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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Report calls for the press to be regulated

A 2,000-page report ordered by UK Prime Minister Cameron calls for an agency to be established to regulate the British press. 

In the report, Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Leveson said the press must create a new and tough regulator but it had to be backed by legislation to ensure it was effective.  The report was motivated by the revelations that some British newspapers were hacking into telephone calls in violation of law, including privacy laws.   The report contains interviews from 800 people who were wrongly damaged by the press.

The British have two major camps of the press, the broad sheet press such as the London Times, and the tabloid press, which is like the supermarket tabloids here in America.  However, the British press has found a large market for gossip of a nature that violates privacy and relies on defamatory content to sell.

Detailed accounts of the report are in the New York Times and on the BBC website.  

The legacy media in America does not have the problems of publishing scurrilous and libelous information, but what is published by the tabloids and on the Internet, especially in some blogs, approaches the problem.  Although the U.S. is generally more rigorous in its law enforcement regarding hacking into telephone calls and other communications, the dangers lurk at the government level.   Law enforcement agencies must get court warrants to tap telephone calls and e-mails, but they can obtain telephone call records without such warrants and can obtain e-mails over 10 years without warrants.

Historically, the U.S. legal system has provided protections against the unwarranted publishing of defamatory information.  Until the advent of the Internet, any pubished statement about a person that was false and exposed a person to public disapproval was considered damaged and could be awarded the payment of damages in a lawsuit.  With the advent of the Internet and other electronic media over the last 30 years, the case law has changed.  Now a false and libelous statement must be proven to hurt a person in the pursuit of an occupation or profession.  This relaxing of the conditions for a lawsuit has removed a built-in restraint in the media, particularly on blogs.  Journalism critics point out that the publishing of scurrilous and unverified material in the blogosphere has compromised all of journalism.  

In addition, traditional news media in allowing itself to be "interactive" in its attempts to salvage flagging advertising dollars and a declining audience have adopted much lower standards of information for what it permits to be published under the guise of commentary.

While the report on the British press does not deal with the American practices, it has implications for those who see the American Internet and social media has demonstrating the same problems. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lincoln: making the dream work

Some critics have dismissed Steven Spielberg to the role of film-maker as opposed to a film artist.  With Lincoln, he stakes an irrefutable claim to being an artist.  From every aspect--writing, casting, acting, set and costume design, music, cinematography--this film will be one to be studied and discussed by students of film for as long as people watch films. Spielberg in all his films is an accomplished and engaging story-teller.  In this film, he tells the story of one of America's major triumphs, and he sets that story in the context of the many forces at work to produce that triumph in a way that brings all the perspective-embracing factors that separate true art from craftsmanship.

Lincoln is a literary film.  It was written by Pulitzer and Tony-winning playwright Tony Kushner, who bases the episode it renders, the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery,  on Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, which is augmented and amplified from other books chronicling Lincoln, including the biography by Carl Sandburg.  Fellow Illinoisian and poet Sandburg, although often dismissed as "literary" by historians, produced a work that stands as one of the more detailed and evocative captures of Lincoln's character and consequence.  The language of the film is elevated and never falls into the pedestrian for the purpose of bridging dramatic moments.  The language is the vernacular  of the time that conveys the intellectual and moral vigor behind the Thirteenth Amendment and the competing concern of ending the Civil War.  Even when Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones, excoriates his opponents by ridiculing their minds as basely inferior, the language operates on a plane that intensely evokes the immense significance of the occasion.   
Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens

Daniel Day Lewis is brilliant and meticulous in portraying the historical Lincoln, but his performance receives equally brilliant support from a host of character actors, such as Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Fields, and Hal Holbrook.  The inspiration for this film is Lincoln himself, whose character lives on and is a force in shaping what America wants to become.  

Lincoln is a story told of a man who himself was a master story-teller, who understood and employed the power of the illustrative story. Lincoln's success as a politician rested on the reputation he earned as a circuit traveling lawyer in Illinois around whom people flocked in the evenings to be entertained and informed by his story-telling.  In the film, his penchant for telling stories at times dismays his cabinet, but those stories provide the balance between aspirations for which people strive and the realities that confront them.  They range from the parable to the tale of the water closet which features a portrait of George Washington.    Real literature places those mundane and ribald realities in importance with the higher laws that we seek to establish as a condition of our lives.    Lincoln could relate the words and thoughts of Euclid, Shakespeare, and Robert Burns as well as spin the earthier humor of the outhouse. 

Lincoln feared that the Emancipation Proclamation would be overturned by courts after the Civil War ended, which would reverse the abolition of slavery.  In examining those final months of Lincoln's life during which he ended the war and established the Thirteenth Amendment as the law of the land, the film focuses on the intensity of the abolition movement.  But for Lincoln, abolition was as much about establishing freedom and equality in the land for everybody as much as ending human bondage for African Americans.  As one who was raised in Illinois, it is difficult for me to ever forget that the reason Lincoln was so revered by the working people of that state was because he spoke for all who labor and seek a fair and equitable return for their work.  Throughout my childhood, a bust of Lincoln held a prominent place in our living room as a reminder of that quest for equality and equity.

Although Abraham Lincoln had only a year of formal schooling, he was a literary man.  He made some of the most powerful speeches in American English, speeches that we go to for the words that define our aspirations for this nation and that lay out the conditions we must meet to realize those aspirations.  Lincoln's greatness was in his ability to work the everyday world to give the words that named our hopes reality in our lives.   Lincoln is a film that concentrates on how he labored to make the terms freedom and equality demonstrable forces that one could participate in, and to make peace the reality that a weary and care worn nation could have.  

I do not ordinarily talk much about films I have  seen or books I have read.  Nor do I write much about them, except for professional papers and journals that few people hear or read.  Even though at one time as a journalist, I was assigned to writing reviews, I tend to avoid them.  Most critics use the works they review as egotistical fodder through which they contrive to  demonstrate their exquisite taste and discernment, not identify the achievements of the work in question.  I find arguments over who has the most salient taste depressing and pointless.  However, Lincoln makes me venture forth with observations.  If you want to be reoriented to what is truly exceptional in American history and life, this is a piece of work which will do it.  

It is a film that shows how politics, as grubby as they are, can legislate the higher laws expressed in language and make them operative forces in our lives.  In this time when the nation is possessed again by a hate-drive division, it is a film that tells a true story of fulfillment of the other possibilities that exist.  In that, it is a literary film. It is literary art that tells essential truth.

Lincoln with son Tad in 1865.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Just being the douchebags we are...

"You mean like this, you presumptuous ass?'
The Internet and the social media make it serious.  Lindsey Stone, pictured, who works for a non-profit organization that assists disabled people with living arrangements, and a friend were visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery, and were inspired to take this photograph.  As an old college professor, who advised student organizations, this kind of humor satirizing the somewhat pompous aspects of society is familiar, and I would probably just regard it as the spirited resistance of the young spiked with a little Saturday-Night-Live wit  and go about my work.  But Lindsey made a huge error.  She put this on Facebook, and, as the social epidemiologists say, it went viral. The protests against the perceived disrespect of those who have served and died were too much for her bosses to ignore.  Although she said, "Whoa whoa whoa... wait. This is just us, being the douchebags that we are, challenging authority in general. Much like the pic posted the night before, of me smoking right next to a no smoking sign. OBVIOUSLY we meant NO disrespect to people that serve or have served our country."  One group even started a Facebook page dedicated to the purpose of getting her fired.  So, she was.  

