South Dakota Top Blogs

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

America was killed by its firing squad

America, rest in peace.

Every bullet fired in a mass shooting strikes the heart of America.  And America leads the world in the death rate from mass shootings.

Typical (Median) Annual Death Rate per Million People from Mass Public Shootings (U.S., Canada, and Europe, 2009-2015):

  1. United States — 0.058
  2. Albania — 0
  3. Austria — 0
  4. Belgium — 0
  5. Czech Republic — 0
  6. Finland — 0
  7. France — 0
  8. Germany — 0
  9. Italy — 0
  10. Macedonia — 0
  11. Netherlands — 0
  12. Norway — 0
  13. Russia — 0
  14. Serbia — 0
  15. Slovakia — 0
  16. Switzerland — 0
  17. United Kingdom — 0

The press and most people do not want to admit that the shootings are the main symptoms of America's failure as a nation.  It has failed in meeting its purpose as laid out in the Constitution:  "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty."

That's because the prevailing notion in America is that the major blessing of liberty is the right to stalk around the country with an assault weapon and blast the life out of anyone you feel like.  That right takes precedent over any matters of domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare, or justice.  The right to bear a lethal weapon any time or place you choose and blast away with it overrules your right to life.  Unless you are a fetus.  According to the prevailing powers that be.  

We had a great weekend highlighted by America's favorite patriotic sport:  the mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., one in Milwaukee; one in Laguna Woods, Ca.; and one in Houston.  Are we a great country or what?

When Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem to note one of America's defining failures regarding the shootings of unarmed black people by police, he was widely denounced as unpatriotic.   When Black Lives Matter organized to protest those killings, the brilliant retort was that all lives matter.  But week after week, the news reports that in America, lives do not matter at all.  And that is the will of the people.  It was affirmed in the jury trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in the killing of a couple of people in Kenosha, Wis., for which he was acquitted.

The America envisioned in the preamble to the Constitution is dead.  For some people, it was never alive.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Lynch them abortionists, burn them books

I have lived in South Dakota for 43 years, half of my lifetime. After four decades, South Dakota has never become home to me. The state has some attractive qualities, but they are overshadowed by some corrupting factors that are a serious malignancy. I ended up here because I found a professor's job here at a time when the U.S. higher education system had produced far more doctorates than there were jobs nationally. I felt fortunate to get the job. At the time South Dakota was not much different than its midwestern neighbors. But as the 21st century progressed, the state went on a regressive course that disqualifies it from being considered a democracy.

I moved here from Illinois where I was a registered Republican, what is termed a Lincoln Republican. My special area of study and teaching is Native American literature. Before moving here, I had developed many contacts within the state with whom I met and corresponded in the course of my work. But after I had been here for a while, I noticed a coolness from my Native American associates. I mentioned it to a friend from Pine Ridge. He said the coolness was because I had become an employee of the state of South Dakota. Therefore, my contacts were not sure I could be trusted.

That situation was a reflection of a defect in the state that has grown into a major deformity. With nine tribal nations holding territory in the state, there has always been tension since the western Indian wars. But rather controlling and diminishing discrimination and racial hatred, the state has firmly developed in a way that establishes those defects of mind and character as an identifying part of the culture. It has established a single-party system of governance that solidifies and perpetuates a philosophy that is in basic contradiction to the moral and intellectual premises of American democracy. Ignorance and malice are considered admirable traits. When it came time for me to vote, I registered as a Democrat.

The problems in South Dakota are reflected in the daily news:

  • A hotel in Rapid City posts a notice that it will not allow Native Americans to stay there.
  • Some school board members announce that they intend to destroy some books.
  • The people establish a referendum to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. It passes, but the governor finds a way to obstruct it.
  • A panel of 40 people, many of them classroom teachers, produced a set of standards for teaching social studies in the public schools. The Department of Education edited out requirements for Native American history and sent it to the governor who rejected the entire project and appointed a panel of her pet hacks to create standards more to her liking.
  • South Dakota still vies for top place in leading the nation in the brain drain, the loss of talented and educated people to other states.
  • SmartAsset ranks the South Dakota higher education system as the worst in the nation.
South Dakota has created a fantasy that it is a place of honest, kind, hard-working people of good will. The news coming out of the state refutes that myth. So does the voting record of its people during the 21st century.

The facts show that if you wish to live in a place of good will, nice people, and a functioning democracy, South Dakota isn't it.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

When you look in the mirror, do you see Donald Trump?

Long before Donald Trump became a political figure, he was known as a quintessential asshole:  "
Whenever Trump has been in positions of power or authority, he has demonstrated a pattern of trying to enrich himself by abusing the trust others have placed in him — whether it’s creditors, contractors, charitable givers, Trump University students, regulators, or campaign donors."

The problem is, what does it mean when a country freely elects person of Trump's character as their leader?  Well, it means that they are either hopelessly stupid, or that they admire and share his depravity.  Click on the headline below for a quick summary of his offenses.

A rap sheet for a former president

To support and vote for Trump is a disavowal of what America is supposed to be.  He is the opposite of any of the things to which the founders aspired.  Except wealth.  And his was not earned.  It was inherited and increased through swindling and cheating.

There are many political observers who think Trump ended America.  There were 74,224,319 people who voted for Trump in 2020, who registered their objections to a liberty free from dishonesty and malice.  Trump is not the cause of America's descent into turpitude. He is its clarion.

Some people tend to dismiss objections to Trump as the usual partisan politics.  They regard Trump as just having a differing opinion on how the republic should be run.  To  hold that stance, one has to ignore the anti-democratic and corrupt things Trump has done and said.  With Trump as leader, the United States' reputation in the world has plummeted.  

The election of Joe Biden to president in no way redeems America.  It merely delays its failure for a time.  The anti-democratic forces are gaining dominance throughout the world. The failure of democracies is not because of the strength of authoritarians;  it's because of the weakness of the people.  Russia is a case in point.  After throwing off the Soviet regime for a short time, the people put one of its stalwarts--Putin, former KGB officer--back in charge.

