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News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Monday, July 27, 2020

Please, don't tell me we'll get through it.

Even politicians who have earned some credibility by stating facts about the pandemic become absurd when they to find something hopeful to say to their constituents.  They look earnestly into TV cameras and try to reassure us that "we'll get through this pandemic."  To which I reply, "You mean like my 150,000 dead fellow citizens got through it?"  And I could add, like the 4 million survivors who may have after-effects for the rest of their lives?

Saying  we'll get through it, while meant to be encouraging, only reminds us that we aren't getting through it.  And the daily reports indicate that the death and illness tally is mounting and the U.S. is lagging far behind other countries in dealing with the coronavirus.  Trump thinks as the national CEO, his false claims will be believed by a majority of dupes, but the facts refute all his claims.  When someone says we'll get through this, they seem to ally themselves with Trump and assume they think we are the kind of gullible, mindless fools that Trump thinks we are.

A very large part of the American population has not gotten through the pandemic.  Those who were afflicted but survived or have friends and relatives who were afflicted find the cheery proclamations  inane and cruel.  It is a perverse denial of the facts to insist that we'll get through it.  The facts are that many were destroyed by Covid-19 and the disease continues to surge in the number of cases throughout the nation.  Refusing to acknowledge the devastation of the disease rather than confront it morally and intellectually has contributed to its spread.  America has become the object of ridicule for its incompetent response to the pandemic.

Being told we will get through only insures the disaster for which we are headed.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Captain Queeg is president, and the ship of state is sinking.

The Caine Mutiny is a novel and subsequent movie about a ship's captain who is so deranged that he puts his ship and crew in danger.  Officers on his crew apply a Navy regulation to remove him from command.  The instigators of the move are later court-martialed on a charge of mutiny, but are acquitted when Captain Queeg displays an unfitness for command on the witness stand.  After the trial, the successful defense attorney berates the officers for not supporting Queeg at a time when he needed it.  There has been much discussion about what kind of support could be given, but most commenters take the side that Queeg had to be removed to save the ship and the crew.

With Donald Trump as president, we face a parallel situation regarding the ship of state.  The House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump, but the Senate  voted not to remove him.  Day after day, Trump displays his corruption, incompetence, and derangement.   His interview with Mike Wallace on Fox News showed him flailing and floundering,  far out of his depth.  His GOP votaries support him  during the pandemic while his incompetence and corruption plunges the nation into third world status.  While other countries have managed to control the Covid-19 pandemic, the United States is being devastated by it.

The 25th Amendment of the Constitution provides other procedures  for removing a president when cabinet officers and/or Congress determine that he is unable to discharge his duties.  However, Trump's votaries are willing to cover for him in order to keep power, no matter what the effects on the country are.  Rather than join with their Democratic colleagues to work out some plans for addressing the problems facing the country, they join Trump in his malevolent absurdity and widen the divisions within the country.  And rather than suggest to Trump that he change course on his most errant directions, they fawningly fall in line behind him.  

Current polls show that Trump is held in disfavor by  a wide margin.  And there is a strong opposition, such as with The Lincoln Project, in his own party that opposes him.  Trump's constant outpouring of malice and juvenile petulance is an offense that some dedicated Republicans cannot tolerate.   But Trump has a base that regards his depravity as a virtue.  While some commentators have raised the question of how Trump will respond should he lose the election, other students of history say we should be more concerned about what Trump's acolytes will do.  

If even a few of the GOP senators had the intelligence and honesty to examine the corruption of Trump's actions for which he was impeached, it would have sent a signal to his base that his behavior violates the standards of equality, decency, and justice he swore to protect.  It is clear that the GOP has no interest in the principles the republic was established to serve and protect.  The GOP priorities are the greed for money and power to which Trump is dedicated.  The signal received from the GOP is that it will protect and serve venality and fraud as its primary concerns.  

Trump has received in fact the kind of support that Capt. Queeg was denied by his subordinates.  The Caine Mutiny raises questions about how much  loyalty can be extended to a person of defective mind and character.  Or if loyalty to the country is the priority.  

Trump supporters may well erupt in violent insurrection if he loses.  But if he wins, those who oppose him may feel that mutiny is the only way to save themselves from the malignancy of Trump.  The issue is the survival of democracy, and violent times seem almost a certainty.  

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Do you know the day America died? Do you want to celebrate it?

During a visit to my brother's house in the mid-1980s, a fellow house guest brought up Donald Trump as an example of a fraudulent businessman.  It was a time when Trump was launching his first book about himself.  The house guest was a retired commercial banker from Chicago and I was the former business editor for a newspaper.  We got into a discussion about how unscrupulous business people tarnished the reputation of the business community for ethical businesses. That's when he brought up Donald Trump.  Some of his associates had encounters with Trump and had definite opinions about him.  They loathed him.  They wanted no part of him or his schemes.

Since that time I have never heard a good word about Trump from anyone with knowledge of him.  Those who support Trump automatically put themselves in the category of the stupidly malicious.  People who have known Trump say he has always played the schoolyard bully, lauding those who fawn over him, insulting and denigrating those who don't.  The retired banker said his associates claimed that it was impossible to have a substantive, coherent conversation with Trump.  His conversational efforts were devoted to self-inflation and self-promotion.  And when he wasn't defaming other people, he was telling lies.  

He is loathed by conservatives within his own party.  Columnist George Will has conceded that Trump and his cohorts have pretty much destroyed America:  "Under the most frivolous person ever to hold any great nation’s highest office, this nation is in a downward spiral. This spiral has not reached its nadir, but at least it has reached a point where worse is helpful, and worse can be confidently expected."

