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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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Get rid of Medicare and ACA; they're getting out of hand.

Opponents of Medicare and the Affordable Healthcare Act received threatening news in USA Today.  The headline story today announced a drastic drop in Medicare deaths and costs.  

  • Mortality rates among Medicare patients fell 16 percent from 1999 to 2013.
  • Among fee-for-service patients,  hospitalization rates fell 24 percent with more than 3 million fewer hospitalizations in 2013 than 1999.
  • When admitted, patients were 45 percent less likely to die during their stay.
  • Costs almong fee-for-service patients fell 15 percent.  
The results of a study appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association.  The lead author said they were "jaw-dropping."

As if that wasn't bad enough for healthcare opponents, USA Today carried another story on page 2 covering another article in JAMA.  It found that the rates of the uninsured in America dropped another 7.9 percent during the first quarter of this year and a significant increase in the number of people getting access to medical care.  

Meanwhile the horde of GOP presidential candidates and many sitting congress people vow to end Obamacare, announce its time to end Medicare, and keep voting to repeal Obamacare.

While significant strides are being made in improving healthcare in the U.S., the GOP expresses its intention to destroy the vehicles of that improvement.  The question they never answer is, why?  They bring up big government, but they never address the hard facts about  healthcare in the nation or acknowledge the improvements being made    And they never suggest a plan to imake healthcare accessible to more people.  A question raised before the Affordable Healthcare Act was passed at a forum in the Johnson Fine Arts Center at NSU was "Why do you want fellow citizens to be deprived of healthcare?"  No one that I know of has ever bothered to answer.  

Or will the GOP have the integrity to acknowledge the progress being made?  Or even care?  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The end of farming

A  lush landscape, barren of people.

A musing in Dakotafire, a magazine that tries to institute a rural revival, contains an article that probes why fewer people call themselves farmers.  It says that it is not just because there are fewer farmers, and notes that many prefer to call themselves “'ag producers,' or say they 'run a farm business'."  It does cite a few people engaged in agribusiness who insist on calling themselves farmers.  

What the article does not explore is whether the choice in terms  reflects a change in what people who work on the land are actually doing.  It does not venture into the transformation from agriculture to agribusiness and that those who call themselves producers or businessmen are not farmers.  They are people who utilize the land as a production unit as part of corporate enterprise, not as an independent and sustainable element in a competitive market system.  

My own knowledge of farming comes from the fact that all my ancestors immigrated to America to become farmers.  My father was raised on a farm, although he became a letter carrier as a young man.  My mother had seven brothers, four of whom farmed, one of whom was a mechanic who repaired farm equipment, one of whom was a fuel dealer who served farms, and the last who was a machine shop foreman at an arsenal  Two of the  farmers were also machine shop foremen at the Farmall plant.  That is how they bought their farms. As a child who grew up during the depression and World War II,  I remember how the self-sufficiency of the farms provided for our extended family.  One of the farms was where my grandmother lived with two of her bachelor sons.  It was where the family gathered on most Sundays and was referred to as "out home."  While recovering from a year in bed from rheumatic fever, I spent summers on that farm where I gradually took on some of the work. I learned to drive on that farm operating a Farmall H tractor.  Later, when my uncles got older, reduced some of their farming activity, while I was a college student, I drove out to their farm twice a day to feed the livestock for them when they took a vacation.  

The farms were general farms.  That is, they grew in multiple sources of food.  The crops were rotated between corn, hay, oats, soybeans, along with plantings of potatoes, usually a row or two alongside a cornfield,  and they all contained fields devoted to permanent pasture.  The farms also contained large gardens, and my bachelor uncles had a vineyard and some apple, pear, and peach trees.   The livestock raised were pigs, cattle--both for milk and beef--and chickens--for meat and eggs.  Farming was a 24/7 enterprise.  The entire extended family participated in the  harvesting and preserving of the food.  It was an arduous way of life, but the self-sufficiency buffered the family during tough times.  

This background, along with a number of years working for International Harvester Co. led to a job as farm editor for the Moline Dispatch, a job I regard as the best one I have held in terms of pleasant and interesting work.  However, my coverage of the changing farm scene made clear that self-sufficient family farms were on the decline.  Farming as my family did was so demanding and arduous that children raised on farms wanted another kind of life or to practice agriculture in a way that left room in their lives for something other than constant labor.  And as my uncles became established, they reduced their operations.  Milking was the most demanding task, and farmers were willing to let dairies take over that aspect.  Then chickens and the daily gathering of eggs was let go.  Raising beef and pork, however, was too lucrative to abandon, and farmers gave up the feeding of livestock more slowly.  However, the trend was toward concentrating farming operations on one speciality, and professors of agriculture began to warn against horizontal and vertical integration, meaning that farms would no longer be self-sufficient units but would be tied into a corporate system by contract or corporate ownership.  

