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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, December 28, 2020

Does Jesus drive an SUV?

 An image from my childhood is a strange man sitting on the steps of our back porch eating from a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon.  In those lingering years of the Great Depression, our house became known as a place where the indigent could get something to eat.  My mother always had a large supply of eggs from my uncles' farms, and she was generous about fixing eggs, bacon, and  toast for anyone who came to the door and asked for food.  It was a practice she inherited from my grandmother, who contended that someone who came to the door asking for food might be Jesus Christ stopping by to check if we were abiding by the Christian command to feed the hungry.  I also recall during the winter months when my mother would take me along one afternoon a week to deliver food baskets to the needy through a program her church was involved with.

I was raised during a time and in a place which operated under the principle that hunger was a shame to those able to feed the needy.  As a young man, I was a trainee for an advertising agency in Chicago whose task it was to hustle around town delivering copy and art work for clients' approval.  While doing so, I was constantly accosted by people asking for handouts.  I sometimes gave them some change when I had some to spare. When one of the agency executives learned of this, he gave all of us who trudged the streets for the agency books of tickets which we could give those who asked for handouts.  The tickets could be redeemed at a number of food kitchens that served the needy.  An organization which sponsored the tickets would then reimburse the kitchens for every ticket redeemed.  The system was a way to see that the hungry were fed snd that any money donated was not spent on alcohol.  Sometimes. the recipient of a ticket would crumple it or tear it up in indignation, but I felt at least that the person would not have to go hungry unless he chose to. 

During the time I was a newspaper farm editor, I was also on the board of deacons for a church, which was situated in an older part of town which was becoming populated by minority people who came to the town to find work in the factories.  The church took on the task of helping to distribute food to the needy in the neighborhood and see that elderly church members were getting healthy meals.  It became a  congregate meals site that served hot lunches to the elderly, a distribution point for meals on wheels, and provided a service that would do the grocery shopping for the elderly, particularly in the winter during hazardous weather.   At that time there was a food stamp program, but better known then was a commodity distribution program through which surplus food items were available.  The church arranged to participate in the distribution and provided cooking instruction sessions on making tasty and nutritious meals from the items.  As a farm editor, I was in constant contact with Department of Agriculture personnel who advised and assisted the church with its programs.  

Production at the factories at that time was seasonal, so there were times when workers were laid off and needed help in feeding their families.  Some congregation members  complained about the people who were constantly coming and going at the church, but a couple of stern sermons quieted them down.  However, the complainers formed a faction which started talk of firing the pastor because of his "extremely liberal" political views.  He soon resigned and was recruited by a church near Chicago that wanted him to organize a food program for their congregation.  The pastor who replaced him was enthusiastic about the church's involvement in feeding people and helped administer the program.  One of the board members complained that the church needed to hire a pastor, not a cafeteria manager.  But most of the deacons not only supported the food program, but actively participated in it.  I was among those who took grocery lists to the elderly, who would check off what they needed, and we would fill and deliver their orders to them.  A woman in the congregation who was a nutritionist reviewed the orders to insure that the people had healthy diets.  

  A food distribution site serving those who have lost jobs because of the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has made food programs essential to keeping the U.S, going.  Some of the distribution programs are massive with cars lining up for miles at distribution sites.  

My grandmother would be pleased to see this.  She would probably insist that Jesus drives an SUV.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

When politics had some brain power


My congressman when I left Illinois was in his eighth term.  He was a Republican.  I supported him and was a registered Republican, although I sometimes voted for more Democrats than Republicans.  He had been a neighborhood playmate and a schoolmate of mine, so I knew him personally. We served in the Army at the same time, but never encountered each other then.  Although I had jobs in which I could not make open displays of partisan support--newspaper editor and professor--I  supported his positions on many issues and on occasion provided his office and his campaigns information.

I was raised in a household of what were known as Lincoln Republicans in Illinois.  What defined them was not so much their place on the spectrum of left to right politics, but their emphasis on competence, integrity, and forthrightness.  My district in Illinois was a combination of some of the richest farmland in the U.S., which tended Republican, and industrial cities, which tended Democratic.  The congressman took positions on agricultural, labor, and civil rights issues which served his constituents well, and he met the standards of character and competence that people trusted. 