Other Republicans who formed the Lincoln Project are issuing warnings about the demise of America.  But there are  others who think America has been irreparably damaged and will never again be the country it once was in leading the world in extending the benefits of democracy.  For many people, America has been declared dead.  It has ceased to function.

Trump's "news conference" Tuesday evening, July 14, in the White House rose garden  was actually a declaration of death for the nation.  For Richard Nixon, it took some time before the general public and members of his own party decided he had to go, but that time came.  He resigned when he realized impeachment was inevitable.  While Trump was impeached in the House, the Republicans in the Senate endorsed his corruption and incompetence.  When a party in power gives support to a depraved and deranged president, it sacrifices the basic virtues of honesty and decency for that power.  Rather than engage in a bipartisan effort to restore the integrity of our democracy, the GOP has thrown itself on its back with its legs in the air like a post-World War II Berlin street whore when the Hershey Bar truck rolled by.  

It is not Trump who has betrayed America. It is the political party who chooses to keep him in office.  In its loyalty and obeisance to Trump, the GOP, except for a few like Mitt Romney, has given up the essential virtues of our republic.  It has taken three years for Trump to kill America.  July 14 was the day he showed us the country was dead.  On what is Bastille Day in France, the day the French Revolution, turned in favor of democracy, the United States was pronounced dead in the Rose Garden.

But it might be the day that causes Americans to launch their own version of Bastille Day.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Opening schools without the teachers

As an old man, I find myself often in situations where I sound like a fading codger reminiscing with old war stories.  That is the problem with having lived a long time.  You keep remembering things that worked and things that didn't, and what the factors were that made the difference.

An article in The New York Times provided one of those occasions. It is about a group of young teachers in Newark who will run their school.  I immediately recalled a situation where I witnessed one of the most effective elementary schools I have ever come across or heard about.  And that led to  my thinking of a number of situations where I saw what worked and what did not in education,

The elementary school I refer to was in a rural community and it served both farm and small town students.  Some of those small town kids lived in families for which the small towns were bedroom communities for parents who worked in the Quad-Cities of Iowa and Illinois.  My occasion to know this school was because two of its teachers were in a master's degree program in which I taught, a program that provided teachers with a curriculum which intensively studied their region through its  history, its literature and arts, its religions, its sciences, and social sciences as they were applied in the area.  

The two teachers were fifth grade teachers.  One of them taught social studies half-time; the other half of the time she served as the school's principal.  The teachers had worked up a curriculum on the native America presence in the area.  I and another professor, a geologist, were asked to evaluate the study unit.  One part of the unit involved the kids in archaeology.  They were invited to bring artifacts in that their families might have.  The classroom was filled with stone points, axe heads, and stone tools.   The kids were to obtain as much information as possible about the items in terms of their age, what culture produced them, and what they showed about the people who once lived in the area.  That also involved teaching them about the procedures used by archaeologists to establish the significance of items.  A farmer volunteered a corner of a field near a creek, where he had come across some artifacts, and the kids applied archaeological procedures.  They set up grid lines, methodically scraped down layers of soil, and actually found items which they noted on grid maps.  They were able to determine that the field lay on what was at the edge of a prehistoric village.  They were even able to identify some post holes that held the frames of lodges and they made a drawing laying out what the village looked like. The geologist and I had to tap every professional contact we had to help identify the artifacts and provide information to interpret the site.

The unit attracted the attention of parents, too.  They came out in the evenings and on weekends to watch and help the kids.  One farmer said he had been coming across artifacts all his life but had no idea what they meant.  The unit ended when the class held a school house potluck, at which my colleague and I were asked to give our educational assessment of the project.  There were no surprises, as the teachers and the evaluators conferred often as the project progressed, and the only problems were with getting information on some interpretive matters.  That potluck was a memorable occasion because  students, teachers, parents, and professors chatted into the evening about what had been learned about that rural community,.  But a major point that occurred to the professors and other consultants they had pulled into the project was that it worked because one of the teachers was an administrator and was also a neighbor to the families whose children were being taught.  The school board had deferred to the teachers' knowledge of their subject and their students in supporting the project.

The memory of this occasion triggered some criticisms of  education that I came across when I was a stringer for a newspaper and helped it cover 12 school boards in its coverage area.  School boards generally regarded their function as being a conduit and mediator of information between their constituents and the professional staffs. The school systems where this function was the main priority operated smoothly and delivered effective educations.  However, many boards had members who had agendas, sometimes political or religious, that they wanted to impose on the professional educators.  Those boards regarded teachers as low-grade servants who should be allowed to do nothing without the express permission of their superiors on the board.  Those people often had no idea of what education is, how it works, or its role in a democratic system of government.  They dominate education in parts of the country and are typified by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is as undemocratic and uneducated as it's possible to be.

The people who do the work of teaching and assessing its effectiveness are the most informed and trained to make educational decisions.  When they are assigned administrative duties, they find them to be a burden that detracts from their primary engagement with students.  However, their consultation and advice is an essential component of successful educational programs.  Nevertheless, when a problem or a crises, such as the coronavirus pandemic, occurs, the teachers are often left out of the discussions of how to handle matters.  

In its report on opening schools, The New York Times does not even mention teachers: "...there is enormous pressure to bring students back — from parents, from pediatricians and child development specialists, and from President Trump."  But when teachers are asked about opening up schools, they cite the real risks and problems to be faced; they don't recite the political folderol that does not address the actual issues.

Education is too important to have its decisions made by  the likes of Trump and DeVos.  But it is probably a far-fetched hope that it will be put back in the hands of people who actually know something.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States