This is just one of many, many examples of people who have been fired from their jobs for something published about them on the social media.  A school teacher was fired for publishing a picture that showed her saluting with a beer while on a European vacation, And there are many examples of people getting fired for saying something insulting and potentially damaging about their employers.  

An employer may deserve all the trash one can say about it and it may well be true, but it has the right to fire anyone who insults and undercuts the stated purposes of the enterprise.  In years past, one could vent about an employer over drinks after work and not be in much danger of having employers learn about it or act upon it, but the social media provides a huge audience and documentation of what one has said or portrayed.  If it runs counter to the stated purpose of the organization, it is legitimate reason for dismissal.

The rules have changed.  Once the standards of speech and humor where determined by the company one kept.  One knew when one could be profane and parodic and satiric and where one had to observe the decorum of the fuddy-duddies and the repressive bigots.  One did not, for example, tell dirty jokes at Luther League.  And one knew at which Luther League activities a little bawdiness and sarcasm about propriety would be appreciated.  Spirit of occasion ruled the level of decorum.  

The Internet and social media have changed the rules.  They have turned judgments of and responses to  social statements over to the mob.  The cyber lynch mob.  As in the case of Lindsey Stone, people who don't know her but are looking for some pretext to impose their will and inflict harm on other people can organize a "flash mob" and intimidate her bosses and demand her dismissal by saying she "disrespected every man and woman far greater than herself with the actions shown in [the] profile picture."  I take Ms. Stone's actions as a response to being regarded as being so stupid and obtuse that a metal sign is needed to elicit some reverence and respect at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and not to hold any boisterous celebrations over the remains of the unknown.  To  me, Ms. Stone was responding to an asinine sign.  Nothing is more insulting than when someone presumes one is a social and mental retard needing instructions on how to conduct oneself.  But Ms. Stone's employer did not see it that way and decided to act on the outrage of the cyber lynch mob.   

Ms. Stone should probably be smart enough to know that her parodic response to an authoritarian sign would be interpreted and promoted as an insult to all the dead soldiers at Arlington.  Once you publish something on the Internet, it is at the mercy of the dumb and the mean.  The Internet has given the dumb and mean equal voice with the informed and good-willed.  More often than not, dumb and mean wins.  After the recent election campaign, however, it is clear that what divides America is the right to be dumb and mean vs. the right to know and apply the values have that evolved into what is codified in the nation's founding documents and  in the philosophies of the religions that inspired the ideas of liberty, equality, and justice.  That brings us to the significance of the sacking of Ms. Stone over a Facebook picture.  

If people are to be judged wholly and held responsible for things they put on the Internet that offend someone somewhere, then we have a lot of outrage to excite and firing to be done.  A prime place to start regards who is shaping our public education and the kind of people who presume to deliver it.  Bernie Hunhoff, publisher and editor of South Dakota Magazine and a state representative from Yankton, put a post on Facebook that addressed a issue in South Dakota education:

"A friend just told me we are not only 50th in teacher pay in SD, but 11% behind the 49th state (ND). He thinks we're facing a tremendous shortage in a few years as the baby boomer teachers retire. Teacher retention and recruitment of the best college students to the profession looks like the top economic development issue for the 2013 legislative session.

The post received more than 70 responses, some of which were very revealing and called into question the competence of some individuals in holding the jobs they have.  One response said that South Dakota students seem to be achieving well, and the teachers  seem to be performing reasonably well, so why worry about teacher pay, even if it is the lowest in the nation?  That is a common attitude in South Dakota, one that seems to be dominant.  The comment was endorsed by the host of a radio show.
"For as long as SD students achieve at the level they have, WHY invest more money in teacher pay? There may be a day when additional funding is needed to keep SD students on top, but it doesn't appear to be today.
One would expect a person who broadcasts information over the media to be somewhat informed about what he is saying.  The most reliable gauge of how students compare with other states is the ACT test.  The tests administered to meet the No Child Left Behind requirements are not tested and reliable indicators of comparative student achievement.  On the ACT test, South Dakota ranks 23rd among the 50 states for student achievement. Apparently the radio personallty thinks that achievement near the median signals that "SD students [are] on top."

More significant is the fact that in South Dakota, 81 percent of high school students take the ACT test.  That means we do not have comparative achievement scores showing how 19 percent of the students are doing.  Five states, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyomin, require 100 percent of their students to take the ACT to measure achievement.  The full comparative report on state achievement scores can be reviewed at the ACT website.   

 One could, I suppose, put up a Facebook page urging listeners to boycott WNAX because its radio show hosts give out faulty information.  Or one could put up a page insisting that the host in question be replaced by someone who knows what he is talking about. Or one can shrug and say that is the state of our media and we just have to learn how to live with wrong information and the policies based upon it.

A woman who represents herself as an English teacher also chimes in on the conversation with a rationale for maintaining the low teacher pay in South Dakota;  :
"Merit pay and critical subject matter shortages RL 16 did not pass. Why? The way I see it, the teachers spoke loudly against it. They feel everyone should have equal pay. I used to think that, too, until I taught every student in grades 8-12 (English)..other teachers taught electives where class size was 5-9 students. Many times I had 6 classes and others had 5 classes. A couple of things come to mind: schools are businesses; that is why they hire business managers. Most businesses in our society do not pay people the same. Some are promoted at a higher salary rate than the person sitting to the right or left of him. Some are moved to private offices AND given more money. The second thing that comes to mind is that when teachers get into the profession, we pretty much know what we are going to be paid. We all have choices. If we are not happy in our profession because we feel we are not compensated enough, then it is time to choose another career that monetarily matches our wants and our llife style. Most teachers I know are proud to be in the profession and work is about the students. Teachers with higher pay do not necessarily produce smarter students."
There is much to carp about regarding the level of expression and reasoning in this published comment.  And one can raise a legitimate concern about an educator advocating that a school should be run on the basis of a business model,  a bad business model which practices discrimination and imposes inequality on its workforce.  Those sentiments are worthy of a Facebook page protesting a school system which allows such to influence students and expose them to values which are contrary to all the purposes of public education.  

If I had children in this person's class, they would no longer be there on Monday morning.  The last  thing children need is exposure and indoctrination into the values on which bullying, discrimination, and the imposition of inquality are based.  And there is the matter of competence in framing an argument and the information on which it is  based.  

My ultimate appeal is to organizations like the SDEA and other professional education organizations to follow up the defeat of some wretchedly stupid laws that were based upon the kind of flawed and false information that is brought to bear in the comments following Bernie's Facebook post.  The formation of education polciy must be returned to the educators who know something about the history, the purpose, and the delivery of education.  School boards need to be returned to the function of serving as a conduit of information between the professional staffs and the public.  Running schools like a business in the way suggested by the English teacher runs counter to any standards of freedom, equality, and justice that has operated in the formation of American education.  