Botox unmasked
South Dakota is a bellwether for the decline of America.  It is devoted to a self-preening bumbler of a governor who seems to think a recitation of Trump inanities and a grotesquely botoxed visage makes her presidential material.   She put the state in the national spotlight when she paid a half million dollars for a new state slogan:  "Meth.  We're on it."  She is the chosen image for the state.  

She along with her idol, Trump, are evidence that American democracy is circling the drain.  While some good things are happening in America, Trump and Noem are like malignant tumors on the political body.  They can drain the life out of it.

Friday, April 22, 2022

For some U.S. citizens there is no America

The feature editor devoted a full newspaper page to an interview with a juvenile delinquent and his experience with the justice system.  It received so much response that the managing editor decided to do a series on criminal justice.  I was assigned to interview a prison chaplain. 

The chaplain had been involved with gangs as a youth and had been sent to prison.  While there, he joined a religious brotherhood and studied to be a priest after he served his sentence.

The chaplain had some harsh perspectives on criminal justice.  He said prisons were self-defeating.  Sending offenders to prison was like sending them to graduate school in crime, he said.  Prison did not rehabilitate some convicts as much as educate them in how to be more adept criminals.  He said once people are branded as convicts, their opportunities are limited when they are released from prison.  In order to resume a life, they often revert to criminal activity because they are denied better opportunities.  He said those recidivists are termed habitual offenders, when in fact society rejects them and they must scrabble to find a way to stay alive.  

The priest was adamant about the failures of the criminal justice system, and he spoke often about criminal justice and prison reform. I asked him about who were the most dangerous people he encountered in prison.  He said the wrongfully convicted.  He told of men who became model prisoners so they could get out and avenge themselves on the society that had wrongfully placed them in prison.  He said that a wrongful conviction to some is irrefutable proof that society is malevolent and the idea of justice merely makes the gullible unwary about how the people around them are looking for people to victimize.

Wrongful convictions are dangerous for society as a whole.  They undermine trust in government.  They are failures of justice and convince some people that there is no such thing.   That interview with the prison chaplain was more than 55 years ago, and it sparked a concern among fellow journalists.  While there are many innocence and justice projects throughout the nation largely organized by lawyers, early efforts at exonerating the wrongfully convicted were made by journalists.  One of the first organizations to investigate wrongful convictions began in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.  But long before the formal organization was created, journalists were confronted with claims of innocence by incarcerated individuals.  The news media was the court of last resort, and that series on criminal justice published by the newspaper I worked for almost 60 years ago raised a great deal of controversy.  

Readers were disturbed by the idea that there were wrongful convictions.  Although the story had just mentioned wrongful conviction and contained no conjecture about its frequency, the reactions were intense.  Many people took refuge in the cliche that most convicts claim they are innocent.  Some, especially from law enforcement, were indignant at the suggestion that the criminal justice system could make frequent errors. There was a hysterical reaction among a few that a wrongfully convicted person had completed his sentence and was on the prowl in society looking to avenge himself.  

That idea of a vengeful, innocent ex-convict produced such intense reactions that the editor had me call the prison chaplain to see if he knew of any such men who had gotten revenge.  He said he was not aware of any cases in which a violation of law was involved, but he knew of a couple in which the former convicts dedicated themselves to digging for incriminating information on the people who accused them.   However, he re-emphasized that the convicted innocent had good reason to be cynical about criminal justice because they were living proof that the innocent were undeservedly punished at times.  They can sue the state for the damages they incurred, but they have good reason not to trust the courts.  The chaplain said that the wrongfully convicted who were released from prison tended to fall into two extremes: those who were grateful and happy to regain their freedom, and those who were bitter and resentful over their false conviction.  Those latter were the dangerous ones because they harbored a hostility and contempt toward society and tended toward antisocial activities.  He said a few of the exonerated were so embittered that the wardens were fearful about releasing them.  Some exonerated seemed to think that they had paid for a crime, so now they owed it to society to commit it.  However, the states have seen the need for extensive rehabilitation measures in such cases to provide some mitigating services to the wrongfully convicted. 

When DNA technology developed as a tool in criminal justice,  the number of wrongful convictions discovered increased markedly.  There are studies on how and why wrongful convictions occur:  "Wrongful convictions statistics show that the main reasons many end up behind bars are misidentification, official misconduct, false testimony, perjury, false accusation, and false confession."   The number of organizations devoted to the investigation and prosecution of wrongful conviction cases has also increased.  The public seems largely aware that wrongful convictions occur, but thinks little about the consequences as they affect general society. 

Netflix has a series of documentaries covering wrongful convictions and how they devastate people touched by them.  One is an 8-part feature entitled Trial-4.  Another is the 10-part Making a Murderer.  They both examine the dysfunction of our justice system.  Although the films do not focus on the harm a wrongful conviction does to the society around its subjects, it is clear in the films that wrongful convictions leave a toxic residue on our communities.  But they also grow out of the of prejudice, malice, and dishonesty that our communities harbor.  "Making a Murderer"  includes the story of a 16-year-old boy with a low IQ whose confession is dubious in the extreme but is a key factor in the conviction of him and his uncle for murder.  One of the lawyers in the case contributed to an article in the Chicago Tribune that explains how false confessions are solicited from the young and vulnerable: 

Consider the case of Trevon Y. of St. Clair County, Illinois. In 2013, Trevon was a 17-year-old Black teenager with no criminal history but with developmental disabilities that rendered his mental functioning akin to a much younger child. After a tipster implicated someone named “Trevon” in a local armed robbery, police brought Trevon Y. in for questioning.

The ensuing hours long interrogation was captured on tape — and what the tape shows is disturbing. Even though Trevon tearfully asserted his innocence more than 35 times, detectives relentlessly insisted that they “knew” he was involved. At least 40 times, they falsely told Trevon that witnesses had identified him as the perpetrator. He was trapped, the police insisted, and the only way out was to confess. Indeed, the investigators falsely promised that if Trevon confessed, he would be viewed as “just a young kid who made a bad decision” and avoid incarceration.

