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, December 26, 2017

Trump's record is a rap sheet of fraud and lies. But it is what some Americans choose as their proud heritage.

It is not that the FBI is biased against Trump.  It's that the list of offenses he has made is so impressive that he is near the top of their list of suspected miscreants that it is their job to monitor.  One post cannot detail the number of fraudulent, illegal, and deceptive dealings of the man currently holding the presidency.  The most puzzling aspect is what has happened to the American people that this could happen?  The stories of Trump's deals have been reported for decades, but Americans have been brain-washed into thinking that anything done in the name of business is okay as long as money is made,  no matter how dishonest or how many people are destroyed.

One of the most extensive compilations of Trump's offenses was published by the conservative National Review.   This was published six months before the election.   It introduced its list with this statement:

Given their number and scale, it can be difficult to keep track of all of Donald Trump’s many scandals and debacles. And so, for those whose heads are still spinning, here is a comprehensive roundup of the man’s disastrous record:
And then it went on to list his four bankruptcies,  his refusal to pay contractors, his adultery and divorces, and his many failed enterprises.   It lists 20 categories.

A few days before the election, Politicususa printed the account of a Canadian journalist who fact checked everything Trump said.  The article reports:

In Donald Trump "you have a candidate who is frequently saying 20 false things in a day, up to 37 on some days.”
Nothing he has done since taking office has diminished his reputation for lying.  Factcheck summarizes his presedential performance:
We first dubbed President Donald Trump, then just a candidate, as “King of Whoppers” in our annual roundup of notable false claims for 2015.  He dominated our list that year – and again in 2016 – but there was still plenty of room for others. 
This year? The takeover is complete. 
In his first year as president, Trump used his bully pulpit and Twitter account to fuel conspiracy theories, level unsubstantiated accusations and issue easily debunked boasts about his accomplishments. 
And a chorus of administration officials helped in spreading his falsehoods.

The New York Times tracked what Trump said during his first 100 days in office, noting,   "The Times has logged at least one false or misleading claim per day on 91 of his first 99 days (Saturday is Day 100). On five days, Mr. Trump went golfing, and on two he made limited public statement."

By November, the Times compiled a list of Trump's falsehoods and explained why each was untrue.
So we have catalogued nearly every outright lie he has told publicly since taking the oath of office. Updated: The president is still lying, so we've added to this list, taking it through Nov. 11, and provided links to the facts in each case.
The Washington Post also kept a record of Trump's lies and published it with this headline:
In 298 days, President Trump has made 1,628 false and misleading claims

USA Today has found Trump to be an offense to the nation.  But after one of his latest tweet rages. it declared he is "not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush. "  The paper concludefd:
Rock bottom is no impediment for a president who can always find room for a new low.
The media carry out their responsibility as the Fourth Estate in recording his constant malevolence and dishonesty.  But it does not examine closely those politicians wiho collude with him to sell out the principles of liberty, equality, and justice in order to impose their own agendas on the country.  Nor does it face the fact that Americans elected Trump president and have knowingly chosen to follow the path to deceit and malice that Germany blazed in the 1930s.  

In its efforts to make nice to its audience,  the press has avoided facing the fact that Trump is what Americans chose as their moral and intellectual emblem.  And the lower he sinks, so does the nation,  as a matter of its choice.  He defines what America has become.  Except for those who understand what genuine resistance entails.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How the Democrats shot their foot off

The current frenzy for reporting incidents of male sexual harassment is a revival of a flurry of such accusations that the nation experienced during the early 1990s.  At that time, it was fueled by the forced resignation of Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon, who had quite a reputation for his overt expressions of lust for women.  And by the hearings of accusations of harassment of Anita Hill by Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas. As a previous post reports, higher education addressed those allegations as they affected both the accusers and the accused.  Men responded, then as now, with admissions, denials, and counter accusations.  Women complained that they weren't believed or feared retaliation if they reported incidents. But a lot of men were fired or otherwise disciplined in summary ways that avoided due process in which the accused would face their accusers.  Professional organizations that deal with due process stepped in and restored some semblance of justice to the proceedings where they could.

The presumption that guided harassment accusations in academe was that everyone, accuser and accused, deserved due process.  And due process requires that an accused person has the right to know who the accuser is and to present exculpatory evidence.  In the zeal to correct a wrong, many institutions neglected due process sometimes to save embarrassment to the accuser, to prevent retaliation, and sometimes to evade the hostilities that such cases produce.  A lawyer who worked on such cases said,  "It's cheaper to fire someone in many cases than it is to defend against a claim of sexual harassment."  In a few cases where men did pursue and prove false claims, however, the results were damaging to institutions as well as to the person who made a false accusation.  The settlements of civil cases were harshly expensive, and in some jurisdictions the making of a false harassment charge could be  considered a criminal act, thus implicating the organization that fired or took disciplinary action without following the procedures of due process.  