Consigning teachers to the status of low-paid indentured servants refutes every hope and goal in that destination we call the American dream.  In such consignment, kids will be conditioned to be silent, respectful, and dull.  Sometimes it is healthy for the young to be noisy and disrespectful.  And funny. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Wampanoag Side of Thanksgiving

It ain't necessarily so.
You’ve probably heard the story of how Squanto assisted in their planting of corn? So this was their first successful harvest and they were celebrating that harvest and planning a day of their own thanksgiving. And it’s kind of like what some of the Arab nations do when they celebrate by shooting guns in the air. So this is what was going on over there at Plymouth. They were shooting guns and canons as a celebration, which alerted us because we didn’t know who they were shooting at. So Massasoit gathered up some 90 warriors and showed up at Plymouth prepared to engage, if that was what was happening, if they were taking any of our people. They didn’t know. It was a fact-finding mission.

When they arrived it was explained through a translator that they were celebrating the harvest, so we decided to stay and make sure that was true, because we’d seen in the other landings—[Captain John] Smith, even the Vikings had been here—so we wanted to make sure so we decided to camp nearby for a few days. During those few days, the men went out to hunt and gather food—deer, ducks, geese, and fish. There are 90 men here and at the time I think there are only 23 survivors of that boat, the Mayflower, so you can imagine the fear. You have armed Natives who are camping nearby. They [the colonists] were always vulnerable to the new land, new creatures, even the trees—there were no such trees in England at that time. People forget they had just landed here and this coastline looked very different from what it looks like now. And their culture—new foods, they were afraid to eat a lot of things. So they were very vulnerable and we did protect them, not just support them, we protected them. You can see throughout their journals that they were always nervous and, unfortunately, when they were nervous they were very aggressive.
Read the full account at Indian Country Today.

Monday, November 19, 2012


UPDATE:  An important piece to read: 
California genetic food vote is no victory for science

Among the big losers of the election this month was California Proposition 37.  It would have required that any food processed from ingredients that came from Genetically Modified plants be labeled.  After a very heavy influx of money from corporations which are heavily invested in GM products, the proposition lost 54 to 46 percent.  But the opposition to genetically modified foods and the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) is just beginning. A number of countries have banned GMO seeds and products:

  • Japan:  The Japanese people are staunchly opposed to genetically modified crops and no GM seeds are planted in the country.  However, large quantities of canola are imported from Canada (which is one of the world's largest producers of GM canola) and there is now GM canola growing wild around Japanese ports and roads to major food oil companies.  Genetically modified canola such as Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola have been found growing around 5 of the 6 ports that were tested for GM contamination.
  •  New Zealand:  No GM foods are grown in the country.
  • Germany:  There is a ban on the cultivation or sale of GMO maize.
  • Ireland:  All GM crops were banned for cultivation in 2009, and there is a voluntary labeling system for foods containing GM foods to be identified as such.
  • Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Luxembourg: There are bans on the cultivation and sale of GMOs.
  • France:  Monsanto's MON810 GM corn had been approved but its cultivation was forbidden in 2008.  There is widespread public mistrust of GMOsthat has been successful in keeping GM crops out of the country.
  • Madeira: This small autonomous Portugese island requested a country-wide ban on genetically modified crops last year and was permitted to do so by the EU.
  • Switzerland:  The country banned all GM crops, animals, and plants on its fields and farms in a public referendum in 2005, but the initial ban was for only five years.  The ban has since been extended through 2013.
  • India:  The government placed a last-minute ban on GM eggplant just before it was scheduled to begin being planted in 2010.  However, farmers were widely encouraged to plant Monsanto's GM cotton and it has led to devastating results.  The UK's Daily Mail reports that an estimated 125,000 farmers have committed suicide because of crop failure and massive debt since planting GM seeds.
  • Thailand:  The country has zigzagged in its support and opposition of GM crops.  The country had widespread trials of GM papayas from Hawaii but reversed its plans when the seeds got wild and began contaminating nearby crops. 
  • Russia: Bans all GM corn imports; EU may also ban Monsanto GMO in wake of shocking cancer findings
  • Several countries such as Japan moved to restrict the importation of Thailand's papayas as a result, not wanting to import any GM foods.  Thailand is currently trying to embrace both sides -- producing organic foods for some countries at a high price while moving towards embracing more and more GM crops.  The country has also tried declaring some areas GMO-free zones in order to encourage other countries to trust their foods.
A French study linking GMOs and the herbicide Roundup to an accelerated growth of malignant tumors in rats has spurred interest--and controversy--about GMO products.  While there has been much criticism over the protocol of the study, scientists also warn that it must be  taken seriously with further investigations into the effects of GMOs on animals and humans who eat them.

Super weeds have evolved from GMOs. 
The problems GMOs are numerous.  The biggest problem is the that uncertainty about their effect on human and animal health.  In India, questions have been raised about whether Bt cotton lives up to its productivity claims and whether the cost of the seeds and chemicals have any economic benefit,.  A number of farmers who handle the crop have broken out with a virulent skin disease.  The seed producers tout the virtues they claim for the crop and deny that it can cause disease, but the outbreaks of disease raise serious questions about the health and safety aspects of Bt cotton.

In the U.S, the most widely used foods derived from GM crops are corn and canola oil.  Some people have developed a furious, itching skin disease which physicians could not diagnose, and through trial-and-error found that the disease was controlled by avoiding GM-containing foods.  Other scientific studies have found that diseased lesions from some diseases contain the same materials as GM foods. The seed producers are, of course, very quick to deny that GM products have any connection to the diseases, but the circumstances clearly indicate that GMOs need to be tested and studied for their health effects.  

This rootworm is pesticide resistant,
Other results of GM seeds have produced very clear reactions in the natural system.  A major attribute of some GM crops is that they are Roundup resistant.  A They can withstand the application of Roundup herbicide, which kills all other vegetation, and makes for very efficient weed control in crops.  However, the weeds absorb the GM characteristics and evolve super weeds that are Roundup resistant.  A number of farmers have reverted to mechanical, labor-intensive cultivation of crops to control weeds.

Similary, some GM crops produce their own insecticides to kill insect pests.  The bugs have developed their own resistance to the poison produced by the plants.  While the bugs seem to find ways to survive and thrive, the question is whether these modified crops are safe for humans and animals.  

Huge agribusinesses  such as Monsanto could face disaster, should GM-based food products be found unsafe for consumption,  The amount of money raised, as in California, to label and prevent independent testing of GM products is huge.  it is not only influential; it is controlling.  

The organic food movement is in response to the qualilty of food produced by industrialized agriculture, which is dependent on the extensive use of chemicals, anti-biotics, and hormones.  Organically raised meat and vegetables are used increasingly by gourmet chefs who find them superior in achieving high quality cooking.  Smaller, moderate-sized farmers find switching to organic agriculture viable, while large producers would face serious economic hardship.

It is not only agriculture that is beset by the advance of super-organisms that have evolved from the overuse of chemicals and anti-biotics.  Hospitals are also battling strains of disease organisms that are impervious to the established medical controls. 

Foreign countries can afford to be more cautious about GM and chemically-raised food products because huge corporate interests do not exercise the degree of control that they do in the U.S.

GMOs deserve much research and testing of their safety, but given the political makeup of the U.S., the testing and research that can examine the safety of the food we eat will have to be done in foreign lands.  The USDA and FDA are too allied with the huge corporations to even undertake such studies. Some potential economic and political upheavals are in the offing if GMOs are found to endanger human health.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The land of infinite WTF

Cory Heidelberger at Madville Times has been pondering the election statistics for how they show the voting patterns in South Dakota. His findings acknowledge that there are more Republicans than Democrats, but that the Republicans are much more active and enthusiastic about going to the polls. An implication that underlies examinations of voter behavior is that campaigns affect that behavior. Campaigns can influence the way some people vote sometimes, but they are not the factors that campaign strategists seem to think they are. 