Relying on his interrogators’ assurances, Trevon agreed to confess and repeated the story officers fed him about the crime. He spent nine months in jail, facing the possibility of a decades long armed robbery sentence, before prosecutors watched his interrogation video, realized his confession was false and dropped the case.

Trevon is hardly alone: Illinois has been home to more than 100 false confessions across the state...

We Americans like to decry Nazi concentration camps and the Russia of Putin which jails people who speak out against him.  But we live in a country that in its mass incarceration pogrom jails blacks at five times the rate it jails whites.  And as the documentaries show, the criminal justice system likes to beleaguer the poor.

For many people, and especially the wrongfully convicted, America is no different or better than Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.  Or ante bellum America.  If the country fails for the wrongfully convicted, it fails for everyone.  

 America, the beautiful?  Get real, patriots.  America, the failure.

Friday, April 1, 2022

The bitch-slap heard 'round the world

Will Smith strode across the stage at the Academy Awards ceremony, and bitch-slapped Chris Rock right in the face.  I come from a time and place where if that had happened on the street, Will Smith would have been the target of a well-honed knife blade or razor, and spectators would be yelling to call an ambulance because a lot of blood was about to be spilled. A slap on the face conferred disrespect and humiliation on the recipient, who would be expected to retaliate with vigor.

While in high school, I had a part time job as a stock boy in a  department store.   There was a fire station across the alley, and some of the firemen worked in the store receiving department on their days off.  The firemen had a bossy attitude toward the stock boys. One day when a fireman told a stock boy to do something, the boy responded with, "You aren't my boss," and the fireman slapped his face.  The boy grabbed a wooden 2-by-2 used as a guide for cutting wrapping paper and whacked the fireman on the side of the head with it.  The fireman, resorting to his city hall connections, called the police, who showed up quickly.  The problem was that there were a number of witnesses who said the stock boy was acting in self-defense, and the police called their headquarters for advice on how to handle the situation.  They were told that the stock boy was acting under extreme provocation and if the fireman hadn't been severely injured to drop the matter, which they did.  The fireman was the aggressor.

The manager of the receiving room changed the work schedules so that the fireman and the stock boy were never working at the same time.  He eventually eliminated the fireman from the schedule altogether.  He said he didn't want to have to deal with the kind of employee who went around slapping people in the face.  And other employees didn't want to work with the fireman, either.  

The kind of person who uses a face-slap to deal with some issue raises an attitude of contempt in most people.  The act says more about the slapper than it does the slappee.  Even if the slapper is responding to a verbal insult, the physical act of slapping denotes a person out of control.  A slap in the face is an invitation to fight.  It settles nothing, but leaves spectators waiting for the next blow and wondering what form it will take.

And so, we wait for the next blow.

Friday, March 25, 2022

You're planning to get $29.5 million from where?

Northern State University has received the signature of the Governor on a bill that would provide $29.5 million to tear down two buildings on campus and replace them with a new one for its business department's Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center,  the SDSU-based nursing program, and the admissions office.  The buildings to be torn down are Lincoln Hall, an old building with a formidable stair case at its entrance and a funky atmosphere because it was once a dormitory; and Briscoe Hall, which was a dormitory, but I have never been in it, so I can't attest to its degree of funk.  Lincoln Hall is more than a century old.  Briscoe opened in 1958, so it has been around long enough to acquire a respectable degree of funk.  

Funk can be a problem on campus.  Eight a.m. classes are the test.  Some students come to early morning classes with damp hair radiating the aroma of lilacs and roses shampoo.  Many throw on some sweat clothes from a pile on the floor and radiate the odor of festering pits.  An eight a.m. class does offer some olfactory challenges, particularly if the dorm food is heavy on the beans.

Anyway, the University has announced that it plans to defunk a corner of the campus with a pristine new building.  However, it is still searching for some funk-free architects, who will have a difficult task because the financing for the building is to come from the American Rescue Plan Act.  Northern State does not appear to be needing rescue from anything, except a couple of administrators who seem to be getting high from sniffing funk.  The American Rescue Plan Act contains no provisions for demolishing old but serviceable college buildings and replacing them with something that looks and smells nice.

The Governor of the state is already coming under scrutiny and criticism for misdirecting federal Covid pandemic relief money into the general fund.  Now she seems okay with tapping a fund for rescuing people adversely affected by the pandemic for a new building to ostensibly house some small college programs and the office that recruits and admits students.  That raises the question of when keeping up luxurious appearances takes precedent over people in dire need.  

Northern State has some nice new buildings and some slick new athletic stadiums.  However, it attained those facilities through the efforts of a president who raised $110 million, and then, about a year ago, was summarily fired with no explanations by anyone about the circumstances.  Usually, the faculty require a public explanation to protect their own reputations for operating under the standards of academic probity and freedom that define an accredited institution.  The current faculty project, whether intended or not, an obsequious passivity.  The symptoms of political dominance of the institution are pronounced.

The federal government must approve the use of money from the American Rescue Plan.    This seems unlikely because the Plan specifically denies the use of its funds for what NSU proposes:

a State shall maintain support for elementary and secondary education, and for higher education (which shall include State funding to institutions of higher education and State need-based financial aid, and shall not include support for capital projects or for research and development or tuition and fees paid by students)

The NSU people may have found an exemption to that clause, but I can't find one.  So, if the project is dependent upon the federal government, the money doesn't seem likely to come from the Rescue Plan.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

What are your plans for the coming civil war?


"I lost everybody and the meaning of life."
Intelligence specialists on language monitor when it is used for indications of bad things that are about to happen.  Words matter.  They reveal what and how people are thinking. Or if they are even capable of thought.  A lot of people are not competent thinkers.  Nevertheless, they blurt out the contents of their minds which reveals their intentions.  When they make a serious threat or talk over plans to commit a destructive act, they are breaking the law by committing a criminal threat.  

