Northern Valley Beacon
Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Beacon shut off for awhile
The Beacon will not be shining its ever-loving light for a time. Medical emergencies and distance from South Dakota make posting difficult and, it seems, more than a bit impertinent. We are deeply contemplating better ways to lose elections, Bro. Todd.
Friday, February 24, 2006
The betrayal and selling of America
A minority of Americans have wondered if economic globalization, which we have been told is necessary for our survival, will mean the end of democracy. As huge corporations take over the world's enterprises, their policies displace Constitutional values and protections. Corporations are feudal by nature. Even IBM, which was once the model of a modern corporation in a democratic society, has abandoned its policies that treated employees as freemen. It, too, has reverted back to the medieval attitude that employees are serfs who must grovel in constant obeisance to those who allow them to live.
What was shocking to most Americans about the sale of American ports to an Arab state-owned company was the realization of how much of America is being sold off. David Ignatius
in the Washington Post provides an alarming perspective on the issue:
The real absurdity here is that Congress doesn't seem to realize that an Arab-owned company's management of America's ports is just a taste of what is coming. Greater foreign ownership of U.S. assets is an inevitable consequence of the reckless tax-cutting, deficit-ballooning fiscal policies that Congress and the White House have pursued. By encouraging the United States to consume more than it produces, these fiscal policies have sucked in imports so fast that the nation is nearing a trillion-dollar annual trade deficit. Those are IOUs on America's future, issued by a spendthrift Congress.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
The rules by which a defective state can be reduced to a disaster
Ron Volesky's withdrawal from the governor race induced reactions that show the qualities that dominate the state.
The people of South Dakota put their resentful small mindedness and stolid stupidity out there for all to see. From the Democrats came an accusation that moving the state headquarters to Pierre was the root of the flagging interest in the Democratic Party. Other howls of resentment and petulance chimed in like coyotes baying at the moon. Some advised that the party needs a complete makeover, but without any hint as to how that can be accomplished and who a made-over party would serve. From the Republicans came howls of glee. One blog published a reader's little essay on what the Republican Party means to her. It is an exercise in total bigotry and schizophrenic malevolence, but it probably is an accurate reflection of the mindset that dominates South Dakota.
Many blog commentators think that political success is a matter of conditioning the electorate into making responses programmed into it. One does not win elections on issues, in their thinking; it wins on the basis of who does the best job of brainwashing and operant conditioning. The people, in their Orwellian vision of the world, are not independent creatures who can think for themselves. And so the losses by the Democratic Party are matters of failing in the role of Big Brother. The people have little to do with it. Blog comments reinforce that view.
Whether campaigning is a matter of mind control or effective rhetoric, Ron Volesky faced a problem. Gov. Rounds has $1.4 in his campaign chest. Ron, after four months of campaigning, had $3,000. That is significant, and it provides much basis for those ne'er-do-wells who sit around coffee shops generating malicious speculations about the character and personhood of other people.
But what that level of support reflected in the disparity between $3,000 and $1.4 million means is that people are voting with their money.
Fundraising is never an easy business, but of late some complicated difficulties have become apparent. Raising money brings one into the realities of what people are thinking and what motivates them. In the local political arena, I hear people questioning whether their investments of time and money into the state are wise and good, or if their money and efforts will go to programs of which they disapprove. They clearly are indicating that their attachments to South Dakota are not so strong that they will not build their lives around other localities that have a more compatible set of values.
A person who does telephone solicitations for the NSU Foundation scholarship fund told me yesterday of some responses encountered of late.
NSU has become identified with the Republican Party, and two people responded to this person by saying that if they were to pledge money, they would prefer it to go to a nonpartisan cause. They made clear to the solicitor that their support of higher education would go to private, not state, institutions. And they made it clear that they resented that their tax money was going to support a political agenda with which a university has allied itself.
They make clear that their last best hope is on the national level. They have, in effect, indicated that they will invest in those organizations that represent their interests.