Commanding the sun to rise
Campaign strategists tend to be afflicted with the Chanticleer syndrome. In medieval fables, Chanticleer the rooster believed that his crowing is what made the sun come up in the morning. The people of the Dark Ages thought this was a wonderfully hilarious literary figure of satire, alluding to self-delusions of people who have inflated notions of their own power and importance.Chanticleer was the beautiful rooster with the clarion voice whose fatuous belief was that he called the sun up every morning, rather than just announced its ascendance. The fox was shrewd enough to see this vanity and told Chanticleer that his morning call was so beautiful that he wondered if he could not impose on the rooster to demonstrate it for him just so he could bask in its loveliness. Chanticleer was more than pleased to comply, and when he closed his eyes and stretched his beak skyward to send forth his beautiful call, the fox grabbed him by the neck and ran off. However, Chanticleer turned the tables. Fellow animals were chasing the fox to see if they couldn't get him to drop the rooster. Chanticleer said the fox was so wily that he might save himself some effort if he stopped and told his pursuers that it was pointless to give chase. The fox, agreed, and stopped to address his pursuers, and Chanticleer took the opportunity to fly up into a nearby tree.
The perils of fatuity

Political strategists claim that they create and propel the political stars into ascendency and determine their orbits. They claim they do so through their power over the electorate. For the most part, their crowing at best merely announces the rise of a political candidate. The electorate has its own mindsets. Campaigns are most effective when they endorse those mindsets.

Nowhere is that more evident than in South Dakota. The GOP has adopted a strategy to take out its Democratic opponents by claiming that the contacts, relationships, and achievements they make outside of South Dakota are betrayals of the state. This was used to unseat George McGovern from his Senate seat. The John Thune-GOP campaign used this line of attack against Tom Daschle, claiming that his Washington, D.C., house was evidence that he was violating South Dakota values, that his leadership in the Senate constituted an abandonment of his state, and that he dumped his South Dakota wife for a beauty queen from the urban world. There were other attacks on him such as claiming that Air Force veteran Daschle's opposition to making flag-burning a Constitutional crime was evidence of his lack of patriotism. 

This line of attack worked on Daschle, so it was used on Stephanie Herseth Sandlin by Kristi Noem who told South Dakotans that Herseth Sandlin was closely allied with Nancy Pelosi, who they had labeled as the wicked witch of the east from the west. Despite the fact that Herseth Sandlin was a Blue Dog, which faction was more often at odds with the Democratic leadership than in obedient compliance, Noem's message struck the sweet spot in the South Dakota mentality, which thinks any experience and achievement outside the state of South Dakota is a personal insult to the people of the stolen earth. The thinking is that if the accomplishments of people outside, and often within, the state makes one feel ignorant, unsophisticated, and stupid, then make ignorance, unsophistication, and stupidity  virtues.

Noem trotted out this stance against Matt Varilek, and the GOP even sponsored a campaign video in which Varilek was held up to scorn for being educated outside the state, traveling the world, and accumulating work experience in places of power. The video became known throughout the U.S., and was widely derided for the "values" it held as aspirations.  Some political analysts went so far as to say that the video ended Noem's chances.  But those commentators do not know and understand South Dakota.  She garnered more votes against Varilek than she did against Herseth Sandlin.

The Argus Leader, which seems to paying penance for its past associations with liberal politicians, endorsed Kristi Noem, which in effect was an endorsement of the resentments so many South Dakotans hold against people and achievements in other places.  They affirmed that endorsement after the election with an editorial that makes an incomprehensible argument for supporting Noem's careless and incompetent performance during her first term and the kind of feckless insouciance that so endears her and mentor-apparent John Thune to the hearts of the people of the purloined earth.  The good people stalwartly stand against rigorous education, intelligence, and achievement in defense against those insidious values that might creep into the state from the outside.

The smart and honest campaign strategists have demonstrated that to win elections in South Dakota, one must not tamper with those resentful mindsets, but must grovel in obsequious praise of them as the stuff of real people.  They understand that they must never try to influence their base in ways that suggest that different perceptions and attitudes might be more relevant to changing times.   

Ultimately, elections are won and lost by established mindsets and the demographic distribution of those mindsets.  Campaign strategies have little influence.  That is apparent in analyzing the numbers in my home county, Brown.  Brown County has been a stronghold of Democrats.  It has produced some strong leaders for the party, including Tom Daschle and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.  Within my association with the Brown County Democrats, I have seen its events draw massive crowds, while now they are attended by a dwindling number of loyalists.  The change is a demographic one.  Many of the older stalwarts have died, or moved to different places, or have lost trust and interest in the entire political process.  Currently, the number of registered voters in the county for the 2012 election are 10,171 Democrats, 9,093 Republicans, 3,423 Independents, and a smattering  of other parties, totaling 22,687 for the major parties.  The ratio is 45 percent Democrats, 40 percent Republicans, and 15 percent Independents.  Overall voter turnout in 2012 was 16,236 for a rate of 69.62 percent. 

When one examines the numbers, one must make an informed conjecture that the Independents play a strong swing role in Brown County.  Obama received 7,250 votes for 45 percent, while Romney received 8,321 votes for 51 percent. However, Matt Varilek won 8,335 votes for 52 percent to Noem's 7,693 votes for 47 percent.  There is significant cross-balloting in those numbers.

The numbers indicate some patterns in the voting, but they are indicative, not definitive.  One can speculate that the numbers mean a lot of Democrats do not vote, split their ballots, and that the 17 percent of Independents swing the elections.  But not knowing exactly which voters voted for which candidates imposes big limitations on what may be inferred from the numbers.  For statistical inference to be valid and fairly accurate, the inferences must be drawn from a sample about which the statisticians know the party registration of each person in the sample and precisely who and what they voted for.  That is why exit polls are taken.  They provide a documented sample on which consequent numbers may be based and tested, providing that the control-sample respondents are telling the truth.

When poll researchers do not have a highly controlled sample to form the basis for their interpretations of the numbers, they construct a control sample from anecdotal evidence.  A lot of anecdotes provide the factual materials from which generalities may be induced.  Through the anecdotal evidence from a select group, we can see what trends are in operation,  and those observations can be disconcerting when they illustrate trends that are contrary to popular assumptions.  

For the past 15 years, I have had the responsibility of maintaining a list of Brown County Democrats who most actively support and participate in the party.  For the past 8 years, the monthly changes on that list have accelerated.  Attrition accounts for many of those changes. The reasons are deaths, people moving out of the area, and a loss of trust and interest in the political process.  That latter factor plays a significant role in the dwindling number of names on that list.  Many people who have been active have withdrawn from political activity because partisan politics has degraded into such depths of mean and puerile hatefulness.  Some people do not choose to live their lives on that level and refuse to be party to such degradation.  There is a cultural dimension to this descent into the reptilian level of politics. 

An established trend in South Dakota is for young people to leave the state to realize their ambitions and aspirations and to find communities with more opportunities and a more supportive social climate.  Nothing infuriates South Dakotans more than to suggest that those anti-intellecutal, anti-educational, anti-cultural attitudes make the state an oppressively  backward place to live for educated and motivated people.  The stock response to such a suggestion is, if you don't like it here, leave.  And that is precisely what many people do.

