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

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Fake news by any other name is lies

Fergus Falls, near the Dakota borders
The town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, is recovering from a bad case of journalistic malpractice.  At the time of Trump's inauguration, the German magazine Der Spiegel dispatched a star reporter to go to the U.S. heartland and do a story on the rural Americans who supported Trump.  He picked Fergus Falls as his focal point and did a story that was published in March 2017.  The story was defamatory about the town, and nearly everything in it was made up.  Some community members took up the task of setting the facts straight and published a detailed fact check.  The reporter was fired.

The incident illustrates what happens when a reporter abandons the essential rules of professional journalism and uses a mass medium to advance a viewpoint rather than carefully report the facts.  Fortunately, the same freedom of the press that makes it possible for a reporter to publish false defamations  enabled two citizens of Fergus Falls to publish a corrective that counteracted the misinformation.  In doing so they also took a major action in bolstering the integrity of the press.  But the lies reported as facts decay the public trust in journalistic reports and disorient the ability to discern facts.

Donald Trump constantly accuses the media of fake news.  A long-time editor who has covered Trump's biography over the years has said part of that comes from Trump's assumption that all enterprises are as fraudulent as his.  He is incapable of understanding human enterprises based upon truth or why honesty must be the foundation of any beneficent human endeavor.  Lies are a lethal cancer to human society.  Trump's infantile mind is so ego-bound that he can't see any point to human good let alone grasp what contributes to it.

Journalism is the nervous system of democracy.  It alerts the people to when the democratic processes go awry.  Just as the human body sends no constant signals when matters are going well, journalism does not keep an outpouring of "good news."  But when the body malfunctions, it lets us know.  That's why a prominent aspect of journalism is bad news; it is letting us know when something in the democracy is not working right.  When a journalist sends a false alarm, it has a very disruptive and destructive effect on democratic life.  It disorients us as to what is true and what is not.

Unfortunately, there are journalists who send false alarm signals.  I worked with one.  She was a journalist who spent 30 days in jail for contempt of court when she refused to reveal the source of a court document on which she based a story about bribery in a Colorado court system.  She gained fame throughout the nation, and was alleged to have made the cover of Life magazine.  (I have searched the Life archives and could find no such issue.)  Shortly after serving her sentence, she came to a newspaper in my community for which I once worked in the sports department.  She left that paper and worked as a features writer for my home town paper and was working there when I got a job as its farm and business editor.  I and some other of her fellow journalists noted some problems with the accuracy and veracity of her work.

A notable occasion was when she wrote a story that a gambling syndicate  was operating in our rural areas and sponsoring cock and dog fights where heavy betting took place.  She took a picture of a farm at which cars were parked in a field and at the side of the nearby road.  She claimed in the story that she was not allowed admittance to the barn where the events were taking place but interviewed people coming and going who told her what was going on.  She did not, however, identify where the farm was and the photograph that she used to illustrate her story was of the cars parked in the foreground with farm buildings showing in the background.  

One of the cars in the picture was a white Dodge station wagon with a discernible license plate.  It was the company car assigned to me.  I pointed the photo out to the editor's secretary whose job it was to coordinate the use of cars.  When I wasn't out traveling around and would be in the office not using the car,  I turned the keys in to her so that other reporters or photographers could use it for their assignments.  We referred to the company vehicles by the last two numbers of their license plates.  My assigned car was 67.  So, there was number 67 shown being parked at a farm one Saturday afternoon where the story said people gathered to bet on cock fights and dog fights.  

I was at this farm doing a story which ran in the farm section the day after the story about illegal animal fights and gambling ran.  I was covering a 4-H event.  The farm belonged to a family very active in 4-H work.  They were hosting a workshop at which specialists from the university college of agriculture and extension service were instructing kids on handling and grooming farm animals they would be showing at county fairs and 4-H shows over the summer.  It was a huge event to which the kids hauled their project animals and were provided a barbecue picnic by 4-H sponsors.

The editor's secretary and I pondered how the feature writer came up with the animal-fighting and gambling story.  We were left pondering, but the secretary, of course, pointed out the conflicts to the editor.

He was confronted with a problem.  The reporter who had been jailed for refusing to reveal a source brought attention to the papers at which she worked.  They could claim they had a "star" on their staff.  But if that "star" was found to make stories up, the publicity could be very damaging to the paper.  If the family who hosted the 4-H workshop recognized that a photo of their farm was used to show the site of a gambling racket, they could sue the paper, which could cost money, and. worse, could damage the reputation of the newspaper.  The editor realized that if a correction were published in the newspaper, it would call attention to the matter.  He chose the option of hoping that the gambling story would soon be forgotten and the problem would wither away in the memory of the readership.

The paper continued to promote and support the feature writer.  She was one of the reasons I left journalism.  Other editors and reporters, including me, were dismayed that we worked hard to dig out and verify facts and strove to be accurate and reliable, and created the journalistic platform on which the feature writer could perform her fraudulent act.  At one point, seven of we younger reporters and editors took out an ad in Editor and Publisher, the professional journal, to advertise that we were available for jobs.  Most of them found other jobs.  I took advantage of the GI Bill and went to graduate school.  

