and depriving working people a voice and an equity in politics and economy.

Conservatives have assailed the recall election from George Will calling it an act of childish petulance to the GOP insisting it is a ploy of a labor union mafia. That denigration and dismissal of working people is the real significance of the recall election and what it reveals about the nation at large. About half the people of the U.S. subscribe to the fascist belief that inequality is an inescapable fact of life and that people deemed innately superior should rule over people deemed innately inferior. The Wisconsin recall election is essentially a reaction to people being designated innately inferior and to take away their voice and their power to hold equity in the state.

Governor Walker, like his compatriots in other states, insists that labor unions make it impossible for local governments and school boards to manage within budgetary limitations. So, he has taken away the collective bargaining rights of public employees. He implies that collective bargaining gives labor unions the right to impose exorbitant wages and obstructionist work rules on the government employers. What he and his kind studiously avoid is what collective bargaining actually means, which is the negotiation between employers and employees.  Collective bargaining does not permit one faction to impose terms on the other faction, except in states like South Dakota where, for example, school boards can by law impose a contract on the employees when the boards do not get what they want easily from the employees. In Wisconsin, as in many states, public employees do not have the right to strike as a means to support their bargaining positions.  The argument that unions prevent any reasonable management of budgets is simply a false one. 

About half of the people in Wisconsin do not think that dispossessing them of equality, voice, and justice in the work place is right.  Half of the people want just that dispossession.  And that is how Wisconsin has regressed back into the feudal mentality where those who designate themselves as overlords have the right of arbitrary and repressive rule over those they have designated as inferior. 

 As many commentators have claimed, the Wisconsin recall election will indicate the direction of the nation as a whole.  Those who insist that labor unions be made irrelevant by law and workers must live according to the arbitrary rules imposed on them have forgotten the bitter struggles to establish equity, voice, and justice in the work place. Conservative America seems unable to think that a people who have hard won rights taken away from them will do anything but meekly submit to discrimination, denigration, and repression.  

When Americans are denied those matters of equality, liberty, and justice specified in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution by law, America is no longer America.  A people betrayed by their nation have no reason to hold allegiance to that nation.  That is something the opponents and oppressors of working people cannot seem to grasp.  

The recall election will tell us something about the direction of America.  But no matter how it turns out,  at least half of America will not go where the conservative dreamers of feudalism want it to go. 

The regression of Wisconsin is a dire warning for all who value equality, liberty, and justice.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States