South Dakota Top Blogs

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Anybody feel like an f-bomb?

As someone who taught The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for many decades,  I had to reply to those who thought it shouldn't be taught in an American classroom because a major character around whom the true significance of the novel revolves is named Nigger Jim.  Like many other of Mark Twain's novels, it explored and challenged not only the practice of racial discrimination and designation, but the social and culture fallacies which created them.   

Another iconoclast who demolished the basis of racial discrimination and hatred was Richard Pryor with his comedy albums That Nigger’s Crazy (1974) and Bicentennial Nigger (1976).  He later vowed not to use the term nigger . His stated reason in an Ebony interview was a trip to Africa.T

Well, I took a trip to Africa – which, by the way, is where I plan to live some day. I went to Kenya, and while I was there something inside of me said, “Look around you, Richard. What do you see? I saw people. African people. I saw people from other countries, too, and they were all kinds of colors, but I didn’t see any “niggers.” I didn’t see anWy there because There are no “niggers” in Africa. Can you imagine going out into the bush and walking up to a Masai and saying, “Hey nigger. Come here!?” You couldn’t do that because Masai are not “niggers.” There are no “niggers” in Africa, and there are no “niggers” here in America either. We Black people are no t”niggers,” and I will forever refuse to be one. I’m free of that, it’s out of my head. My mother is not a “nigger.” Is yours one? So if your mama ain’t no “nigger,” how could you be one? See, when I went to Africa, to my Motherland, I realized that terms like “nigger” and the word “bitch” that so many Black men call our women are tricks, like genocide on the brain.
When President Obama said that refraining from using the word nigger  in polite society was not a measure of the elimination of racism, he raised a verbal firestorm among the conservatives, who tried to use his citation of the word as a character flaw, and among the more liberal, whose objections exposed a tendency toward inanity and some plain old ignorance.  

The word has different dimensions of meanings, depending upon whether it is uttered by a white person or a black person.  ln the mouth of a white person it means that the blackness it refers to is a degraded, subhuman, and despicable form of life.  It is the most profound insult to those to whom it refers.  In the mouth of a black person, it is a parody of all the malevolent ignorance embraced in the prejudicial white mentality.  When blacks used the word to each other, it conveyed the whole history of white oppression, debasement, and injustice inflicted upon black people.  It was the most sardonic of jokes.

While I was in the service, I hear the word used with both meanings.  There were many, many whites who regarded and called black people niggers.  And the blacks used the word among themselves to satirize and laugh at the stupid ignorance and malice of those who used the word against them.  However, it was getting to be a time when a white man never said nigger to a black man's face because the white man's face and ass would very quickly be filleted.  The word is freighted with all the atrocities the whites have inflicted upon blacks and the blacks reached the point where they would not take it anymore.  

Richard Pryor came to realize that there were a lot of people who did not understand the joke when a black man used the word.  The satire and irony was lost on them.  The intention to debase dominated the use of the word even in black society, and it lost the humorous edge which made fun of the white intention.  If one used the word, one had to be careful to use it in italics or quotation marks, which is not easy to do in spoken English.  That's when a linguistic blunder was commited.

The blunder was in creating the euphemism n-word.   It is like using the euphemism f-word when we are trying to be too delicate to say fuck.  The euphemism merely refers to the word and creates an emphasis on the original.  In avoiding the word itself, the euphemism carries the same intention.  Walk up to a black man and say, "Hey, fucking n-word."  And see what happens.  The intention behind the word is not eliminated by the euphemism.  

It is impossible to talk about the racial history of our country--and many others--without using the word nigger in explaining the racial attitude that dominated so much of our history through slavery, Jim Crow, civil rights, and our current era where we find racism seething under the false mask of the n-word.  

The matter is one of using language to communicate, not to denigrate and hurt and kill the spirit.  In many ways the n-word is more destructive of human society that the original because it belies a devious ploy.  We use the softer word, but the original malicious intention of that word is called to mind.  We know it is lurking under the facade of niceness.  Another n-word.  