Many people in America misunderstand the First Amendment.  If they are rebuked or disciplined for something they say, they invoke the First Amendment as conferring their right to speak their minds.  They whine that they are being censored.  What they fail to understand is that freedom of speech also gives others the right to respond to what they say.  They have the right to say what they will, and others have the right to react.  The First Amendment does not exempt anyone from responsibility for the consequences of what they say.   They can be held liable for slander, libel, disorderly conduct and criminal threats.  And employers and public venues have the right to set and enforce rules about what kind of speech may be used in places where they have jurisdiction.  A person's speech may also be used to determine their fitness for a job or membership in an organization.  Denying  a person employment or membership and being fired for things posted on the internet happens frequently and is upheld in the courts if it is determined to be a matter of competence, honesty, or safety.

What is being said and how it is said are the primary concern of spies and intelligence analysts who are monitoring the affairs of the world.   Their purpose is to  get advance alerts on trouble brewing to prevent or be prepared for attacks like 9/11, in the case of American intelligence. Language is the human activity through which the plans for attacks on nations and people are devised and transmitted, so language is the prime focus of intelligence gathering.

When I served with the Army in Germany during the Cold War, the command in coordination with NATO gave training sessions to some troops in recognizing language which signaled danger in the making.  I was sent to one of these sessions, where we were instructed on language that might belie subversive intentions.  While being off post among the civilian population, we might be approached by people trying to get information from us or trying to influence us in damaging ways.  At the time, NATO nations were wary of a Nazi revival or the attempts by Soviet communists to undermine trust in democracies and recruit people to their cause. We were taught to recognize verbal utterances that might reflect malicious designs or acts of betrayal in the making.  We were also taught to be aware of problems that might be developing in our fellow soldiers.  A few years earlier when the end of the Korean War was being negotiated, America  faced a circumstance that stunned the nation.  Some Americans held as prisoners of war by North Korea refused to be repatriated to the United States.  They were labeled turncoats, and they chose to be  sent to communist China.  Most of them eventually came back to America, but the men were a matter of grave concern about what factors would make people held as prisoners defect to the regime that held them.   We were instructed in what verbal symptoms would indicate a severe disaffection with America in its citizens.

The matter of American turncoats in the 1950s laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  As the motives of the defectors were examined, racism, inequality and the consequent discrimination against classes of people emerged as  compelling reasons.  The defectors felt that the country they fought for betrayed its own people by denying them the equality, freedom, and justice it claimed to stand for.  

During my time in the Army, I heard some discontented comments from some students in Germany.  They didn't sound particularly threatening, but they fit some of the criteria for political hate speech.  The complaints these people made  were the issues around which the Red Army Faction later organized and terrorized West Germany in the 1970s.  The Red Army Faction condemned the Naxi past but campaigned with violence for a Communist future.

Word watchers who listen and look for the verbal signs of violence are alarmed at the chatter going on in America currently.  It has been building for some time and was put on parade with the presidency of Donald Trump.   The insurrection of January 6, 2021, produced the kind of language and actions that comprise an attack on the nation.  Some analysts regarded the insurrection as the first skirmish in a civil war.  Although the news media reports on the political division in America in a low key manner, the language analysts see a deadlock between American factions that is giving way to violent actions.  The insurrection is a case in point, but it is not clear to most Americans what the exact points of disagreement are.  They think of it largely as the usual partisan squabble.  But it is not something that can be resolved on the legislative floor or the ballot box.

Demonstrations of Black Lives Matter is a case in point in how the language associated with the protests relate to national security issues.  The frequent occasions of black people being indiscriminately gunned down by law enforcement is what the movement is reacting to.  A Washington Post editorial states its case:
"Black Americans are killed at a much higher rate than white Americans. Although half of the people shot and killed by police are white, black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate." 

When people respond with "all lives matter," they indicate that they either do not understand the disproportionate killings by the police or they are okay with it. It also identifies people who have no interest in racal equality and those who might wish to participate in racial extermination.  Those who do not like the liberal trend of extending equality, freedom, and justice to all and those who ignore or reject the Black Lives Matter protest are candidates for recruitment into subversive groups that have formed around ethnic and ideological hatreds.  The groups involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection are groups that openly espouse racism and fascism as their political cause.  They have limits to their idea of democracy:  they use the freedoms of democracy to gain power   but then deny it to those they dislike. The language not only denotes  a political divide;  it denotes  a political impasse that words can't resolve.  

The press has noted recently the trend in America for people to move away from others they don't like and to cluster with people who think and act they do..  Politicians talk of uniting the country and getting along, but that is a futile proposition.  America's left and right wings can't stand each other, don't want to live with each other, and don't want to speak to each other.  After some decades of adopting the accusatory and disparaging abuse from conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, the right wing has defined itself in relationship to liberals in an extremely toxic way.  The liberals have reacted in a way that conservatives call elitist.  A former colleague said it is more productive to converse with a pile of rocks than to talk to a Trump conservative.  He said he wanted nothing to do with them and his politics now was a matter of avoiding them and their anti-democratic ways.  That's not elitism,  he said, it is trying  to salvage the benign elements of the republic, but if some think it's elitism, so be it.

Conservatives have adopted the attitude toward liberals that white supremacists held toward people of color.  Consequently, political dialogue is not an exchange of ideas in these times; it is merely the recitation of hate speech.  Those are the words that portray the intellectual and moral state of the nation.    They are not the language of conciliation.  But they are the words through which America has defined itself.

The first Civil War resulted between states that held opposing views on slavery.  In the current division, race is just one of the issues that agitate the nation.  The array of issues today includes abortion, public health policy, substance addictions, to name a few, but it is all marshaled by a mindless belligerence as represented by the personality of Donald Trump.  That belligerence is demonstrated in the national legislature by some elected representatives, and it brings a toxic contamination to the processes of government that spreads throughout the national culture.

The national dialogue already shows a nation at war with weaponized language.   What will be the choice of weapons when we realize where our words have led us?