In the current flurry of accusations, the mistakes of a quarter century ago are being repeated.   In the frenzy to respond effectively in behalf of harassed and assaulted women, due process is largely forgone.  A columnist for a teen magazine expressed a current attitude:

Here's an unpopular opinion: I'm actually not at all concerned about innocent men losing their jobs over false sexual assault/harassment allegations. First common false allegations VERY rarely happen, so even bringing it up borders on a derailment tactic. It's a microscopic risk in comparison to the issue at hand (worldwide, systemic oppression of half the population). And more importantly: The benefit of all of us getting to finally tell the truth + the impact on victims FAR outweigh the loss of any one man's reputation.
The cases of Al Franken and Garrison Keillor in Minnesota are two in which the absence of due process is a glaring omission.  There is inherent dubiousness in some of the accusations and a severity of punishment and a dismissal of human worth that is more characteristic of a vengeful rage than of an act of accountability.

In Franken's case, the first accuser is herself photographed in some on-stage acts of groping and sexual horseplay.  Daily Kos and comedian Tom Arnold claim that Leeann Tweeden was coached by ultra conservative associates and the she was a birther in claiming that Obama wasn't born in the U.S. Subsequent accusations followed a meme-like repetition that women asked to pose for picture with Franken and in the process he squeezed their butts. Politicians and their staffs have challenged the credibility of those circumstances.  In large public gatherings, politicians have staffs around them to manage and organize their appearances.  They would be aware of any incidents, and an objective of the appearances is to give the politician a favorable exposure to the public and strenuously avoid any offense. People who know Franken, especially his staff, say he does not behave in such a manner and is simply not stupid enough to engage in such behavior.  Most egregious, is that some of the accusations were anonymous.  What happened to Franken is that members of his own party lynched him in order to demonstrate their moral superiority over the opposition.

Franken asked for a full investigation by the Senate ethics committee.  However, when members of his own party demanded his resignation, he saw that he would be unable to function as a senator, and resigned.  Not one politician in the Senate which claims to be the nation's most upstanding deliberative body in upholding liberty, equality, and justice mentioned due process.

Former Republican Governor of Minnesota Arne Carlson spoke for many people on the matter.   He wrote:
I am deeply troubled by the resignation of U.S. Sen. Al Franken and the complete absence of anything resembling due process... a rush to punishment is totally unacceptable.

While the Democrats were flaunting their parade on the "high road," they were in fact flouting any pretense to justice and showing disdain for the most basic principle of democracy.  They destroyed any credibility to what they claim the party stands for.  The kindest thing one can say about their performance is they showed a level of stupidity that befits the era of Trump.  The U.S. Senate seemed to compete with him to see who could show the most abject failure of decency.

The case of Garrison Keillor was similarly excessive and insanely so in Minneapolis Public Radio's attempt to totally obliterate him.  Apparently, he had seething enemies who longed for a chance to reign vengeance on him.  He  has indicated he does not intend to go quietly into the night, however.

It has been encouraging to see that harassers and assaulters of women have been called onto account.  But that encouragement was dashed into bits when those exposures became reason to abandon even the most rudimentary forms of justice.

***Early in the accusations against members of Congress, Nancy Pelosi was asked about how the allegations should be handled and she mentioned due process, for which she was soundly scolded by pundits and commenters.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

How Molded Fiber Glass Co. got the shaft from Donald Trump

Molded Fiber Glass built the onion domes and minarets for one of Trump's great failures for $3 million.  They had to sue to get their money, but only got $1 million

 Molded Fiber Glass Co. is preparing to close its Aberdeen plant in February, putting 409 employees out of work.  While it enters history as one of the transient companies  that had a brief use for Aberdeen,  its own history includes being a dupe in one of Donald Trump's  perfidious bilking schemes.

The story is recounted in an Associated Press story which ran most prominently in the Atlantic city newspaper, which is where Trump built his Taj Mahal casino, a failed enterprise which demonstrated just what kind of '"businessman" Trump was.   He opened his $1.2 billion casino in April 1990.  It filed for its first bankruptcy in July 1991.  Trump was trying to corner the casino business in Atlantic City, but his finanancing was shaky and fraudulent.  The New York Times reported that "Mr. Trump assembled his casino empire by borrowing money at such high interest rates — after telling regulators he would not — that the businesses had almost no chance to succeed. " He raised  capital by offering junk bonds.   During its run, the casino violated almost all of the financial rules, among which was money laundering.  Tump managed to divest himself of the property by 2009 after a constant history of bankruptcy proceedings and it was taken over by fellow billionaire Carl Icahn.  Trump left behind a number of contractors and other businesses who he did not pay.  Defaulting on bills was the art Trump used in his deal-making.  Molded Fiber Glass was one of his victims.

