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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, August 31, 2020

Trump is not a matter of partisan politics; he's a matter of basic morality

After the Electoral College voted Trump into office (he lost the popular vote by 3 million), pollsters examined who voted for him.  A significant group was those who had previously voted for Barack Obama but switched party votes and chose Trump.  Some of those said they detested Hillary Clinton.  Some said they had been disappointed in Obama.

That latter group claimed that Obama did not do all he promised.  With the election of our first black man as president, many people felt it was a signal that the nation had surmounted the racism that the USA has struggled with since its founding.  They did not acknowledge the wave of resentment that surged up in those who worship at the altars of white supremacy.   And they tended to ignore the intractable rage at work in Congress.  The leader of that rage is GOP senate leader Mitch McConnell, who said his main goal as a legislator was to see that Obama never got a second term.  He led his Republican fellows in a campaign to obstruct and undermine everything Obama tried to accomplish.  The McConnnell rage has been directed to the support of Donald Trump.

Trump has a rap sheet of fraud and malicious conduct that calls into question the viability of the United States as a nation with him as president.  His history of fraud and other acts of malefaction is well documented and publicly known.    Two of his fraudulent schemes have been dealt with since he's been  in the White House.  A federal court ordered that people who had been bilked by his Trump University be paid $25 million in restitution.  Last year a federal court ordered that the Trump Foundation be dissolved and Trump was find $2 million.   The president of the United States has more credentials as a crook than as a man who has led honest and successful enterprises.  The American people have chose him over candidates within the GOP and Democrats who don't have a criminal history.  Trump represents what America has become.

A writer in The Root describes what America has become:

And according to Trump, America is the greatest country on earth, despite what the numbers say. We are a beacon of freedom and liberty even though we rank first in the world’s prison population. We are the smartest nation in the world, despite ranking 14th in education and second in ignorance. We believe in equality and tolerance, despite ranking No. 1 on the list of the most racist countries in the world.
I once served my country with pride and confidence that it was working to achieve the freedom, equality, and justice that it proclaimed as its goals.  During Obama's terms of office, the resentful rage led by Mitch McConnell and his kind was a signal that a significant portion of Americans did not aspire to those goals.  People like Rush Limbaugh railed against liberals as anti-American.  Some liberals joked that the GOP was running on a platform to revoke the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes involuntary servitude.  However, what seemed like a preposterous joke actually indicates the direction America is moving, as Trump edges into fascist pronouncements and actions.  This is no longer a country for which one can be proud or which inspires any confidence that democratic principles will prevail.  Trump has changed that.  While America was once seen as the beacon of democracy, many others countries are outshining it.  If I were called into service at this time, I'd have doubts about things going on in America that are indefensible.

Trump cannot be regarded as an American anomaly.  He is America's choice.  He is what a plurality of voters want for America.  The inevitable result of that choice has been played out in Portland and Kenosha.  The future and direction of America is not being decided in the halls of Congress but in the streets and allies.  Trump flouts the moral principles on which America is based.  His supporters approve.  Trump represents a constituency that undermines the honest and the scrupulous.  

America is undergoing a pernicious moral failure.  It is becoming the country that we once protected ourselves against.  Trump is the symbol of its failure.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

South Dakota and the totalitarian tradition

August 25, 2020

South Dakota and the totalitarian tradition

Innocence and wrongful conviction projects which subscribe to news aggregators were besieged this morning by alarm bells triggered by a front-page story coming out of Aberdeen, South Dakota.  The story contained an element that legal scholars have identified as one of the most seriously flawed parts in the state’s legal code:  possession of child pornography. (22-24A)

Legal scholars have termed the law a legal Rorschach blot.  One can see just about anything they want to in it.  Child pornography laws are considered problematic throughout the nation, but South Dakota’s is particularly crude and slovenly.  The problem was emphasized ten years ago when a Sioux Falls attorney was arrested and charged under a federal law for possessing child pornography on his office computer. He was acquitted at trial after he explained that he was researching the photographs so that he could advise clients on legal matters.  While state law protects attorneys who have such materials in the course of their work, federal law does not.  That situation reveals the legal morass of child pornography laws.

The matter of due process is often problematic in child pornography cases.  Law enforcement officers are  led to search individuals’ computers by complaints they keep anonymous.  Attorneys outside of South Dakota have commented that cases in the state have raised questions about the probable cause on which warrants were based.  Furthermore, the exact offense in the materials is not specified because of the nature of the material.  South Dakota stipulates that pornographic offense is the portrayal of prohibited sexual acts, but the law seems to permit no sexual acts.  It attempts to specify further offense as an appeal to juvenile prurience.   Child psychologists point out that prurience is part of the the state of adolescence, so almost anything can be so termed.  