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Farewell to the Covid incubators

 KELO recently did a story on a couple who moved to South Dakota for its freedom.  They came from Oregon, which they apparently found oppressive.  The shifting demographics of South Dakota has been a powerful event during the last few decades, but the state's media and political analysts have chosen not to directly examine it.  South Dakota is now a single party state, just as the Soviet Union was a single party country before its breakup.  With the invasion of Russia into Ukraine, we see Russia returning to an autocratic status under Putin.  South Dakota is under the rule of an autocratic political party and it offers people of a like mind the "freedom" to live a life free of other people's political choices.

The political and cultural division in America is reshaping the nation.  People are moving to places where they can find people who think like they do.  The Covid pandemic accelerated that movement.  People who objected to Covid mandates resented being told what to do, and looked for places that did not require the wearing of masks.  Some GOP officials made resistance to mask mandates a matter of political doctrine and said mask requirements were an imposition of big government.  In an NPR story covering the migrations, a person  who had moved from California to Texas, rejoiced, "People weren't wearing masks — nobody cared. It's kind of like heaven on earth."

Of course, the wearing of masks during outbreak of contagious disease is not a matter of politics.  It's a matter of health science.  When people go to the dentist, they find that the people who work on their mouths wear masks.  Or when they go to their physicians or the hospital for certain treatments and procedures, they are attended to by people wearing masks.  By now, most people understand the scientific fact that masks can block the transmission of airborne infectious diseases.  Masks are not a cure or a certain preventative, but they are an effective measure of control.  We have known that for more than a century.  That's why healthcare workers can be fired--and usually are--for not wearing masks when they are prescribed to prevent the endangerment of patients and fellow workers.

With the death toll from Covid-19 nearing one million in the United State and surpassing six million world wide, the wearing of masks is a minor inconvenience when they can reduce the transmission of fatal diseases through the air.  But an attitude of belligerent stupidity has become a political fashion on one side of the partisan divide.  So, some people who resent being required to follow prevention measures against a deadly disease choose to move to places such as South Dakota, which allows them to be free to spread disease if they want to.

However, while those who move into the state as a gesture of their right to be belligerently stupid, little attention is paid to the motives of those who leave the state to avoid the belligerents.  South Dakota officials have for decades complained about the brain drain in South Dakota.  People of intelligence and talent leave the state, and politicians and other leaders have noted the outmigration and proposed ways to slow it down or halt it.  Ironically, the reason people leave the state is the same one that attracts people into the state.  Anti-maskers come for what to them is freedom.  People of intelligence and talent leave the state to get away from the stifling stupidity that dominates the state's culture.

A professional organization once characterized the state as an undesirable place to work for people whose occupations involve advanced education and creativity.  Back in the 1980s, the president of Northern State U. found from a student survey that a major expectation that students had for a college degree was to be competitive in finding good jobs in the national labor market, and they assumed those jobs existed mostly out of state.  To advertise that the university could meet that expectation, it adopted a slogan calling Northern "the gateway institution."  This set politicians and community leaders into a fury because the slogan appeared to endorse leaving the state as a reason for getting an education.  The regents forced the president to drop the slogan.  The fact is that bright and ambitious students go to college to develop the knowledge and skills that are a passport that qualifies them to make a life in a more intelligent and benevolent society.  They want to get out of state.

The demographics show that South Dakota is firmly in the hands of the belligerents.  The voter registrations show that with 280,955 Republicans, 152,182 Democrats and 140,429 independents.  The regressive majority likes to think of itself as South Dakota nice, but that posture is belied by their malice shown by their belief in the right to recklessly spread infectious disease.  They believe freedom is the right to declare biowarfare  against their fellow humans, if they so please.  They are in control of the state, and flaunt that control with absurd demonstrations in the legislature.  Watching the South Dakota state legislature at work is like watching a therapy session in the retard ward.

The state celebrates those who move into the state to exercise what they regard as their freedoms.  While it may bemoan the brain drain, it actually enjoys making refugees out of those who hold a more progressive view of humankind.  We celebrate those with intelligence and talent who make it out of the state with their faculties intact.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Where did all the women go?

There is something about blogging that seems to repel women.  There are very few blogs written by women.  And the few that I have read over the years have ended up being shut down and abandoned by their authors.

This blog, the Northern Valley Beacon, initially had three women contributors, Ann, Erin, and Val.  It was started as a project of the local Democratic party and was conceived as a way to provide information and discuss issues.  The three women and I posted information about party activities and talking points on political matters.  We signed our names after the posts we wrote and even included phone numbers so readers could contribute information and provide perspectives.  That did not last long, however.

We received contentious and sometimes malicious telephone calls, but the women received more menacing ones than I did.   One day when Val's 8-year-old son answered the phone, he became the object of an abusive and threatening verbal assault.  It was serious enough that Val and her husband reported it to  the police. Val decided not to participate as a contributor anymore if it put her family in jeopardy.  We monitored comments on the blog and did not allow abusive ones to be printed.

Another blog also posted a running commentary on our blog.  It was run by two professors from the political science department at Northern State.  Eventually, we decided not to post the women's names, but to post everything under my name to deflect the comments away from the women and the party. The comments on that opposing blog were seldom about issues.  Rather, it engaged in juvenile taunts and insults, and the women decided that blogging had become so demented that it had no social value.   They decided to disassociate themselves from it.  In fact, they decided that all political activity had become petty and characterized by aggressive malevolence, and it was not worth the effort put into it.  Consequently, the Northern Valley Beacon has evolved away from its original purpose.

Their experience is apparently shared by other women bloggers.  Over the years as many blogs I read have been shut down, I have expressed regrets over their absence and received explanations  that the belligerent climate on the internet dissuades the authors from trying to engage in reasoned, temperate discussion.  Women bloggers are confronted with misogyny in responses to their posts.  As with my former blogging partners, women bloggers find that the internet is the vector that brings misogyny into their lives, and eliminating blogging from their lives is like removing a malignant tumor, as one person explained it to me.

One blog based in South Dakota is ending this month,  It was a food blog, but contained accounts of daily life that provided some insights into how the author coped.  The experience of closing down the blog is like having a neighbor move away.  Life made the blog a very low priority.