That brings up another conversation at a meeting recently. A person who travels regularly in North Dakota commented that his family does its major food shopping there because there is no sales tax on food. He said he does not mind paying a tax, but he does mind if it supports government of the kind that operates in South Dakota. Another person commented that her family does nearly all its shopping in other states, with trips to the Twin Cities considered a necessity. Other people chimed in about how our January ice storm crimped their post-holiday shopping trips to the Twin Cities. Buying out-of-state to them serves two purposes: they do not support businesses who work against them politically, and they do not contribute tax money to a government that operates in secret and oppresses them.
In a state that is virtually ruled by one party, progressives have largely given up on the idea that they have any real voice in state government. So, they are finding ways to vote with their money. Simply, spend it out-of-state. That way one can at least feel that one is not supporting one's oppressors.
The political chatter incited by Ron Volesky's abandonment of the race for governor is full of advice and observations from people who think they know all the tactics and secrets of successful campaigning. The chatter is filled with accusations about the ineptitudes and idiocies of other people, about how political identities are significations of defects of mind, character, and human worth. Politics has devolved into the nasty struggles for dominance and abusings of other people usually found in elementary school playgrounds when the monitors aren't watching.Nowhere in the discussion is the electorate given credit or responsibility for the kind of government it votes into control. No one is making the point that the vote is not controlled by the machinations of political campaigners, but by what the people want.
The abortion ban passed in the South Dakota Senate yesterday is a case in point. No one who deals with the political realities of South Dakota believes that the proponents of this legislation give a rusty dog turd about the right to life of unborn fetuses. If they cared about rights to life, they would concern themselves with the squalid, desperate, and degraded lives already born and living under the oppression of poverty and hopelessness. The obscenity of the abortion ban is that its ultimate result would be to add to the horde of people living in squalor and desperation. To some, their only sense of successful lives and satisfaction is provided by an underclass whom they can control, humiliate, and degrade.
Most people who identify with the Democratic Party do not approve of abortions. Neither do they approve of unwanted pregnancies brought to full term to live in humiliation and degradation. And they do not approve of intrusions by a horde of malevolent busy-bodies whose only happiness is controlling and dictating the terms of life to other people. Moralize none of this obscene right-to-life morality to us, please. They have shown us their true natures in the way they forced the abortion ban on the state.
Ultimately, the people of South Dakota got what they voted for. But this is not what almost-half of the people want.
South Dakota may have its abortion ban, but we still have the freedom and the means to withhold the incomes we earn from the businesses who support the oppressors, and we have the means to divert our tax dollars to other places with other values. We can donate to the campaigns of leaders in other states who will represent our interests on the federal level. They will not turn down your money. That trend has already started. People question whether supporting the Democratic Party in South Dakota will provide a forum for their voices. Ron Volesky has felt the results of that doubt.
To many people, the state legislature has signaled that it is quite willing to ignore and deny the real problems in this state in favor of forcing their will on young women with unwanted pregnancies. To the right-to-life crowd, this is a time of victory. To the rest of us, it is time to recognize that the ballot box in South Dakota is a sham. Elections in Palestine, South American, and Iraq have shown that elections do not reconcile people of differing values.
For progressives, it may be time to abandon South Dakota to the oppressors and cast our votes in ways that count. May the victors enjoy what they end up with.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
White House knew last August that Cheney intended to shoot an old man in the face
Read the scoop in The Onion
South Dakota makes front page of New York Times web
The ruckus over the abortion ban bill moving through the South Dakota legislature is featured in a long story in The New York Times.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, poverty just keeps a-creeping.
Cultural perversity and binge drinking
Stupidity rules. With a vengeance. South Dakota, among other states, is considering a bill on "cultural diversity" which will require state-run universities to make an annual report on what they are doing to enhance cultural diversity.
A new class of higher retardation is taking form. Another dean is in the making. The dean of diversity. And the old joke about deans gets renewal: a dean is a person not stupid enough to be a college president but too stupid to be a faculty member. Any faculty member who supports this bill is probably bucking for a deanship. And any dean who supports it is entertaining dreams of being a president.
