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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

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The 2020 election wasn't stolen, but it will be.

Celebrating the death of American democracy

There are many factors that refute Trump's lie about the 2020 election being stolen from him.  The reasons why so many people, including legislators, support or choose to ignore the lie are much more difficult to determine.  They also are much more important to analyze because they indicate how our democracy is failing.  In casting their votes for Trump, 74 million voters indicated that they really don't care much for democracy.  Some may be ignorant about Trump and his shady history.  But those who are somewhat informed have registered an explicit message that democracy is not their choice as a form of government, and they do not care if the leader they choose is a lying, malevolent fraud.  They want someone who stands for their values.

Washington Post writer Catherine Rampell sums up the current state of political affairs:  Almost half of Republicans are now saying the quiet part out loud: They’d prefer to ditch this whole democracy thing.

Another Post writer, Paul Waldman  details how the GOP is systemically corrupting and perverting the electoral system to clear the way for a re-election of Trump in 2024.  However, there are ploys at play to put Trump in office before the election.  It evolves around the "Stop the Steal" slogan.  With his claim that the election was stolen, Trump is accusing others of doing exactly what he is trying to do.  And there is a large following of anti-democratic dolts out there willing to help him in the theft.

Despite the fact that more than 60 courts have dismissed suits claiming election fraud because there was no evidence of it and multiple recounts have also found no evidence of fraud, Trump and his horde of zombies keep shouting their mantra.  Some of his lackeys in the Arizona senate voted to audit the ballots in Maricopa County, the location of Phoenix, and hired a company with no history of ever having done an election audit.  After failing to follow the security procedures for the voting machines and tabulating equipment, the secretary of state was advised that they were disqualified from use in subsequent elections.  That puts in jeopardy the county's ability to even hold an election in a county that tallies 2.1 million votes.  The Republican officials in the county warn against the absurd incompetence of the recount.  But the Trump lickspittles in the Arizona senate persist n their effort to manufacture doubt.

The lickspittles in other places have taken up the crusade to steal the election while insisting it has been stolen.  Georgia is undergoing a recount of ballots that have already been counted three times.  But the Trumpists are not going to be deterred by facts, science, or honesty. 

The only reason South Dakota hasn't convened a mob of nitwits to shuffle the ballots is because it doesn't need to.  Sixty-two percent of the state's voters committed their lives to Trump in the 2020 election.  That fact and the governor's subversion of the initiated measure on marijuana indicate that democracy is not even a pretense in South Dakota.  

Paul Krugman lays out the prognosis:

America’s democratic experiment may well be nearing its end. That’s not hyperbole; it’s obvious to anyone following the political scene. Republicans might take power legitimately; they might win through pervasive voter suppression; G.O.P. legislators might simply refuse to certify Democratic electoral votes and declare Donald Trump or his political heir the winner. However it plays out, the G.O.P. will try to ensure a permanent lock on power and do all it can to suppress dissent.

When the electorate put Trump in office it infected the republic with a fatal disease.  Joe Biden won the 2020 election by 7 million votes, but that doesn't matter to the Trumpists.  They will keep denying it and will work on the projects Krugman outlines.  They are not interested in anything to do with preserving and building the republic.  The fact is that 74 million voters rejected democracy and have no scruples about how they will finish it off.


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

If you think Trump is okay, you aren't


The legacy of Donald  J. Trump, a project of some Aberdeen high school students

I've recounted the incident a number of times.  I returned to my hometown in Illinois to visit my family and was staying at my brother's house, along with a couple who were with him for a weekend.  She was someone he had worked with for many years in the past and with whom he maintained a close friendship.  Her husband was a retired banker from Chicago who had also served as the head of some important cultural organizations.  My brother was hosting a get-together for the couple, when someone brought up an incident that happened when I was the farm and business editor of the local newspaper.