Here is the front-page story from the Aberdeen American News that raised alarm:

     An Aberdeen man who admitted he had child pornography in November 2018 was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but two years suspended.

     Alexander N. Walter, 30, pleaded guilty to both felony possession of child pornography and, in a separate case, third-offense driving under the influence.

     Brown County State’s Attorney Ernest Thompson said that Walter had illegal items        he downloaded on the computer and that he turned himself in to law enforcement.

     Walter was sentenced to 10 years with eight years suspended on the pornography charge. He was sentenced to two years in prison on the DUI charge and had his driver’s license revoked for one year. He was fined a total of $397. He will serve his prison terms at the same time.

The news story does not contain enough detail to indicate the specifics of the charges for which the man was sentenced, but legal analysts for three justice projects noted immediate concerns which justify a thorough review of evidence, court transcripts, and law enforcement records.  The points are:

  1. The two separate offenses sentenced at the same time.  The fact that the pornography offense was in November 2018 and was adjudicated 22 months later in conjunction with an apparently unrelated 3rd DUI offense raised questions among the analysts about timeliness,  the strength of the evidence, and the process.  The conditions under which the man turned himself in require what the justice attorneys said should be rigorous scrutiny of the due process.
  2. The matter of turning oneself in creates a conundrum.  One analyst asked, you mean a guy walked into a police station and said, “Hey, I’ve got child porn on my computer.”  There are circumstances for which the public needs explanation as to how the law is working here.  And the fact that the man is being convicted for a third offense involving substance abuse raises very legitimate questions about the circumstances of the child porn.  The news report is inadequate to help with the public understanding, but the state’s attorney and the justice system also have a responsibility to give the public a complete accounting.  The three analysts who responded said that the case as outlined in the news article seems made for a judicial appeal.

South Dakota has no freedom of information laws, and it gives public officials great discretion in releasing information. When reporter Bob Mercer tried to obtain the investigative report on the death of Richard Benda in conjunction with the EB-5 scandal, the state supreme court ruled for the right of investigators to withhold such information from the public.  Legal experts have said that the only hope for South Dakotans ever to have a reasonable way to know what state authorities are doing would be to follow other states in revising the laws and putting into place a freedom of information act.

But they also note that South Dakota is not a state that holds much interest or concern for matters of justice.  Most studies on justice in the state find its incarceration rate ridiculously high.  This conclusion from The  Appeal is typical:

      South Dakota, one of the least populated states in the country, jails the most people per capita, according to a new report from Prison Policy Initiative. The state jailed roughly 25,000 people in 2016, nearly 3 percent of the state’s population and almost twice the national average. That’s despite the fact that its crime rate is below the national average.

However, there is little activity or discussion within the state that confronts matters of justice.  A few that have some potential for addressing such matters and have given some attention to the state are listed below. There are, however, no active efforts to address the state of justice in South Dakota.  

Innocence Project of South Dakota
USD School of Law
414 East Clark Street
Vermillion, SD 57069
Phone: 605-677-5361

(Only DNA cases in South Dakota)
Hamline University School of Law
1536 Hewitt Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55104
Phone: 651-523-3152

Northwestern University School of Law
357 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312-503-2391

Northwestern University
1845 N. Sheridan Ave.
Evanston, IL 60208
Phone: 847-491-5840

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Postal Service Trump wants to mess up

Carl Newquist
For 34 years, my dad carried mail.  Our family life evolved around the rule "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."  

That was not an official motto of the Postal Service, but it was regarded by postal employees as a public trust they were dedicated to keep.  Our family routine was one that began in the very early hours of the morning when Dad got up for work to sort the mail before he went out on his route to deliver it.  From Thanksgiving through New Years, we seldom saw Dad because of the long hours mailmen worked during the Christmas mail rush.

For 12 of his years of service, my dad was president of the local letter carriers association.  At that time, the association did not have the right to collectively bargain.  The letter carriers wished that it did.  With a collective bargaining agreement, there would be written and enforceable standards of performance.  Letter carriers met and served the public every day and knew what it took to deliver the mail on time and to maintain the public confidence in their service.  The people who supervised the post offices did not always share that sense of mission.