They do it mentally, if not physically.  For generations, a number of families I am acquainted with go to the Twin Cities once or twice a month for their recreation, their shopping, their "quality time."  Those of us who monitor the list of active Democrats have observed what we call "mental emigrants."  By that, we refer to those who live and work in  South Dakota, but focus much of their attention on outside communities.  The Internet has facilitated this circumstance.  For example, some people become long-distance residents of the communities where their children live.  Through visits and the exchange of news, they involve themselves with those communities socially, culturally, and politically.  Their family lives revolve around those communities where their friends and relatives live, and they focus much of their mental attention on them.  In chatting with these people, I find that they know the politics of their outlying state and local community to the point where they contribute to the campaigns of politicians from those areas.  Some have told me that their concerns are given a political voice in other places that the single party government of South Dakota ignores.

There is a cultural factor that is gaining more definition in what discourages interest in South Dakota.  When discussing the politics of the state,  many people point to the influence of Internet news sources and blogs on their thinking.  They stress the difference between stating political viewpoints and criticizing policies and defaming individuals.  The blogs that claim conservative viewpoints are particularly obstreperous with their obsessive need to inflict insult and abuse.  Such has become a dominant feature of the Internet and interactive communications.

After Tom Daschle's defeat in 2004, there was an active interest, which included funding, for establishing a think tank to deal with the problems faced by the northern plains states.  Such thinking had been centered up to that time in the east at Rutgers in New Jersey.  The project advanced to the  point where a firm of market researchers was hired to recommend a location for the think tank to be situated.  Aberdeen was a contender.  When the team came to Aberdeen to evaluate its potential, I was in a position to offer it office space with Internet and telephone connections to use for assembling and analyzing the data it collected and was fascinated by how they collected and interpreted the data.

Aberdeen fit many of the requirements that had been established for the the successful operation of the unit, and the people who generated the funding leaned toward it as a good location.  However, the market researchers also noted some detractions.  The one that surprised and puzzled me was how they interpreted the discussion board on the local newspaper's website.  The discussion board was notorious for being frequented, often dominated, by trolls, and most readers dismissed it and ignored it.  The researchers did not, but cited it as the symptom of a serious problem.  I commented that although the postings by the trolls were repulsive and offensive, they were the work of a very small minority and certainly did not represent the community at large.  One of the team members said that the fact that the major news medium in the community allows commenters to publish insult, abuse, and often libels under the guise of freedom of speech signals an attitude toward intellectual work.  He pointed out that many news organizations invite critical comment, but exercise their Fourth Estate right to edit out the malicious, the salacious, and the libelous.  But beyond that, the offensive comments are a part of the community, and what organization would, in effect, elect to build its headquarters near a sewage lagoon?  However, the state of South Dakota was characterized as having social and political attitudes that were not compatible with an intellectual enterprise and Aberdeen fully demonstrated those attitudes.  In the end, the northern plains states did not get a think tank devoted to their study and development.  Some of the funding and materials went to a university library, and some went to universities to the east that had projects underway to examine the great plains.   Serious consideration of the Buffalo Commons is not done by anyone who lives there.  

That episode illustrates a problem that South Dakota and the great plains states have with any scholarly or intellectual enterprise.  They force the those interested and capable of such work to go elsewhere. Many of the blogs from the right wing in South Dakota express and convey the social and political attitudes.  South Dakota War College, for example, is single-mindedly devoted to character defamation and degradation of people it chooses to attack.  It does not criticize policies, but busies itself with personal libels and perfidious accusations, as does many of its extreme right wing compatriots.   The fact that it can advertise itself as South Dakota's number one political blog says much about the intellectual and moral climate of the state.  It does not represent a thought process, but a  mindset.

Successful political strategists in South Dakota have not challenged the hardened mindset.  Rather they affirm and inflame the provincial notions that education, world experience, and anything that does not conform to the provincial standards is suspect.  That mindset is protected by a wall of denial.  They deny that bright, talented, and hopeful people are forced out of the state, if not physically, then mentally.  The restless people are the descendants of immigrants whose family histories are of recognizing the need to live life in some other place if any aspirations for better and fulfilled lives are to be realized.  This reality operates in my family and those of most friends.    They comprise an emigration, one that became apparent from South Dakota's statehood. 

War College and other blogs may chortle and take joy in the decline of the Democratic Party, but the contemporary emigrants are looking to celebrate freedom and opportunity.  Those left behind are right to feel a sense of repose, but not because they are winning power, but because they are losing the presence and interest of those who want to build satisfying, accomplished lives.   The political strategists who appeal to the affinity for ignorance and small-mindedness are not calling up a sunrise, but are digging into an age of darkness.  

Meanwhile, the talent and the intelligence emigrates to the light.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

We need a good insurrection

The U.S. is heading toward insurrection.  We are in times that try men's--and women's--souls.  Those times are when we have those toothpaste moments:  once words are uttered, like toothpaste, they can't be stuffed back into the tube.  Some words can be forgiven, but never forgotten. They signal irreconcilable differences, when people don't want reconciliation.  People want to be rid of each other.

President Obama's re-election has inspired some of those irreconcilable circumstances.  The conservative reactions to his win range from the merely absurd, to the dangerously obtuse, to the downright insane.  We have come to expect and to live with the malevolent scurrility that comes from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and those many antediluvian "conservatives" whose American dreams are of monarchies that preside over hordes of worthless workers, shirkers, and slaves.  But Obama's win has moved some otherwise fairly circumspect people to the fury and rage of Shakespeare's idiot, whose ranting signifies nothing.  Except lost mentalities.  

Among the notable descents into madness is a demonstration from Republican strategist and adviser and CNN analyst Mary Matalin. She wrote in the National Review:

A political narcissistic sociopath leveraged fear and ignorance with a campaign marked by mendacity and malice rather than a mandate for resurgence and reform. Instead of using his high office to articulate a vision for our future, Obama used it as a vehicle for character assassination, replete with unrelenting and destructive distortion, derision, and division.
With Mitt Romney's well documented and recorded performances of duplicity, brazen mendacity, and general foolery, one can only wonder that she would dare to accuse Barack Obama of the very things at which Romney excelled.  But she continues:

Mitt Romney distinguished himself and conservatism with a grounded, courageous, forward-thinking problem-solving reform agenda for a nation ready to renew and starved for leadership and maturity. He is a man of integrity and character, as is his whole family. And unlike in the 1996 and 2008 Republican campaigns, which — though led by men of great personal integrity — were marked by dead-end policy prescriptions, Romney/Ryan laid a durable philosophical and policy foundation for the next generation of conservative leadership.
For Christ's and Joseph Smith's sake, Romney occupied almost every political position on the menu.  You could choose any stance you wanted.  That must be what Matalin must have done.  She found a "durable philosophical and policy foundation" where most people who had not slipped off into racial schizophrenia saw only quicksand and muck. She  closes her tirade by referring the reader to the Catholic lectionary for the day and invoking the sacredness of Jesus Christ in her blessing of Obama as a "narcissistic sociopath [who] leveraged fear and ignorance with a campaign marked by mendacity and malice."