In early 1990, Trump was pushing contractors to finish their work so the casino could open for business.  But in February, they became concerned when payments for work that had been completed stopped.  The AP story takes up the story of Molded Fiber Glass:

Five hundred miles away, in Ashtabula, Ohio, Robert Morrison of the Molded Fiber Glass Co. was pressing his workers to finish the domes and minarets and other faux Moorish ornaments in time for the April opening — and worrying about who was going to pay for all of it. An invoice sent a few weeks earlier for $1.4 million still hadn't been paid.
"Naturally, you assumed you'd get paid," Molded Fiber Glass CEO Morrison wrote in a book about the Taj published in 1994. "Donald Trump was flamboyant, but he was an immensely successful contractor who paid his debts.”
Many contractors didn't know what to think. Trump was denying he was in financial trouble: "I have a tremendous amount of cash," he told the Washington Post that March. Far from being overstretched, he told Newsweek, he was looking to expand: "I think the people with a lot of cash —and I have a lot of cash — are going to be able to make beautiful deals in the next few years."
  Morrison of Molded Fiber Glass was getting desperate for his money and so he turned to Irwin Tobman, a field supervisor in Atlantic City overseeing the installation of the domes and minarets. Tobman had been told earlier by a Trump official that the delay in sending the check was due to a "slight glitch.”
 On June 12, Molded Fiber Glass sued for the $3 million it was owed. A few days later, its lawyers ratcheted up the pressure; they threatened to remove the domes from the Taj and cart them away. The New York Post headline: "The Taj May Go Topless.” 
Molded Fiber Glass never removed its domes, choosing instead to join with Lundy and 46 others in a negotiated settlement with Trump for cash equal to 33 cents of each dollar owed, plus 50 cents in convertible bonds, according to Morrison's book. Trump also threw in a "right of first refusal," meaning the contractors would get future work at the Taj if they matched the best bid from others. The bonds would eventually pay in full, but the holders had to wait at least several years.
Strapped for money, some contractors sold them immediately, getting a fraction of what they were worth at maturity. Among the sellers was Morrison of Molded Fiber Glass, according to Tobman, his man in Atlantic City. Morrison ended up having to write off $2 million of the $3 million that Trump owed him, according to his book. The company refused to comment.
A telling line in Robert Morrison's account is, "Donald Trump was flamboyant, but he was an immensely successful contractor who paid his debts.”   Morrison, who died in 2002, wrote a book about the entire affair titled High Stakes to High Risk: The Strange Story of Resorts, International and the Taj Mahal.  A search on the Internet turns up no reviews or accounts of the book, but the overall impression is that Morrison, the founder of  molded Fiber Glass, regards the Taj Mahal affair as corporate business as usual.  He calls Trump who had already earned  reputation for bilking contractors "an immensely successful contractor," and any who checked knew that Trump did not always pay his debts.
As the  AP story relates, "Trump's cash crunch left Morrison with no money to pay the dozen companies he had hired to help with the Taj work. But Morrison paid them anyway... by borrowing the money."    Still, "The trouble wasn't enough to keep Molded Fiber Glass from doing work for Trump again. The company helped with the roof of the Trump Parc East, a residential building overlooking Central Park in Manhattan... "

When AP reporters contacted some of business people who were stung by Trump about that they thought him, they did not "believe Trump acted badly given the hardball, sometimes unscrupulous nature of industry."   in other words, it was business as usual.

One of the men, however told the reporters, "If ethics or morality has nothing to do with business, he's a very good businessman."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Me, too. Caught between a rock and a hard on

Sexual matters are a fact of academic life.  They include sexual discrimination, sexual harassment,  and sexual assault.  And some more positive aspects.  Harassment and assault often happen in conjunction.  But there are other matters of consensual sexual misconduct that break societal rules,  and there are marriages that fail for reasons having little to do with sex.  I have witnessed affairs that ended marriages and careers.  On the campuses where I have worked,  sexual misbehavior has happened, frequently, but it has not disrupted the ability of the colleges to carry on with their primary work. Most faculty and students tend to the business of higher learning and do not get distracted or diverted by other people's libidinous peccadilloes.