Post masters and the people they appointed as supervisors were usually political appointees.  Sometimes a person with long experience and knowledge of the postal business would be appointed to the job, but many were political hacks who had neither the experience nor the interest in the real work of delivering the mail.  They were more interested in cultivating their sense of self-importance.  

At that time, the letter carriers association had to lobby for its hearings on wages, benefits, and working conditions with Congress.  When some policy or management decision threatened the level of service, the carriers would let the powers that be know through their association.  Its power came from the public trust the carriers built and maintained.  The supervisors might screw over their employees, but they cowered before the public's opinion.  Now letter carriers have the right to collectively bargain and have a voice in making the rules under which they operate.

When  I was a very young child, mail deliveries were twice a day, so my dad walked his route two times every day.   Because letter carriers were so familiar with the neighborhoods they served and the people were so familiar with them, they were often consulted when public safety issues came up.  The letter carriers knew where the troubled households were.

Letter carrier at lunch
Now letter carriers operate their routes out vehicles provided by the Post Office.  When my Dad carried, he had to take a bus to his route.  He picked up the mail he sorted from drop boxes along his route and which was deposited there from trucks that serviced the boxes.  His lunch bucket was deposited in a box where my Dad's route would take him around the noon hour.  One would often see letter carriers eating lunch huddled in a drop box.  However, the drop box where my  Dad's lunch was delivered was outside a gas station, and the owner insisted that my Dad come inside and eat his lunch in the office.

Voting by mail has brought Donald Trump's attention to the Postal Service.  He feels that mail-in voting won't work to his advantage, so he has threatened to block funding the Post Office.  As is usual with Trump, he knows or cares little  about what the Postal Service is and who will be affected.  It's another example of the kind of danger he is to the country.  

Those who support him, however, are the real danger.  What can be done about them?

Saturday, August 22, 2020

A study in human vileness

I have written previously about the first time I heard Donald Trump talked about in any detail.  It was at a time when he was promoting his first book The Art of the Deal.  At my brother's house, another guest, a retired banker from Chicago and I got into a discussion about why some truly contemptible people managed to become prominent in the business world.  The banker brought up Trump as an example.  At that time Trump had no successful business dealings in the Chicago area.  The banker said that his business associates could not stand Trump and wanted nothing to do with him or his business schemes.  He had a reputation for not paying his bills, for slandering competitors with false accusations, and for self-aggrandizement that inspired only loathing.  One of the banker's associates called Trump "a quintessential asshole."  

Since that time, I have never heard a good word about Trump.  Even Republican party loyalists who have accepted him as a party leader display reservations about him as a person.  Chicago, where he built one of his hotels earlier this century,  has shown a profound disdain for him.  During his campaign, he called off a Chicago rally minutes before it was to begin when the protesters outnumbered his supporters.  Late last year when he came to Chicago to give a speech, he was greeted by a massive show  of disapproval.  And his Chicago hotel reflects the attitude he inspires in the town:  Profits fell 89% from 2015 to 2018, from $16.7 million to $1.8 million, according to documents filed with Cook County, Ill. Trump’s hotel struggled even as other Chicago hotels held steady or thrived.

Trump has much more at stake than the presidency if he loses the election:

... if Trump loses, he faces years of intensive investigations by Congress and, assuming he pardons himself, years of investigations by state prosecutors, likely criminal indictments, and possible conviction and imprisonment. The investigations also could expose some of his children to legal peril. And Trump assets—and those of the Trump Organization—will be vulnerable to government seizure if New York state prosecutors and courts find that his past actions were part of an organized enterprise engaged in criminal activity.
Joe Biden offers hope for the nation.  He has stressed that the United States has made some of its most significant gains toward achieving freedom, equality, and justice after it has had a period of corruption and malice.  But the big question is if the nation can lift itself out of its mire of nefariousness it has descended into with Trump.  Biden will have to deal with the damage and those who support it if he is elected.  If Trump is elected, the massive protests will be held, but they won't be peaceable assemblies.  Those who participated in  peaceful protests in the past will know that non-violent demonstrations are ignored and ineffective.  In any case Trump will have left the brand of his depravity on the nation.

Those who are hopeful about restoring the nation to a benign state are not facing the fact that the Trump presidency has exposed a deep and festering defect in the American character.  No one who supports Trump can be believed to be on the side of honesty, decency, and respect.  

There are a few who recant their support of Trump, saying he fooled them.  But Trump's nefarious and devious behavior was well documented and thoroughly reported during the campaign. And for those loathe to review his background, his campaign appearances before the television cameras displayed evidence of his insulting and abusive behavior.  There is no excuse for not knowing what kind of person he is.      The fact is that he appeals to greed and malice that is cherished as a character trait by many Americans.  