No matter what absurd palaver may accrue around this bill, its purpose is clear and well publicized. It is a bill devised to require the hiring of more conservative faculty members. Those who label themselves conservative are constantly whining and whimpering about being outnumbered. This is the new politicization. Make no mistake about it, the idea behind this bill is to establish a quota system based on political affiliation. This from the same folks who have whimpered in such shoulder-shaking fury and made the loudest howling and whining about affirmative action.
The author who devised the "cultural diversity" requirement is David Horowitz. In explaining his idea, he complains about seeing political-oriented materials on bulletin boards and commiserates over conservative students who sit in classes presided over by liberal professors and feel intimidated.
Until fairly recently, I was not aware of the political orientation of professors. Even after representing them in faculty organizations that negotiated with administrations, I was not aware of what parties most professors were affiliated with. That's because there were professional issues involved that were not matters of political doctrine. Academic freedom, due process, equal rights, and competence were issues that confronted us, and they were not perceived as partisan issues. Whether one's political activities were in the liberal or conservative bands of the spectrum were simply not issues.
After the Limbaugh-led assaults on liberalism for every imagined and concocted ill that affects America, a significant number of people believe that universities are political training camps. The problem is not really that liberal doctrine is being preached on campuses; it is that conservatives want to convert campuses to that purpose. And so, you get a bunch of yokels promoting a cultural diversity bill.
Within academic disciplines, professors have diverse stances on matters in their specialities. Scientists, because of their scholarship and research, have diverse perspectives on their field. So do humanists. Those are the differences that provide the vital exchange and interaction that produces knowledge. Partisan politics may be mentioned, but until recently they were not considered relevant to academic business. They were not the stuff that academics concerned themselves with--unless issues of freedom, equality, and justice were at issue.
The conservatives go ballistic when it is suggested that if a majority of professors lean toward the liberal orientation, it is because the essential processes of scholarship are embraced by the liberal philosophy. The country's first-line universities do seem to have liberalism as a the predominant political orientation. There are no valid statistics available that we could find that attempt to show how professors array themselves on the political spectrum. But in the northern plains, we do not seen evidence of liberal dominance. In fact, we see quite the reverse. Most universities in this region are cold-frames of regression. They are devoted to vocationalism, and are not centers of intellectual or cultural activity. A few noisy liberals can be severely irritating in such a setting and that is too much for the regressive mentality to endure.
If there is a certain political inclination that is identified with higher academics, it may well have been somewhat institutionalized during the post-World War II years of the G.I. Bill. Veterans who returned from war and went to college had a common belief in what they fought for and how education served to extend and strengthen those values. They had seen the effects of fascist states for themselves and believed that democratic liberalism best expressed the values and processes they sought to protect and extend. Their values reached into the early years of civil rights advances in the 1950s. Their residual, and often misconceived, stances characterized campuses of the 1960s and 1970s. There was no argument about freedom, equality, and justice, but there was discussion on how those democratic values could best be served. The cultural diversity bill is an open declaration that we are no longer Americans. We are Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, progressives and regressives. We are in a deadly struggle for our beliefs, and campuses which once were neutral grounds are being appropriated as political battlegrounds.
The cultural diversity bill makes a statement, and that statement is how higher education is being saddled with useless and resource-draining paperwork and is being transformed into a medium for political indocrination.
Our response: perhaps binge drinking is justified on campuses that are being stripped of their academic integrity.
Cultural diversity as conceived in the South Dakota bill has nothing to do with the diverse ethnic and social backgrounds of students and faculty. It is a bill that insists that people be identified by political affiliation and that adminstrations establish and enact policies on that basis.
While South Dakota higher education is struggling to obtain tax money to carry out its mission, we object to having our contributions to the system used to promote "cultural diversity" as it is defined in the current bill. We prefer to contribute to real universities and send our children to them. And that may leave South Dakota out of the picture.
Monday, February 20, 2006
Open government gets reversed in national archives
In a super secret program, documents that have been previously released and published from the national archives have been made secret again. The New York Times
carries the full story.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Here is a chance to start working on open government
A bill to study open government has been advanced by committee vote to the floor of the state legislature. Studies can produce good recommendations and changes. They can also be used as dead ends. Here is the story from the Rapid City Journal website
. The attorney general dealing with open government issues, and this could be chance for those who want open government to make much needed changes in state and local governments.