Over the years, I have noted the passing of other blogs by women from the state.  Sometimes I disagreed with their observations, but they provided points of view and social contexts that made the world more understandable. 

The women bloggers I know have stepped away from blogging as a measure needed to protect and maintain their families.  That says much about the actual human condition in America.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

WTF do you think you're doing, Putie?

Ukraine citizens defending their homes.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and Putin came into power, only a few observers noted that he was leading Russia back into the old Soviet Union way of life.  He managed to push aside hopes for a near-democratic rule and revived old animosities among his European neighbors.  

Russia is not now a communist nation.  It is not under the control of a Marxist-based apparat in the Kremlin.  It is under the control of a regime backed by oligarchs who are ruthless capitalists allied with the Kremlin.  

When Putin launched his war against Ukraine, he demonstrated something to the world.  Karl Marx delineated problems that oppress human society.  The problem with Marx was not what he saw as evil, but the ideas he had for solving humanity's ills.  What  Putin has shown us is that Russia did not need communism to make it an "evil empire," as Ronald Reagan called it.  It is the desire for power within the Russian leadership that makes the nation a menace to democracies. Power lust is what drives that leadership, whether is communistic or capitalist.  To them, democracy is what needs to be suppressed.   The obsession with communism among Americans is a distraction from facing the real problems that beset us.

Western democracies have expressed outrage at Putin's war against Ukraine, but he has admirers and supporters in the U.S.  Donald Trump has  praised him as a "genius" and "very savvy".  Trump has worshippers who take what he says as a papal decree.  The GOP, except for Mitt Romney,  has been silent about Trump's devotion to Putin.  When one GOP candidate for office was asked about the admiration and support for Putin in America, his reply was that he had no interest in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, my 9-year-old grandson came home from school Friday and asked if we were headed for World War III.  Despite our assurances that he was safe here in the middle of a nation that was not involved in Putin's invasion, he said he was scared.  Putin would be glad to hear that.  He would regard it as a success of his bullying.  Trump admires Putin because Putin is a dictator and an asshole, the two characteristics so revered by Trump.  What we are scared of most is that our nation could elect the Putin admirer president again and Putin could invade America in spirit, if not body.

Putin's invasion is not going that well.   It met with such resistance that Putin has threatened to bring out nuclear weapons by putting his nuclear forces on high alert. We just don't want to explain to a nine-year-old--or anybody else--that he has good reason to be a bit scared.  Fiona Hill, the former member of the National Security Council who testified at  Trump's first impeachment, is the author of a biography of Putin.  She says that Putin has threatened nuclear action in the past in his effort to restore  a Russian empire and told Trump as much, but Trump didn't understand the message.

There is much chatter among analysts on television that Putin seems to be losing it mentally.  No one is pointing out that he, a former KGB officer, has consistently pushed his country back into that old Soviet mindset.  The relevant question is if the Russian people, who once over threw that mindset, want it back.  News of Russian protesters against the invasion of Ukraine indicates that many do not.  News reports say that more than 4,000 Russians have been detained for protesting.  If Russia is jailing opponents to the war on Ukraine, is there any restraint that could reign Putin in?

Former Governor of New Jersey and ally of Trump, Chris Christie, says Putin has two options: he can call off his invasion of Ukraine or he can go forward with an occupation of the country.  Any occupation, according to world diplomats who know Ukraine, would be under constant attack from within supported by other nations who will funnel money and weapons to those forces who oppose Putin.

In that regard, the experts indicate that my grandson has a legitimate fear.  Putin could well ignite World War III.  

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The irritations and heartbreak of Facebook

My spouse put me on Facebook so I could keep updated on grandchildren.  I also found it a medium that kept me in touch with friends and acquaintances. But it often revealed things about some people that most people would rather not know.

I am dismayed at the exhibitionism of some people.  They are possessed by their own preciosity.  When I was in high school, the favored response to such displays was, "Well, smell me!"  They don't know the difference between letting others know what they are up to these days and putting themselves on display out of a conviction that the world needs something to admire.  They seem unaware that such displays are a regression to juvenile egotism.  I commented on this to a friend who agreed but said such self-displays were a symptom of dementia which can assail anyone.

It makes me think of the often-repeated ritual people go through when they receive some kind of an award.  With faux humility, they say, "I thank the people who made me what I am today,"  My internal response is, "You're thanking someone for creating a self-sucking twit?"

There really is no difference between people who post pictures of their genitalia and those who avariciously promote themselves with self-congratulatory posts of their latest activities.  Both are obscene.  And no one really wants to see them.  It would be more appropriate if they would simply post rectal portraits.  The imagery more accurately portrays the human characteristic involved.

Facebook is also a breeding ground for writing atrocities. It is a repository for mangled and abused language.  But it is a barometer for the state of literacy of the human species  of which Mark Twain said, "Can any plausible excuse be furnished for the crime of creating the human race?"  Facebook supports Twain's assessment.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

When mater ain't very alma

Teaching at Augustana College in Rock Island was like living through episodes of Mean Girls.  It demonstrated the one main thing I have in common with poet Sylvia Plath:  when you teach at the school which you once attended, you find your relationship with some faculty is quite different.  For some faculty, the change in relationship from mentor to colleague is an upsetting change in status.  Some faculty expect a permanent deference from students, and the expectation of equality by former students is regarded as a rather unforgivable impertinence.  

My eight years of teaching at Augustana had pleasant and productive aspects, and there was only one person on the faculty of my department that I had for a professor as a student. However, I found out eventually that there was a tradition instilled into the department that endured through many personnel changes.   While on the surface the department did its work delivering quality courses of study, it worked in a mire of petty treacheries and betrayals that defined the relationships of its members.  Some faculty asserted their sense of superiority with malice toward many.  It had its effects.