I ended up teaching English and journalism.  At a conference for journalists, I met an editor who worked in Colorado and knew the feature editor when she worked there.  He said that despite the fame she earned for refusing to reveal her source, other journalists who worked with her wondered if she had a source.  She did not have a good reputation among other journalists, and left Colorado shortly after she served her 30 days in jail.  He pointed out that the governor and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to revoke her sentence, and her job history was one of moving from a large newspaper to increasingly smaller ones.  She had gained fame for standing up for a principle of journalism, but her actual work did not adhere to the principles of truth, accuracy, and integrity.  Her colleague from Colorado said that while the woman was lauded for her courage in protecting an alleged source, nobody else in journalism had the courage to point out that she was a damned liar.  And that included the paper I worked for.

It is noteworthy that the two people who took responsibility to correct the facts in the Der Spiegel article about Fergus Falls are not journalists, but people who care about the damage that lies do to the community and the people around them.  The biggest source of lies pervading the media currently is Donald Trump, and the media soft-pedals his lies by terming them "misleading" or "without foundation."  We've reached a point where the nation is divided between his supporters who deny and want  to believe the lies of Trump and those who realize that these people are the vectors of a disease that is deteriorating all the benefits of a democracy.  

Those folks in Fergus Falls have the courage and the intelligence to call a lie a lie and show why it is a lie.  That is what real news is.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Trump gives a us a daily insight into how some CEOs think and work

I have written before about how badly Trump has been thought of by the honest business community.  A retired commercial banker and I were discussing the problems of sorting honest and competent CEOs from the sleazy and pretentious.  I faced the problems as a business editor who had to decide what to write about them; him as a banker who had to decide whether to lend them money.  Grifters and scammers were not difficult to identify and dismiss.  The real problems were sleaze who held executive positions in established companies.  The banker had an easier time of it with them, because he could turn down their loan requests, and his employer would laud him for being careful with the bank's money.  I faced the problem of possessing information about some CEOs which was matters of bad character, sometimes in gravely dangerous ways.  

A factor back when I was part of the working press was the way libel laws were applied.  Libel laws have been created and given precedents with a special partiality shown business.  However, back then  libel was a fairly straightforward matter.  If something was published about an individual that was negative and untrue, it was libelous and damages were assumed.  Truth was the defense against a charge of libel.  But what is true had to be backed up with witnesses and documentation.  Business reporters often have inside sources, but those sources want to remain confidential so they won't lose their jobs.  So, even if one had confirmed and verified information about misdeeds of a CEO, his accusers would not publicly allow their names to be used as witnesses.  The CEO could file a libel suit, and no witnesses would be available to testify.  As a professional code, reporters do not reveal confidential sources, but neither do they print news that cannot be backed up with identified sources.  Recently, with Trump, however, the media are quoting unidentified sources more and more to inform the people of how corrupt their government has become.

I covered CEOs who were upstanding and honorable and ran their companies with a respect for their employees and their customers. I also covered many who were absolute sleaze bags.  To them, their customers were gulls to be fooled and ripped off.  They regarded their employees as expendable serfs.  Their companies were run with a culture of fear and deception.  They were all about power and using it to control those under them.

One characteristic of the sleazy CEOs is that they create images of themselves and their companies that are total fabrications.  The live by the rule that you are what you appear to be, so they devote themselves to the image they project.

When such CEOs listed their accomplishments, they did not hold up under fact-checking.  They appropriated the accomplishments of their employees and called them their own.  Honest CEOs credited their employees.  But the sleaze bags ferreted out those employees who depended upon being puppets for the boss to get ahead, and promoted them to key positions.  Employees with talent and ability were exploited, but kept in low-level positions under the schemes of the executive team.  When those employees realized the nature of the outfit they were working for, they usually started looking for jobs elsewhere.  Some found ways to call attention to their achievements and ways to circumvent the executive staff.  Those that left, however, would unload to the press and anyone else willing to listen about the oppressive conditions of the company they left.

A big question about CEOs is how they obtain the millions and millions in salary and bonuses and is what they do anywhere near worth it?  Corporations are feudal in nature. The operating principle in many of them is the same as that of a feudal estate.  The estate is headed by a lord of the manor who has authority over every thing, living and none living, on the estate.  Feudal estates and corporations were conceived to deny liberty and equality as conditions of life.  The head of the estate lives in luxury while those under him live according to his whim.

CEOs of those kind of corporations are shameless liars.  They lie to avoid blame, avoid responsibility for their actions, and to keep the corporation in a state of confusion.  Their objective is to monopolize wealth and power for themselves and keep their underlings in a state of obsequious dependence.  When questioned about what they have accomplished to deserve their salaries and bonuses, they quickly point to the achievements of those below them and take full, personal credit for them.  The are responsible only to their boards of directors and shareholders who are kept happy by sharing in the corporate wealth.   Their customers are regarded as sheep to be fleeced, their employees as servants to be controlled, and the communities in which they operate as geography to be exploited, and often polluted.

 No word of the sleaze CEOs can be believed or trusted.  They assemble around them as their chief assistants a gaggle of sycophants whose major talent is sucking and supporting the boss and intimidating any employees who challenge their word.  Although the lying is a reflection of the absence of character and principle in the executives, it has the practical effect of keeping the employees disoriented so that they just keep their heads down and do their work.  This executive arrangement is often indicated by companies who provide lavish bonuses to their executives without any explanation of what they did to earn them.  They protect and reward each other through a bond of perfidy.  They follow the same methods of control used by organized crime syndicates.

Private corporations can keep their perfidious nature relatively secret through threats and intimidation, but when this arrangement is applied to the White House which is under constant scrutiny by a free press, a daily deluge of leaks informs the nation about the incompetence and perfidy of the executives.