I have often said it was the best job I ever had, except for the business part. That was because business people are constantly trying to get mentioned in the newspaper in laudable ways and often are not truthful about what they claim.  The newspaper had a stringent policy about not printing false or misleading information in the paper.  Consequently, I spent an inordinate amount of time fact-checking information that came from businesses, and this produced some tense and unpleasant episodes with business owners and executives when we asked for clarifications or refused to print something.  There was an incident in which a well-known executive held a press conference to announce a development for his company.  When checking some of the claims for the company, we found them provably false, so we did a rather small story that covered only the facts of the presentation.  The man went on a public relations rampage, threatening to sue the newspaper and maligning it in general.  This alerted other media to check the facts and make retractions for their coverage.  The tale prompted the banker to talk about the problems of dealing with unscrupulous  business  people he dealt with as a commercial banker.  He cited Donald Trump, who was promoting a book at the time, as an example, and he gave a vigorous account of why he and his associates loathed Trump.

I don't think he had ever actually met Trump but was aware of his reputation in the ethical business community from his associates.  This was early in Trump's career, but he had already established a reputation among business  insiders.  He was known fo stiff contractors who worked for him.  He lied constantly and maligned people behind  their backs.  

Since that conversation thirty some years ago, I have never heard a good word about Donald Trump.  People have acknowledged that he had a knack for asserting himself into public attention and of making money, but I never heard a positive word about his character or the way he did business.  As it turns out. the people from New York where he lived had his number.

A real estate manager said:

People in real estate are afraid to do business with him because he and his family and his organization are not honest people,” he added, referring to, among other things, Trump’s reputation for not paying his contractors

Another business New Yorker was asked about Trump's reputation before he became president.

To answer your question, everybody in NYC had a Donnie story - none of them flattering. All of them involving him cheating somebody, stiffing his contractors, caterers, workmen and how he was “mobbed up” so his cement got delivered when the rest of the building industry was at a standstill. Donnie could build a hotel in Las Vegas but he couldn’t get a license for a casino because of his mob connections. Pity we don’t have such high standards for who sits in the White House.

In the end, he barely got 9% of the vote from New York - we all knew him for what he is. We’re just waiting for the rest of you to wake up.

The big question is, why do so many people support Trump despite his reputation and the malevolence with which he conducted his campaign?  The answer is obvious:  he appeals to them.   The significance is in the nature of that appeal.

Trump is the antithesis of what our democratic republic is supposed to stand for.  He is dishonest, preys on the work of others, lies constantly, disrespects women, and has failed in as many business ventures as he has succeeded.  So what is his attraction?

It is something that goes beyond partisan politics.  It is the primal politics of the dog pack or chicken flock.  

Some years ago a well-respected high school counselor presented a paper on it.  It deals with the matter of bullying.  His premise is that we misunderstand bullying in schools and beyond.  We think of it as a situation in which bullies seek out weak people to inflict themselves on, and we tend to see the problem as a matter of standing up to the bullies.  If we define  the problem in those terms, we miss the crux of it.  What deserves attention more is the people who support or fall in line behind the bully.  Many people see allying themselves with bullies as a way to obtain power and status for themselves.  They form a relationship in their minds that is emotional and impervious to facts and reasoning and, often, standards of decency.  The counselor made the point that if we do not understand this aspect of bullying, we do not understand how the holocaust happened and what World War II over Germany was about.  It was not merely about Hitler; it was about the people who chose to follow and support him.  

Many members in the American dog pack are incapable of dealing with the facts of the character and history of Donald Trump. In their frenzied minds, Trump is elevated as a billionaire hero and they they choose to believe the conspiracies that portray him as good and his opponents as wicked demons.  They are mentally unable to recognize and consider the facts behind the opposition to Trump.  They just dismiss them as as leftist propaganda.

The power of a bully to gain mindless but powerful followers is being written into history by the Federal Elections Commission.  Trump got his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to pay porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to be quiet about an affair Trump had with her.  Cohen got convicted and sent to jail for violating the law prohibiting bribery in election campaigns.  The evidence against Cohen included canceled checks and the testimony of Stormy Daniels.  But when the FEC considered the payment by Trump, the GOP members said the violation had already been litigated and penalized by  the conviction of  Cohen.  So, the man who approved and benefitted from the bribe was spared any adverse action even though the bribe was made under his authority.  This was not a miscarriage of justice;  it was an induced abortion by dolts who choose to be his acolytes.