The Augustana experience made two of my young colleagues decide that college teaching was not for them. One of them returned to college teaching at a place he said was not possessed by a malicious competition for status.  I also found in 20 years of teaching at a public university that most faculty conduct themselves with measured good will and equality.  But I spent what I call one of the worst evenings of my life with English faculty from St. Olaf dominated by a woman who could not seem to utter a word that did not convey malice and disparagement.  As an officer in a faculty union which was involved in resolving charges of hostile work places, I saw the necessity for having contractual procedures for dealing with contumely as it creates irreconcilable divisions among faculty.  Malignant personalities can bring otherwise reputable organizations to moral, if not intellectual, dysfunction.  The Augustana department never reached that point because it had faculty of good will and good purpose who countered the Nazi-like intensity that possessed a few.  

I am a graduate of Augustana and regard my time as a student there with bright memories.  But as a faculty member, I came to recognize a lurking darkness of intention that resided in some.  It can be transmitted to students.  That's why adherence to a statement of ethical principle must be enforced to legitimize an institution of higher learning:

Professors, guided by a deep conviction of the worth and dignity of the advancement of knowledge, recognize the special responsibilities placed upon them. Their primary responsibility to their subject is to seek and to state the truth as they see it. To this end professors devote their energies to developing and improving their scholarly competence. They accept the obligation to exercise critical self-discipline and judgment in using, extending, and transmitting knowledge.

Sometimes this means confronting the administration of college and the way academic business is done.


Saturday, February 12, 2022

They're not conservative; they're anti-democracy

 A militant anti-democracy movement is making gains in taking over the country.  One of their latest coups was in a large school district near Denver.  Four "conservatives" on a seven-member school board fired the superintendent in a power-play that broke the rules that govern how such decisions are supposed to be made.  Their motives appeared to be only to exercise power and had nothing to do with educational issues or serving the community.  Their sole purpose was to assert authority and assume control of the school district.

In another incident on another front, but driven by the same motive, Minneapolis police went into an apartment where the resident's cousin, 22-year-old Amir Locke,  was asleep with a gun nearby and blew him away with three shots as he woke up and grabbed for the gun.   Locke was not wanted for anything by law enforcement, and friends and family said he was, in fact, a mellow kind of guy.  But he did not survive an encounter in his sleep with an idiot with a gun.  

These incidents expose the big lie about America.  That lie is that the nation is about "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."  The superintendent did not have the liberty to explain the way he did his job.  Amir Locke did not have the right to life. And chasing after any happiness is beside the point.  If a person does not conform and subject himself to the notional commands of "conservatives," he can be terminated.  In their minds, anyone's rights but their own are alienable. 

These people call themselves conservatives, but they are, in fact, anti-democracy.  The thought of things like equality and the inalienable right-to-life makes them foam at the mouth and go into shooting rages.  They aren't about conserving the principles of American rights, but are devoted to finding ways to violate them.  A branch of American conservatism has lurched off into outright nazism. 

It raises the question of why meanness and stupidity occur together.  It may be that being called stupid makes people mean.  Or it could be that meanness numbs the brain cells.  Whatever the conditions of occurrence, ill will seems to concentrate in stupid people.  And much conservatism expresses itself in terms of ill will.  

This was apparent during the presidency of Donald Trump.  He exuded malice.  He and his supporters made it clear that they weren't offering a way to administer democracy.  They were against democracy.

Even though we are in a respite from an assault against democracy, we should not forget for a moment that the opponents of democracy are still out there, waiting for a chance to subvert it.  They will take over school boards.  Some will attack when they think  we're asleep.  To those who think their status is determined by how many people they can disparage and look down upon, democracy is an enemy--although they like it for themselves.  Just not for others.

Democracy is in constant peril from those conservatives who want a return to feudalism with them in the ruling class.

Friday, February 4, 2022

And then came Trump.

 For a long time, America basked in the reputation for being the world's greatest democracy.  And then came Donald Trump.  The country's reputation in the world took a steep dive.

Many political savants do not think the country can fully recover.  When a person does something incredibly stupid, people wisely assume he is likely to do it again.  The same goes for nations.  The election of Trump signified that the United States was in the grip of a  seizure of stupidity.  It has demonstrated its capability for stupidity and is likely to do it again.

The election of Trump to the presidency revealed a massive intellectual and moral failure in the American people.  A majority of voters put in office a man who violates every standard of competence and decency that Americans like to say they stand for.  The main thing Trump proved is that American democracy is a phony pretense.  The country does not live up to the benign aspirations that are popularly claimed as its goal,  and a good portion of Americans has no interest in things like honesty, integrity, intelligence, or good will.  They gauge success in life in terms of how many people can be fucked over.  America is being run like a business, and businesses are not run as democracies.  They have CEOs who are enthroned with the powers of kings.  When people say governments should be run like businesses, they are revealing their rejection of democracy and their preference for the rule of authority.  They got it with Donald Trump, and all the stupidity, pettiness, and meanness he musters.

America toppled from being a functioning democracy to being a bumbling autocracy.

Trump's antics get more press than the job being done by our current president.  Perhaps that is for the good if people realize that everything Trump says and does is a demonstration of what happens when a certified fool is in charge of something.   However, the foolery diverts attention away from the ultimate peril it puts democracy in, and that is that fools crave the power to impose their foolery on the world. 

After the election, the new administration announced that America is back, and our allies greeted then news with approval.  But there are reservations: America could always revert to a state of Trump.  That is an uncertainty that we and the rest of the world will need to learn how to live with.

Friday, January 21, 2022

When politics turns universities into criminal enterprises

  South Dakota university campuses are in turmoil over diversity issues.  This fall at the University of South Dakota, a Center for Diversity and Community (CDC), a coalition of groups of minority students, was evicted from office space it occupied to be replaced by an Opportunity for All Center, which was ordered by the Board of Regents. State legislator Rep. Liz May, R-Kyle, threatened to defund the University of South Dakota’s diversity office by stripping $275,000 worth of the school’s funding. The student government passed a resolution objecting to the Opportunity Center.   At South Dakota State University, the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Access was closed.  The student newspaper published a lengthy piece expressing dismay at the demise of the Diversity office, stating that three of its counselors had quit the University.  