Trump is a study in  vileness--his and his supporter's.

For anyone who needs a refresher  course in Trump's transgressions, the following site lists them:

Access it by clicking on this link.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Aberdeen American News goes into the libel business

 This editorial cartoon appeared in the Aberdeen American News this morning.  It disqualifies the newspaper as a trusted news source.  

While it is the purpose of opinion sections to express political viewpoints, that license does not extend to stating false facts or accusations.  Opinions have to be based upon facts.

This cartoon is based upon Trump's persistent but proven-to-be-false contention that mail-in ballots will contribute to voter fraud and that he will lose the election only if it is rigged.  The cartoon portrays the Democratic Party in the form of its donkey symbol coming with an armload of ballots to cast votes but no mailbox to put them in.  The premise of this cartoon is a stupid lie.  A maliciously stupid lie.  It is intended to convey the idea that the Democratic support for mail-in voting has fraudulent intentions.

Although the American News has a history of wretched journalism at times, it has never descended into malicious libel before that I know of.  It is now the only so-called news medium operating in the Aberdeen area.  So the only medium devotes itself to promoting one of Trump's malicious and false libels.

It  is owned by the Gannett company out of McLean, Virginia, and is said to operate 109 local outlets reaching 110 million readers a day.  Its email address on editorial matters is  Its address is :

Gannett Co., Inc.
7950 Jones Branch Drive
McLean, Virginia 22107

As the presidential election approaches, it is important that journalists and people who depend upon ethical journalism to know that verified facts are being conveyed and that libels uttered with malicious intent be clearly identified.  But honesty and competence are needed at the local level.  And people in the Aberdeen area do not have access to local news that meets that standard.  

If anyone cares that the news and opinions they receive should not contain false representations of facts, they might want to ask  if Gannett wants to do anything about it.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

You can't believe or trust a word Trump says.

Or make any sense of what he says.

The Washington Post fact checkers have documented more than 20,000 lies Trump has uttered in his capacity as president so far.  But lying is not the only perversion he imposes on language.  He calls people names like a resentful juvenile. And he uses language to produce clutter, to create a mess so chaotic that people get disoriented.

I use the term clutter  from the military.  As an air defense guided missile crewman years ago, clutter was the term used to describe a situation that made the radar useless.  Sometimes there would be conditions in the environment that would shatter the radar beams so that when they were reflected back they were fragmented and garbled.  When we set up missile bases, one of the first tasks was to make a clutter map so that we could work around things that affected the radar signals.  Weather can also create clutter, as some clouds and air currents can distort radar beams.  We also had to prepare to deal with the evasion tactics that might be used by enemy aircraft to keep the radar from tracking them.  One such tactic was for an aircraft which was being tracked by radar to release a cargo hold of disposable aluminum pie plates in the air around it which would send  the computer that controlled the radar into a total breakdown.  The computer could not deal with clutter.  However, we had a couple of radar operators who could switch the radar to manual control and discern the real target--usually.  

When Trump speaks or tweets, the effect is like unleashing a blizzard of pie tins into the air so that target facts get lost in the verbal clutter.  Trump destroys language as a primary communicative device. He uses a ploy historically  used by totalitarian regimes to keep the public from knowing what is actually  going on in the world.  In Trump's case we do not know for sure whether his clutter is calculated or the product of his disordered mind.  Whatever the case, it makes his removal from office an intellectual and moral imperative.

A few members of the press have challenged some of his lies at press conferences.  His response is to call a sudden end to the press conference,

Until he is gone, Americans  might take a tip from how many foreign leaders have come to deal with Trump.  As the Washington Post reports, world leaders now tend to shrug their shoulders and ignore him.  They treat Trump as if he is a patient in a mental ward.  The problem is that they are coming to view the United States as the mental ward and are avoiding having much to do with it.

If America is to regain status and respect among other nations again, it will have to prove that it has not become a loony bin.  Until the White House can be reclaimed and restored, it will have to be regarded in isolation from the rest of the country as a place where mental and moral defectives are housed to keep them from harming the general population.