The Trump Organization is one of the sleaze companies, and Trump brought its unscrupulous and conniving dishonesty to the White House.  The degradation in which Trump operates is common to a section of corporations.  

There are ethical corporations which strive for quality in their products and services, in respect of their employees, and in their contributions to community,  but there are companies which expend huge amounts of money on public relations campaigns which cover up their predatory and perfidious modes of operation.

Willful ignorance and a fascination with totalitarian and criminal life among the American people has brought the nation to the point where it is ruled according to the dictates of a crime mob boss.  Americans have fixed on the stories of The Godfather and The Sopranos with uncritical admiration for the lifestyle.  To many, the denial of democratic principles of liberty, equality, and justice is something they regard with admiration.  When Trump exhibited the characteristics of a mob boss, characteristics common to most of "reality television," many watched with assent and applause.  Over a third of the people, according to opinion polls, express approval of Trump and his crime syndicate way of operating. If contestants did not meet his notions of obedience, he dismissed them with a blunt "you're fired."  It was uttered with the same spirit as a mob boss ordering "get rid" of the person.  

Since that retired banker from Chicago told me of how Trump was detested by his business associates in the mid-1980s, I have never heard a positive word about Donald Trump.  There have been somewhat neutral reports about his enterprises, but they all had back stories about his business failures and bankruptcies, about his stiffing of contractors and customers, and about his cheating lifestyle.  

Since Trump became president,  reports about his insidious foolery are are a daily part of the news.  He has attempted to diminish the reports by dismissing them as fake news and whining about the unfairness of the press.  In one aspect his term "fake news" is accurate because it is news about his fakery.  The news does seem to be critical, but reporters are hard pressed to find one act of Trump's that demonstrates decency, let alone can inspire admiration.  The only person that extolls his virtues is Trump.  

A few decades ago, corporate executives complained that the public was critical and diffident about business corporations.  Corporations launched a public relations blitz extolling the contributions of business and creating an image of corporate beneficence.  The blitz was effective to a lot of uncritical minds, as it tried to make it unpatriotic to be critical of corporations.  Many Americans have come to regard the business community as medieval serfs regarded their lords and masters:  they think they owe their livelihoods to the company and should live in a state of obsequious gratitude.  The people who support Trump are perpetual serfs who cannot grasp that democracy is an antidotes to the feudal state in which they choose to live.  They see Trump, a person defined by a total rottenness, as a lord and savior because he has wealth and power.  They do not see that democracy is a corrective to the inherent corruption that drives people to acquire that kind of wealth and power.  They hope that their submission will inspire their lords and masters to throw some morsels of wealth and power their way and allow them to live.  The American revolution and the consequent evolution of democratic personhood has not touched their minds yet.

Trump has put on display the folly and treachery that exists in some corporations, which chafe under a government of democratic principle.  To them democracy is an obstacle to be defeated, if possible.  And almost every action by CEO Trump is intended to accomplish that defeat.

If America survives Trump as a republican democracy, it will be because the people perceived what a menace he and other CEOs who pose as monarchs really are to their lives.

That distinction is not between Republican and Democrat.  It is between living as a serf and freeman.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Mike Rounds shows the feds how South Dakota corruption works

A Sioux Falls lawyer who the American Bar Association deemed "not qualified" has been given a lifetime appointment as a federal Judge.  He made history when for the first time in the nation's history, the Vice President cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to confirm a judge.

The judge is Jonathan Kobes, Sen. Mike Rounds' general counsel.  In corrupt regimes, it is typical to give unqualified people big jobs, because they have a debt of gratitude to the people who put them in the jobs.  (Brown County seems to be a case in point.)  The American Bar Association rated Kobes as not qualified because he hadn't demonstrated "the requisite experience nor evidence of his ability to fulfill the scholarly writing required of a United States Circuit Court Judge." 

Another aspect of the corruption is the movement spurred by Trump to turn the judiciary into a political arm to enforce the policies and prejudices of the party in power.  Judges are not nominated because of their record of judicial impartiality and competence, but because of partisan beliefs and demonstrated obedience to the politicians who sponsor them.    And so, a fellow deemed "not qualified" by his fellow attorneys is appointed to a lifetime position on the bench,

CBS News carries the full story.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

One democracy dead, 49 more to go, as the GOP executes the nation

As happened in the state of Wisconsin this week, democracy is being put to death.

When one notes that democracy is under threat in America, there are those who will proclaim that the United States was never a democracy, but a republic.  Most students of the United States point out that a republic is a method of administering a democracy through electing representatives to make and debate the legislation that runs the democracy.  Those who deny that America is a democracy are playing on the distinction between a direct democracy, through which the people are given a voice and a vote on every decision, and a republic in which the voters authorize someone to represent them in making the governmental decisions.  The idea in the republican form of democracy is that the voters hold their representatives accountable to them and in check through their votes.  But those who insist that America is a republic, not a democracy, are speaking in defense of elected representatives who act as despots, not as participants in a democracy.  

The Republican Party has become stridently anti-democratic.  It has implemented a number of ploys to nullify the votes of the majority.  The obvious evidence is that the current president holds that office despite the fact that he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes.  The party is not interested in democratic processes, but is devoted to the acquisition of power so that it may discriminate against and oppress people it does not like.  It has adopted the hate speech of Rush Limbaugh as its moral code.   That code is essentially the same one that was the foundation on which gas ovens were built.