I was aware of incidents, but carefully avoided circumstances where they might occur.   I knew about the dean who was fired because he could not leave a young oriental professor alone.  I heard the narrative of another dean and advisor to student government, the father of seven, who was shacking up with the president of the student association, also married.  I worked with a number of drama coaches who were suddenly let go because they couldn't resist the attractions of student actors, male and female.  At the institutions where I have worked, I was ignorant of lesser transgressions which did not make such good tales. But my aloofness ended late one Friday afternoon when a faculty member, his wife, and a lawyer from the Twin Cities came to my office.

As an officer of the faculty collective bargaining organization,  I became sort of the go-to person in matters of due process.  I was a negotiator for the contract with the Board of Regents and was proud of the provisions for due process that we had hammered out.  I often served as the grievance officer for people who were responding to or using due process to settle some matter.

For those who are not familiar with due process,  it is a set of procedures to be followed anytime a faculty member is involved in some kind of disciplinary action.  The procedures insure that any such actions adhere to the standards established in the Fifth Amendment.  

The contract requires that any person to be charged with a transgression be provided with notice of both the names of those who have made allegations against the faculty unit member and the specific nature and factual basis for the charges; a reasonable time and opportunity to present testimony on any disputed issue of material fact; and a hearing before an impartial decision-maker.   In addition, the contract provides a grievance procedure for anyone who thinks a disciplinary measure was wrongly or incompetently imposed.

The three persons who came to my office were irate because the professor had been called in and served with a notice that a sexual harassment complaint had been made against him, and he was informed that the matter was being investigated and he would be advised of the outcome.  The notice did not name the accuser, the specifics of the complaint, or provide  any opportunity for him to obtain the information or any opportunity to respond.  He was told that the procedure was in wide use on campuses so that women would not feel humiliated or intimated for fear of retaliation if they reported incidents of harassment and abuse.  

The professor, his spouse, and the lawyer came to see me as the union president and the person most familiar with due process matters.  Their first question waswhy did the union allow such a violation of what was stipulated in the contract?  My answer was that the notice they were given was the first that I, or any other union officer, was aware that a special procedure was being applied to sexual harassment cases.  

It turned out that the university attorney had been instructed to formulate a procedure for handling sexual harassment cases.  He apparently devised one from procedures used on other campuses.  The attorney of the professor outlined actions he was prepared to take against both the university and the union if the case was pursued any further using the procedure with which it was served.  For reasons I have never understood, the administration decided to go ahead despite the fact that the collective bargaining contract required a careful observance of due process.

As the case continued,  there was some background information regarding the professor  I became aware of.  He had applied for a much better position at a more prestigious university and had been accepted.  Any accusation of misconduct could jeopardize his new job.  Furthermore,  his wife hated Aberdeen, and was clearly dedicated to seeing that nothing would interfere with the new opportunity at a place she much preferred.  Her parents told her to hire a lawyer, and they would pay all the legal fees involved in behalf of the professor.  When the professor, his wife, and their lawyer came to my office,  they were already building a case in the event that they had to take the matter to court.

The administration said it would follow the procedure it informed the professor about.  The professor's lawyer was not a member of the South Dakota Bar,  so he hired a lawyer who was to represent the professor before the state judicial system at his direction.  Very quickly the university administration learned that the lawyers appeared before a judge to obtain a writ of mandamus which would order the university to  follow the due process procedure required in the collective bargaining contract.  When the administration realized that the professor and his lawyers were playing hard ball, it began to make conciliatory gestures,  but the lawyers were adamant and demanded the name of the complainant, the specific complaint and the factual basis for it, and the schedule of hearings for processing it.  During the fury of actions generated by their demands, it became clear that the lawyers were gathering information for a civil suit in the professor's behalf, if it came to that.

By this time, my role was that of a bystander, a union representative who monitored the proceedings to insure that they met the due process terms of the contract.  When the full complaint against the professor was finally presented as required, it identified a non-traditional student in the professor's class who was irate at receiving a low grade on an examination.  The lawyers and their investigators immediately assembled a narrative of what happened.

When the student received her exam back, she went to the student union with other students from the class and launched into a tirade about what a terrible professor the man was.  Other students suggested that she make an appointment with the professor to talk over the grade.  She did so and the professor talked with her at a table in the outer office with the departmental secretary present.  (He later explained that he always had a witness present when meeting with an irate student.)  He went over the examination with her, which included both multiple choice and essay questions.  On the multiple choice part, there were four versions given out to discourage copying answers from a neighbor's paper.  On some of the questions the student had marked ridiculous answers, which would indicate that they were copied.   In his explanation of her errors on the exam, he pointed out that she had chosen the worst possible answers on some of the questions.  He told her that she could submit a set of reading notes for extra credit to raise her grade for the course.