The real problem we have is that we keep f-wording up the language.  .  


Friday, June 19, 2015

Who the heck was Harney?

He killed Indians,  didn't he?

This weekend will be the closing of public comments on whether to change the name of Harney Peak in the Black HIlls to Hinhan Kaga, the Lakota name for the place.  The name is hard to translate into English.  Kaga means to make, create, or imitate.  Hinhan is the Lakota plural for owls. So, the English translations have been "maker of owls", "where owls are created", "owl nest", and so on.  The Lakota accounts of the formation of the people and of the land itself is written in the land.  There are spiritual associations with the landscape that few non-Indian know about, let alone understand.  The western mind is simply not equipped to make a translation that evokes the associations with which Lakota words and place references are loaded.  It is best to let the Lakota word stand as it is.

But the proposed name change has unleashed a storm of blog chatter.  Blog chatter is what Shakespeare's Macbeth was referring to when he said, "it is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."   Among the contention is the questions of why give the peak a Lakota name when other tribes preceded them, presumably, in occupying the area in which it is located.  Before the honkey hoard evicted the Lakota people from the woodlands, other tribes who were displaced by the Lakota lived there.  What is ignored in those ravings is that the Black Hills were regarded as "the heart of all that is" by many nations and they held it in the same reverent regard as the Sioux nations.  As with many places in the U.S., Hinhan Kaga was considered sacred and hostilities were suspended when various nations came to make the spiritual observations that the place represented to them.  The important part of the name change is that it re-establishes the significance the place has for the indigenous people, and therefore informs the non-indigenous of a greater significance.  

So, then, what does Harney mean?  Harney is among those regarded as military heroes in American white history whose character and deeds are not without a basis for scathing criticism, sometimes contempt.  The leader of that group of military heroes is (Brevet) General George Arnstrong Custer.  While Custer had some military successes, he was predominantly a vainglorious ass  When he is mentioned in military history, it is not as a hero, but as a fool who violated every standard of military thought and deed in a way that got him and 268 of his troops killed.  He is held up as an example of what not to do.

To the Lakota and other tribes, Custer was a violator of a treaty, still nominally in effect, that betrayed the Indian nations and led to the theft of the Black Hills, in fact all of West River South Dakota.Custer had his military moments, but a study of his actions as a commander show a man who was daring and lucky during the Civil War, but who miscalculated and blundered his way through his Indian campaigns, until he made the ultimate blunder.  He violated his orders, tried to shape a heroic image from the killing of Indians and dispossessing them of their lands.  

Harney was a soldier of the same stripe.  His early biographies portray a man of military competence who in his off-hours enjoyed gardening.  However, as with Custer, later studies of historical and military documents reveal quite another personality.  In a recent biography of Red Cloud, Harney's career is summed up this way:

Harney, with his plump cheeks and snowy whiskers, resembled a uniformed Father Christmas.  But his jolly countenance was deceiving.  He had once been chased out of St. Louis by a mob after he'd beaten to death a female slave for losing his house keys.  And he hated Indians and enjoyed killing them, either in the field or at the end of a rope on the gallows.  He had led the troops against the Sauk in the Black Hawk War and against the Seminole during Andrew Jackson's Everglades campaign--where his buffoonish negligence resulted in the massacre of an entire detachment of dragoons.  He himself had escaped by capering through the Florida bush wearing only his underwear.  The resultant embarrassment increased Harney/s fervor to slay red people;  and during the Mexican War his overzealous pursuit of the Commanche--as opposed to engaging Santa Ana's troops--enraged the commander of the U.S. forces, Gen. Winfield Scott, who relieved him of command. [135]
Harney's most famous engagement with the Sioux was the Battle of Ash Creek, where he killed 86 men, women, and children, and  earned the name of Woman Killer.  The account in the Red Cloud biography of his treatment of the captives, mostly women. is:

After Harney force marched the captives to Fort Laramie, the officers were allowed to  select the prettiest for themselves, with the rest :"shared out among the soldiers."  A year later half=breed "war orphans" ran thick aat the fort, including an infant girl alleged to have been fathered by Harney himself.[138]

The book summarizes his later career:

...Harney's bungling adventures continued into the farcical.   He still hunted Indians, seemingly for sport, but that never bothered the authorities back east.  .  It was only in 1859 when he nearly set off a shooting war with Great Britain that his superiors thought to rein him in.  [After a series of misadventures] Harney was quietly retired and whisked from the national stage.  [157]

So, Harney was the name given to the highest point in the Black Hills with its spiritual connection to the Lakota and other nations as "the heart of everything that is."