The GOP has worked for decades at gerrymandering.  The difference it makes can be analyzed in North Carolina, which the Chicago Tribune reports, "Despite an almost even split in the popular vote, North Carolina's congressional delegation remained overwhelmingly Republican under a map drawn by the GOP."  South Dakota districts have been drawn by the GOP legislatures to achieve the same purpose, so that Democratic votes within the state are effectively nullified.

The other tool used by the GOP is voter suppression,  in which racial groups are targeted with laws and rules that make voting difficult.  The cases of voter suppression in the recent election were numerous.

But when the election is over and Democrats have won elections, the GOP has a new ploy.  That is for the lame duck legislatures to pass laws that greatly hamper and diminish the incoming administrations in doing their jobs.  Wisconsin is a case in point.  After Gov. Scott Walker, who has used his office to undermine workers in his state, lost his seat to the Democrat superintendent of public instruction, his GOP minions in the state legislature passed laws to take away the powers of the incoming governor and attorney general.  Walker used his power to undermine the working people in his state, but his band of cronies now have passed laws that prevent the new governor from restoring the rights taken away from working people. 

Wisconsin was once a state that carefully enforced the rights of working people to be free from control by corporate autocracy.  Gov. Walker undid all that.  After taking office, he quickly revoked the rights of state employees to collectively bargain and took measures to make Wisconsin a feudal estate.  The voters realized the direction Walker was pushing the state into, and they voted him out of office.  Then his legislative cohorts went into action:

The GOP will use its power to enact last-minute laws to hurt Democratic constituencies and make it harder for Democrats to win power; if they somehow do, Republicans strip them of authority or prevent them from governing.
In denying the decision made by voters, the GOP has strongly asserted its anti-democratic policy.  It acts under the assumption that a republic gives despotic and criminally inclined leaders the power and the right to cancel the vote of the people. 

South Dakota's legislature has already subverted the will of the people.  In 2016, the people voted for an anti-corruption measure.  Three months later, the legislature counter-manded it.  With that action, the legislature took a major step toward making South Dakota an anti-democratic state.

Wisconsin is following the same kind of procedure.  However, Wisconsin has already taken actions to make it a dead democracy.  North Carolina and Michigan are working out the same plans to abolish democracy.

South Dakota has been on life support as a democracy for some time, and the voter registrations indicate that the people are resigned to being returned to the status of serfs in a feudal state.

The GOP has effectively killed democracy in Wisconsin.  The executions of democracy in North Carolina and Michigan are currently being scheduled.  Democracy in South Dakota is so feeble that it will die of its own volition.

Unless, of course, people decide they want the freedoms, the equality, and the justice commensurate with a true democracy.  Voting does not change anything, because the GOP has contrived to nullify it.  To see where the people can assert a demand for the benefits of democracy, we must look to the Yellow Vest movement in France and other European countries, and to some moments in America's past.

In the past two years we have seen some massive resistance  in our streets, but the demonstrations have been peaceful and have been dismissed as ineffectual exercises.  You want democracy?  You will have to abandon words and voting as the means to obtain it.  You may have to put on a yellow vest, mama.  Save the red dress for when you can celebrate an actual democracy.

Otherwise,  keep a black dress for its funeral.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

George H. W. Bush came to Northern State one day

It was November 9, 1987, a year before the next presidential election.  There was much speculation about who the Republicans would run to replace Ronald Reagan, whose second term was drawing to an end.  Vice President George Bush had announced his candidacy and was endorsed by Reagan.  But some aggressive competition for the GOP nomination also announced, led by Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, and included  Pat Robertson, televangelist from Virginia, Jack Kemp, U.S. representative from New York, and Pierre S. du Pont, IV, former governor of Delaware.

This was an exciting time for the staff members of the student newspaper, as they would be working side-by-side with reporters and photographers from the national media.  The process of the campaign for an incumbent vice president was intriguing to them.  They covered the horde of secret service members who came in advance, the unloading of the vice presidential limousine from the huge cargo plane, and the deployment of the agents throughout the city.  The meeting was in the ball room of the Student Union, which was packed.  I left a class, from which I had gathered a paper assignment and went directly to the Union.  I had to stand patiently by the doorway while secret service agents shuffled through the books and papers in my brief case.  I found a seat across the room from my oldest daughter's elementary school class, who came to see a living vice president of the 

Vice President Bush devoted most of his talk to issues of education.  He certainly engaged the interests of the constituents who came to see him.

But therein lies an irony.  In the election that followed a year later, the residents of Brown County, which now is reliably Republican,   voted for the Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis.  Nevertheless, the state and the nation voted overwhelmingly for George Bush.

Friday, November 30, 2018

America has changed. How many can face up to it?

South Dakota dwells at the bottom of most statistical measurements of quality of life, such as average salaries, affordability of education, health care, etc.  But it seems to be the bellwether for the U.S. retreat into antebellum conservatism.   By antebellum conservatism, I am referring to the revival of pre-Civil War conditions of human life as a social objective.  A racism which advocates the denigration and oppression of minorities is a constant.   South Dakota often competes with Mississippi for first place in financial, cultural, and social impoverishment.

Liberty, equality, and justice, which includes freedom from corruption, have been voted down in the Dakotas.  Ten years ago, the U. S. congressional delegations from North and South Dakota seem to offer equal chances for both Republicans and Democrats to hold offices.  In fact,15 years ago the congressional seats in both states were held by Democrats.  Today, the election of a Democrat in a statewide race in either of the Dakota's seems impossible.  Heidi Heitkamp may have been the last person in the Dakotas to run as a Democrat in a statewide election and get elected.  But this month, she was not re-eledted.  As Stephanie Herseth Sandlin did in South Dakota before her, she  adopted a "moderate" political stance to appease the conservative streak that Dakotans cling to.  The problem, as they both found out, is that conservatives won't settle for a tepid conservatism, and the liberal base doesn't see any difference between such a candidate and a conservative one.  Many liberals feel betrayed by such a stance.  A liberal candidate has little statistical chance in the Dakotas.  The Republican voter registrations far outnumber the Democrats.