With the Lord on her side in such words of perspicacity and finely-honed reason, what chance do we 47 percenters or 99 percenters, or whoever we are, to find redemption for supporting President Obama.  

The marvel is that Democratic strategist and analyst James Carville is married to Matalin, and one can only assume that the Cajun must crave a lot of ragin'.  He must be more Christlike than Christ to ever be reconciled with those words.  

All the peacemakers are calling blessings on themselves by insisting that it is time for partisans to reconcile and find areas of agreement.  President Obama says we are not Democrats and Republicans, we are Americans.  Some students at the University of Mississippi did not think so.  Give President Obama his due for considering that his raging opponents such as Matalin have better angels, but those angels are wearing white sheets with eye-holes in them.  We've been there before.  And a lot of people are working hard to make sure we stay there.  

Maybe we need a really good insurrection to decide who we really are.   

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sometimes it is what it is

Terms such as decisive and comprehensive are being tossed around in the post-election analysis.  Bob Woodward is quick to remind that 59 million people voted for Mitt Romney.  That might not be very decisive.  But on both the federal and state levels, the nation took a more liberal stance.  That is fairly comprehensive.  Nevertheless, the moral fracture that divides the American left and right so definitively is still there, and signs that there is any possibility of healing it are scant.  

Endomorph and mesomorph work together.
 An image that lingers over the election is President Obama and Governor Chris Christie forming a working relationship to deal with the effects of superstorm Sandy. Whatever the men did would become fodder for all of those given to political commentary who will strive to create some massive, motive-laden sub texts of what the meeting of those two men means.  What it ultimately means is that a peculiarity of humanity is that it possesses more functioning assholes than it does cognitive brains.  Everyone has at least one asshole, but not everyone has a workable brain.  That preponderance of assholes colors the world. Assholes go over big on cable carping shows and Internet forums.  Brains are not revered or listened to among that vast audience that needs the rush of confrontation and the titillation of controversy.  Much time is spent arranging confrontation and making up controversy.  

The meeting of Gov. Christy and President Obama was an unusual moment.  Not because of the circumstance.  Martialing the resources to help people caught in a natural disaster is part of their jobs.  That's what they did.  Their jobs.  And they did them well.  And they did them without using each other as foils for political points, and that is what made it an unusual moment.  They credited each other for effort, cooperation, and martialing the resources at their command.  The fact that their cooperative efforts is unusual says something about the media-conditioned world we have created.  The assholes are still carping and conjecturing that Christie slighted Mitt Romney and that Obama got blown back into office on the winds of a hurricane.  The fact is that the men were just doing their jobs, and doing them well.

There is some political background in this.  In the late 90s we had a couple of wild winters that laid down so much snow that when it melted lakes were formed where they had not been before and some glacial potholes refilled.  Then one spring, we had a massive blizzard and livestock was killed by the snow storm and carcasses were floating about when the snow melted.  The FEMA division which was headed by some South Dakotans at the time got busy getting hay and feed dropped in to the living livestock by cargo plane and helicopter, and it got the bulldozers and trucks out to help dispose of the carcasses and help farmers and ranchers get on top of the messes.  Everyone did their job, and the incident was soon forgotten.  I remember it because I was among those who were asked to compile a report on how the operation was conducted and what the people who were helped thought of the effort.  The purpose of the report was so the agency and the congressional committee that had oversight could review it and make any adjustments and improvements to the way FEMA and cooperating agencies handled it.  Everybody involved went quietly about their work, identified areas that could be made more responsive and efficient, and set about making improvements for the next time the agency was called upon.  It  was all routine, people doing the jobs they were charged to do.  Politics did not enter into the incident at all, even when the Congressional committees met to do their job, which was to assure the public that an agency they funded and depended on in emergencies was functioning properly.  And everybody involved understood that attempts to find some political grist to use  against the parties would be to inflict petty incompetence on a matter that was carried out with competence and integrity.

Katrina was a different matter.  FEMA's leadership had been taken over by political appointees who were neither qualified nor interested in doing the job.  The administration's response to Katrina was so mired in political posturing and cover up that it became a model for how not to do things.  It was what it was.  A tepid response by those who poltically did not believe that federal government should have a role in providing vigorous and aggressive help and coordination. Officials knew in some detail what not to do when Sandy came along.  They knew they needed to put people in place who knew the logistics of emergency response, and they did their jobs.   Although the interruptionss were massive and complicated and are still being repaired and people are frustrated, the work is being done and people are being helped.  

But we have more assholes than brains running loose like a coyotes hunting for pet dogs on leashes to satisfy their predatory instincts.  

When we saw President Obama and Gov. Christie working together, it was what it was.  Two men doing their jobs.  And when President Obama won re-election, it was what it was:  an election that decided who shall be president.  

That president and Congress have some crucial work to do to avoid another recession.  The big question is if the assholes will let them. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The professor won over the CEO

There are aspects of Obama's win that haven't been mentioned in the legacy media.  One of the most important is that the Romney candidacy posed a serious threat to the civil rights gains made over the last four decades.  Those threats have been rebuffed and delayed, but from the tenor of this campaign, we also know that they have been stimulated and will not vanish. 

Some gains have been made.  Whether one approves of gay marriages or blowing pot or not, the nation has affirmed  by public ballot a trend to move past its predilection for imposing its personal preferences on other people's lives.  At this point, many people are willing to let gay people form supportive relationships and live productive lives, whatever their sexual preferences.  And two states, Colorado and Washington, have taken measures to end the wasteful and destructive obsession with thrusting petty pot smokers into the criminal justice system.  I am not personally an endorser of marijuana--I have witnessed strange effects in others from it--but a number of pastors and social workers have told me that alcohol is much worse for its deleterious social effects than cannabis.  And then I have a child who was  diagnosed with diabetes in college.  Her endocrinologist told her in front of her parents that if she was to engage in the usual collegiate socializing, pot would be far less harmful to her health than alcohol.  And so, we learn to surmount our culturally induced notions.

The big factor emerging from this election is that the demographics are changing.  Obama's biggest supporters were minorities, women and young people.   They made the difference in a number of states.  Former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele states that if the Republican Party is to be anything but a lost tribe wandering in the desert, it will have to face the demographic reality.  He points out that 75 percent of Latinos voted for Obama, and every month 50,000 young Latinos are coming into voting age.  Old white men are shrinking in numbers and are neither cognizant nor interested in who comprises the vital segment of our population.

In South Dakota, a provincially estranged mentality rules.  Its demographic trend is the opposite of the nation's.  The small-minded and intolerant mentality has gained dominance in recent years.  It threw Tom Daschle out of office with the feckless John Thune whose major talent is to relentlessly recite party-line banalities that have no relevance to what is developing in the nation.  It did the same with Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, and we have re-elected a congresswoman whose fecklessness exceeds John Thune's and who celebrates the anti-intellectual, anti-education agenda that keeps the state immobilized culturally.  However, she was awarded a college degree which people who know how college education works do not think she earned.  At least, not under the requirements applied to other graduates.  

