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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.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States