What is a nation of laws when the laws are bad?
[With huge thank yous to Ann, who prefers no further identification, and colleagues.]
You don't have to be a lawyer to understand South Dakota's Codified Laws, but it helps if you read Sanskrit and are bipolar. They are the fundamental reason that a Ford Foundation- sponsored study ranks South Dakota as the worst state in the nation for open, responsible government, access by citizens to information and equal justice, and accountability.
You ask, if the laws are so bad, why have they not been changed or challenged? They have not been changed because there is a powerful faction and their friends in government who benefit from them. I do not know why they have not been challenged.
Here is the situation regarding how a challenge might be mounted. The U.S. Constitution has a clause which says that it , and any laws carrying out and putting into effect its principles are the law of the land. If states pass laws that are contradictory to the Constitution, those laws are overruled.
Based upon laws made to put Constitutional principles into effect, the public is provided ways to require and obtain accountability from government. When state laws do not provide access and accountability, federal law takes precedent. South Dakota laws not only do not provide access, but the state has laws on the books and in the making that deny the principle of open government. During this legislative session, law makers in Pierre have made proposals and statements that show they either are totally ignorant of democratic accountability or are dead set on eliminating it.
The biggest problem, however, involves police investigations. Police are given discretion about revealing the progress and results of their investigations in order to keep ongoing investigations from being compromised. Because of the way South Dakota law is stated, many departments assume that the criminal justice information they accrue can be hidden from the public at their will. Here is the statute that requires open records:1-27-1. Records open to inspection--Sale of lists. If the keeping of a record, or the preservation of a document or other instrument is required of an officer or public servant under any statute of this state, the officer or public servant shall keep the record, document, or other instrument available and open to inspection by any person during normal business hours. Any employment examination or performance appraisal record maintained by the Bureau of Personnel is excluded from this requirement.Here is the statute as it applies to municipalities:
9-18-2. Records of acts and proceedings of municipal officers--Open to public. Every municipal officer shall keep a record of the official acts and proceedings of his office, and such record shall be open to public inspection during business hours under reasonable restrictions.But here is the law that exempts some records from being available for scrutiny:1-27-3. Records declared confidential or secret. Section 1-27-1 shall not apply to such records as are specifically enjoined to be held confidential or secret by the laws requiring them to be so kept.And here is the law that applies to criminal investigations:23-5-11. Confidential criminal justice information not subject to inspection--Exception. The provisions of § 1-27-1 do not apply to confidential criminal justice information. Information about calls for service revealing the date, time, and general location and general subject matter of the call is not confidential criminal justice information and may be released to the public, at the discretion of the executive of the law enforcement agency involved, unless the information contains intelligence or identity information that would jeopardize an ongoing investigation. The provisions of this section do not supersede more specific provisions regarding public access or confidentiality elsewhere in state or federal law.
The application of this law hinges on the definition of "confidential criminal justic information and what makes it confidential. The definition provided by law does not clarify that:23-5-1o (1) "Confidential criminal justice information," criminal identification information compiled pursuant to chapter 23-5, criminal intelligence information, criminal investigative information, criminal statistics information made confidential pursuant to § 23-6-14, and criminal justice information otherwise made confidential by law;You see, the laws above refer to information made confidential by law, but there are no laws that set the rules for when criminal justice information can be made confidential and when such information must be released to the public so that voters can know what their employees are doing and how well or badly they are doing it. The same applies to information about personnel. The crooked and the incompetent are exempted from accountability by laws that keep acts inside government from public knowledge.
The Morgan Lewis case in Aberdeen is typical. Nearly everybody knows that this case has been bungled. Nothing coming out of city hall about it is trusted. A couple of would be dictators who should be accountable to the public think that there are things the public does not need to know. For example, two police officers were fired and then their firings were determined to be wrongful. The city has had to pay settlements in the cases. In other instances, personnel have resigned. There is clearly gross incompetence, bureaucratic intrigue, massive violations of the public trust, and a flouting of democratic principles going on here, but it is hidden behind bad laws. Precisely what the public should know is hidden.