That is what has happened to agriculture.  The consolidation of farms into huge production units run on a factory  basis has eliminated family farms and many small communities over the past half century.  It has also changed the rural landscape in ecological ways.  My uncles won recognitions for their conservation farming.   They rotated crops to maintain the fertility and health of the soil, they maintained and created waterways and water containment features, rather than plow over them.   They were wary of using pesticides, and did so with much thought and caution.  But their farming was labor intensive and it took tenacious management skills to produce multiple crops and raise livestock that met the demands of a competitive market.  Those diverse operations, however, brought a factor of economic stability that single-cropping operations do not have.  Low prices for one commodity were generally offset by profits in others.  

As I drive through the countryside, particularly in the Dakotas, I am always struck by how it has changed since those years I was a farm editor.  I can recall driving through the country when doing stories, and particularly in late afternoons or evenings, and passing by family homesteads, which dotted the land with some frequency.  You could always tell what farms had children because they were out in the yards playing or saddling up horses or grooming 4-H cattle or sheep.  If there were teenagers, they were generally gathered around a car in the yard as they chatted and made arrangements for school activities.  I remember how busy my cousins were as they did their home work and coordinated their extra-curricular activities with their friends.  As farm editor, I became acquainted with many of these young people and marveled at the productive and purposeful lives they lived.  

Now when I pass homesteads,  I seldom see anyone, let alone children, in the yards.  Occasionally, I see people mowing their yards on lawn tractors, and often see swing sets and other playground equipment in yards, but I never see children using it.  Since I have lived in South Dakota, I have watched small towns totally disappear as schools closed and main streets were boarded up.  Some places, such as Ordway and Wetonka, have completely disappeared.  In places like Columbia, you can't fuel a car if needed or buy a bottle of water.  

This  barren landscape is the result of consolidating and industrializing.  It is not the landscape of the agriculture once envisioned by Thomas Jefferson as the foundation for a free, self-determining people comprising a new democracy.  His vision was of farms as culture which sustained life and provided healthy and productive ways for people to live.  It is now the landscape of an industrial enterprise, of huge tracts tended by machines and chemicals, owned by and supporting fewer and fewer people.   As my last farmer-uncle put it before he died,  the land is being returned to the barons.   It is no longer a resource on which a democratic society can be sustained.

There was a time when farmers and agricultural scientists concerned themselves with incorporating technological advances in farming with the purpose of supporting human culture on the land.  But the corporate powers have eliminated the human values as part of what could grow on the land.  

People do not call themselves farmers, because they aren't.  As a Wikipedia author puts it, 
"However, in the not so distant past a farmer was a person who promotes or improves the growth of (a plant, crop, etc.) by labor and attention, land or crops or raises animals (as livestock or fish)."  Today, they are machine operators and chemical applicators engaged in the business of making money, not worker-managers engaged in the intertwining of natural and human culture for the production of food and, as Bill Gates puts it, a verdant, productive life for humans.  Business practice, not agriculture, is the driving force.  And so, they are not farmers; they are ag producers and they run farm businesses.  They are not engaging the land in ways upon which human communities are built and sustained.  And few are willing to face the consequences of that fact.   

Monday, July 20, 2015

Are you among those who have noticed Donald Trump is always incoherent?

"Hey Pope Francis, you suck!”

Donald Trump has risen to the top of the popularity list of GOP presidential candidates.  He entertains people by being the consummate asshole.  Huffington Post has announced that they will not cover him in their political columns, but have consigned him to the entertainment section, along with the likes of Kim Kardashian.  

However, some commentators warn that Trump should not be ignored.  A Washington Post writer states:

Trump’s message is a call to 1950s American greatness and a simmering, mad-as-hell populism that blames Chinese imports, freeloading Saudis and Mexican immigrants (and Mexico) for the nation’s ills. It appeals to a vein of the U.S. electorate that will remain a significant voting bloc for several election cycles to come: older whites. Trump calls his supporters the “silent majority,” the same name Richard Nixon used to marshal support from a white, middle-class, middle-aged population that felt underappreciated and feared the dramatic social change wrought by activist, antiwar youths and the civil rights movement.
Mother Jones sees a similar significance in how Trump reveals the political health of the nation:

... he is a political phenomenon that tells us much about a significant slice of the American public: Republican voters. It is indeed a drop-dead serious matter that a large bloc of GOPers—perhaps a plurality, depending on which poll you prefer—would entrust this nation to Trump. And the fact that Trump's demagoguery is prevailing at this early stage of the Republican presidential race is a measure of how far the tea party shift in the party has gone—and how this ideological extremism has developed deep roots within the GOP.
But the significance of Trump's rise in the polls is not simply his appeal to a segment that is intellectually and culturally stuck in the past; it is that no one takes alarm that the nation as a whole does not recognize that Trump's rantings are devoid of any coherent thought.  His wealth and brashness seems to cloud the recognition that what he says is the sound and fury of a national idiot.  He is not mentally all there. If, as some suggest, his appeal is that he speaks to the concerns of a segment of the populace, he is giving voice to derangement.