Alleged political strategists keep coming up with a bit of advice to Democrats if they wish to be viable in the Dakotas. That advice is to offer more appeal to the voters, which means aping the GOP, offering more of what the Republicans appeal to.  As the winning GOP campaigns in the 2018 elections have demonstrated, what has appealed to the majority of voters in the Dakotas is tolerance for corruption (it can make you rich),  voter suppression of the tribal nations, and politicians who make blatantly dishonest  and malicious statements about their opponents.  Dakotans really like that kind of behavior in their preferred leaders.  A large number of Americans do, too.  That is why Trump is president.  It is not credible that the people who voted for him did not know what kind of person he is.

In North Dakota, a law was passed by the GOP legislature that voters had to show a photo id with their residential address on it.  As the reservations where Native Americans are not laid out in a grid  numbered and named streets and roads, their ids do not list a street address.  So, they were not considered qualified to vote.  Although, the native nations took measures to address the problem, the logistics for doing so were formidable, and many were unable to vote.

South Dakota enacts its oppression by refusing to establish polling places that make it easier for those Native Americans who live in remote locations to vote.

In justifying their refusals to accommodate the indigenous populations, both states repeat the Trumpian lie about voter fraud.   People accept these lies.  They prefer them to the actual facts, which refute them.  Trump lies and makes accusations that have no basis in fact.  His voice speaks to and for the 63 million people who voted for him.  They make up falsehoods to justify their prejudices and hatreds.  And they act upon them as if they were facts.

It is hard for even those who oppose bigotry and fascism that America is being dominated by those who engage in the very kind of thoughts and deeds we fought against in World War II.  With its prophets such as Limbaugh and Trump and their political agents in the U. S. House and Senate, the advocates of malice toward all but themselves represent what America has become.

Hate crimes have increased by 17 percent since 2016.  We have a mass shooting almost every week in America.  But there are those who call for moderation, who say we should not see the political opposition as enemies, but should regard them as neighbors who just have different political opinions.  In a nation led by a man whose every utterance is an expression of  malice, and whose minions connive to suppress the vote, defame people of color and shoot unarmed people down in the streets, it is like saying we should accept with grace any invitations we get to the gas oven.  The world has been here before.

The first problem is to face up to what, in fact, America has become.   The 2018 elections have provided a chance to change the direction of the country.  But now, we are warned against investigating Trump and his disciples too aggressively.  We might offend and cause a backlash from our neighbors.  That is a denial of what and who is in possession of America. The Trumpets are not going to be influenced by extensions of good will, by facts, or reason.

Germany of the 1930s gives us a social map of what happens when good people accommodate evil.  How many Americans have the intellectual honesty and the courage to face up to what America has become?  Because if there is anything in America worth saving, they are the ones who must do it.

Or will we follow South Dakota into the gas oven?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Screwing the pooch and other Brown County priorities

Brown County, South Dakota, the proud home of an EB-5 scandal in which millions of dollars disappeared and were never accounted for and for which a state economic development official allegedly committed suicide, is not going to give up its reputation for SNAFUing without a struggle.  Last month the County Commission expressed concern over $9,000 in late fees the county was charged for making late deposits in regard to the county payroll.  At the time, the commissioners said they were going to have a state auditor define what the problem was.  This month the state auditor told them:

The first fee was $686 for a late remittance to the U.S. Department of Treasury by the auditor’s office, Russ Olson, a state auditor, told commissioners last week. 
The other two penalties were for $4,525 and $4,193 for failing to make payments to the state retirement system on time, Olson said. He added that somebody involved in the process probably wasn’t told about the consequences of missing payment deadlines.
In other words, he said that somebody screwed the pooch.

The question is, who?  The answer is in the county commission which is now dominated by the GOP members whose party has had a long dedication to screwing up government.

The current county auditor and treasurer are elected officials who have been running their departments for years and years without any occasions in which they have made serious errors or late payments for which they had to pay penalties.  With the long, competent experience of the auditor and treasurer,  they would certainly know "the consequences of missing payment deadlines."  Who was involved in that process of missing payment deadlines has not been revealed, but it is not hard to guess given the past of highly competent performance of the relevant offices.  What has changed?

The problem occurred when the commission decided, according to GOP doctrine, that when possible government functions should be farmed out to some private business rather than retain it as function of government, no matter how efficiently and responsibly it has been done in the past.  The principle of privatizing is a myth, like Santa Claus and the Eater Bunny, that is dear to the GOP belief system.  The Republican doctrine maintains that private businesses are always more competent, efficient, and honest than government.  They devoutly assert this belief despite the fact that 90 percent of businesses fail within their first year.  And they refuse to acknowledge that the reason there are so many regulations placed on business is to protect the people from gross incompetence, criminal practices, and destruction of the world.  