Meanwhile, down in Pierre, the state legislature is working to compound the bad laws and make even worse ones.
South Dakota is a police state. The people are prevented from information and knowledge about their government and miscreants cannot be held accountable for incompetence and misdeeds.
As those ridiculous red buttons sported around town say, Life is great in Aberdeen. We add, If you dislike democracy and principle.
How can South Dakota come out of the Third World? We reprint this provision of law:23-5-11. The provisions of this section do not supersede more specific provisions regarding public access or confidentiality elsewhere in state or federal law.By making specific provisions regarding public access, confidentiality can be applied when needed, but in the end, all information affecting the public interest and well-being must be made open.
Whether South Dakota remains a police state or not rests with the will of the people.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
The Morgan Lewis Memorial adds dimensions
Professors Ken Blanchard, political science, and Jim Seeber, sociology, apparently called up the Aberdeen Chief of Police and requested an interview with him about his conclusion that Morgan Lewis committed suicide. Chief Lanpher's announcement of the conclusion did not include a survey of the evidence that led to it, an account of the reasoning of that evidence, or the identities and qualifications of "consultants" he alleges came to the same conclusion.
The professors published their conclusions from their interview on the opinion page of the local newspaper. As their academic specialities are neither criminology or journalism, they have incited much comment about their qualifications to probe into a matter on which the local government has imposed secrecy and created doubt, suspicion, and distrust. Both men are occasional columnists in the newspaper in which their joint column appeared.
Having been a full-time working journalist for 13 years and a teacher of journalism and a part-time working journalist for another 30 years, I, too, have some profound problems with the handling of the Morgan Lewis case by law enforcement officials and the media. Any incident that involves law enforcement and any personnel and resources paid for by tax dollars and authorized in behalf of the citizens should be a matter of record and those records should be open. Aberdeen and Brown County officials have denied the public's right to know, and news media have made very feeble efforts at enforcing that right.
Consequently, Professors Blanchard and Seeber deserve acknowledgment for doing what no one else did. They asked for an explanation of the evidence leading to the suicide conclusion, they received one, and they got it disseminated to the public. If I understand their account correctly, they did not approach the Chief as journalists or criminal investigators. They approached him as members of an academic community that for 15 months has been held in confusion, concern, and worry about the death of Prof. Lewis. Rather than have faculty and students sit around and generate speculations and accusations, they went to the major source of information and asked for an accounting.
To some, the explanation they received seems to settle the matter. To others, it raises more questions. But an underlying issue in the handling of this case involves closed, secret government. If there is one agency in any level of government that needs to be held accountable, it is police departments. When a law enforcement official, even in Aberdeen, South Dakota, chooses not to open investigative records for public inspection and tells the citizens they do not have the right to know, he is imposing a police state. The problem is not merely in local government. A very flawed and inadequate set of state statutes is at the root of the problem. On the federal level, reporters and other citizens could file a request for records under the Freedom of Information Act. South Dakota has no such act. In fact, it ranks at the absolute bottom of the states for openness, accessibilty of records, and accountability to the citizens for the way it conducts itself.
Although Blanchard and Seeber did not produce what is in any sense a definitive review of the evidence or a critical analysis of the reasoning that led to the suicide ruling, they at least provided information about how the Chief appears to have arrived at the conclusion. That is one hell of a lot more information than we had before.
I, too, was an occasional columnist for the newspaper. It is no secret that I chose to end my association with the newspaper because of a column by Blanchard. He took umbrage with the fact that I think John Thune conducted a contemptible campaign against Tom Daschle and I have concluded, therefore, that John Thune is a contemptible man. I have expressed those sentiments on this blog. However, Prof. Blanchard took statements from this blog and made deliberate misquotations. He aligned predications with subjects of his choosing, not the actual subjects of the predications. His use of partial quotations pasted together to misrepresent the point of the posts may be clever to political scientists, but in journalism and academics it is considered fabrication.