The effect of worshippers at the bully pulpit is demonstrated by the reaction to Liz Cheney's refusal to accede to Trump's lie that the election was stolen.  She was one of Trump's most avid supporters in Congress. She voted with his positions 93 percent of the time.  But Trump's lie about the election and his provoking the assault on the Capitol were a changing point.  She has denounced Trump as a threat to the Constitution and the democracy. This has prompted many in her home state of Wyoming to turn against her with a viciousness.  When MSNBC interviewed conservatives in Wyoming about her, their denunciations were angry.  And unhinged.  One man angrily called her a traitor.  Calling someone who calls out the malfeasance of a president a traitor reveals the kind of mentality possessed by what is being called Trump's base.

Some people defer to Trump because they are fearful and think he possesses the strength to protect them from whatever makes them fearful.  Others endorse some of Trump's political stances and are willing to overlook his lies, his betrayals of wives and people who have done business with him, and his abusive demeanor.  They subject themselves to a bully who they think can give them what they want despite Trump's betrayal of his oath of office.  And there are those like the man who called Cheney a traitor.  They are the weak of mind who interpret Cheney's exercise of the First Amendment as an act of betrayal. In their deficient minds, they regard anyone who opposes the false notions that comprise their political and patriotic makeup as traitors.  They are too mentally incompetent to understand the democracy that provides their equality.

The divide in our nation is not fundamentally partisan.  It is actually a divide between the ignorant and stupid and those with enough intelligence to distinguish between the world of established fact and conspiracy fantasies, between the somewhat principled and those who think any means to money and power is fair, and between those who cower behind boisterous swindlers and those who try to assert some integrity of purpose in life.

If you support Trump, you fall into one of those defined categories:  stupidly ignorant, morally coward, or ethically depraved.  There are no other explanations for supporting him.

Your endorsement of Trump labels you as a miscreant in opposition to the fundamental principles that frame our republic. It is not a chicken flock that operates on a pecking order.  It's a constitutional democracy that strives to establish freedom, equality, and justice for all. The division is not between Democrat and Republican. It's between those who work for those principles and those who deny or ignore them.  If you think Donald Trump is okay, you think America can be betrayed.  And to those who understand what the nation is trying to become, that is not okay.


Thursday, May 6, 2021

The messiah tries to purge the woke from South Dakota colleges -- Update on violation of policy

Note:  This post gives an account of faculty directly lobbying legislators.  The author knew that is forbidden, but forgot.  Some former colleagues reminded him that faculty dealing with legislators on institutional matters is expressly forbidden and think it should be emphasized in this account.  The Regents Policy Manual states:

NUMBER: 1:12


  1. Relations to State Legislature

    All institutionally lobbied relationships and negotiations with the State Legislature, including its committees, shall be coordinated through the Board of Regents. No subordinate official representing any of the several institutions may appear before the Legislature or any committee except upon the authority of the Board or when requested by the State Legislature itself.


It is good for a man that he bear the woke in his youth.  Lamentations 3:2

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the woke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness...Isaiah 58:9 

Why did Dr. Tim Downs resign suddenly as president of Northern State University?  It appears that some professors with virulent cases of the messiah complex decided to lift the woke from the campus and free it from the threat of noxious liberalism.  And yes, I am using woke in a pun to replace the word yoke.  But apparently some regarded Dr. Downs as a woke agent and thought it was time to exterminate the wokes.

The part that inspires a snicker is that woke is a figment of their beleaguered imaginations.  It is a word that has entered the popular culture, originally as a satiric word.  It comes from black street language and is a derivative of the word that in traditional English is awake.  Black  people used it to describe people who were awake to or aware of what life is like for black people in our society.  But as white people appropriated the word to describe themselves, it became a sardonic term when blacks used it.  A black person might say of a white guy who thinks he has a total understanding of what it is to be black in America, "He be woke."  Sarcasm is conveyed about the attitude.

As white people used the term, they did not understand that the word conveyed a deprecation of their presumptions.  Black English, sometimes referred to as Ebonics, is laden with words that convey ridicule of white presumptions of superiority.  So, woke names a silly presumption, not an actual state of awareness.