The problem is that Trump has a large cadre of followers and enablers that are attracted to the insanity.  The mental deterioration within the nation is something that has not been clearly defined and confronted.  It may not be something that the 2020 election can resolve.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Snow days and Covid-19 droplet days

A friend and colleague who teaches at a college in a neighboring state published his resignation on a web site last month.  Covid-19 is the reason he is quitting.  He explained:

This has been a very difficult decision, but my wife and I are at elevated risk from the coronavirus. Even though [name of college deleted] is taking admirable steps to attempt to control the virus, I would still be in a poorly-ventilated classroom that would be crowded at or beyond social distance capacity for a certain number of hours a week, not to mention other possible "walking about" exposures on campus.  We did a lot of soul-searching and decided that this is the best course for us.
The professor was able to take retirement, an option that most people who must return to classrooms don't have.  The considerations he cites, however, are ones that everyone who is returning to school this year must face.  The coronavirus is virulent.  If you are exposed to it, you are very likely to get it. And the U.S. has been so inept in its mitigation efforts that you are very likely to be exposed to it.

Much argument is made about doing what is best for children, and the president and our governor are pushing to reopen schools with an astounding disregard for the contagion and lethality of this pandemic.  Their argument makes an appeal to the concern for  the well-being of children.  And they inflate the fact that children are not as severely infected as adults into the contention that children are impervious to it.  In an astoundingly stupid campaign letter, Noem  states the premise that children deserve all the opportunities that adults can provide them.  She "encourages" that all children be sent to school.   And, she emphasizes, "without masks."

Apparently, in Noem's mind, children deserve every possible opportunity to contract the coronavirus.   They can carry it home to give to their families.  And as many families are multi-generational, grandparents can share the virus without having to go out in public and combat social distancing and people with masks to participate in the virus fest.

Children are prodigious coronavirus vectors.  And schools, where students can crowd together without masks, make super-efficient distribution centers.  While social distancing and masks limit the spread of pathogens, the virus can still find its way through the barriers of space and filters.  And those who want to force the opening of schools are approving the sacrifice of school personnel and families and to keep the schools functioning.  They haven't given much thought to how pathogens are spread and who they endanger.  

Relative to the concerns about exposing children to the virus is the question of who should be given priority for treatment when medical facilities are overloaded.  Some contend that younger people should have priority over the elderly.  In a country which was formed around the principle of equality,  such decisions force someone to determine that some people are more valuable than others on the basis of age.  Such decisions deny that "all men are created equal," by asserting inequality as the factor that determines their demise.  When some criterion of unequal human value is imposed, the Declaration of Independence and the consequent Constitution are essentially nullified.  The coronavirus pandemic is a test of the concept of democracy.

For schools, which routinely designate snow days when a blizzard makes attendance hazardous and impractical, the safest decision would be to suspend classes until the pandemic is brought under reasonable control.  Resorting to online instruction is an alternative, but one that is not a possibility for all families.  Parents have to work and some are not able to supervise the instruction of their children--for many reasons.The development of a vaccine seems like the ultimate solution and a great deal of hope is placed on it.  But waiting for an uncertain vaccine in the future is to impose disease and death on many in the present.

Schools are designed to provide the opposite experience to that required by social distancing and the wearing of masks.  Enough people are opposed to those measures, although effective, to insure their failure as a means of gaining some control over the pandemic.  Quite a few people, such as the president and the South Dakota governor, deny the seriousness of the pandemic.   4.6 million sick from the virus and the families of more than 155,000 people who died from it no doubt think it is quite serious.  If it were a blizzard, the school officials would call a snow day.  Everybody stays home.

Experienced, competent K-12 educators think the solution is to suspend traditional classes and to work out curricula and instructional schedules that allow education to continue by using  electronic communication systems to eliminate in-person contact among students and staff.   Traditional classes and classroom configurations would need to be replaced by systems and procedures designed to prevent the coronavirus from entering the educational setting.  This would require a strenuous effort to co-ordinate the needs of families regarding childcare with the processes of educating children.  A major factor of concern expressed by administrators is protecting teachers and school staff from exposure to the coronavirus.  Balancing the need to keep children safe with the need to keep the educators safe will require drastic revisions to the way schools operate and their relationships to the communities they serve.   Forthright educators think there will be community resistance to the changes required.  Many teachers will decide, as did my professor colleague, to leave the profession rather than risk their own health and that of their families.  Shrewd educators are skeptical that public education can survive in an America that is divided the way it is.

The pandemic has not only put the nation under a siege of disease and death; it has exposed a prevalence of ignorance and malice in the nation.  Those who dismiss the fact of Covid-19 are the type who think the law of gravity can be repealed.

For the schools, we may be headed for the equivalent of a permanent snow day.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States