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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

Monday, June 24, 2013

Oglallas plan to return Badlands to the bison

The Oglalla Sioux tribe and the National Park Service are drafting legislation to give 133,000 acres of the Badlands National Park over to the bison.  Plans are to establish a herd of about 1,000 in the southern part of the park. 
The Washington Post reports that a portion of the Badlands from which Lakota people were driven off to make a bombing range during World War II will be returned to tribal management for the purpose of reclaiming the prairieland and reestablishing bison in their place in the ecosystem.

For those who want a taste of range fed bison,  novelist Dan O'Brien offers a Wild Idea from his nearby ranch.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Choosing not to be a fool

That part of the nation which still labors under the delusion that the noises it makes are some kind of communication is in the throes of a massive hysterical fit over Edward Snowden.  Is he a hero, a traitor, or a self-sucking jerk off?

Who cares?  

The only thing that concerns the 99 percent, or at least should, is how to endure a new world order that holds them in serfdom.  Or more basically, to decide if one even wants to endure.   

Columnist David Brooks fears that the nation is caught up in cynicism.  He seems to ignore the fact that the choices left us are being cynical or stupid.  It seems better for most not to be a fool.  If you have to go down, it is at least better to understand what is pushing you down. 

Perhaps nothing is more stupid than the political debate under which the nation is submerged.  It centers on the idea that we can either live in a free capitalist society or a government-controlled totalitarian one,  Marxist per chance.  What those who engage in this bicker fest just cannot grasp is, what difference does it make to the 99 percent whether the force that determines the quality of their existence is a totalitarian corporation or a totalitarian government?  Have any of those people so outraged over what the NSA is doing checked their credit reports to see what kind of information corporate America is collecting and circulating about them? 

People who bicker and like to pass judgments on other people have been confounded by the Occupy movement.  They have denigrated it because it did not engage in any of those wasteful, pointless efforts that they think are mandatory rituals of activism.  Occupiers did not issue an agenda, they did not elect leaders to represent them, and when police took action against them, they chose not to be active.  The establishment thinks they were effectively vanquished.  That's okay.  Like Bartleby in Herman Melville's story "Bartleby the Scrivener,"  they have shrugged and indicated to the establshment that they "prefer not to" participate in its games and rituals.  

Some will condemn the Occupiers for not fighting the good fight.  But there is no good fight.  There is just pointless fights that resolve nothing and improve nothing.  The paradigm of this pointless waste of life and energy is the recent wars we have fought:  Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan.  All they do successfully is kill people and generate hatreds that lead to more killing and dismissal of any sanctity or possibility for human life.  All we get in the end is a death count over which there is a mass clucking of tongues and an exchange of accusations and pseudo-rhetoric which corrupts the language.  

The epiphany of what we have become is the Great Recession from which some say we are recovering, but has, in fact, changed the country in irrevocable ways.  The big fact is that, according to Financial Times, the profits at the end of the Great Recession were 25-30 percent higher than they were at its onset, but wages as a share of the national income sunk to 58 percent.   The Occupy people confronted this fact and have chosen a course of inaction that will not result in angry, pointless, unproductive confrontations and more destruction of lives.  

A book was published this spring, Barbara Garson's Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Live in the Great Recession, that chronicles the way people's lives have been  changed and their way of coping with that change.  Barbara Garson, author of the satire on Lyndon Johnson, MacBird, is a master of what is known as the Wall Street Journal story.  It is a story that does not dwell on the theories and arguments about some  trend, but rather she lays out the facts of the trend and focuses on stories that illustrate how it affects real people and how they deal with it.  In this book, she relates how
"hard-working people are learning to make do with less money, less opportunity and less free time,"  and "show little interest in jumping on the treadmill required to keep up a middle-class lifestyle"  (L.A. Times review)

In one example she explores, a young college graduate watches his father who is a manager of a warehouse for a big box store have his wages frozen over the years while he is given more workers to supervise and realizes the company is trying to force him to quit.  The son has part time, rather menial employment, but decides to make it work rather than get on the hopeless treadmill he sees his father treading.  

Garson sees the beginnings of the Great Recession and its consquences beginning in the 1970s with outsourcing and offshoring of American jobs.  Then with Ronald Reagan's firing of air traffic controllers and officially embracing trickle-down economics, government joined corporations in the subjugation and economic disenfranchisement of American wage earners. One of the people she presents in her book is a Viet Nam veteran who frequented a cofee shop she worked at after he was discharged from active duty.  She relates he told her that in Viet Nam, "his company had stayed stoned the whole time. “Our motto,” he once told me, “was ‘let’s not and say we did.’”  That tactic of survival is in a way what the 99 percent are adopting.  They are surviving with what they have and doing without all those trappings that once defined the middle class.  Garson writes, “If the majority of Americans was earning less and producing more, who was going to buy all the stuff?” 

She says, "If you’re not a worker, not a consumer and you don’t earn significant income from investments, then you don’t have much of a place in capitalist society,”  And that is where the 99 percent finds itself.

Wage earners have been excluded from the opportunities that the middle class spent a century in building. As the KOS reviewer says:

We know the policies that would fix [America]. What we don't know is how to get there, how to overcome a broken Senate and a gerrymandered House and both political parties being more responsive to big money than to working people.
The response of the 99 percent is not action, but simply logic.  If you are excluded from partaking of the products of your labor, why participate in the labor?  By withholding participation and consumption, the establishment will eventually implode upon itself and fall into the black hole it has spent so much time and energy creating.  In the meantime, we can use those remnants of the economy available to us and use our "wit, shit, and grit" to get along.   

As the establishment falters, we can replace it with forms of government and a culture of sustenance that respects people and returns opportunities to them.