In one speech, Trump disparaged 23 people or groups of people with his malice.  What is 
significant is that his name-calllilng and his denigration str uyyrtrf in fragments and phrases. He does not predicate any sentences that complete thoughts or deal with facts.  His statements are incoherent with the only point of clarity being his intention of insulting and attacking a person.  

About John MCCain, he said:

"You hear our politicians. John McCain, two days, 'Oh, Benghazi!' You don't hear about it anymore... I'm more disappointed in the Republicans in many ways. They talk and talk and talk."

About President Obama:

"You know, I don't use Teleprompters like the president..."He doesn't even call to get our hostages back from Iran. Here we are in the middle of a deal and he doesn't even call about that. One sentence -- I'd say, 'Before we start, get those people back.' They'd be back the next hour.”

About John Kerry:

"Our chief negotiator [on Iran] at 73 is in a bicycle race. He falls and breaks his leg. This is the mentality." 
 About Hillary Clinton:

"Hillary Clinton was the worst secretary of state in the history of our country. The worst. The world blew up around her. Our enemies are a disaster and they hate us more. Our friends are all gone. We don't get along with anybody. Everybody's ripping us off..."Who would you rather have negotiating a trade deal with anybody? Trump or Hillary?”
And his account of the Macy's CEO on the phone breaking off the relationship with Trump:

"So my cellphone rings and it's [Macy's chief executive] Terry Lundgren...He goes, 'Donald, hi.' He's like my best friend. I said, 'Terry, what's your problem?' He said, 'You're very controversial.' ... He said, 'Donald, I had calls from Hispanic people saying they're going to boycott Macy's.' I told him what to do. I said, 'Terry, be tough. They'll be gone one day.'..."This is a man I played golf with. I was with him all the time. He really was, was, was -- you understand, because I don't forget things. He said to me, 'Please, please, Donald, can I cut you?' It's not a big deal. I'm selling ties. And you know what? Honestly, they were made in China, so I didn't care."Here's the bottom line on Macy's: Thousands and thousands of people are cutting up their Macy's credit cards.”
Trump makes up, distorts, and ignores facts.  What he says has  no correspondence with reality.  His attacks are always personal.  His entire campaign is one of demeaning and discrediting other people.  Those who claim that he is giving a voice to a disgruntled political base ignore just what that voice is saying and how it is said.  It is stream-of-consciousness malice.

It is not a matter of people having differing opinions.  It is a matter that benign Americans don't want to face:  some of their fellow Americans are not nice people.  They are mean, dishonest, and intend ill on other people.  Trump's stupidly hateful remarks about John McCain are an expression of the malevolent streak that pulses through American politics.  

Can this streak dominate the nation.  Well, it dominates South Dakota.  The blog that seems to be endorsed by the GOP in South Dakota contains precisely the ignorance of facts, the moral carelessness, and the inane bravado of Donald Trump.  It throbs with malice.  And that, in South Dakota, is what  the GOP campaigns on.  And wins.  And why the state is intellectually and morally incoherent.  

Trump to G.O.P: “You’re Fired”

Des Moines Register asks Trump to withdraw his candidacy

Monday, July 13, 2015

What happened to Wisconsin? The spirit of Joseph McCarthy.

Wisconsin is a haunted state. The ghost of Joseph McCarthy haunts the state house.  His spirit has returned to get revenge on those who exposed his claims about communists infiltrating the government as false and thrust him into obscurity for a while.  Without any proof that anyone was subverting the government, his investigations cost more than 2,000 government employees their jobs.  Edward R. Murrow, in turn, investigated McCarthy's claims and showed the nation through television that they were maliciously fabricated and the damage they did to many people and the nation. 

The affinity for destruction has reemerged in Wisconsin politics in the form of Gov. Scott Walker.  Walker has mounted a successful McCarthy-like campaign against public employees, particularly teachers and professors, and has aggressively opened the state up to corporate exploitation.  Even though his efforts to disenfranchise the bargaining rights of public employees were met with massive protests,  he survived a recall election and then was re-elected.  