After a redistricting which rather drastically changed the boundaries, the congressman lost a primary to an extreme conservative.  However, the conservative candidate then lost to the Democrat.  Except for one term held by a Tea Party Republican, the district has been held by Democrats since 1983.  

The congressman lost the primary when his opponent emphasized the role he had played in the Watergate hearings.  He voted to impeach Richard Nixon.  He had even worked on the articles of impeachment.  Conservatives resent having their favored officials held accountable for wrong doing, even by members of their own party.  They expect loyal party members to engage in cover ups.

This attitude is one which carried Trump to  the presidency. He claimed Obama was born in Kenya. He constantly calls Hillary Clinton a crook, which elicits the chant of "Lock her up."  Trump leads his rallies, as in Orwell's 1984, in two minutes of hate with Hillary as the focal point. While people may be opposed to Clinton's politics and dislike her personally, no one has specified an  offense she has committed  which could result in a jail sentence.  The Trump followers are quick to  charge others with all manner of wrong doing and are avid about inflicting harsh punishments on them, but they cannot see the crookedness and malice of Donald Trump or the violations of decency committed in his name.  They accuse their opposition of trying to overthrow the government while they are the ones who engage in seditious conduct.  

The difference between the politics of decades ago from today's is in the number of people whose minds have been taken over by a cult, in this case, the Trump cult. Again, as in Orwell's 1984, "The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."   The incoherence of Trump's is remarkable, and his supporters repeat the lies he makes up and the insults he lavishes in complete disregard of the facts which surround them.  What they actually communicate is deficiencies of mind.  With them, a coherent political dialogue is not a possibility.  It seems that Trump's own incoherence as president is taken as permission for those so inclined to follow his example.  His base lives a fact-free existence.  Even his supporter evangelist Pat Robertson said, "With all his talent, and the ability to raise money and draw large crowds, the President still lives in an alternate reality."    That is a way of saying he has a mental disorder.  He chooses to ignore the factual reality and imposes his whims on the nation.,  His base tries to join the image of the world he projects.  That image is divorced from any reality and is viciously anti-democratic.  In years past, people who were anti-democratic did not try to pass their fascism off as American patriotism.  For Trump's so called base, the purpose of democracy and how it operates is beyond their grasp.

As we approach a new year and the coming of a new president, it is important not to ignore that there are 74 million voters who chose malice and mendacity over peace on earth and good will toward all people.  Our nation has struggled for 244 years to make manifest the objectives set in its founding documents.  The presidency of Donald Trump is the first to stridently deny democratic principles and processes and to deliberately reverse what progress the nation has made.  Our hope is in the 81 million people who support the quest for liberty, equality, justice, and, above all, honesty in our government.  They need to gear up for a huge effort to deal with those who oppose the promise of democracy.  It will be an arduous time for democracy. 

Let's start over.


Sunday, December 20, 2020

About Joe Biden's stutter and horrendous journalism.

 Many years ago when computer networks were connected by telephone lines, I joined what was then called the Northwest Database. It included a journalism review generated by a bunch of professors and journalists in the Dakotas and Minnesota with contributions from surrounding states.  The review analyzed the performance of the news media in the region and periodically polled its subscribers to rank the media.  In a couple of those rankings, my local newspaper was ranked as the worst daily newspaper in South Dakota.   There were many reasons for the low repute, but the two main ones were for the newspaper failing to fact check quotations it published and its deferential coverage of some politicians.  The newspaper's readers were not being provided reliable information, and it showed more interest in ingratiating itself with powerful people than in actually covering the news.  Some of those old problems seem to linger on at times.

A few days ago, the Aberdeen American News published a letter to the editor with the headline "Muttering Joe would funny if he weren't sad [sic]."  It is a partisan letter, as many are, but it is also a letter that is totally malevolent with the writer obviously of the opinion that he is more intelligent than he in fact is. Newpapers build their reputations on the accuracy of their reporting and the cogency of their writing.  Letters to the editor present problems because their writers are often neither accurate reporters or competent writers.The letters need special editorial treatment when they fall below standards of accuracy, literacy, and style.  At a newspaper I worked for the editors would work with substandard writers to try to bring their letters up to par, because they reflect on the newspaper that publishes them.  The letter about Joe Biden needed much editorial attention.

The letter lists things that Biden has said or done that are not true or are presented in a false light, and does not indicate where those things are alleged to have happened.   One of the accusations is:  "Millions of voters never heard Joe Biden mock a stuttering child..."   