The meeting set off another rage on the part of the student, and she told a group of students that the professor accused her of cheating and announced that he was going to be taught a big lesson.  As one of the students she complained to explained it,  "She had a real hard on for the professor."

Her initial complaint was that the professor discriminated against her because she was a woman.  Later she claimed that the professor made sexual advances on her.  However, as the professor never had a meeting with the woman without a witness present, her claims were refuted  by witnesses during the hearings on the matter.  And as an aggressive lawyer represented the professor, the administration followed the rules of due process and finally determined that the complaint had to be dismissed as having no factual merit.  At the end of the school year, the young professor and his spouse happily moved to his new job.

As the professors I worked with agreed, the episode proved two things:  due process depends a lot on having a determined lawyer and the money to pay for one.  A dean later told me the student had transferred, and he expressed relief that the episode was over.  We took up a case in behalf of a dishonest, vindictive person and could have been sued out of existence, he said.

While that incident was taken care of,  the matter of how to deal with sex issues become a topic of urgent and intense discussion throughout higher education.   i was asked to join among others who dealt with due process to analyze the matter and come up with recommendations that would encourage women to report instances of harassment and abuse and seek recourse without violating any rights of due process.  We weren't very successful.  The committee was largely composed of department heads, many of whom were women.  They agreed that flagrant instances of harassment and assault in which the evidence was clear and unmistakeable could be taken care of through due process,  but many cases involved clashes of personality which are all but impossible to solve to anyone's satisfaction.   Acts of harassment are often defined by how a complainant and an accused person choose to interpret them.  The case I cite above was driven to resolution by the fact that it would eventually be tried in court and the university had no case against the factual one the professor's lawyer had assembled. Cases where there are no witnesses or evidence, just one person's word against another's,  can be impossible to resolve to the satisfaction of anyone involved.  The people asked to offer ideas about resolving sexual harassment complaints generally agreed that they would prefer to avoid them because they would inevitably make some dedicated enemies, no matter how hard they tried to be impartial and fair, and would end up with a toxic work environment.  Many such complaints arise from animosities that have non-sexual histories.

The issue that embroiled higher education was one that has dogged sexual harassment situations since Anita Hill accused now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings.  Anita Hill and a number of women who were in Congress at the time still think that Joe Biden, who chaired the confirmation hearings, did not handle the proceedings well.  

Women want to be able to report instances of harassment and assault without fear of retaliation or the embarrassment of humiliating details.    They complained that their accusations were met with skepticism and disbelief.  In order to demonstrate that sexual harassment reports would be believed, many organizations treated allegations of harassment or assault as established fact, and fired or took other disciplinary actions against accused faculty members without  due process.  Faculty on campuses where such actions took place saw these actions encroaching into matters of promotion and tenure and academic freedom.  Calls to investigate the actions and place sanctions against the offending institutions became too numerous for professional faculty organizations to handle.  

A few institutions worked out procedures that protected women who reported instances of harassment while giving the accused full access to due process while the complaints were investigated.   Those institutions were often cited for their efforts.  But the procedures they followed did not stop the constant criticism and complaints.  The hostile attitudes between those who contended that allegations were sufficient proof of misconduct and those who thought all disciplinary actions should follow a meticulous due process created sense of despair about confronting sexual harassment.  People in leadership positions in some cases resigned their jobs rather than try to deal with it.

One organization obtained some foundation grants to do a study on how harassment cases were handled to see if it could identify the best methods of resolution.  It assembled panels of people who were knowledgeable and experienced in due process to review the records of cases to determine how carefully and effectively procedures were followed, the kinds of misconduct charged, and the appropriateness of the resolution of the cases.   I was asked to serve on a review panel.

For about half of the cases, there was no question that harassment or assault had occurred.  The resolutions ranged from corrective actions to dismissal.

The other half of the cases were an incredible mess to sort through.  Many involved things said to women that men said they did not say.  Or that women took as sexual when they were not, according to the men.  The complaints came at a time when academe was in retrenchment, promotion and tenure was scarce, and the competition for tenure and advancement was fierce.  Many complaints were made by women and other men against rivals for advancement.  An accusation of sexually aggressive behavior could take a person out of the competition, it was thought at some institutions.  