There are those who think the name of the peak should not be changed.  And there are those who think the shooting of nine worshipers in Charleston, S.C., last Thursday was not an act of racism.  Naming the peak Harney may be an intensely ignorant and stupid insult to the Indian nations.  But to white America, it memorializes the kind of person and the kind of acts that so many people worship and revere. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Something is rotten in the State of South Dakota. The smell is overpowering.

The EB-5 scheme didn't produce much in the way of beef, but it sure did a lot of fleecing.

[Potential readers beware:  this is a piece of very long-form journalism.]

The Watertown Public Opinion in an editorial (June 3) republished in the Aberdeen newspaper (June 7) asks why the federal justice department was asked to investigate the EB-5 affair in South Dakota and why, in declining to pursue any further actions, it refuses to provide information on what it found and the basis for its decision. The editorial focuses on the issues raised by the decision:
First, how was [Richard] Benda able to divert more than $500,000 for his own use without raising red flags?  Were others involved?  What happened to the money once it was diverted and can any of it be recovered?..
What exactly were the Feds looking for when they conducted their probe?  What started their investigation of Benda, SDRC and EB-5? What exactly did they find?
What were [the] allegations [that started the probe] and why not discuss what the FBI findings were?  How did that affect the decision not to file charges?
Probably worst of all is the specter that politics and the 2014 U.S Senate race came into play when Democratic appointee U.S. Attorney for S.D. Brendan Johnson more than hinted something was afoot during the election.  Today, with the election decided, and the FBI's decision, we know nothing will be done.  It leaves an awful taste in our mouth, and if Johnson ever runs for office in South Dakota, as many suspect he will, he will need to be held  accountable for what he said and more importantly, what he did not say.

All this silence does is raise questions about what happened, who may have been involved, and if there were problems with the administration of the program.  

Silence, when it comes to government leads to questions and the more questions that are left unanswered leads to even more questions.  

That's why openness in government is so important.  And the real lesson on the EB-5 mess: The more the public is denied access or answers, the less trust there is. 
However, what became the EB-5 scandal has two narrative lines that go back many years long before the death of Richard Benda forced the breaking of some news about what was taking place in South Dakota government.  One narrative line is the establishment and history of the South Dakota International Business Institute (SDIBI) on the NSU campus. In 1994, the creation of the SDIBI was announced to the public and the faculty at the same time.  The faculty were puzzled because the initiation of a new program is generally proposed and discussed in faculty forums as it goes through the implementation process.  They were puzzled but not surprised, as they assumed the program was something dreamed up and imposed by the Board of Regents. The Regents  often have agendas that have little to do with education or scholarly research.  Still, the establishment of the SDIBI sparked inquiries and commentary that extended onto other state campuses, partly of out resentment that NSU was the chosen site for a special program, but predominantly out of curiosity about just what a South Dakota International Business Institute was supposed to do and how it related to any academic functions. 

The peculiar circumstance of the SDIBI was that it maintained a degree of separation from the NSU administration.  When its director, Joop Bollen, got the Regents involved in some legal entanglements, NSU and the Regents knew nothing about his actions.  When the Dean of the School of Business was asked about why NSU was not supervising Bollen's activities, he replied that NSU administrators were given only occasional updates on Bollen's activities, with the understanding that his main reporting responsibility was to the Governnor's Office of Economic Development. His response was affirmed by testimony of NSU's counsel.  However, Mike Rounds said when he was governor he was not aware of Bollen's activities because Bollen was an employee of the Board of Regents.  