In his second term he introduced budget bills that called for the dismantling of the the prestigious University of Wisconsin system and the elimination of tenure for professors.  But his most striking move was a budget bill that eliminated much of Wisconsin's open records law.  When the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal exposed that the closing of open records was being proposed in the budget bill just before July 4,  the Governor and his GOP cohorts did quick retreat and removed those provisions from the bill.  The Chicago Tribune reported that  

"The proposed change would have made Wisconsin’s law one of the most restrictive in the country, no longer allowing journalists, activists and others to request to see lawmakers’ e-mails and legislative drafting notes. Such a change, retroactive to July 1, would also have further protected Walker as he enters the presidential race and finds his record under greater scrutiny."

There has been much dissembling and evasion about how much Walker was directly involved in the move to close records off from the public and the press,  but newspapers report that his office helped draft the bill eliminating open records.  However, the national news about Walker focuses on his plans as a presidential candidate, and gives scant mention to his "achievements" in Wisconsin.  He has dismantled much of what has distinguished Wisconsin as a progressive state and proposes more that would change institutions which have made the state a leader in education, environmental protection, and workers' rights.  

The question is, of course, why a majority would support and vote for a man who is destroying the state's legacy.  The answer is in examining the state's political history and factions that once supported and voted for Joseph McCarthy and how those factions resurged into power.  

For many years I had property in the pinelands along the Wisconsin River which are only about 40 miles from Madison.  It was a place where I retreated to work but also provided outdoor relaxation and recreation.    I wrote much of my doctoral dissertation there under the pine trees. During those years, I did moonlighting work in communications consulting and production with a group of associates who were writers, photographers, and graphic producers who wanted to keep their skills active and earn a little extra money.  We used the pinelands as our work studio.  A number of those people had ties with the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and we found that the place and state were conducive to creative and productive work.  The kind of oppressive and destructive atmosphere that Walker represents was not a presence.  How did the political and social atmosphere get so drastically reversed? 

Joe McCarthy  stirred up the nation with accusations of communist pervasion.  As the Cold War progressed, his charges created a paranoia in the populace.  People were made so fearful of communist rule that merely calling someone a communist, whether true or not, could raise the temperature of paranoia and malice among the people to the point where they would revile and destroy anyone so accused.  McCarthy played upon ignorance, fear, and the human tendency to fix blame for the problems they perceive.  He understood what successful dictators use to acquire and maintain power among people who can be fooled and swayed by propaganda that appeals to fear, prejudice, the need to feel superior to others.  He used legislative hearings as a means to disseminate his accusations and publicly humiliate and destroy the reputations of people.  Television was his undoing.  People brought before his hearings denounced his accusations and tactics for their falseness and their maliciousness.  Edward R. Murrow examined the facts and the people he ruined on his news shows.  McCarthy had acquired so much influence that he intimidated Pres. Eisenhower, who disapproved of him but thought it politically unwise to confront him.  However, he eventually backed people in the Senate who censured Mc arthy for conduct unbecoming a U.S. senator.  

Scott Walker uses essentially the same tactics.  When the state faced budget problems, he   blamed the public employees and their unions and eliminated the right to bargain for salaries.  Although collective bargaining is a negotiating process and the state has the right to counter union proposals at the bargaining table, Walker co-opted any voice by employees by eliminating collective bargaining.  He characterized union members as thugs.  This resonated among workers in Wisconsin who were suffering under low wages.  He suggested that the unions were hogging wages in a way that kept non-union workers underpaid.  And so, workers saw unions as the enemy, not the corporations which underpaid them while giving executives lavish salaries and bonuses.  These workers do not understand what the so-called Reagan Revolution did to America's workforce.  They place the blame for their inadequacies of income on the unions, not on the global corporations.  

Rather than collectively bargain for higher pay, workers supported Walker in taking away the bargaining rights of fellow workers.  

Walker's move to dismantle the university system and eliminate tenure is also an appeal to the resentment of the working class which feels that collective bargaining and job protections are unfair privileges.  

Walker has used the kind of false accusation and appeal to misplaced resentment that propelled Joseph McCarthy's rise to power.   His attempt to close off public access to government records fits in that scheme of keeping the public ignorant, misinformed, and in a state of fear and suspicion of fellow citizens.

Walker has tried to move Wisconsin close to what South Dakota is.   South Dakota already has laws which keep public records closed to its citizens.  It is a right-to-work state, which means employers have the right to work workers as hard and with as little compensation and respect as they choose.  Its education system is fettered by corporate and political ties. And it features the lowest remuneration in the nation for any kind of honest work.  

South Dakota is the model for what Scott Walker would like to make the nation.  Joseph McCarthy is the founding father to him.  

UPDATE:  In signing budget  bill,  Scott Walker strips state workers of minimum wage and takes away tenure for professors.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States