A significant number of the cases were not matters of sexual harasssment, but arose from personal animosities, much like the case  I cited above. They were treated as sexual harassment largely because both genders were involved and administrators used the sexual harassment designation to move the problems to someone else's responsibility. For the panels reviewing the cases, the files reflected a record of how vile and unscrupulous people can be and to what depths of behavior they can sink when in competition with others.  An example was a case of two professors, one male and one female, who had a history of detesting each other for years.  The case became a sexual harassment issue when the female professor complained about her department being dominated by old, white men.  The male professor said it was unfortunate that advancing age  and declining sexual interest limited the opportunity to screw your way into a job you weren't qualified to hold in the first place.   Reading those case files back then was like reading Donald Tump's tweets now.  They were illustrations of the petty treacheries that characterize the culture of some institutions. 

The panels concluded that the cases where sexual harassment was established as fact were undercut by the cases where was doubt or differences of opinion about what had actually occurred.  They also concluded that all parties, both the accused and accuser, deserved the full application of due process.

Of the current accusations,  the ones in Minnesota involving Garrison Keillor and Al Franken emphasize  the need for due process in which facts, evidence, and witnesses get thorough examination.  Minnesota Public Radio went excessively ballistic in its eradication of Keillor, to the point that indicates that some maliciously resentful souls were waiting for some pretext to vaporize him.  Keillor seems to know who his accuser is, at least.  Franken who has apologized for any potential offense he created is in a situation where he doesn't know his accusers, except the first one, and does not remember the occasions,  which involve him posing for photographs with the accusers.  The Senate Ethics Panel has convened its inquiry, as Franken has requested, and the accusers, Franken, and the public all deserve the full application of due process with the examination of evidence and witnesses.

A detailed explanation of the standards of due process can be reviewed by clicking this sentence.   It explains how universities are expected to handle sexual harassment complaints and which can be instituted in other settings.  It's a matter of justice for all.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Al Franken gets caught with his skits down

Al Franken revived a boob routine and it fell flat

Those of us ancient enough to remember Minsky's recognized burlesque routine in the photo of Al Franken about to make an adjustment with Leeann Tweeden's knobs.  Hooters,  boobs, knockers, the human female mammaries referred to in some way were the focus of many comedy routines in the old burlesque houses of which Minsky's was a chain..  The lines that would be said with the routine recreated by Franken could be any such as,
  • "Stand by.  I'm about to turn it on."
  • "I'll keep tuning; I think I'm getting Hong Kong."
  • "Let's see if we can get the news."
  • "How much do you have to turn 'em to get the eyes open?"
  • And on and on.
Burlesque houses featured strip-tease acts, but also vaudeville and comedy routines.  Many famous comedians honed their comic skills in burlesque theaters.  The kinds of shows that were featured in burlesque houses found a lucrative home in  Las Vegas in later years.  

Burlesque is a form of parody that often descends into crudeness.    It strips away the pretenses of humankind and puts on display the things that motivate it.  Satire is a mode of exposing the phony and the oppressive, and it often leads to a higher sensibility.  An example is illustrated through the career of Richard Pryor.  One of his best known and best selling routines was recorded in an album called  "That Nigger's Crazy."  Black comedians used the N-word as a parodic way of reflecting the minds of white bigots.  But as Pryor realized how much blacks were hurt by use of the word,  he vowed to stop using it in his later years.

I don't know about the kissing part of the accusations against Al Franken, but I recognize an old routine whose time is gone.  A woman's body is not a stage prop and the time when anyone can get by using it that way is gone.  We are dealing with the process of extending equal rights and respect.  In his apology to Ms. Tweeden, Franken acknowledged that.  But maybe too late.  There seems to be more interest in banishing Franken than in the working on a just society.

The Rialto in Chicago, long gone, was a Minsky burlesque theater.  While it featured striptease, it also featured elaborate costumes and dances and classic comedy routines.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why you may not have noticed that America ended

We tend to forget and ignore those voices that have thought democracy cannot work.  But after the election of Donald Trump as president, those voices have taken on a new relevance.  Whereas the  U.S. was once held up as the living proof that democracy, although messy and cumbersome, can work,  since the reign of Donald Trump it is held up as evidence that it doesn't.

While thinkers have probed the weakness of the democratic ideal since Plato, one of the most commanding voices to express doubt about the efficacy of democracy was Thomas Carlyle's.  He said:

I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
Democracy will prevail when men believe the vote of Judas as good as that of Jesus Christ.
Published 2016
A book published last year by a Georgetown professor is one of the latest examinations of why democracy is not the blessing we like to think it is.   Jason Brennan contends:

But democracy is the rule of the ignorant and the irrational, and it all too often falls short. Furthermore, no one has a fundamental right to any share of political power, and exercising political power does most of us little good. On the contrary, a wide range of social science research shows that political participation and democratic deliberation actually tend to make people worse—more irrational, biased, and mean.
The election of Donald Trump, after a campaign of displaying all the traits that are the opposite of the values our country once professed, proved Brennan's point.  Irrational rejection of science,  lying, defamation, and most expressions of debased character became the operating principles of the nation.   After Trump's constant exposure, the people who voted for him were either knowingly voting for his degenerate values or were too stupid to know what they were doing. That has caused a split in the American people which cannot be reconciled because it is not a political divide:   it is a split over basic values of decency.