Some faculty think that woke refers to some definite, organized political mission.  They oppose that mission as they think they see it emerging on their campuses.  Although what they see are some inchoate attempts to deal with issues of race and other reasons for exclusion, they choose to interpret them as an insidious effort to impose wokism on their campuses. 

The notion of wokism is an outgrowth of the efforts to encourage diversity.  As universities implement programs and appoint officials to comply with demands for inclusiveness, they announce more measures to expand equal opportunities.  Some faculty felt threatened by those measures and launched a blog which purported to make a record of those threats.  They call it Woki-Leaks South Dakota.  Its stated purpose:  "We have made a commitment not to stand by idly while Woke activists turn South Dakota’s public schools into far-left political organizations."

According to an investigative article by Jonathan Ellis of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the blog printed emails from Dr. Downs that agitated legislators.  He wrote, "Lawmakers drafted a letter accusing Downs of fostering a woke community that suppressed other viewpoints. The letter demanded Downs put an end to the program or resign."  Downs apparently chose the latter option. 

Dr. Downs established some committees to put in place policies and practices that promote diversity on campus.  They are the Diversity Action Pillar Team and the Athletic Council on Community, Culture, and Social Justice.  Those committees issued a notice to the campus that stated:

Students, staff, and faculty who need a space to process the events of the day are welcome to the Multicultural Affairs Center in Avera Student Center room 201 from Monday through Friday, from 9am until 5pm. We acknowledge that the topics of racism and police brutality are complex, with varying perspectives. We ask our community to respect that this space is not the appropriate one for political or philosophical debate.

 The Woki-Leaks blog announced this offer with this heading:   NSU’s Woke Have Created a Safe Space in Which Open Discussion of the Chauvin Trial is Not Allowed

The bloggers stated:  "Note that the email, which can be read here, implies that the Chauvin trial was “just” because it yielded the particular outcome the activist authors were looking for."

We also note that this comment implies that the conviction of Derek  Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd was not just. But the blog chooses to misstate what the committees actually said in regard to their offer of a place to reflect on what the Chauvin trial signifies.  It asked people making use of the room to respect it as a sanctuary free from the angry arguments that erupt over topics like racism and police misconduct.  That Woki-Leaks statement reveals a mindset clouded by racial obsessions.   They take offense at the idea that someone offers a place where people can go to contemplate the George Floyd murder and its implication free from the malice-oozing  chatter from folks like the authors of Woki-Leaks.

If the authors of Woki-Leaks are indeed professors, it is clear why they display  academic cowardice by choosing  to remain anonymous.  (Some old colleagues from NSU, however, say that it is obvious to the faculty who they are.)  Their blog violates one of the three transgressions against scholarship for which tenured professors can be fired:  plagiary, fabrication, or falsification.  Their misrepresentation of a request for respect by stating that discussion of the Chauvin trial is not allowed is a false characterization of what was said.  And that invites further scrutiny into the accuracy of what is represented in the blog.   Even though academic free speech invites critical comment, such speech must not misrepresent another person's words for defamatory purposes.  The characterization of the efforts to promote diversity as "woke" subversion of the academic enterprise steps over the boundary of criticism into falsehood.

Dr. Downs' sudden resignation raised some alarm in the community.  He raised $110 million in donated funds, which is an unusual achievement for a public university.  Some people worry that if the man who attracted that money suddenly left, the donors might have second thoughts about their donations.  When the information about the letter of ultimatum by the legislators was revealed, the worry intensified.   Professors' professional organizations are particularly wary of political intrusions into campus business.  When politicians assert direct control over a state college,  the freedoms to research, study, and teach are endangered.  In this case, legislators threatened to withhold funding.  If that happens or the school responds with an act of conciliation, it could be censured by scholastic organizations for compromising academic freedom to political interests.  Dr, Downs resignation is an accession to the legislator's ultimatum and a signal that NSU has acceded to political interests. 

At NSU the compromised status is compounded by the complicity of faculty members who chose to subvert the independence of the academic enterprise through an act of complicity with legislators who wish have the colleges operate under their will.  Northern State was censured by the American Association of University Professors in the past for not following academic due process in personnel decisions.  This case involves faculty members circumventing the Board of Regents in their complicity with legislators.  Whereas censure is usually placed on an administration for violating academic due process,  in this instance of political co-option the faculty  was involved.  That has a very negative portent for anyone who might apply for the job of president of the university.

