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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

South Dakota's emigrant problem: the flight from a fraudulent democracy


We like to talk a lot about holding public officials and others who work for the public accountable.  But no one talks about holding the public accountable for the crimes it condones.  

The primary definition of crime is  doing something that can be punished  as a violation of law.  The secondary definition is doing something "that, although not illegal, is considered to be evil, shameful, or wrong."  To take that secondary definition out of the realm of individual perceptions,  one can look at comparative law.  What is a crime in one state or nation may not be illegal by law in another.  In South Dakota, many things are permissible which bring down the force of law in other states.  And in South Dakota, there are many laws which are simply ignored. Those who  examine the state of democracies throughout the world use the term "fraudulent democracy" to describe those countries, such as Russia,  which profess democratic governments but are, in fact, dictatorships and oligarchies.  South Dakota has long been an oligarchy with its laws devised to give the power and wealth to the oligarchs and those who help them.  The U.S is well on its way toward oligarchy.  

Folks in South Dakota like to point to Chicago and Illinois as the epitome of corruption.  When matters such as the EB-5 scam or the 
 Mid-Central Educational Cooperative embezzlement apparatus come to light,  good old South Dakotans point to Illinois and say, 'Well, we ain't like them."  Those good old folks are right, of course.  Illinois has corruption.  But it also has laws and people willing to enforce them.  Four of its last seven governors were sent to prison.  The former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools has been  indicted for bribery.  The people see crime exposed and justice at work in Illinois.  South Dakota's incidents of the EB-5 swindle and the MCEC fraud were exposed with the alleged suicides of key players in the schemes.  Although both schemes were conducted with the knowledge and participation of high officials in state government, no honest investigation was ever made to determine just how these incidents of swindle and embezzlement involving millions of dollars took place.  That is because the laws are written to enable and protect the financial predators, and a majority of the people think it's okay because in their minds it is  the way business is done.   According to the laws of Illinois, however, such acts are crimes and require accountability to the public.  

Ultimately, corruption is the responsibility of the people who vote officials into office and keep them there.  When people repeatedly endorse subterfuge as the relationship between business and government through the people they elect to office,  they are defining their moral and intellectual character and that of the place in which they live.  Thus, South Dakota is not a place that has caught and punished corrupt officials.  The state and the majority of its people are corrupt.  Of course, there are good, honest, hard-working people in South Dakota, but they are not the dominant characteristic of the state.  The fact is that South Dakota is a rotten place for a good, honest, hard-working person to work and live.  

More and more, the U.S. is following the cultural trend of tolerance, even admiration, for corruption that rules in South Dakota.  The current slate of GOP candidates for president  degenerate democracy in the way they conduct themselves.  They defame each other, potential opponents, and large groups of people.  There is a near-absolute absence of any proposals that would benefit the people.  The only time the declining status of citizens is mentioned by the GOP candidates is when they need something to blame someone for.  The true significance of this is that people accept this as the state of political thinking and discourse.  And that tacit acceptance is the result of an education system that has been intellectually and financially  subverted by the conservative agenda and by  communications media that are the hand-maidens of corporate feudalism.   What is unnoticed or denied in the current national conversation is the number of people who have come to realize that American democracy is fraudulent and has been displaced by an angry, malevolent fight for power and control to oppress and exclude masses of people.  

As the former keeper of a list of active Democrats,  I have noted a trend in the decline of voter registrations that most people choose to ignore.  The most recent figure on South Dakota voter registrations as reported by Bob Mercer show 237.636 registered Republicans, 167,272 Democrats, and 108,766 Independents at the first of the year.  Those figures reflect a two-year gain of 2,900 for Republicans,  almost a 14,000 gain for Independents, but a 9,500 loss for Democrats.  The surge in Independent registrations appears to be a reflection of how many people are wary and distrustful of the state of democracy.  Those who comment on politics in South Dakota tend to believe that the losses of the Democrats and the gains of the republicans are because the Republicans set forth a more convincing, appealing agenda.  But in this context, one must consider the large gains of the Independents.  The Independents do not have a political organization that advances an agenda.  The shifts in registrations reflect something other than a contest for political affections.  They represent a more fundamental change in the state's demography.

I have written often on my experience in maintaining that list of active Democrats and of its declining numbers.  A huge factor is attrition:  Democrats die and move away and no people are taking their places.  But equally significant is the number of Democrats who have lost interest in politics.  They think that our current political system is not capable of honesty and fair play, and a majority of the voters in the state place power over integrity in making their choices.  Put starkly,  South Dakota is corrupt and members of the political party in power like it that way, and there is little hope for changing it.  Rather than get ensnared in degenerate political games, many people choose to disassociate themselves from South Dakota politics and remain aloof, while looking for the chance to escape. 