Joe Biden is a stutterer.  He has been very open about that fact and has talked about it to help other people who stutter deal with the problem.  He devoted a portion of a town hall to explaining the problem and he learned to overcome it.  Over the years, I have had numerous students who stuttered and know how hard they work on their speech in order to  participate in society.  Joe Biden has moments when his speech is halting, but I have never seen him or heard about him mocking a child.

The letter in question is malicious.   The Aberdeen American News needs to be more concerned about truth and accuracy in what it chooses to print.  Too much of what people, like the letter writer, are agitating about is simply not true.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The truth could set a whole damned society free.

 A local newspaper columnist has joined many other commentators in bemoaning the angry state of division that possesses our nation (We’re messing up our world, all of us).  He recalls a time when people with differing political preferences did not live in a state of hostility.  He notes:

There was a time in America when our disagreements were a part of our strength. We could disagree, respect each other and be united in that we each want what’s best for the greater good.

I, too, recall  a time when it was accepted as condition of life that people would have differing preferences and those differences were accepted as a fact of democratic life.  The writer, John Papendick, says, "I don’t know where we went wrong, but somewhere along the line, we messed up."  Scholars of language and communication, however, have known for some decades that good will was being supplanted by ill will in our society, and have noted some sources of the ill will.

In my own experience as a professor of English, I was certainly aware that an element of malice had taken possession of the minds of a few students.  The malice was expressed in a few student papers.  Those papers contained elements of bigoted intensity that had no place in the quest for knowledge and had to be dealt with.  At that time, I was involved in a research program on the holistic evaluation of papers.  Three professors would read each paper  and each would assign it a rating from a rubric with a quick explanation of each rating.  This was a technique to enable professors to evaluate student work with consistent criteria and provide students with full responses to their work.  

A professor who was reading a paper from my class looked up from the paper and said that it came straight from Rush Limbaugh.  I do not listen to talk broadcasts such as the Limbaugh shows, so I would not recognize where the ideas and words came from.  However, the professors discussed how to deal with such materials.  They  quickly pointed out that if the student did not attribute the words and ideas to their source, they were a matter of plagiarism, and they violated a basic rule of academic honesty.  

That was a time when students wrote argumentative papers, it became apparent much they were influenced by what they encountered in the mass media, and needed to be taught critical thinking skills in evaluating their sources of information.  In the case of Rush Limbaugh, there were a number of books published which documented many of the falsehoods stated by Limbaugh.  Students who quoted words and ideas from Limbaugh were dismayed to find matters that they cited  in their papers were disputed by fact checkers.  In the academic world, checking out the veracity of factual statements is a routine of scholarship.  But that is not true for the general population.

At this time, there is an abundance of false information and ridiculous conspiracy theories in circulation.  When decisions that affect our lives are made on the basis of falsehoods, our nation is in peril.  Stupidity can destroy us.  But malignant falsehoods are put in circulation by Rush Limbaugh and others of his ilk, and they are operating in the lives of the gullible and misinformed.  

Donald Trump awarded Limbaugh, the preeminent malicious liar, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  When an agitator of malice is given a national honor, it is a signal of a nation in deep trouble.  But it also defines the issues that divide the nation:  people of good will versus people of ill will, as typified by Trump and Limbaugh.

The division in the country is not political;  it is moral.  It is between those who believe in decency, honesty, and respect for differences and those who are willing to sacrifice moral attributes for the exercise of power over others.  Rather than wonder about the causes of the division, examine how that division is expressed.  It is usually conveyed in a statement of ill will, and often take great liberties with  the truth, if not be a total violation of it.  

If we really want to confront the division in our society, we can begin by checking the things we read and hear and pass along for factual accuracy.  The truth may be hard to handle at times, but it is a lot easier than handling lies.  And freedom from lies is the most constructive kind of freedom.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

These officials are openly working to abolish democracy

 The suit by the Texas attorney general tried to make it possible for Trump to remain in office by disenfranchising 20 million voters from four swing states.  When the news media asked law professors about the chances of the suit succeeding, they were told that it violated almost every canon of law.

A writer for The Guardian asked the pertinent question regarding the suit:  How does a two-party democracy continue to function when one side simply won’t play by the rules – and doesn’t seem to believe in the democratic project?