The point here is not Prof. Blanchard's offenses. They are done with, and I have chosen to disassociate myself from any context in which such offenses are countenanced. The point is that the newspaper received a full analysis of where his column violated the principles of accurate quotation and paraphrase. After making a token correction, the editors replied that it was all a matter of opinion. In journalism and academic writing, accurate quotation and summary of other sources are not matters of opinion. They are matters of competence, integrity, and honesty. When a newspaper or any other publication justifies misrepresentations of a person's words, it fails in those editorial acts that keep language and communication useful and trustworthy. The newspaper has the right to disagree with me and to criticize my thinking, but it does not have the right to publish falsifications of what I have written and said. In refusing to make a full correction of the misrepresentations, the newspaper renounced any claim it has as a credible source of information. I have chosen to disassociate myself from the Taliban-like mentality that governs the newspaper and that portion of the community whose interests it serves. I do not support or have any association with dishonest enterprises.
While the initiative of the two columnists has provided information previously withheld, it also intensifies the matter of closed government and the failure of the local press to exercise its function as the Fourth Estate. The information is compromised by appearing in a newspaper that places its propagandic spin and vindictiveness over accuracy and journalistic integrity. Because of its context, the information raises more questions about the competence, honesty, and political agendas that might drive the investigation into Morgan Lewis' death.
I have experience in dealing with recalcitrant law enforcement agencies that veer off into police state tactics. I was never a police beat reporter, but I was the editorial director of investigative reporting teams within a newspaper and often with reporters from other media. When government officials withheld information or denied access to records, editors were expected to provide support for the reporters. That usually meant that we called in the newspaper counsel, gave him the information on the records we wanted to see from which he wrote a petition to the court, took it to a judge, and obtained a court order to open the records. If there was not a sheriff's deputy available to serve the order, it took three editors to deliver it. One editor served it and the other two were witnesses to its service. It was the burden of the government official involved to show why such records should not be made available to the reporters. In cases where investigations and legal proceedings might be compromised, the judges ruled in favor of the official. But that was rare. The officials had to have very specific and valid reasons to close records. But that was in another state.
When reporters did interview officials about sensitive matters, such as the Morgan Lewis case is, they went to those interviews with a list of questions that they reviewed with their editors and to which the editors contributed. Sometimes those questions were also reviewed by the newspaper counsel. And when the answers to the questions were obtained, the editors conferred intensively about what information serves accountability and what might serve salacious interests. That call was made by the editors, not by the government officials, however.
South Dakota has conflicting laws about confidential criminal justice information. It seems to hold one standard for state agencies and another for municipal and county agencies. It neither indicates when criminal justice information is to be confidential or who determines it to be so. This leaves law enforcement personnel to believe that the public has no right to know how they conduct their investigations and what information they come up with. In general, even in South Dakota, law enforcment personnel cooperate with the press in giving it as much information as it can. But when information is embargoed as in the Morgan Lewis case, the public is left without the information needed to participate in and demand accountability from their government. Many groups who work for open government do not think the South Dakota laws meet Constitutional standards.
If there is one thing that the Morgan Lewis case reveals it is that local officials do not exercise open government and do not think the public has a right to know. It reveals the failure of the news media to fully scrutinize the operations of government and to test the laws that prevent such scrutiny and accountability. Professors Blanchard and Seeber have helped to expose the severity of the failures of open government and responsible journalism. They contributed to an understanding of a problem that needs fixing desperately.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
U.S. prepares to give billions to oil companies
This from the New York Times:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 — The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years.
New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let
companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government.
Sioux Falls Argus Leader questions handling of Morgan Lewis case
One of the things that could make life intellectually bearable in Aberdeen would be the sale of its newspaper, owned by Knight Ridder, to an organization that is interested in supplying the community with competent journalism. In the mid-1980s in a raucous review of news media in the upper Midwest, The Northwest Database Press Review said the Aberdeen American News was striving hard to be the country's worst newspaper. That was based upon gross ineptitude in handling regional news. For a time, Knight Ridder sent publishers and editors to the American News who worked at upgrading the journalism. Then someone decided real journalism was an offense to readers and turned the rag into a chamber-of-commerce pap wipe.