Who would knowing apply for a job where faculty take insidious action against a president who was trying to advance diversity? The Northern faculty may have assumed messianic intent in saving their college from wokeness.  But they have demonstrated compelling reasons for why qualified people would not be their president.  Or their colleague. Or their students.


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Is "Gypsy" a racially offensive term? Not to a lot of people who call themselves that.

 Northern State University's homecoming celebration is called Gypsy Days.  Administrators recently responded to the objections of some students and outside groups to the Gypsy motif and decided to call the homecoming something else.  The administration asked for reactions from the alumni and, apparently, received overwhelming objections to changing the motif, so  then it announced it would not change the name of the homecoming.

For some years, I was adviser to the Northern student publications, and at one point some of the staff was curious about how Northern came to use the Gypsy imagery.  They poured over past copies of the student newspaper and yearbook and asked some of the senior faculty.  The explanation they received was that the University of South Dakota has its Dakota Days, a historical theme; South Dakota State University has the Hobo Days theme; and Northern students chose the Gypsy theme.  The idea was to have a homecoming theme based on the  periodic gathering together of people who are related and joined together by tradition.  Gypsies were known to have such gatherings to which participants traveled from afar to attend the occasion.  (You can read an account of a Gypsy gathering here.)

Current students at Northern said the use of the term Gypsy is a racial slur.  They seem to equate it with the N-word.  It does not have the kind of history the N-word has, however.  The word Gypsy descends from a middle English word for Egyptian.  People in that time thought the nomadic people they encountered came from Egypt.  Most of those Eurasian nomads they encountered called themselves Romany people, and in their migration to Europe, they did come through Egypt.  One of the current errors about Gypsies is that they all prefer to call themselves Romani.  They don't.  Many bands have different identifying histories, but do share the nomadic way of life.  And they call themselves what best identifies their particular history.

The word Gypsy is regarded as a pejorative in some quarters, but largely by people who aren't Gypsies.  Some Gypsies object to  being referred to as Romi.  The NSU administration decided to stay with a school tradition in keeping Gypsy Days, because there has not been any history of disrespect or stereotyping in its use.   Sports fans of the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins mock Indians when they do a silly tomahawk chopping gesture which is a disparagement of the Native American culture.  Aside from some ceremonies in which a few people don some colorful Gypsy dress as they crown the homecoming king and queen, there has been no mocking imitation or minstrelsy of Gypsy culture at NSU.

Another factor is that numerous organizations identify themselves with the Gypsy name.  A directory of organizations in English-speaking countries lists the following:

National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups

The Gypsy Union 

Gypsy Lore Society

Association of Gypsies/Romani International, Inc.

National Gypsy Council 

Gypsy Council for Education, Culture, 

   Welfare and Civil Rights

Gypsy Traveller Health Information Service 

National Association of Gypsy Women 

National Gypsy Council 

Gypsy Heritage Centre 

Gypsy Association of Women 

The question facing the NSU administration is if the tradition of Gypsy Days has been belittling, disrespectful, racist, and if it has been harmful to the Gypsy people.  It obviously came up with a compelling lack of such evidence in deciding to continue with the tradition.  The point of homecoming is to gather former students together to reunite, continue friendships, and  contemplate the bonds they share with the college and fellow alumni.  Ethnic groups have social traditions that celebrate a rebonding of people to each other.  For example, the Sons of Norway promote such reenactments as a way of keeping alive their heritage.

In a time when diversity on campuses is a major concern, it would seem that the elimination of cross-cultural sharing, particularly of positive traditions, would be counter-productive.

The "Gathering of the Gypsies" is a tradition that grew out of the defamation, discrimination, and oppression that the people who call themselves Gypsies had to survive.  It seems a good tradition to explore and emulate, not to abandon.

A Gathering of the Gypsies at the Appleby Fair in England.  It draws 10,000 Gypsies to celebrate their tradition of gathering and renewing their bond to each other.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States