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

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.

Monday, January 17, 2022

It's not Joe Biden's bad week. It's ours.

 American politics has sunk into a mire of pettiness and meanness.  A former managing editor I worked with would say it's time for a winnowing.  He would say in a situation like the past week, don't focus only on Joe Biden and what he was trying to accomplish; focus on the people who are obstructing him and what they are trying to accomplish.  It does not take a lot of political savvy to separate who is actually trying to do something uplifting for the nation from those with a different agenda.

The coronavirus pandemic has provided a winnowing experience.  It has separated those who want the best for the country from those who want the worst which serves their own failures of mind and character.  Dr. Fauci has become a touchstone in that process.  An 80-year-old man with almost 40 years experience under seven presidents in the science of disease control has become the target for hate by many Americans.  As a coronavirus that humankind knew nothing about invaded the biosphere, it was his job to lead and report on the research on it.  His observations and recommendations evolved along with the knowledge about covid-19. But in doing his job,  he ran into the biggest threat of intellectual morbidity that America has probably ever encountered in the White House:  Donald Trump.  The pandemic produced sound and effective measures for controlling and eventually defeating it, but it also revealed a viral mentality among us that is a menace to humanity that we thought could never occur in America.  Benign democracy is at risk.  The menace has identified itself over vaccines and Dr. Fauci.

Most Americans are well vaccinated.   Here are the vaccines that we routinely carry in our bodies to keep us healthy and alive.  Some we get right after birth.  Some we get to be admitted to school.

  • Diphtheria and Tetanus Toxoids and Acellular Pertussis Adsorbed (DTaP)

  • Tetanus Toxoid, Reduced Diphtheria Toxoid and Acellular Pertussis Vaccine Adsorbed (Tdap

  • Haemophilus b Conjugate Vaccine (Hib)

  • Hepatitis A Vaccine

  • Hepatitis B Vaccine

  • Influenza Vaccine (administered with a needle)

  • Measles, Mumps and Rubella Vaccine

  • Meningococcal Vaccine

  • Pneumococcal 13-valent Conjugate Vaccine

  • Poliovirus Vaccine

  • Rotavirus Vaccine

  • Varicella: Chickenpox

By law, states can prescribe a series of vaccines to control and eliminate communicable diseases.  Vaccine requirements are a necessity to keep schools from being vector points for crippling and deadly diseases.  You can look up the vaccines required for children entering school in the various states at this link. Here are the vaccine requirements for South Dakota:

South Dakota Codified Law 13-28-7.1 (Rev. 2016) requires that any pupil entering school or an early childhood program in this state shall, prior to admission, be required to present to school authorities certification from a licensed physician that the child has received, or is in the process of receiving, adequate immunization against poliomyelitis, diphtheria, pertussis, rubeola (measles), rubella, mumps, tetanus, meningitis and varicella (chickenpox), according to the recommendations of the State Department of Health.

This law applies to ALL children entering a South Dakota school district for the first time. This would include children in early intervention programs, preschool, as well as kindergarten through twelfth grade. Children under 4 need to be age-appropriately immunized.

Minimum immunization requirements for kindergarten through twelfth grade are defined as receiving at least:

  1. Four or more doses of diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus containing vaccine, with at least one dose administered on or after age 4. Children 7 years or older needing the primary series only need three doses. Children receiving six doses before age 4 do not require any additional doses for kindergarten entry. The maximum a child should receive is six doses. If a child 7 years or older has an incomplete DTaP primary series, please contact the Department of Health for assistance. 

  2. Four or more doses of poliovirus vaccine, at least one dose on or after age 4. (Although not the recommended schedule - If a child has three doses of polio with the third dose administered on or after the age of 4 and at least 6 months after the second dose, no other doses are required.)

  3. Two doses of a measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR or MMRV). The minimum age for the first dose is 12 months. Administer the second dose routinely at age 4 through 6 years. The second dose may be administered prior to age 4 provided at least 28 days have elapsed since the first dose.