Eventually, in this narrative, the new president of NSU reviewed the university budget and asks why the university is funding and housing an activity that has no apparent relevance to its mission, teaching and research. The SDIBI left NSU and located its residence in the offices of the Aberdeen Development Corporation, a tax-funded corporation subsidized by the city and the county which also has nebulous history in terms of its mission and actual function.  When Bollen moved, he took all the SDIBI records with him and they have never been made available for examination.

The history of the SDIBI is murky because of apparent dissembling on the part of people involved with it and the remarkable incoherence of its origins, purpose, and function.  It began in 1994 by declaration of the Board of Regents, and in its early years did show some efforts to establish relationships with foreign institutions of higher learning.  For brief times it publicized alliances in Poland and Germany, but news about those kinds of efforts trailed off.  In 2004, it qualified to be a regional center by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and began its involvement in the EB-5 program.  And that is when it got involved in the second narrative line regarding the Northern Beef Packers.  

Although Northern has divested itself of connections with economic development and EB-5, its international programs occupy a separate and somewhat unusual status within the academic community.  The international program is now called the Center for Excellence in International Business & Entrepreneurship (CEIBE). and under the general title of International Programs it operates an Academic English Program which seems to have no connections or relationships to the academic programs in English or foreign languages, but operates with a detached independence.  This is noteworthy because of the negative perception it creates among potential and present students.  I have been questioned about why NSU seems to have such low regard for its academic programs within the College of Arts and Sciences.  There seems to be money and attention given to the international program while other basic academic areas are being diminished.  One of my retired colleagues said it looked as if the university was being maintained as a cover for business schemes of dubious nature. 

The narrative line of the Northern Beef Packers has shady beginnings.  When the plans for a turkey processing plant formed and Huron was designated as its site, an outfit from Connecticut called Ridgeway Farms announced that it would build a beef-processing plant in conjunction with it.  As with the background story of the South Dakota International Business Institute, the information surrounding these plans is fragmented, guarded, and suspicious.   Governor Mike Rounds was initially in support of the plans.  It is when he launched his idea of promoting South Dakota Certified Beef as a value-added measure for the state's agriculture.  Some complications and conflicts, which are tucked away under that blanket of secrecy under which so much of South Dakota operates, arose and suddenly the plans for a beef plant in Huron were abandoned.  Ridgeway Farms had planned to feature Hereford Beef in the kind of marketing promotion that has been successful for Angus beef.  No one has spoken on the record about what went wrong, but some people in Huron have claimed that Gov. Rounds and Ridgeway executives got into a dispute over a division of authority between the state, which was helping raise financing, and the Ridgeway people, who had reputations for shaky and shady business practices.  The rumor was that Gov. Rounds pulled his support and encouraged some investors to do  likewise. 

In November 2005, Ridgeway moved its headquarters out of Huron to Flandreau.  It had financial support from the Farmers Union, the Flandreau city council, and the Flandreau economic development organization.  But during the early part of 2006, Ridgefield Farms went silent on the progress of its plans, and in August of that year  75 of its investors voted to have all its assets in Flandreau turned over to Farmers Union Industries,  which shortly thereafter won a judgment for $1 million from Ridgeway and then filed a lawsuit to recover $3 million it and others had invested in the project.  Ridgeway left the state.

However, Dennis Hellwig, a livestock auction barn owner in Aberdeen, says he received a call from Phillip Friend of Ridgeway Farms urging him to  get involved in a beef plant for Aberdeen, and that's how Northern Beef Packers began.  There isn't much that anyone got right.  The plant is located on land once owned by Hellwig, which has more detractions than advantages.  Largely, it was a matter of a bunch of people who hadn't the vaguest idea of what they were doing bumbling around in a business that requires aggressive and brilliant marketing, a host of environmental protection and waste product disposal measures, and people with sound knowledge and experience to run the business.  It had none of those, and when it hired some, they quickly disappeared, probably out of dismay and frustration at the  bungled enterprise.  Its biggest problem was a lack of investors.  The enterprise was not able to sell all the TIF (tax increment financing) bonds it was authorized.  That's where the EB-5 loans came in. They were a way to try to  rescue those who had invested, pay the contractors,  and move the plant.toward completion.  