For some time, we have implored other news organizations to provide some legitimate news coverage for the region. No place has the American News demonstrated its servile journalistic retardation more than in its coverage of the Morgan Lewis case. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader has taken up coverage of the case and produced an editorial today.
Thanks for the editorial, Argus Leader. Now how about a press bureau or correspondent for this third-largest community in the state?
Here is the editorial in its entirety. Questions persist in professor’s death
Sioux Falls Argus Leader
Article Published: 02/14/06, 2:55 am
Aberdeen police have some explaining to do.
A lot of explaining.
In a news conference, Police Chief Don Lanpher Jr. announced that Northern State University professor Morgan Lewis committed suicide 15 months ago.
He announced that three independent consultants reviewed the investigation and agreed. But he wouldn’t tell the public how the department reached the conclusion of suicide.
And he wouldn’t even identify the three independent consultants.
That just not good enough.
ewis’ body was found on the morning of Nov. 1, 2004, outside Seymour Hall. He had a gunshot wound in his neck, and a .25-caliber pistol was found in a Dumpster about 40 yards away, with a blood trail between the body and the Dumpster. The coroner ruled the death a homicide.
The death disturbed the community and led to a 10 p.m. campus curfew. And now police close the case without revealing the evidence or even the mysterious consultants?
On the surface, it looks as though the police were stymied and simply picked a conclusion – suicide – so they could close the case.Lanpher’s explanation isn’t good enough.
The Aberdeen community needs more.[Yeah. A real newspaper for starters.]
Monday, February 13, 2006
A way to work against those totalitarians who want to close government from public view
Todd Epp's South Dakota Watch
announced an organizational meeting for a South Dakota chapter of Common Cause. You don't think we need one? Then read the post under this one.
South Dakota ranks absolutely last in the 50 states for open and participatory government. Big Brother Sen. Eric Bogue wants to close government down and erode democracy away even more. Common Cause provides an organizational base and a national network for working against those with totalitarian ambitions.
The standards of Common Cause are stated as follows: Government must be open to the public, and it needs to be run by men and women who adhere to the laws and guidelines that ensure the free flow of ideas. When public officials make decisions, cast votes or debate important issues, they must do those things in the open. Meetings must be open to the public. Public records must be accessible to all citizens. Common Cause is a member of OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition of groups working toadvance the public's right to know and to reduce secrecy in government.
Open government means using available technologies to reach out to the public and bring citizens into government – for example, broadcasting meetings on cable TV or webcasting, or providing public records on the Internet, rather than hiding them in a file cabinet in a remote office.
Common Cause works for reforms in these areas:
Freedom of Information Laws
South Dakota totalitarians propose more government secrecy
A constitutional amendment being advanced to South Dakota voters would make it easier to close legislative committee meetings to the public. The argument is that the meetings can be closed but any votes can be taken only in open meetings, as if watching a bunch of connivers vote has anything to do with accountable, responsibible government.
Here is part of the AP story on the issue:
PIERRE, S.D. - If passed by voters in November, a proposed constitutional amendment would allow South Dakota lawmakers to hold closed committee meetings without explanation or notice to the public. HJR1003, a measure that would streamline and modernize the constitutional duties and powers of the legislative branch, was passed by the Senate last week.
Originally, the measure would have required a two-thirds vote from legislators to close legislative sessions, joint sessions of both the House and Senate, and committee meetings. The initial language was recommended by the state Constitutional Revision Commission.
At the suggestion of Senate Republican Leader Eric Bogue of Faith, the Senate removed committee meetings from the list of proposed open sessions, and those hearings could be closed to the public. But no votes could be taken in any closed meetings.
Rep. Pat Haley, D-Huron, warned his colleagues Monday that the change could make voters turn against the amendment to the state constitution and reject several changes that legislators have wanted for years.
Committee meetings should not be closed, and the public won't want them closed, Haley said.
"I find it hard to believe that the Senate seriously believes that we should be able to close committee meetings, and I don't care if we're taking any action or not," he said.