  4. Two doses of varicella vaccine (Varicella or MMRV). The minimum age for the first dose of varicella (chickenpox) vaccine is 12 months. History of disease is acceptable with parent/guardian signature. Administer the second dose routinely at age 4 through 6 years. The second dose may be administered prior to age 4 provided the minimum interval between the two doses is 3 months.


  5. One dose of Tdap is required for 6th-grade entry IF the child is 11 years old. If the child is 10 years old when entering 6th-grade they have 45 days after their 11th birthday to receive the Tdap vaccination. If a child has a contraindication to Tdap, Td is acceptable. If a child aged 7 through 9 years receives a dose of Tdap as part of a catch-up series, an adolescent Tdap vaccine dose must be administered by the 45th day following the child’s 11th birthday. A dose given at age 10 will count for the 6th grade Tdap requirement. If a child 7 years or older has an incomplete DTaP primary series, please contact the Department of Health for assistance.

  6. One dose of meningococcal vaccine (MCV4) is required for 6th-grade entry IF the child is 11 years old. If the child is 10 years old when entering 6th grade they have 45 days after their 11th birthday to receive the meningococcal vaccine. If a child receives a dose at age 10 or after, the dose does not need to be repeated.

These requirements have long been recognized as essential to public health and the responsible operation of our schools, and they make safe community life possible.  In the face of 65 million cases of covid-19 in the nation resulting in 850,000 deaths, anyone arguing against vaccine mandates is effectually arguing in behalf of disabling disease and death.  With few exceptions, those who rail against a covid-19 vaccination are vaccinated against other diseases that can do them in.  They do not seem to suffer from their failures of intelligence, but the rest of the nation is.  
The attacks against Dr. Fauci reveal the malady that is the direst threat.  It is revealed in the opposition to vaccine mandates.  If one objects to mandates, can one propose anything as effective in getting control of the disease?  Or is one willing to submit to the disease?  And thus enable it?  A majority of people polled indicate that they do not think the country is doing well in handling the pandemic.  But they seem to ignore those who obstruct the measures that effectively prevent the spread of the disease.  

Similarly, in response to those who believe Trump's big lie, there are efforts to suppress voting rights and gain control of the tallying of votes.  These efforts are directed at commutes of color.  Their effect is to make some votes count for more than others or not count at all.  Disenfranchising the vote is a major step in revokng the democracy.

These obstructions violate the basic premise of the Constitution "to provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty..."   Blaming the White House for the obstructions by its political opposition is misdirection, a false diagnosis of the country's ills.  

Joe Biden may make attempts to offer solutions to our problems, but ultimately we are the owners of them.  Until we assign the cause of our failures to the actual sources, we will have to endure them.  

Friday, January 14, 2022

How America ended. And why.

 It's not all about Donald Trump.  It's about the people who made him president.  And who grovel before him.  And those who dismiss him as just a political choice.

A columnist in the Washington Post recently said we should not vilify Trump supporters.  Castigating them doesn't solve anything.  He says we should not lump all Republicans in with the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol last January 6.  His column is merely a feeble attempt to disassociate GOP members from what they accomplished with Trump and what their dominant, controlling agenda is.  It s a way of deflecting the fact that they are responsible for putting a raging child in the White House and putting the nation in peril.

Supporters of Trump claim he qualifies to be president because he is a successful business man. They ignore his defects of mind and character.  He was one of 17 GOP candidates for president.  Many of his fellow candidates denounced him as being unfit to be president.  In March of 2016, the conservative news magazine The National Review listed the many business failures and scandals that disqualified Trump for the presidency:

  • 1983–1985: New Jersey Generals, a failed U.S. Football League team
  • 1988–1992: Trump Airlines, failure
  • 1989–1990: Trump: The Game (board game) (revived in 2005)
  • 1990: Failure to pay contractors for Taj Mahal hotel and casino
  • 1991: Trump Plaza’s violation of anti-discrimination laws in order to please Trump’s Mafia-connected pal
  • 1991, 1992, 2004, and 2009: Trump’s Four bankruptcies
  • 1977–1992, 1992–1999: Trump’s two divorces and adultery
  • 2005–2011: Trump University scam
  • 2006: Trump sued a journalist for libel and lost, badly
  • 2006–2007:
  • 2006–2007: Trump Mortgage—failure
  • 2007–2008: Trump Steaks—failure
  • 2007–2009: Trump magazine—failure
  • 2009–2011: Trump Network—failure
  • 2010: Foreign workers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and elsewhere
  • 2016: Wealthy Chinese investing cash in Trump Tower in exchange for visas
  • 2016: Trump’s campaign manager allegedly assaults Breitbart reporter

With the debates and all the press coverage,Trump's voters knew exactly what they were voting for.  Mitt Romney stated it outright:

"Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.”

Those Republicans who once denounced him now grovel before him and put on obscene displays of French kissing his fat butt.  The big question is, why would people so ostentatiously debase themselves?  The answer is that Trump represents their values.  People voted for him because he is what they want and expresses their desires.  It is their values that they are being vilified for.

Their votes and their comments on public forums have said loudly and clearly that they don't want government by democracy but want government by malefaction.  They cling to the Old World values of needing to be ruled over by a lord and master, no matter how stupid and cruel.  They found one in Donald Trump.  A failed and incompetent business executive is royalty in America to them.

Although he has left the presidential office, politicians make the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to kiss his royal ass.  That act indicates that for them, America as a democracy has ended.  The throne of government is occupied for them by  a raging juvenile who they are duty bound to serve.  Although this juvenile has a long resume that reads like a criminal record.

Trump does not represent any democratic values.  Those who would be lords in America were plantation owners for whom the American dream was power, wealth, and an underclass to oppress.  Liberals in America have stood in opposition to that dream by promoting liberty, equality, and justice.  Trump's sycophants reject those concepts.  

It is a part of the base side of human nature to want someone to feel superior to, someone to be the target of hate.  Rush Limbaugh and his many imitators on night time radio found ways to exploit the urge to hate.  They discovered that they could switch the racial hatreds that were put to shame by the civil rights movement to those who implemented civil rights.  They systematically defamed liberals.  They said they were merely entertaining.  The deadly irony is that people who find defamation entertaining are the kind who used to bring picnic dinners to hangings.  Limbaugh and his ilk revived that legacy and provided liberals as objects of hate, which many people enjoy doing. 

When Trump stepped into the White House, his supporters thought their prince had come.  And America was stopped cold in its quest for decency,  for the realization of true liberty, equality, and justice.  Trump supporters have said that they are prepared to go to war if Trump and his return to feudalism are impeded by liberals.  They held a training exercise last January 6.

When Trump stepped into the White House, America as it was evolving to be ended.  His supporters were elated, and they continue to employ his values in obstructing and dismantling those aspirations expressed in the founding documents.

If people want America, those who actually do will have to find a time and place to start over and try once again.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Words to ponder while circling the drain: The Big Lie

One of many books on the subject

The occasion seemed special.  Nearly all official travel when I was stationed in Germany was done in the back of an Army two-and-a-half-ton truck, unless I was assigned to drive.  This time, however, the Army sent a bus.

For a week another man and I had to get up early, grab a quick breakfast, and walk to the post gate to get on an Army bus that would haul us the 40 miles to a class at Heidelberg.  The bus picked up men from a number of installations beginning at 5 a.m. and delivered us to the classroom by 8 a.m.  It would run the return route at 6 p.m. after we had supper in Heidelberg.  Ordinarily, when assigned to special training or duty, we would stay overnight at the place to which we were ordered.  But the Army ran out of room and decided that those of us who were stationed within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the U.S. Army European headquarters in Heidelberg could commute.

The training program was a special project in discerning and dealing with propaganda we came across in the areas we were stationed. It included officers and enlisted men who were involved in troop information and education. Most of the men chosen for the class had some college. Its first objective was to identify subversive propaganda directed at the United States and its allies.  While Nazi propaganda was dealt with, at the time communist propaganda was of more concern.  Our primary obligation in coming across such propaganda was to report it and send it up the chain of command to the intelligence agencies.  Our second obligation was to help the troops recognize and deal with subversive propaganda through the information and education sessions held by the various units.