Facts about the failures of the enterprise came out in court transcripts, and Denise Ross writing for the Mitchell Daily Republic published some revealing interviews with people involved in the court actions.  Joop Bollen became closely associated with the Hanul Law Firm which recruited and organized the EB-5 investors with him, working with lawyers James Parks of Los Angeles and Si-Il Jang, of South Korea.  At one point they hired a Los Angeles firm, Maverick Spade, to help organize the finances and assist with the recruiting of investors.  The lead person for Maverick Spade, David Kang, told Denise Ross that Joop Bollen and James Park had somehow displaced NBP CEO David Palmer and had taken control of the accounts, the money, and ran the daily operations.  Kang attributes their presumptuous incompetence for the final failure of the enterprise:  "They were in over their heads. They didn't understand how to do development, construction projects, things of that nature. That's ultimately why they fell flat on their face." 

A conspicuous omission in the accounts of what was going on with Northern Beef Packers is the testimony and other information that could be supplied by people such as David Palmer and others who were officers in the corporation.  In that there is a parallel to how the South Dakota International Business Institute was handled at Northern State.  The people who were nominally in charge of Bollen and the SDIBI. the dean of the school of business and the academic dean of the university, were told that Bollen and the SDIBI were accountable to the Governor/s Office of Economic Development, not the university.  This is a most peculiar circumstance that would not occur in most states.  The peculiarity is that a political office is allowed to impose a program on a university and then is told that the university has no authority to know or monitor what that program is doing, although it is contributing funds, academic credibility, personnel and space to the program. In most states the governing boards and the university officers and faculty would intently guard against allowing politically connected programs to compromise the academic integrity and openness of the university.  However, in South Dakota universities have been sanctioned a number of times for nor following the rules of academic freedom and integrity.  The current president of NSU, James Smith, asserted his responsibility as an academic officer in questioning the university's relationship to Joop Bollen and the SDIBI and removed them from the campus and the university purview.  Bollen moved his operation into the offices of the Aberdeen Development Corpration and took all the SDIBI records with him. 

It was not surprising that the EB-5 scheme and operation would receive political cover from the state administration and legislature, because political plots, intrusions, and secrecy are the established ways of doing business.  As the Watertown Public Opinion states, what is surprising is that the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice have not issued any information on their findings and the reasons for taking no action.  Given the record of deviousness and secrecy in the history of the SDIBI and the Northern Beef Packers, the public can only conclude, cynically and portentously, that political subversion and subterfuge extends beyond state government and its corporate bed fellows.  When corporate schemes involve government, government, at the local, state, and federal level, finds ways to keep the people from knowing what is being done to them in them.

Something that has never been addressed is the role of law firms in the fleecing of public funds and the destruction of public trust.  Probably because lawyers are considered officers of the courts and promote themselves as advocates for clients who find themselves embroiled in legal issues, the public tends to think that law firms are restrained from participating in the scams and the bilking of the kind that is demonstrated by the way Hanul Law and its accomplices handled the EB-5 program in South Dakota.  The bottom line of this scam is that 160 Chinese and Korean investors were defrauded of a half million dollars each.  The state committed $30 million to the beef plant, although not all of it was paid out.   In all the commotion and wrangling, local law firms get mentioned, statements are issued from them, but all the public gets is a picture of chaos and dissembling, and the only aspect of the picture that is clear is the dishonesty, the secrecy, and the betrayal of the public trust. 

There are lawyers aplenty, but none  representing the public interest.                                      

The law firm that is persistently present in every aspect of the EB-5 scam and numerous associated schemes is Siegel, Barnett and SchutzThe names of the firm's members are are on court documents and are listed in business papers not as attorneys representing clients but as active participants in the organizations and events involved. 