After winning some elections Tuesday throughout the nation,  Democrats are claiming a resurgence and a reunification.  They do so with a foolish disregard of their own turmoil.  The contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has produced a strain of hatred for Hillary Clinton that parallels the malice and mindless rage of Trump's defamations against her.   Many Democrats are repulsed and dismayed by this fall into degradation and choose to disassociate themselves from those who indulge in it.

And that leads to the status of Democrats in South Dakota.   I have written many times about the diminishing number of Democrats I noted when  I was the keeper of the list of most active party members.  While attrition, including moving out of state, accounted for much of the loss, there was a significant number of people who simply dropped out of active participation.  In some cases, people told me that the social experiences and treatment they received at Democratic functions was not something they wanted to put up with.  These experiences were connected with the tactics and internal manipulations by people within the party.  When people within a party display conniving and mean-girl behavior,  they call into question the integrity of the party as a whole.  And this not only drives people away from the party, but it calls into question all political activity.  People give up on politics as a degrading experience.

South Dakota's voter registration figures illustrate the trend.  In the chart below the Republicans comprise 46 percent of the voters, the Democrats 30 percent, and independent-non-affiliated 22 percent.  While the Republicans have added voters,  as the Democratic rolls have diminished, the largest surge is in the independent registrations.  

Current Statewide Voter Registration Totals
DemocratRepublicanConstitutionLibertarianNPA/IND*Other**Total Active VotersTotal Inactive Voters
Tuesday's elections were considered referendums on Trump.  The Democrats should not be so foolish as to consider a rejection of Trump as a success of their party, when they often display the same kind of behavior as Trump and the GOP does.  

Increasing numbers of voters are repulsed by the entire political enterprise as it has been conducted of late, and the Democrats have contributed to the growing perception that democracy as it is practiced is not working.  People who do politics are perceived as not very nice people--ignorant, irrational, biased, and mean.  

There are alternatives to Democrats and Republicans, and informed people are exploring them.  Brennan suggests "epistocracy" which means governing by the knowledgeable.  American democracy has lost the belief and trust it once had.  The election of Trump has proven that Americans are as susceptible to moral and intellectual failure as the Germans of the 1930s.  American democracy, as we have come to understand it, is going out of business.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The general doubt

It's an old joke from the era of the draft, but it has particular relevance in this time of generals in the president's cabinet.

The recently drafted slick-sleeve walks by his  post commander, a general,  and does not salute.  The general calls him to a halt and stands him at attention for a dressing down.       
"Do you know who I am, soldier?" the general bellows.        
"Nope," the draftee replies.      
 "Do you see all these buildings, these weapons, and all the troops on this   post?           
"Well, none of them do anything unless I say that they do it. And they do  everything I tell them to.  I control everything on this post. That's my job."        
"You've got a good deal, man," said the recruit.  "Don't fuck it up."
Some generals have shown major talents for fucking up.  Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn who was trusted to be made director of the Defense Intelligence Agency  under President Obama and then Security Adviser to Trump turned out to be an intelligence double-dealer.  It is widely anticipated that the Special Counsel will prosecute him for his betrayals.

But then comes along John Kelly, a Lt. General of the Marines, who Trump appointed to director of Homeland Security and after six months to his Chief of Staff.  A Gold Star father, whose son was killed when he stepped on a land mine, Kelly was expected to bring some order and discipline to the White House.  However, when Trump got into a tiff with a U.S. Representive over how he handled a phone call to the wife of a special operations soldier killed on a mission, Kelly said some derogatory things about the representative.  He said she made a speech in Miami during the dedication of a new FBI facility in which she claimed credit for the building.  A Florida TV station had a video tape of her speech which shows that she said none of the things of which Kelly accused her.  

After the news media played the video on news shows,  Kelly refused to admit his error.  He said he would not apologize and would stand by his words.  That changed him from a chief of staff and ex=general who might have been mistaken into a liar.  And the lie was maintained against proof and with malice,  which makes Kelly a libeler.  Libel is the major tool in the GOP bag of trips.  But when generals who make the decisions about the lives of the troops and the welfare of the nation are proven to be betrayers, liars, and libelers,  we have serious reason to question if they capable of protecting the nation,  as they have become the kind of people we wish to protect the nation against.  