I came to Germany as part of Overseas Package 5 from Fort Bliss, Texas.  We were to pick up an anti-aircraft gun battalion in Mannheim, West Germany, redeploy to the countryside, and convert it to an air defense guided missile battalion.  When we got off the plane, there was a small group of protesters outside the airbase at Frankfort bearing signs that said, "Sputnik, go home!"

As we learned in the class, that protest was the result of an attempt to circulate a big lie which would create distrust among the German people.  It was a rather complicated lie, which may be why it was successfully refuted.  The lie was that our bringing guided missiles to Europe was part of an American plan to take over Germany and the rest of Europe.  The missiles could have nuclear war heads which could be used to coerce Europe into submission to the United States.  A further aspect was that having guided missiles on European soil would make it a target if there was a nuclear war.

The problem with the lie was that American troops were in Europe for defensive purposes in cooperation with NATO.  And America was looking for ways to reduce that presence, while the NATO nations were asking the U.S. to maintain its presence as a restraint to Soviet aggression.  In the class, the lie was explained to us as an attempt to cast doubt on American intentions in order to shift the balance of power in Europe away from the NATO countries.  Intelligence agencies received early reports on the claim and were able to head it off before it gained circulation and credibility.  However, that demonstration at the airbase when we landed in Germany was evidence that forces were at work trying to discredit NATO and America.   But the big lie was not audacious enough.

The concept of the big lie was codified by Hitler himself, we learned in that class.  His big lie was the contention that the Jews managed to occupy a preponderance of the seats of power in the world and were taking it over.  This was the inspiration that drove the Holocaust. It was a preposterous contention that had no factual basis.  But  the anti-semites were bolstered at having their hatred confirmed and enthusiastically spread the lie.  Hitler understood what he was doing.  He knew that many would take the lie seriously because they did not believe that anyone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously." 

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it. [(CIA)["OSS Psychological Profile of Hitler, p. 46" (PDF).] 

The big lie that has  gripped America is that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.  Thirty-six percent of Americans profess that belief.   They cling to that belief despite numerous recounts, more than 70 law suits challenging the election thrown out of court for lack of evidence, and certifications that attest to the security of the voting and the witnessed counting of ballots from each state.  That psychological profile perfectly fits the progenitor of the big lie about the 2020 election, Donald Trump.

I never had occasion to observe any dangerous propaganda to submit to the chain of command while I was in the service.  But the lessons from that week of training sixty-some years ago have been revived and made relevant with the presidency of Donald Trump.  His big lie about the election being stolen set off the insurrection, which showed the world that democracy in America is in a precarious state.

Journalists who cover the national government have written books that report on Trump's flailing malevolence as the principle through which he ran the government.  Many other experts on democratic government have written books that examine how our democracy is failing.

Thirty-six percent of Americans believe Trump's big lie.  Almost forty-seven percent of Americans voted for him in 2020. With a person of Trump's known character as a candidate, the election is not a matter of choosing which party can best achieve the standards of liberty, equality, and justice set forth in the founding documents.  It is a matter of choosing or rejecting democracy.

Trump, his lies, and his vengeful oppression of people who do not grovel before him in adulation represent everything America was invented not to be.  Although about 15 of his former staff members are looking for ways to stop him from being a candidate again, America's reputation as a democracy has been severely damaged.  It has demonstrated that nearly half of its citizens have little interest in restoring the values of decency that the nation once represented.  

Even if America tries to restore its democratic goals, it is like a patient with a malignancy that is being held in check with chemotherapy.  The patient knows that at some point the cancer will prevail.  The fact is that all the patriotic optimism about the country's future will do little to heal its angry divide.  

Forty-seven percent of Americans voted against democracy and decency.  Democracy in America is circling the drain.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States