The connection of Siegel, Barnett, and; Schutz to NSU is the construction of the Barnett Center on  the NSU campus.  Prior to the construction of that athletic center, NSU held its basketball games in the Aberdeen Civic Center, so that the construction of an on-campus facility was a huge boost for the college.  It came about when Joseph H. Barnett, a principal in the law firm and a 19-year legislator who served as Republican majority leader and speaker of the  South Dakota house, promoted funding for the center in the legislature.  The building was completed in 1987, two years after Barnett died in office in 1985.  Barnett was hugely influential in Republican politics who was often said to be the source of Bill Janklow's power.
The construction of the building marks the time when the Barnett law firm  became a continuing presence on the South Dakota Board of Regents,  which Janklow converted into a political, rather than an educational, arm of government.  The wife of a member of the Barnett law firm was appointed by Janklow to the Board.  She was succeeded by the appointment of Harvey Jewett in 1997, who has been reappointed twice, with his current term expiring in 2017. Until the past year, Jewett was listed as a partner in the Barnett law firm.   His biography on the Regents web page still lists that affiliation. He is no longer listed as a firm member.  When Jewett was appointed a regent, some of the senior professors commented that NSU was now a part of the Jewett fiefdom.  In addition to being a member of Siegel, Barnett, and Schutz, he was a top executive in the Super 8 Motel corporate structure.  
  During the mid-1990s is when there was much questioning and discussion concerning the establishment of the South Dakota International Business Institute and just what the function of Joop Bollen was.  Most of the questioning was coming from other campuses.  When Jewett was appointed a regent, personnel from other campuses said that he was, in effect, the CEO of Northern State. The series of presidents who served NSU in the 1990s and the next twenty years were regarded as surrogates for the regents, not functioning college presidents.

The extent of the "Jewett fiefdom" is defined by his activities in conjunction with another member of the Siegel, Barnett, and Schutz law firm, Jeff Sveen.  Sveen is the chairman of the board of a firm that used $55 million in EB-5 loans from 110 investors in its start up and is largely an enterprise of the Hutterite colonies,  Dakota Provisions in Huron.  The firm is owned by Dakota Turkey Growers, a consortium of 44 Hutterite colonies.  Sveen's name appears in many documents related to the EB-5 business.  Dakota Provisions was initially a plant devised to process and sell turkeys raised by the Hutterite colonies.  It has branched into other meat products.  The original plans for building a beef plant was in conjunction with the building of the turkey processing plant in Huron, where the two businesses would share the infrastructure for water supply and waste disposal.
Sveen has been involved with the incorporation of many Hutterite colonies and is listed as the agent for many of the nonprofit corporations.  In a dispute over management and ownership of the Hutterville Colony near Stratford,  Sveen was listed as agent for both the contending corporations.  He was removed as agent  by the Hutterian Brethern, but the court appointed Harvey Jewett as a receiver of the Colony to divide the property between the contending factions to settle the dispute.  The state supreme court decided that the courts had no jur isdiction in settling a religious dispute and nullified the court a ctions.  The Hutterian Brethern then sued the Siegel, Barnett, and Schutz firm for racketeering violations, but the suit was dismissed.  The Rapid City Journal summarized Sveen's role with the Hutterites this way:  

Aberdeen attorney Jeffrey Sveen is chairman of the board for the Dakota Turkey Growers business, and is one of two managers for Dakota Gobblers, according to documents from the state. The two businesses are part of the turkey processing operation. He was also involved in some financial matters involving the Aberdeen beef plant, according to records at the Brown County Clerk of Courts office. 
Sveen also represents dozens of Hutterite colonies in the region...
 The involvement of the Board of Regents and NSU in the EB-5 related affairs has never been fully explored or explained, even though Joop Bollen drew them into costly legal actions. Bollen was never held in any way responsible for his actions, his failures of responsibility to the NSU administration, his taking of records from NSU, or his writing his own contract with the state when he privatized his EB-5 regional center.  