She summarized the background of the suit:

Republicans, still loyal to a president with waning power, are asking the supreme court to disenfranchise millions of Americans.

It turns out that Trump wasn’t an aberration. He was the result of long-building extremism and reality-denialism on the right. And when he came to power, far too many in the Republican party didn’t see a cruel, incurious, dictatorial madman, but a kindred spirit – and the kind of leader who would happily override inconvenient democratic norms, basic standards of human decency, and even the rule of law. 

Attorney General Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, one of the states named in the suit, termed the it "seditious abuse of the judicial process."

The Supreme Court rejected the suit:  "Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections."

The suit was an attack on the basic premise of democracy.  Although Trump and his followers  claimed there was fraud and cheating in the election,  investigations have found no evidence. Even Trump's main toady, Attorney General William Barr, announced that no evidence has been found.

The suit did reveal that American democracy is under serious attack, not from foreign enemies, but from officials in government here at home

Here is a list of those who attacked the country.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton;

and these state attorneys general 

Eric Schmitt, Missouri (he goes first because Missouri filed the brief);

 Steve Marshall, Alabama;

 Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas;

 Ashley Moody, Florida;

 Curtis Hill, Indiana; 

Derek Schmidt, Kansas; 

Jeff Landry, Louisiana; 

Lynn Fitch, Mississippi; 

Tim Fox, Montana; 

Doug Peterson, Nebraska; 

Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota; 

Mike Hunter, Oklahoma; 

Alan Wilson, South Carolina; 

Jason Ravnsborg, South Dakota; 

Herbert H. Slatery III, Tennessee; 

Sean Reyes, Utah; 

Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia.

The following U.S. House of Represwntative members: 

Kevin McCarthy, Republican House leader (Ca.)

Steve Scalise, whip (La.); 

Jim Jordan (Ohio), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee; 

Kevin Brady (Tex.), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee;

 Rep. Gary Palmer (Ala.), head of the Republican Policy Committee; 

 Mike Johnson (La.), who organized this opposition to the Constitution.

Other House members listed by state:

 Alabama (Robert B. Aderholt, Mo Brooks, Bradley Byrne), Arizona (Andy Biggs, Debbie Lesko), 

Arkansas (Eric A. “Rick” Crawford, Bruce Westerman), California (Ken Calvert, Doug LaMalfa, Tom McClintock), Colorado (Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn), 

Florida (Gus M. Bilirakis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Neal Dunn, Matt Gaetz, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Ross Spano, Michael Waltz, Daniel Webster, Ted Yoho), 

Georgia (Rick Allen, Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, Douglas A. Collins, Drew Ferguson, Jody Hice, Barry Loudermilk, Austin Scott), Idaho (Russ Fulcher, Mike Simpson), 

Illinois (Mike Bost, Darin LaHood), 

Indiana (Jim Baird, Jim Banks, Trey Hollingsworth, Greg Pence, Jackie Walorski), 

Iowa (Steve King), 

Kansas (Ron Estes, Roger Marshall), Louisiana (Ralph Abraham, Clay Higgins).

Maryland (Andy Harris), 

Michigan (Jack Bergman, Bill Huizenga, John Moolenaar, Tim Walberg), 

Minnesota (Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn, Pete Stauber), Mississippi (Michael Guest, Trent Kelly, Steven M. Palazzo), Missouri (Sam Graves, Billy Long, Vicky Hartzler, Blaine Luetkemeyer, Jason T. Smith, Ann Wagner), 

Montana (Greg Gianforte), 

Nebraska (Jeff Fortenberry, Adrian Smith), 

New Jersey (Gregory Steube, Jeff Van Drew), 

New York (Elise Stefanik, Lee Zeldin), 

North Carolina (Dan Bishop, Ted Budd, Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson, Greg Murphy, David Rouzer, Mark Walker), Ohio (Bob Gibbs, Bill Johnson, Robert E. Latta, Brad Wenstrup), Oklahoma (Kevin Hern, Markwayne Mullin).