The state has a conflicting history with its white settlement by homesteaders and its subjugation of the American Indian people.  It has a culture that at once built rural communities while conducting nefarious  destruction of an entire people.  Those rural communities have been largely decimated by the integration of farms into the corporate economic structure, which set up the pattern of emigration from the state.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the 14-counry area around Aberdeen led the nation in the number of people emigrating, leaving for other places.  

That emigration was also noted in recent high school and college graduates.  For years, some state officials complained about the "brain drain."  The brightest high school graduates left to go to college in other places and did not return.  A second wave of emigrants was college graduates who regarded their college degrees as passports to better lives in other places.  There have been efforts in recent years to extoll the virtues of South Dakota, but the harsh reality is that state is corrupt.  It is attractive only to those who tolerate and esteem   enterprises such as the EB-5 fraud and the Gear-Up embezzlements--and the few who maintain some sentimental attachments to a time when the state did hold out some prospects for the honest and hard-working.  

South Dakota is among the many places that are facing a teacher shortage.  Oddly, district superintendents and principals are complaining about the difficulty in filling teaching staff positions while the governor insists that the state has 400 too many teachers.   Educators and their profession have been under attack by a public that is increasingly resentful of people who try to combat ignorance and stupidity and by  government officials who have devised programs such as No Child Left Behind which have further deteriorated education rather than improved it.  There is a diminished interest in going into a profession that is undercut and held in low regard by so many people.  But South Dakota has an added impediment in attracting teaching talent because it pays teacher the lowest wages by far in the nation for teachers.  The problem goes far beyond the conservative efforts to keep the young ignorant, stupid, and docile  The contempt for education and educators is a bi-partisan value.  A usually liberal-leaning  blogger in South Dakota recently wrote:

I’m not going to link all the feel good stories about getting taxed more to give a pay raise to people who work 9 months out of the year to educate children that are not mine.
I already pay their wages with my property taxes.
Those sentiments have been expressed with great frequency every time teacher pay comes up in the state.  And over the years, I have heard a consistent response from promising projsjpectife teachers:  why would anyone who values real education work in a state that devalues it ways reflected by those comments?  The fact is that people who want to teach and contribute significantly to the development of children know better than to try and work where the profession is so repressively demeaned.  

South Dakotans deeply resent being characterized as mean and small-minded.  But the things that happen on the floor of its legislature and in the halls of government and the things said on its blogs provide plenty of justification for such characterizations.  What person of some education and cultural discernment wants to live and workk in an atmosphere of small-minded malevolence?  And that is a factor faced not only by teachers with  talent and potential but by any person who wants to shape a good life.  

The corrupt and degenerative political culture of South Dakota has spread to the rest of the nation, as evidenced by the campaigns conducted by the GOP presidential candidates.  While a few of the candidates, such as Rand Paul and John Kasich,  have adopted somewhat conciliatory and positive tones (Paul has ended his candidacy), the thrust of the leading contenders is what insult and abuse they heap on groups of people and the damage they propose to do to them.  The messages of the contenders are hateful discrimination and overt oppression.   They speak to the attitudes held by a huge segment of the American population.   When they speak of the decline of America, they are referring to the extension of civil rights, the replacement of military aggression with diplomacy, and movement toward providing Americans with the kind of health care offered by the rest of the civilized world. 

That segment of the population does, indeed, take on the aspects of Germany of the 1930s.  

Many people with whom I know through political work have abandoned South Dakota as a lost cause.  I have watched many of them move out of state.  Some have resumed their political interests in their new  locations.  A couple of them are working with their new legislators to end the federal subsidization of states like South Dakota which complain about big government.   They think it is time to take federal programs out of such states and end the federal money.  But many of the people who have moved have resigned themselves to the fact that American democracy has failed and the country has deteriorated into a corporate oligarchy.  The distribution of wealth and power is evidence of it,  and a majority of the voters seem to endorse it.  

If there is hope, it is among young people who recognize the failure of democracy in America and the political fraud our government represents.  Many of those young have emigrated from South Dakota.  And many young people--and older ones, too--are examining where they can go now.  Their ancestors left the Old World when their opportunities were limited and restricted by the old feudal rules and masters.  America is now in the hands of the same kind of restrictive,  oppressive feudal masters.  

Europe is besieged by Middle Eastern immigrants who are trying to  escape the violence and horrors of discrimination and oppression.  But America has its set of incipient emigrants who are looking for places to go if America's descent into fraudulence,  hate-based policies, and economic serfdom cannot be somewhat reversed.  

What is happening occurs with the assent of the people.  The country will become what the majority wants.  South Dakota sets an example of what happens when corruption is legalized and promoted as a way of doing business.  What honest, hard-working person wants to live under such a regime?  And where can one go from here? 

Political leaders cannot reverse the trend.  It happens with the will of the people.  And the people have willed the failure of a democracy that strives for liberty, equality, and justice.   

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States