So, Commission Chair Fjeldheim said some payroll functions were contracted out to RAM Housing Specialists, Inc.,  at about $5,000 a year to save $25,000 a year in payroll processing costs.  That savings, if there is any, is now down to $16,000 when the $9,000 in penalties is deducted.  No mention is made of where the alleged savings were derived or how the procedures were changed. Fjeldheim said, "The payroll didn’t go too badly. Some people didn’t get their sick leave and some didn’t get vacation, some odds and ends, not reporting some things. The next pay period is sitting pretty well."  The mistakes and their losses to employees were, of course, not included in calculating the overall loss.

The Brown County Commission  previously expressed its devout belief in the supremacy of business and the resoluteness of government in 2015 when it proposed combining the county offices of treasurer, auditor, and recorder of deeds.  Those are elected offices which give the holders certain independent authority to do their jobs well.  The commission realized that such a move should have citizen support, so it had an employee organize a citizen's committee to study the proposal.  After the committee submitted its report, the commission quickly dropped the proposal.  Two members of the citizens  committee told civic groups that the proposal was a naked power grab to take control of those offices from the voters and make them political appointments of the commission.  And, there was no evidence of inefficiency or corruption in the offices.  The idea seemed to have come up because the GOP-dominated commission had to work with three elected Democratic officials who did not go along with the GOP agenda.  The citizens report was put online on the county website.  

There is a strange circumstance regarding that report.  It is no longer on the website.  All the minutes of commission meetings  since 1915 have been digitalized and made available on the Brown County web site, except for the minutes from January 2014 through November 2017.  That is the period during which the Brown County Commission was at its busiest looking for ways to intrude itself into the way county business is conducted.  During that time, a man whose company had provided computer services to the county  and a crony of his put on a demonstration of how cronyism works in local government.  The commission had hired the man to do some computer work for the county.  Then it decided to hire the man as the county's information technology director.

At the outset, there was a problem.  An audit showed that the man being hired as the IT director, Paul Sivertsen, had double-billed the county for a computer he sold to it.  His main advocate and defender on the Commission, Duane Sutton, insisted it was an honest mistake, so the Commission hired him.  

Then began a series of problems with County business involving the IT department.  Tickets sales for the grandstand shows at the Brown County Fair were messed up.  For a time, county offices were not receiving correspondence through Gmail.  Cory Heidelberger's Dakota Free Press covers those instances.  Sivertsen came under quite a bit of criticism, but Commission members defended his work.

In the latest matter involving the pay roll penalties, Sivertsen is barely mentioned, but if the County's charge to his department is taken seriously, he is involved.   The County website says his job is to "develop and maintain software systems to insure statutory compliance as well as the proper flow of County information."  According to a news account, the "commissioners asked their information technology director to automate and integrate the county payroll and benefits systems.

Some of that payroll information which in the past was routinely handled seemed not to have flowed properly.  So, the Commission has relieved its assistant of all his human resources for the rest of the year to concentrate on pay roll matters.  

The problem does not seem to be with County officials and employees who have have a record of doing their jobs efficiently and error-free.  It comes from a County Commission which is obsessed with that GOP scripture that government is in inherently bad and must be demeaned and meddled with by imposing cronies on the work force to interfere with the routine, especially if things are running smoothly.

Those minutes and reports missing from the County website have probably been withheld because they portray the obscenity of the commissioners avidly screwing the pooch.  Ultimately, no one cares what they do, if they'd just leave the competent workers alone so they can do their jobs.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Trump Derangement Syndrome

Trump's political cohorts have taken to referring to his critics as haters possessed by the Trump Derangement Syndrome. That phrase is borrowed from the term Obama Derangement Syndrome,  which referred to quite a different circumstance.

As Obama's presidency progressed, it became apparent that he had a segment of people who hated him on the basis of racial resentment.  They were replaying a syndrome from the freeing of the slaves and, a hundred years later, from the civil rights era.  Some white people deeply resented it when blacks were treated equal to them.  If a black person achieved a position of power or authority over them, it was more than they could handle.  They went into a deranged rage.  The same kind of rage was inspired when women achieved power and authority over some men.  Some of those men quit their jobs rather than work under a woman boss, others contrived defamation campaigns against the women, and some just spent the rest of their lives stewing.  Equality is not something many people are comfortable with, and there are those who will extract a cost from it.

Obama opponents created images that made Barack and Michelle look like chimpanzees or African primitives, and the verbal assaults against them followed the same pattern.  A racism that became somewhat dormant after the civil rights push was reactivated when a black man became president.  Many could no longer repress themselves, and their seething racism erupted with a fury.  A man they thought  should be a houseboy ended up presiding over the White House.  That unleashed a pent up rage that has swept the nation and led to the election of Donald Trump, who began his campaign with the racist appeal of denying Obama's American birth.

That demonstrated racism is a major reason that people oppose Trump.  He has continued it by publicly insulting black people such as Maxine Waters, LeBron James, and Don Lemon as having low intelligence.

From people I know who have encountered Donald Trump, I have never heard a good word about him.  I knew of him, but in the mid-1980s when I met a retired commercial banker and officer of many Chicago civic organizations when we were both house guests at a mutual friend's, I received an full account of Trump.  I had been the business editor of an Illinois newspaper.  The ex-banker and I got into a conversation about crooked business executives we had run across.  He told me about Donald Trump and why he was despised by honest businessmen in Chicago.  At the time Trump's incessant lying, bilking of contractors by refusing to pay his bills, and his swindles in business deals had formed his reputation among the legitimate business people.  He has never been welcome in Chicago because any business venture with which he is associated is suspected of fraud.