The state has refused to investigate or explain how he was allowed to perform as he did or to reveal any documents or information that might indicate how he was granted such extreme privileges.  Now the FBI closes an investigation without any explanations.  The final opportunity to get some explanation of how so much conniving and destruction of public trust could take place is in the filing of freedom of information requests from the U.S. justice department.

Governments may wish to keep a lid on who was involved in the fleecing of investors and the duping of the public, but the smell of corrupt practices is too strong to ignore.  There are people out there who know things,  Eventually someone might have the decency to explain. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Gun laws and education terrorize the nation

Dakota Free Press notes the chair of the education department at NSU commenting that the South Dakota legislative study panel on education is  rigged with the prospects of continuing to treat education as a nuisance to the state's way of life.  However, rigging education studies to minimize, often exclude, the input of people actually involved in education has become the tradition in America.  It began with the Nation at Risk report issued in the 1980s, which lamented that the state of education at the time portended ill for the nation.  The commission was stacked with university presidents, school administrators, industry executives, and school board members.  It had one token classroom teacher on the panel.

The Nation at Risk report was one of the initiatives of the Reagan administration in the early 1980s issued along with the policies that triggered the transformation of the economy from one based on productivity to one devoted to servitude and the resulting burgeon of income and wealth inequality.  Ten years after the report, a book challenging it was published, The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, And The Attack On America's Public SchoolsThat book brought attention to  a growing political movement in America for the enforcement of rigorous class privileges and exclusions.  And it signaled a huge shift away from a basic American value.

As the USA developed, one of the first things new communities wanted established was schools.  The Founders, some such as Benjamin Franklin who were self-educated, stressed the importance of educational institutions.  Jefferson established the foundation for the University of Virgina and Franklin for the University of Pennsylvania.   Lincoln, who had less than a year of formal schooling, signed the Land Grant College Act into law at the height of the Civil War.  The history of every town in America gives accounts of the priority placed on providing education for children, even though it provided the young people with the knowledge and skills that made it possible for them to move away from their communities to search for greater possibilities.  And when the nation was met with an influx of veterans after the Second World War, it turned what could have been a problem into the greatest resource for national development the nation has experienced with the education offered by the G.I. Bill. 

Americans chatter endlessly about the widening political divide in the country.  But they cling to the notion that Americans have the same essential values and only minor differences in how those values are attained and maintained.  We talk glibly about culture wars.  We are fearful to confront the reality that there is a raging class war within the nation.  Lost in the euphemistic chatter is what the difference is between the fighting camps..  It's relatively simple to define.  One group believes in liberty, equality, and justice for all.  The other group doesn't believe in such qualities, except for themselves.  One group calls themselves liberal, the other conservative.  One group raises issues of hope, while the propaganda from the other is laden  with ethnic stereotypes, denigrations  of human worth, and all the pretexts for hate speech.

Public education has come under attack.  There is no doubt that a disparity exists in the quality of public schools.  Some urban schools do not produce many proficient and competent students.  Teachers have been so involved in dealing with the social issues and discipline problems their students bring to school that they have little time and little success for education. It became a common quip among teachers at such schools to say that if their students were all alive by the time school was dismissed, they had a succeeded for that day.  

However, the impediments to education existed in more placid systems, too.  In some communities, school boards have dealt with complaints that teachers were expecting too much of their students and were creating conditions of stress.  The boards' solution was to instruct the teachers to back off and provide a more relaxed and congenial environment in the classroom.  This was a problem I encountered during 20 years as a co-director of the Dakota Writing Project which was engaged in cooperative arrangements with public schools.  But it is a matter that has never been discussed as an issue affecting educational quality.  Some students graduated with very diluted diplomas, while students from some schools graduated with high levels of preparation.  When the South Dakota Board of Regents complained about the need for our colleges and universities to provide remedial work in some basic disciplines to bring students up to post-secondary levels of performance, they did not directly address the disparities in preparation among the school districts.  Instead, they endorsed the massive testing approach with the No Child Left Behind program, and ended up with a scheme for improvement that placed all the blame for faltering achievement levels on the teachers. 