Pennsylvania (John Joyce, Frederick B. Keller, Mike Kelly, Dan Meuser, Scott Perry, Guy Reschenthaler, Glenn Thompson), South Carolina (Jeff Duncan, Ralph Norman, Tom Rice, William Timmons, Joe Wilson), 

Tennessee (Tim Burchett, Scott DesJarlais, Charles J. “Chuck” Fleischmann, Mark Green, David Kustoff, John Rose), 

Texas (Jodey Arrington, Brian Babin, Michael C. Burgess, Michael Cloud, K. Michael Conaway, Dan Crenshaw, Bill Flores, Louie Gohmert, Lance Gooden, Kenny Marchant, Randy Weber, Roger Williams, Ron Wright), 

Virginia (Ben Cline, H. Morgan Griffith, Rob Wittman, Ron Wright), 

Washington (Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dan Newhouse), 

West Virginia (Carol Miller, Alex Mooney),

 Wisconsin (Tom Tiffany).

Monday, December 7, 2020

" the gods of absurdity overachieved"

And he passes gas at hearings
 Rudy Giuliani has not had a good week.In fact, he has been in a downward spiral since he joined forces with Donald Trump.  But the past week has been intensely cruel.

It began when he held a press conference notable for its frantic incoherence and streaks of brown liquid running down his face. Some people contended that he was sweating so much that it dissolved his hair dye.  Some said it was something else.  Whatever it was, the brown trickle was gross and made Rudy an object of ridicule and scorn as a fitting accompaniment to a press conference that was an insult to intelligence.

Then he appeared before a hearing by the Michigan legislature to testify on the Trump campaign accusations of voter fraud.  Again, the testimony from him and the people he brought with him was ridiculously incoherent, and the microphones picked up punctuation by farts.  People present at the hearing said, yes, the noise came from Rudy's asshole.  Farts are now part of the official record.

These events all occurred after Rudy appeared at a press conference in a parking lot outside a place called  Four Season's Landscaping Co.  It was supposed to be scheduled for a Four Seasons Hotel.  No one ever involved i a campaign or making any kind of public relations arrangement can explain how such a ridiculous error could be carried out, but so goes the campaign and Rudy's role in it.

The last thing to befall Giuliani is that he has tested positive for covid-19 and will not participate in the effort to overturn the election of Joe Biden for a while--an effort that is inflicting possibly fatal damage to American democracy.

While the election of Joe Biden offers some hope of restoring the nation to a state of sanity, a good portion of the population is in a deranged fury.  Either because of gullible stupidity or intensely malicious purpose, it believes and is acting on the perfidious mendacity of the Trump campaign.  Everything Trump has ever touched turns into a demonstration of malignant, destructive idiocy.  Giuliani, once regarded as a competent mayor of New York City, has turned into a vessel of flailing idiocy.

The only explanation is that he has been touched by Donald Trump.  The gods of absurdity, worshipped by many in the nation, have overachieved.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The reign of incompetence gives double dose in South Dakota

Partisan politics may produce the ultimate end of the United States. Lincoln noted that "A house divided against itself cannot stand."  He was referring specifically to a division between slave-holding and free states, but was confident that division would be resolved.  Of course, the division was ultimately resolved by the elimination of slavery.  The division that divides the nation today is as elemental, but much less subject to resolution.   It is a division between people of good will and those who harbor malice as a value.  Reconciliation between good will and ill will is a near impossibility:  the good cannot condone malice in any way.  

Malice has found a loud voice in Donald Trump, and he has defined those who support him.  If there is any redeeming quality of character in Trump, no one I know of has managed to name it.  Trump has uncovered a streak of malice in America that a change in presidents will not dispel.  It is a trait that has great appeal to some people who want it in their leaders.  They equate obstinate malice with strength.   They are people who assent to democracy as a means to provide opportunity to impose anti-democratic rule on the nation.  As a consequence, we have a president who utters unhinged and incoherent statements about fraud and deception that have no basis other than his unfit condition.  He lies constantly.  Trump appeals to those with severe defects of mind and character and gives them encouragement to cling to proven falsehoods as a basic freedom.   He has proven himself unfit to do anything rational and constructive.  He has six weeks left to scorch the nation's earth, after which we citizens can only hope that Joe Biden can reconstruct the nation.

As for South Dakota, Gov. vacuous floundering with her Trumpist cow girl act leaves the state competing for the most deaths per capita from covid-19 with her leave-the people-free-for-disease-and-death rant and nothing else.  She has no mind to be out of.

2020 has been a year of trial and tribulation, and the likes of Trump and Noem are what has made it so.  One can only wonder if this what their supporters actually wanted.  The evidence is that it is.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States