The banker told me a story--I don't know if he witnessed it or was told about it--about a man bringing Trump to an exclusive men's club for lunch.  Most of the members got up and left when Trump walked in.  They wanted to demonstrate that they would never associate with a person as unscrupulous as Trump in their business or their social lives. His business reputation was despicable to them.  Established business men warned others not to do business with him.

Trump finally did business in Chicago when he built a hotel there in the early 2000s.  The family that owned the Sun-Times newspaper sold him the land.  Trump further financed the hotel by selling individual rooms to investors who would receive a percentage of the revenue from their rental.  Trump reneged on his contracts and was sued by a number of condo tenants and investors, including the Sun-Times family.

Trump is a shyster through and through.  His record of swindles, fraud, and theft are a matter of public record.  He is the deranged one.  Even the conservative newspapers have published his misdeeds to show he is unfit for the presidency or any other office of trust.  People hate the proven and often flaunted crookedness of Trump.  Their repulsion is not based upon political differences, but on the total decay of his character.  People with a sense of decency and a respect for honesty detest what Trump does and therefore despise him as a person.

Trump is a criminal.  He escapes prosecution because h
the cases against him end up in civil courts through which victims of his fraudulent schemes try to get their money back.

The derangement syndrome is in Trump himself.  He does nothing that is truthful or honest.  Therefore, it is also in his supporters who either cannot acknowledge his nefarious character or openly  approve of his criminality as an enterprise.

There is a Trump Derangement Syndrome, but it is not in the decent people who think a fraudster should not be president of the United States.  It is in those who have accepted criminality as the American way.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Hate had a really good week. America joined the Holocaust. What's next?

The killers were unleashed.  

First, one went after the Democrats.  He mailed Donald Trump's favorite targets, which Trump has been careful to name, each a bomb, 16 by last count.  His bombs did not explode.  No one has explained why, as of now.  At least, he tried.  I think.

While the bomb search was going on Wednesday, a man walked up to a black church near Louisville, KY, tried the doors, but couldn't get in.  So then he went to a nearby Kroger grocery store and shot a black grandfather shopping with his grandson in back of the head, and then shot a black woman in the parking lot.

On Saturday, a guy with handguns and a Colt AR-15 went into a Pittsburgh synagogue during worship services and killed 11 Jewish people and wounded another six.  The attack is said to be the worst against Jewish people in American history.  America joined the Holocaust.

All three of the alleged perpetrators were captured alive.  Two of them had histories of mental problems.  The Jew killer did nothing to concern people who met him.  He just posted a lot of anti-semitic stuff on the anti-social media.

Meanwhile, the alleged president warned that the migration caravan that was making its way through Mexico to the U.S. border was actually an invading army of ruthless criminals.  He said he would call out the troops to resist the invasion.

Hate-driven rage keeps breaking out in America.  We were, up until about three years ago, considered the world's leading democracy.  Except that the propensity for violence we demonstrate gave many observers of the nation cause to question if our reputation was deserved.  Gun violence and mass shootings are so frequent that America appears at war with itself with a degree of violence and instability usually attributed to undeveloped countries. 

This is the country that elected Donald Trump as its president.  For some, he represents precisely what they want the country to be.  George W. Bush's ex-press secretary, Ari Fleischer, states the case in a New York Times article on Trump's behavior: "It’s misleading to compare Trump’s behavior to his predecessors because he was elected to be different from his predecessors.”

Most of us thought Trump was elected to be president as defined by the 240-year history of the office.  By comparing Trump to Obama, Fleischer explains the difference:
“Trump often sounds bad but he acts well, while President Obama always knew what to say but he didn’t do things well, he didn’t do things right.  He had soothing words and comforting nonthreatening language, and that didn’t improve our standing anywhere, including domestically.”
Fleischer talks in defense of Trump and condemnation of Obama  in that accusative jabberwocky that serves as discourse on the part of a large segment of the GOP.  His words, like Trump's, have no factual reference.  Specifically, what has Trump done well that Obama did not?  Is he actually contending that Obama reduced U.S. stature in the world and Trump raised it?  What world is Fleischer living in? 

While Trump lies constantly, insults, and abuses people, he is  advised to tone down the rhetoric.  That remonstrance is an evasion of what Trump is.  He has nothing to do with rhetoric.  He is not trying to engage people with verbal reasoning.  His verbal repertoire is to tell lies, call names, insult, abuse, and self adore.  

Everything Trump says and does exudes malice.  He was not elected by his supporters to be president.  He was elected by that class of perpetual seventh-grade bullies to lead them in their exercise of ill will.  Trump has all the intellectual capacity of a pit viper.  So do his disciples.  That's why America has come to resemble a snake pit rather than a democratic community.  Their idea of greatness is to strike out at whatever they choose to.  Their life-motive is to find a hate object and assault it.  It gives them pleasure.  It makes them feel powerful.

Hate can take many forms of expression:  anti-semitism, racism, anti-LBGT, misogyny, misandry, or any other social or political category into which people can be classified and designated for hatred.  And includes just being a presence that someone wishes to hate for personal reasons.  Hate is an attitude which looks for objects on which to fix.  It is a pre-existing condition within the human character.  Some haters are selective about whom to inflict with their hatred, but the defect of character is the telling aspect.  The admonition to "love your neighbor" is a recognition that hatred is the destroyer of human potential.  Any expression of hatred is an admission of that character defect, the particular mode of its expression, such as race or politics, not as important as the fact of its presence in an individual.

The fact is that the people whose ambition it is to inflict their ill will on people within their own country and the rest of the world are in control.   The constant news accounts of mass shootings, local and national politicians telling racial lies, and the bitter divisions in the country portray a nation that is not basking in liberty, equality, and justice.  It is a country bubbling in hatred.