It takes patience and the spirit of creativity, quiet industry, and humor.  It will come to pass, and decency may inherit the earth.  

Monday, June 3, 2013

When politics are down and dirty, why bother?

My hopes for my grandchildren include their escape from South Dakota.  This has stirred some positive Democrats to come to the defense of their state and to launch some lofty speculations about what could redeem the state from its single-party government  and its descent into a hate-based version of conservatism.  

This week I turned over my duties as an officer in a county Democratic Party after almost 15 years.  I am allied with the Party on most issues.  I do not think government has the right to overrule women in their choices about their own bodies and their families, or the right to interfere in anyone's choices about those they wish to share and build their lives around.  I do believe that government has to be big enough and strong enough to enforce the standards of equality and justice for each individual and to provide recourse for people being oppressed, suppressed, and defrauded  by bureaucracies and corporations.   In its role as guardian of liberty, equality, and justice,  I think that government must help those who wish to protect the environment from wasteful and polluting human activities,  that it must establish policies to make healthcare accessible to those who are excluded from it, to provide a safe and efficient infra-structure so that the enterprises of its people can function and prosper, that it must regulate finances for the benefit of the people and not the crooks, and that it must operate on a frugal budget adequate to carry out those functions.  

There are many in the Democratic Party who think that in order for the Party to regain power and influence in the state they must relinquish those principles which identify the Party.  To those who think that the only way to grasp onto a shred of political power is to give up basic principles, then why not simply become a Republican?  Those who think that the essential liberal values are too important and defining to be sacrificed are regarded as left-wing extremists.  To win elections, the strategists say, one has to give up the very values that define the Democratic Party.  This intelligence comes from those political theorizers and strategists who comment on blogs and have, apparently, never faced the situations that real people find themselves in or actually engaged in a political campaign.  They have a wide range of notions of what the Democrats must do to regain power.  And most of those notions involve being a Republican.

Some Democrats are in a quandary because what they think are the only people who could be viable candidates for Sen. Tim Johnson's Senate seat have declined to run.  That leaves Rick Weiland, a man with a strong record of work and service, but who has lost two previous attempts to make it to Congress.  Those keyboard strategists have already dismissed him, because he does not seem to possess that "star" status that makes the political heart flutter and the mind go blank.  But they mostly dismiss him because he is a Democrat who has not dutifully renounced his values in order to appear to be what they term a moderate.  Which, as Rick Weiland says, is a Republican.  

Those keyboard strategists seem to think that being in power, even at the cost of any political integrity, is more important than representing the issues that concern real people who are struggling against a state government that has no interest in them.  

Rick Weiland represents a political choice, not an abject submission to the majority party and those who endorse it.  Those Democrats who dismiss Weiland have not the political wherewithal to recognize that whoever runs for the Democrats is taking on the Republican establishment, not just one candidate.  And that establishment has put into office two of the most feckless and unproductive people in Congress.  One wonders why these Democrats dismiss and denigrate Rick Weiland rather than go after the records of the feckless twins, John Thune and Kristi Noem.  Their major legislative initiatives were contrived by the febrile minds of conservatives, which make up fantasies to rail against.  John Thune sponsored legislation to prevent the EPA from imposing a tax on bovine flatulence.  The EPA never intended or even considered such a tax.  But John in his belief that he had a big issue in saving cow farts from the EPA persisted.

Kristi Noem took the same tactic when she promoted the legislation that would prevent the EPA from regulating the dust raised by farming.  The EPA looked to see if there was a public health menace in farm dust which contains the residue of herbicides and pesticides, but it never considered coming into farmland and telling tillers of the soil to keep the damned dust down.  

Our brilliant Democratic strategists dwell on Rick Weiland, who has never been involved in any stupid political stunts of the magnitude of Thune and Noem,  and they solemnly designate him a loser against the records and personalties of the likes of the dust and fart chasers.  These strategists have the right to form and express their opinions, but other people have the commensurate right to dismiss them as stupid and totally obtuse to the real issues that confront so many people in South Dakota and the nation.  Before the Internet, such opinions were generally confined to the corner tavern where they could be expressed and then forgotten by the next morning.  Now they circulate through the cyber atmosphere like cow farts and toxic dust.

It is one of the reasons that people who believe some constructive things can and should be done give up on the absurdity that politics have become.   One of the most notable counteractions to the insult-and-abuse obsessions of current politics is the Occupy Wall Street movement.  It is misunderstood and assumed to have petered out.  Its critics moaned that it failed to announce an agenda and get organized to take some kind of massive action other than make known its dissatisfaction with a country being controlled by the one percent. People so indoctrinated in politics as usual fail to grasp that the Occupy people see the usual modes of announcing plans and organizing people are what the movement wants to avoid.  The usual mode for conducting political business has deteriorated over the years to the point that it is mired in malice, bickering, and  total moral and intellectual inertia.  Occupy people see our political structures as nothing more than obstacles to addressing social issues, and they are convinced that circumventing politics-as-usual is the only way to deal with the problems we face.

An example of circumventing the established order is J.R. Fleming of Chicago who found it absurd that foreclosed houses in the Southside of Chicago were empty and abandoned by the  banks while thousands of people are homeless.   He has formed an organization  that occupies and restores abandoned houses and puts people in them.  He tells interested people: 
“The government failed us. The market failed us. Harvard, Yale and the University of Chicago failed us. Our government — the government — doesn’t belong to us. Forget them; they forgot us. We need to solve our problems ourselves.”
So, while people bicker over candidate personalities and exchange ignorant, ego-driven political opinions, the people who confront the real problems that need solving avoid politics and get to work in ways that actually accomplish something.  The first major accomplishment is getting free from our political system.

The police may close down the Occupy demonstrations, but they can't reach the real work being done. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States