The one thing Flynn and Kelly have taught is that there is no honor in being a general.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

When a truly rotten person is elected president

He was retired, but had been a top commercial bank executive in Chicago.  He had also been on the boards of cultural organizations and had over time been president of an opera company, an art museum, and a library. He was often consulted about business and civic ventures.

I met him at my brother's house when he was staying there.  We often talked about his work with the cultural organizations.  We had a common interest in the buildings in Chicago designed by architect Louis Sullivan. But when he found out I had been the business editor of a newspaper, he pumped me for stories about some of the shady characters I had encountered.   In his work as a banker, he developed a concern about deceptive business characters and schemes and pondered writing a book about them.

We were discussing architecture that detracted from a city.  Donald Trump's name came up, and the retired banker got very animated. He told me how much Trump was detested by the Chicago business community for his inanely petty and juvenile character, his unscrupulous business practices, and his "whorehouse renaissance" taste in architecture.  He said he and his associates avoided any association with Trump and tried to discourage any Trump business ventures in Chicago.  Trump was deeply despised and business leaders thought he gave business a bad name.

Trump Towers in Chicago with its name obscured by golden pigs.

My banker acquaintance has passed on, but mutual acquaintances say his fervor against having anything to do with Donald Trump lives on in the business community.  A group of architects with the support of other business drew up plans to have huge balloons gilded and floated in front of Trump Towers in Chicago for a day of protest.   The City denied them a license, but plans are still in the works for next year.

The opposition to Trump in Chicago was demonstrated when he canceled a campaign rally on the University of Illinois=Chicago campus.  

The opposition to his building reflects opposition to his politics.  But budiness people in Chicago oppose him because they think he is a vile person who they do not want as part of Chicago business.  

Most Trump voters say they supported him because of his business expertise.  But real business people revile him for his fraud, his overall dishonesty,  his bilking of contractors, and his many failures in business.  

The people who elected him president had no notion of who he really is, but what happens to the country was their choice.  

Monday, October 23, 2017

The retired lieutenant general discharged himself dishonorably

The making of a three-star liar

As a general  [pun alert!] rule, I am not impressed with people who hold the top military ranks.  That is largely because of what I learned about them in the Army.  At the time, the Commander in Chief was Dwight Eisenhower,  and many of the cadre in the unit  i was in were veterans of World War II and Korea.  They generally held Eisenhower in high regard.  There were other generals that they spoke of with great respect.  They had doubts about some others, like Patton.  And they regarded many as useless.  A man who held most of the highest decorations for service, made it to the rank of sergeant major, eventually was busted down to corporal because of alcoholism, summed up the attitude of experienced soldiers:  a few generals earn their rank because they are smart, know what they are doing,  and work hard,  but most of them get there because they suck hard.

When Trump larded his cabinet with CEOs and generals,  the uninitiated into the ways of business and the military thought he was appointing people who could get things done.  
What he was doing was choosing people who could put on the trappings of authority and do what they are told.  As we are reminded, when Harry Truman fired General MacArthur, Generals are not to go off on their own and dispute the policies of the Commander in Chief.  On the other hand,  the president needs men who insist upon hard facts and competently assessed intelligence to advise him while he is formulating policy,  and who can then competently carry them out.  Generals do not have to be servile lackeys to their commander-in-chief, but Trump's generals seem adept at playing that role.

Trump's current disinformation team makes Baghdad Bob look like a boy scout.

When Gen. Kelly appeared at the White House daily briefing to defend Trump's telephone call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson,  he used two tactics that has become standard procedure in the White House with Trump.
1.  He made a personal attack to discredit and defame Rep.
Fredrica Wilson, who reported on the tenor of Trump's call to the press.
2.  He out-and-out lied about a speech Rep. Wilson made during the dedication of an FBI building in 2010.

In his presentation, Gen. Kelly's ploy was terribly dishonest and stupid.  It did not take long for  the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper to come up with video of Rep. Wilson's speech which proved Gen. Kelly to be a liar.  His lie, furthermore, was told with malicious intent, meeting the definition of deliberate libel.  

It did not take long for the fact-checkers to detail the extent of Kelly's libel.  
When the chief of staff of a U.S. president uses a news conference to publicly lie to the American people, the occasion marks how far a country that was once regarded as the leader of democratic virtues has sunk into the dystopian state that Orwell envisioned in 1984.

Kelly's act of character assassination is a rejection of the basic ideals for which America once stood.  And he has brought the country down to a level that it is no longer a place to which one wants to pledge allegiance.   Unless, of course, the resistance rises up and restores the integrity of America.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States