At Northern State, there was turmoil over the matter of diversity early in 2021.  A newspaper report said that legislators had composed a letter to President Downs threatening to fire him if he did not desist from some diversity activities he initiated on the campus.  During his tenure at Northern, he accumulated $110 million in donated funds for the university, so his sudden, obviously forced, departure was startling to those in the Aberdeen community.  The press release in April said he was leaving to pursue a new opportunity in higher education, but as of the beginning of 2022, his online resume showed he hadn’t caught up with it yet.

Just before the start of the fall semester last August, the South Dakota Board of Regents issued a charge to the campuses to establish Opportunity Centers.  It is important to note that the Board is composed of active operatives of the state Republican Party, which has complete control of state government.  Only one member has significant experience in higher education.  Regents say the purpose of the Opportunity Centers is to:

       Bolster student success through the implementation of “Opportunity Centers” on campus. Opportunity Centers should realign and focus campus resources to effectively assess and address the individual needs of all students. Opportunity Centers should serve as an inclusive community where all are welcome, accepted and provided access to the services needed to assist, accommodate, retain and graduate, with equal regard given to the unique challenges and needs of every students. Opportunity Centers should supplement or enhance related activities on campus specific to opportunities or challenges of cultural relevance to South Dakota.

The  campuses apparently understood this to mean to banish the diversity centers and set up agencies that were more directly under the control of the political authorities.  The closing of the diversity offices had full complicity of the governor, who wrote:

      “I am glad to see that so-called diversity offices, which have unfortunately become less about serving students and more about advancing leftist agendas, are being replaced by Opportunity Centers that will focus on students as individuals, rather than members of groups," Noem said. "The policies put forth by the Board of Regents are a step forward in our quest to resist the harmful effects this ideology can have on students and preserve honest, patriotic education throughout South Dakota."

To people in higher education, the firing of Dr. Downs from Northern was a signal that the university system had been transformed into outposts of the state’s single party government.  His unseemly departure raised no expressions of concern from the faculty.  One professor who came from Aberdeen but taught at a large eastern university said, “Well, that’s Northern.”

He was referring to a history, much of it recent, that the public is little aware of and staff members tend to dismiss.  But among those who adhere to the professional standards of higher education, it is a matter of concern that they think needs to be addressed.

For more than 20 years (1968-1991), Northern was under censure by the American Association of University Professors.  The censure was over the firing of a professor without any procedures of due process or review.  The censure was lifted when the system proved that it was operating under an enforceable union contract that specified the steps of due process and review that must be followed.  In 2020, however, the legislature passed and the governor signed a law banning faculty collective bargaining unions.  Current faculty have no protections against arbitrary personnel actions.  Many disciplinary faculty organizations have posted warnings in the employment listings of their journals that the South Dakota system is deficient in its faculty contracts and is subject to political whims.  However, censure for arbitrary personnel actions are usually imposed on administrations on behalf of faculty.  Seldom do the actions against college administrators from higher-ups receive sanctions, unless the administrator also holds professorial rank.  The case of Dr. Downs has been referred for potential censure because there are no protections that could be enforced if such actions would be taken against faculty, and it raises questions of academic freedom and integrity.

Northern’s problems go much deeper than personnel issues.  The University has been complicit in two of the biggest scandals in the governance of South Dakota:  the EB-5 and the Gear Up scandals.

The EB-5 program is one through which foreign nationals can buy a green card to become a resident of the U.S. by investing a minimum of $500,000.  The investments are channeled to recipient businesses through regional centers. The Board of Regents established the South Dakota International Business Institute (SDIBI) at Northern State to facilitate and enhance international trade.  Joop Bollen, a man who had immigrated from Holland, was its director, and it was a part of the School of Business.  It became the regional center for coordinating the foreign investments, and although under Board of Regents overview, it worked more closely with the governor’s office of economic development.

One of the recipients of the money invested was a start-up packing plant, Northern Beef Packers, which failed.  Its failure captured the attention of federal authorities who found that $120 million or so of the funds handled by the SDIBI could not be accounted for.  A former member of the governor’s economic development staff, Richard Benda, was intensely involved in the EB-5 project, and after the investigations started was found dead by alleged suicide while on a hunting trip.  Leading up to this, the then-president of Northern was reviewing the budget and questioned what the SDIBI had to do with higher education and why the University was budgeting for it. He, in effect, kicked the enterprise off the campus.

Gear Up was a program to prepare Native American students for college.  The U.S. Dept. of Education provided a grant of $62 million to the state Dept. of Education which was to be matched dollar-for-dollar by the state for the program.  To administer the program, the state contracted with the   Mid-Central Educational Cooperative (MCEC) in Platte.  A state auditor found some glaring irregularities in the MCEC records, the state canceled the contract, and investigations began.  Consequently, the principal administrator at MCEC, Scott Westerhuis, shot his wife, shot his four children, set his house on fire, then killed himself.

Kelly Duncan, who worked at USD and then became dean of the School of Education at NSU, was hired as an independent evaluator and principal investigator on the Gear Up project.  She received $124,000 from the Dept. of Education for her work on the project between 2012 and 2015.

The problem at Northern is not with the university itself but with the way that political chicanery and subversion seems to thrive there.  The firing of Dr. Downs has put the university on the watch lists of professional academic organizations.  For the system, the heavy handed purging of diversity programs and their replacement by politically endorsed and mandated Opportunity Centers raises issues of accreditation.  On their face, the universities do not meet the standards of academic freedom and collegial exchange on which valid institutions of higher education must operate.

Individual faculty members do their jobs as they studied and were trained to do.  But with a nincompoop governor sending down mandates on what and how it should be taught and a group of regents appointed by her to carry them out, the higher is being removed from higher education.  When small-minded politics invades college campuses, it displaces academic integrity and replaces it with cheap and inane power plays.  And that means involving them in schemes in which $120 million of investor money gets lost and never found and the U.S. government gets bilked out of $62 million. 

If someone aspires to fraud and deception, our universities have people who can offer courses in them.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States