There is a movement in South Dakota to revitalize rural life.    However, the political majority and the  people who comprise it give talented young people no reason to be in South Dakota and every reason to leave.  I think of the history of this blog.  Eight years ago, it had four women contributing to it and editing it.  They were very quick to realize that political blogs produced no intelligent and productive discussion and simply provided those given to petty, small-minded nastiness targets at which to direct efforts.  They quickly left blogging and diverted their energies to more productive enterprises.  However, all four the women have also left the state since that time.  One of them, Erin, has been involved in a university study of blogs and says the studies reveal that blogs are to the world of communication what biker gangs such as Hell's Angels are to civilization.  She said the study demonstrates that conservative-oriented blogs are devoted to cultural, racial, and political defamation and their claim to be citizen journalism is not borne out by the kind of material they actually produce.  

In my own voting district, South Dakota District 3, the adherence to small-minded, uninformed life prevails with a vengeance.   It rejected two legislative candidates with extensive credentials in public life for two incumbents who dutifully mumble the old party line.  H. Paul Dennert is a longtime legislator, previously from District 2, who has a legendary command of taxing and fiscal matters.  He was rejected in favor of Al Novstrup.  On the House side, his son David was chosen over Bill Antonides, a retired conservation officer who knows the county, its people, and its resources like no one else. My district followed the Noem rule, denigrating knowledge and education and mindlessly reciting political bromides that have no relevance to anything productive and progressive.  `

@Sherman_Alexie: As always, liberal white women voters
 are the superstars of human rights.
Mitt Romney made a strenuous test of American character. It is incomprehensible that a person who ran the kind of campaign and demonstrated the traits of character he did would find support from any but the racist and ignorant fringes.  The bitter comments of the Republican supporters reveal a mindset incapable of grasping what is occurring in this country and why people would support Obama.  The Tea Party was not vanquished, but it took a beating.  In my old home district in Illinois, a man who rode the Tea Party frenzy into Congress was deposed by a woman journalist whose campaign directly confronted Bain Capital, which closed  a long-time factory in the district in Freeport, Ill., and shipped 300 jobs to China.  Then, Tammy Duckworth, the war hero, won the seat held by a Tea Party spouter of conservative kookery, Joe Walsh, from suburban Chicago.  The Senate will have a new caucus of women to reflect the changing demography in America.  But South Dakota still plods backward.  

Obama's first term has worked toward ending a couple of pointless and resource-consuming wars, but it escalated the culture wars, which get energy from racism and a blind devotion to corporate fascism.  It would be foolery to think that all the overtures for joint effort and cooperation will close the political divide or lessen the rancor.  The dream of a corporate feudal state and a resurgence of Jim Crow is the cherished American dream for many on the right.  It will be the subject of talk radio, regressive blogs, with agitation from cable news.  Read the conservative reaction to Obama's win on the blogs and come to terms with the  fact that a large political force would like to take America back to that state.

For a time, enough people saw through the bluff and bluster and menace of a boss, a CEO, and chose a professor.  But in places like South Dakota which are stridently anti-education, anti-intellectual, and culturally repressive, the professor will be cause for more revilement.  The liberal-leaning will have to depend on leaders from outside the state to speak for and look out for their interests.  That doesn't mean that some important work cannot be done in the state to lift the rule of bigoted, old white men.  Indians on the reservations still live under the conditions created by violations of treaties which are still nominally in force.  We can join the forces of justice to correct that, beginning with a reasonable settlement over the Black Hills.  Wounded Knee is an operating force, not a land mark of a racist past.  It needs to be rectified. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

So much for political science

The campaign we just lived through, and may not survive, is not something to be proud of.  

As a perennial insomniac, I surf the radio waves through the night and ride my earbuds to strange and sometimes desolate places.  The nation's most pervasive bit of talk radio in the night, Coast To Coast AM,  is where all those folks turned loose into general society from the mental wards have ended up to recount their hallucinations and struggles with misfiring brain cells. Christian broadcasting seems to operate on a franchise from the John Birch society.  It occasionally shares that part of Mormon theology which holds that being black of skin is a brand from Satan.  Some of the Limbaugh clones dance in the robes of the Ku Klux Klan.  Music in the night is either shlock rock or shit-kicking whine. Aberdeen is too remote to get any of the all-night jazz stations that would speak to my weary soul.  So, that leaves the BBC Night Service, where the consensus seems to be that the great American experiment in democracy was great while it lasted.  But it apparently has failed.   How else can you explain Mitt Romney?

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post sums him up as he tries to end his campaign by trying to appear that he lives and thinks on a higher plane:

...Romney’s lofty closing isn’t likely to erase his divisive campaign, in which he wrote off 47 percent of Americans as moochers and went after Obama in ways that were flagrantly false and sometimes racially tinged. And few are likely to believe his late call for bonhomie — that’s a staple of presidential campaigns’ closing arguments — or to accept that he no longer holds the “severely conservative” views that won him the GOP nomination.

... but it would have been more plausible if he hadn’t spent the past year kneecapping his opponents.
A few nights ago, the BBC had a panel which discussed the state of American politics.  It consisted of a British professor of communication, a Harvard law professor, and a primatologist, a guy who studies the behavior of apes and monkeys.   Primates share behavioral characteristics with other herding and flocking creatures.  They seek to be included in the social scheme of themes while harboring ambitions to be among the topest of dogs, the bossiest of cows, or the peckingest of chickens.  Those qualities of intellect and self-examination and differentiation through which human beings have risen above bestial society have been conquered by American politics, largely at the behest of the conservative movement which longs for the old comforts of the dog pack.  The fulfilled life for conservative America sees the American dream, as my black physics professor colleague Robert puts it, as providing everyone someone to call nigger.  As Romney did to 47 percent and his running mate, Paul Ryan, endowed 30 percent of the American populace.

The panel agreed that what brought down the American political system was those dog pack urges to gain power for the sake of having power.  Seeking power and the sanction of the voters in order to govern has been abandon as a purpose of election campaigns.  The campaign of Romney and his conservative compatriots was devoted to listing the people they intend to fuck over.  And most likely will whether or not they get elected.  However, their campaign has been a demonstration and an articulation of a philosophy that has abandoned the notion of governing for the benefit of the entire nation, as opposed to a concept of rule which establishes an elite that holds its subjects in contempt and has the right to inflict all manner of degradation on them.  Government as a service to the people has failed.  It has been established as the problem.  And the problem is that giving all people democratic rights and responsibiities stands in the way of fucking  them over, to use military nomenclature.   And so it goes.  A victory for Mitt Romney will establish the post-truth presidency and begin the age of the Great American Fuck Over, heretofore GAFO.

Another indication of the demise of American democracy is in the idea that there is such a thing as political science.  When I first taught and when I went to college, courses in American government were required, but they weren't called poltical science.  They were called American government.  As there were a couple of world-renowned real scientists working on the campus where I first worked, no one would have the temerity to call the courses in government a science.  They were courses that presented the history, the precedents, the philosophical theories, and the process of operation of American government.  It was not science.  Even the departments of sociology and psychology were asked to prove on occasion what scientific principles they operated on, and were chided for hiding some of their notions behind the label of science. One of the real scientists referred to the social science department as the Department of Buncombe. 