Perhaps, an election can turn down the hate speech and forestall an eruption into open warfare.  But people think the violence in America is an anomaly.  It, and the words which drive it, are a constant.  Before any viable corrective action can be taken, the people need to understand what America has, in fact, become.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Protecting kids from a political party that runs on nothing but malice

A few weeks ago we received a post card from the  South Dakota GOP in behalf of the Al Novstrup campaign that was malicious, dishonest, and utterly debased in its defamation of Novstrup's opponent.  Novstrup is the incumbent senator for South Dakota District 3 running against challenger Cory Heidelberger.. 

Among Cory's many activities is his teaching of math, French, and language arts.  His most recent full-time teaching job was in Spearfish.  When his spouse, a Lutheran pastor, accepted a call to Zion Lutheran Church in Aberdeen, the family moved here.  Cory has been an active presence in civic and political affairs in Aberdeen, and writes and edits the most literate and intelligent political blog in South Dakota, the Dakota Free Press.   He is also on the Aberdeen School District roster of substitute teachers, which can often be full time work.  He has been a debate coach and is a strong advocate for that activity in building informed, critical minds.  He backs up his political beliefs by running for political office as the Democratic candidate for the District 3 seat in the State Senate. 

Novstrup's post card tactic was to make a strident and malicious defamation of Cory's background.  It screamed: PROTECT KIDS NOW! VOTE NO TO CORY HEIDELBERGER ON NOV. 6.”
Its premise is that Heidelberger poses a danger to kids.
It is suggesting that he has been a menace to students in his work and would extend the danger as a state senator.

The postcard is an unmitigated libel clearly intended to damage Heidelberger's reputation.  It attempts to use an incident from Cory's past teaching and amplify into a definitive statement of character.

Cory has been open and honest about the incident cited in the postcard.  When he was a teacher at  Madison High School, he encountered a bullying situation.  He did what a responsible teacher does and accosted the misbehaver.  He used a mild expletive in remonstrating the kid about his behavior.  When the offender tried to walk away from the confrontation about his behavior, Cory grabbed him by the collar to stop him.  The Madison school districted fired Cory.

In recounting the situation, Cory says, "When I found I was not getting through to the bully, instead of trying to play cowboy, I should have called for assistance and escorted the bully to the principal’s office for proper punishment."  Al Novstrup and his GOP goons try to portray Cory as a menace while he was in fact protecting students against some bad behavior on the part of another student.

The Madison High School administration and school board sent a strong message to students and teachers that bad behavior by students is protected and woe be to any teacher who interferes with it.  Cory's response to the situation might have needed some corrective comment, but the Madison administration reacted with incredible stupidity and cowardice.  This kind of action in which a teacher is condemned for trying to deal with a misbehaving student is what Al Novstrup endorses.  Although Novstrup's dishonest representation of the facts of the matter exposes his own malicious character.

When Cory says he should have called for assistance, the question arises, who would he call and how would such a call be made?

Aberdeen had a similar case come up.  When a student acted out during a middle school science class, the teacher grasped him in a bear hug and hauled him out of class.  The teacher was fired, but the teacher and the union took the case to court.  The court ordered the teacher to be reinstated.  The teacher's lawyers brought the testimony of students in the class into court, and they testified that the teacher took the drastic action with the student to prevent him from harming the other students.  The court faulted the administration and the school board for failing to investigate and gather accurate information about the incident and for acting without knowledge of what, in fact, had taken place.

This is the kind of situation that Al Novstrup contorts into a lie about the experience and character of Cory Heidelberger.  In this age of Donald Trump and the constant outpouring of lies and malice coming out of the White House, GOP voters seem to think this is the way political business gets done. GOP operatives in South Dakota were using malice and false accusations before Trump entered politics.  The successful campaigns of John Thune and Kristi Noem were largely devoted to false and deleterious portrayals of their opponents.  Both of those candidates have earned reputations as feckless purveyors of party lines with puny legislative accomplishments.

Al Novstrup's own legislative record shows that he has a peculiar obsession with the sexual orientation of students.  In his claims to be concerned about the welfare of children, he exhibits a menacing desire to inflict punishment on some.  He has been particularly obsessed with where transgender kids may go to the bathroom.  Vote Smart has compiled his legislative record on the matter:

Feb. 22, 2017
Bill Passed - Senate
(22 - 12)
March 8, 2016
Bill Failed - House
(25 - 43)
March 3, 2016
Veto Override Failed - House
(36 - 29)
Feb. 9, 2016
Bill Passed - House
(45 - 23)
Jan. 27, 2016
Bill Passed - House
(58 - 10)
Jan. 26, 2016
Jan. 12, 2016
March 3, 2015
Bill Failed - House
(30 - 37)
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity


His record shows an obsession with how kids may relieve themselves or who may participate in sports, but does not care if the schools have safety plans in place to protect students from active shooters or similar menaces.  

The Novstrup family operates amusement parks for children for its livelihood.  In Aberdeen, their Thunder Road is operated in conjunction with the city's Wylie Park.  Some of us who know of Novstrup's perverse obsession with gender issues and his malicious streak of character in maligning other people simply do not chance exposing children in our charge to it.  

We can eliminate Novstrup's pernicious influence in the State Senate by voting for Cory Heidelberger.  And we can keep our children away from Thunder Road in Wylie Park.  

That is how children can best be protected.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States