Very few writers on education have taken up the responsibilities school boards have for the performance of schools.  Over the last four decades, school boards have shifted away from being advisory committees that mediate between the public and the professional school staffs.  In that mediation role, they generally let the professional educators formulate curricula, select teaching materials and methods, and suggest the educational decisions to be made, with the board reviewing and making final approval of the decisions.  Today, most school boards act in the role of corporate boards which dictate the curricula, materials, and policies to the administrative and teaching staffs.  This shift is reflected in the type of people who the boards hire as superintendent, principals, and administrative staff.  The lead positions were once filled by people who were primarily teachers elevated into leadership positions because of their successful experience as front-line teachers. School executives for the most part today have had little direct contact with students in learning circumstances, but work as corporate executives in imposing policies and decisions on the the teaching staffs.  

Much has been made of the so-called difficulty in getting rid of ineffective teachers and the power that unions hold in regard to such decisions.  While there are cases of people who do not perform well as teachers, no attention has been paid to the faulty policies promulgated by boards of education or the quality of support provided and supervision imposed on the teachers.  In my experience in working with teachers through the Dakota Writing Project,  I found that the teachers who administrators would like to be rid of are the intelligent, effective, independent ones who apply their learning and their teaching experience with knowledge and effect.  Those teachers often find themselves in conflict with the corporate-inspired policies which are directed at maintaining control over the staff and the students, not creating good learning situations and good students.  The corporate-inspired policies are directed at creating obedience, not developing intelligence.   

The intrusion of corporate management practices into education is just one aspect of the class war that has created the inequality and the impoverishment of the working class.  However, that class war which was dismissed as political poppycock by the right  a few elections ago has become, as the Washington Post points out, a staple of the current Republican campaign.  Writer Chris Hedges explains how the inequality movement has taken over American government and why the left wing has been so ineffective in combating it:  

If things unravel [in the U.S.], our backlash may very well be a rightwing backlash — a very frightening rightwing backlash. We who care about populist movements [on the left] are very weak, because in the name of anti-communism these movements have been destroyed; we are almost trying to rebuild them from scratch. We don’t even have the language to describe the class warfare that is being unleashed upon us by this tiny, rapacious, oligarchic elite. But we on the left are very disorganized, unfocused, and without resources.
The normal mechanisms by which we carry out incremental and piecemeal reform through liberal institutions no longer function. They have been seized by corporate power — including the press. That sets the stage for inevitable blowback, because these corporations have no internal constraints, and now they have no external constraints. So they will exploit, because, as Marx understood, that’s their nature, until exhaustion or collapse.
Nothing poses a greater obstacle to the neo-feudal takeover of the corporate mentality  than does a constituency that is educated so that it can critically examine the policies and the propaganda that the self-appointed hierarchy imposes on it.  The last thing that oligarchic elite wants is people who can gather information and think critically.  That is the reason for the attacks on education and the negligence in states such as South Dakota that regard education as a nuisance the leaders would prefer to eliminate. It also explains the rationale for privatizing schools rather than upgrading public education:  it wants only the children of the would-be elite to possess the skills that education brings.   

A measure of the state of education is the amount of money devoted to it.  The trite and stupendously stupid cliche that you can't improve education by throwing money at it always comes up.  However, the amount spent on education is only one measure of the political attitudes that determine whether the powers that be want our children to be indoctrinated into being serfs or educated to be free, equal, and just citizens.  If the so-called blue ribbon panels elicits actual information from teachers and parents or contrives ways to further diminish educators and education will indicate what the future for education in South Dakota holds.

Remember, that to the conservative majority in South Dakota, real education is a subservise activity.  Freedom, equality, and justice are a menace to the the new feudalism.  So the controlling majority lays awake at night fretting that Obama will come and take their guns away.  And that the populace might actually get educated. 

There is a class war raging.  Much of it in the dark of night who do not want America to  become what its founders set in motion.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States