Higher education has become the refuge for a lot of malarkey.  Professors who don't really want to study and teach but prefer to wield power as their calling have found ways to edge themselves near the leadership of the dog pack by making the lust for power and destruction an academic discipline,  Or lack thereof.  South Dakota is a leader in the field.  SDSU had a history professor who pined for political power and became a hired character assassin, for which he was paid by Sen. John Thune, with a blog as his weapon of choice. He is no longer a history professor, for some reason, but has taken up a more honest role on the senator's staff, where he apparently reloads blog ammunition to use in varmint sniper rifles.  His weapon of choice is now commanded by two fellows at NSU who call themselves political scientists.  They are actually priests who spread and interpret the Gospel of Limbaugh and the Song of Mother Mary Ann Coulter for the masses.  They preside over the blog created by the maverick in history and do not fail to say  their erstwhile scriptural recitations are sanctified because they emanate from political scientists who hold ordained tenure at a university, by god.  While they say they are exercising the rights and rituals of academic freedom, their self-promotion as political scientists on the blog seems to violate the spirit and purpose of one of the stipulations of academic freedom that defines its limits:

The concept of freedom is accompanied by an equally demanding concept of responsibility. The faculty unit members are members of a learned profession. When they speak or write as citizens, they must be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As learned people and as educators, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence, they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should indicate that they are speaking only for themselves.

The problem on their blog is that the opinions and reasoning they often register is just as petty and mean as that of the good old boys down at the tavern.  In my day, I am sure that students knew the political inclinations of their professors, but the professors were careful not to make an issue of them.  To do so would get in the way of their primary responsibilities in learning and teaching.  The demise of democracy has a correlation with what has happened in the politicization of education.  And so it goes.

With those observations, I shall mosey off to the polls to cast my ballot.  I suppose there is a lingering hope in that action that maybe, somehow the formative American spirit can survive those who have vowed to take back America.  But I am a very, very foolish old man. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

It's not the economy. It's the stupid.

Many of us think America has failed intellectually and morally. The political bitterness between the right and left has devolved into an acrimony that patterns itself after that of the Shiites and Sunnis in the Muslim world. Our election campaigns have inspired some people to think the mark of a good president is who can malign the most and tell the most damaging lies. The most devastating aspect of this degradation is that the American people have come to accept it as normal. Lying has become accepted behavior. Ultimately, the American people get what the majority wants. It appears to want liars.

Under the leadership of Mitt Romney, America has reached the point politically where it must reach up to touch bottom. His crass and indisputable falsehoods about Chrysler outsourcing Jeep jobs to China are so insidious that they effectively demolish all the claims we make about the virtues of our democracy. And it is only one example of the kind of malignant perfidy Romney has injected into the campaign. He is the definitive example of the corporate mentality to which so many people wish to indenture themselves.

As a journalist turned educator, I have joined many of those professions who have witnessed with dismay the subversion of those principles that propelled America into world leadership, the adherence to which is what made America truly exceptional in the way it franchised liberty, equality, and justice for all of its citizens. The process from slavery through Jim Crow to extend recognition and equal rights to people of all races, both sexes and individual sexual orientations, all creeds has been a tough and arduous fight. It has been a life and death struggle to turn the words of our founding documents into actuality. It will be as large a struggle to keep the forces of those who call themselves conservatives from revoking the headway we have made and regress the nation back to the rule of discrimination and prejudice so many have worked and fought so hard to overcome. The corporatocracy that has successfully garnered 80 percent of the nation's wealth and half of its earnings for the top 10 percent wants to expand solidify its feudal hold on the nation. Mitt Romney is its poster boy.

 The corporate world has had its way. It is the biggest factor in what has happened to our education system. In a new book, Handmaking America: A Back-to-Basics Pathway to a Revitalized American Democracy,  Bill Ivey, a former chair for the National Endowment for the Arts, has explained how that take-over occured:

Some years back, the marketplace business came into the world of education. And education asked, what do you want? And business said, we want workers. And now education has become all about training workers and all about income and all about salary and career.
Well, what I first saw a few years ago was a huge transformation in the way Americans work and live brought about by forces that are larger than our own society, globalization, the reach of technology and changing demographics.
And within that, I felt that America was at a time when we desperately needed to have the strongest possible values space. We needed to be more in touch with the best of the American idea, the best aspects of the American idea.
 [We need] the space where we talk about why we do things, not what we're going to do.

...the conservative view has failed after 35 years, and that liberals have kind of stepped to the side.

[The American agenda] needs to be about citizenship first and working second. 
...the Republican argument, we will keep you safe, we will keep Uncle Sam off your back, we will keep Washington out of your wallet, needs to be counteracted with an argument that says, you are not alone, you can live with purpose through work, family and community, America is still a beacon on a hill, we owe it to each other.
And within that, I felt that America was at a time when we desperately needed to have the strongest possible values space. We needed to be more in touch with the best of the American idea, the best aspects of the American idea.

Ivey has defined what the 2012 election is essentially all about:  whether America will regress to a feudal state in which corporations act as the ruling nobility or whether it will advance to the enfranchisement of all the people with the endowments of liberty, equality, and justice.

The corporate influence is evident in the constant refrain to run education like a business.  It has still to sink in to most people that education's biggest shortcomings are where it is run like a business, not an educational enterprise that not only gives students job skills and training but also a grounding in what it is to be a fully enfranchised citizen under the American concepts of liberty, equality, and justice.  And the opportunities for self-realization those operating principles provide.

A fundamental dogma of the conservative movement is that there is a huge segment of the American population who don't want to work but just want to take a dole paid for by taxpayers who do work.  That is the contention expressed in Romney's statement that 47 percent of Americans consider themselves victims and want the government to provide for them and Paul Ryan's statement that 30 percent of Americans are takers, not makers. This is a serious lie and insult to a huge segment of Americans.  There may be a small segment who desire a welfare state, but most people want honest jobs in which they will be treated with respect and provided fair compensation for their work.  The fact that they don't want to be treated like slaves, expendable human offal, by the likes of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan doesn't mean they don't want to work and think that the state owes them a living.  In their minds, all the state owes them is to protect their opportunities and have the means to insure that they are treated fairly and respectfully in the work place.  When a man who was a leader in shipping jobs overseas and shrinking the market for honest labor in this county says 47 percent of Americans are shirkers and victims, he brings into question whether the ballot box is any longer the place where workers can appeal for any semblance of equity.  Mitt Romney and his kind have brought democracy to its knees.  His slandering of the 47 percent is the moral equivalent of what the Jews were subjected to in the Germany of the 1930s.  His campaign has extended the working class an invitation to insurrection.  

His tactic is directly from the playbook of the world's most vicious dictators. 

It has been commented upon by the Columbian Journalism Review in terms of how it has become a challenge for the nation's press corps:  
The Romney campaign is employing a tactic that poses a crucial challenge to the press: attempting to win over late-deciding swing voters who have not been following the race with false and even previously debunked messages.
The touchstone issue in South Dakota for whether people will accept the rule of the one percent and the ten percent is in Referred Law 16.  It is a law submerged in shyster language, but its effect is to make teachers at-will employees with most South Dakota employees, subject to dismissal and disposal according to the prejudices and whims of their "superiors."  It openly discriminates against some academic disciplines by making favored ones eligible for more remuneration.  And it reduces teachers to the level of competing salesman who look to best their colleagues by selling more vacuum cleaners or used cars.

For informed voters, the outcome of that ballot issue will be point of decision about whether they wish to invest their interest and their children's live in the state any longer.  

The majority gets what it wants.  And it sends clear signals to the people it doesn't want, who will act accordingly.  

I make no predictions or recommendations.  I simply await the outcome, along with many people I know.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States