Haley later told The Associated Press: "This turns the clock back."Legislators used to hold secret committee meetings years ago or close meetings and kick the public out.
The state constitution currently allows sessions of each chamber and joint sessions to be closed to the public if lawmakers think the business being conducted ought to be kept secret. The constitution does not specify that a vote needs to be taken to close any session. Nor does it specify if committee
meetings must be open or closed.
Rep. Matthew Michels, R-Yankton, said it doesn't really matter if committee meetings are closed since no action could be taken in closed meetings
Honest to God. This is what it said.
This Knight Ridder headline appeared in the newspaper the company owns in South Dakota:Vice President was hunting in Texas;victim is in stable condition in hospital
"Hit a few; miss a few."
Sunday, February 12, 2006
The Morgan Lewis Memorial
Readers who have paid attention to the suspicious death of Morgan Lewis in Aberdeen on Nov. 1, 2004, know that its investigation has been wrapped in bumbling, secrecy, dictatorial bravado, and just plain nasty-assed stupidity. From the outset, we have pointed out that officials in Aberdeen and Brown County have not been obeying the very laws they claim to be enforcing.
We have not had opportunity to post on this web log of late because we have been involved in intensive investigations into the closed government ruling in Aberdeen and in the legal ways to require the government to meet the standards of American democracy. The death of Morgan Lewis has occasioned great concern about the competence, integrity, and openness of government in Aberdeen. We will name our effort to secure Constitution-based rights of open and responsible government after him.
Here is the law that governs the way the city government is supposed to operate: 9-18-2. Records of acts and proceedings of municipal officers--Open to public. Every municipal officer shall keep a record of the official acts and proceedings of his office, and such record shall be open to public inspection during business hours under reasonable restrictions.Following are some guidelines from the Society of Professional Journalists on how Freedom of Information applies to actions and records of local government: What is Freedom of Information?
Put simply, Freedom of Information (FOI for short) is the right to know what your government is doing – how it spends your tax dollars, how it creates and implements policy, how it makes decisions that affect you. It refers to your right to examine records and documents and to your right to observe – and participate in –your government’s decision-making processes.
Government processes, activities and decisions may affect you directly or indirectly. They determine the amount of taxes you pay and the kinds of government services you receive. Governments and their agencies regulate many activities in your home and business life. Your ability to participate in, monitor and, perhaps, protest government decisions relates directly to your ability to know what your government is doing.
FOI is the opposite of secrecy. It means the doors and files of government are open and available to the public, instead of being closed to all but a select few.In some circles, “Freedom of Information” is called “Right to Know,” but the meaning is the sameHere is the SPJ explanation of why people have access to law enforcement information and records:L
USES: To monitor the activities of police, sheriff’s officers, highway patrol or other law enforcement agencies.
AVAILABILITY: Initial reports to law enforcement agencies should be available under state law. This may include tapes of incoming calls to 9-1-1 centers. Investigative reports by police generally are considered confidential, at least while cases are considered active. In some cases, law enforcement may try to seal closed case files because of information contained in them.
NOTES: It is not uncommon for law enforcement agencies to withhold even routine “initial report” information to punish local media over perceived slights or unflattering coverage. Journalists should actively pursue access to all the records they are entitled to see under state law. Journalists also should make efforts to see case files that have been sealed after the case is closed. And here are the list of symptoms of government going bad:
- A privacy coalition forms in your community or your state, perhaps in advance of an upcoming legislative session.
- Newspapers receive a wave of letters or commentaries calling for more protection of personal privacy.
- An elected official – governor, attorney general, legislator – calls for a special task force to address public access to government information. (NOTE: Such studies may be required by the law and, even if they aren’t, can be very productive in improving FOI laws and policies. However, FOI advocates should insist that their viewpoint is represented on any commission and that the leadership is not biased toward an anti-access view.)
- A government agency announces a new policy to close certain records or institute new procedures for requesting records.
- A government entity attempts to muzzle frequent “gadflies” or critics.
- A judge suddenly closes a court proceeding and orders all observers out. (NOTE: Remember that courts are not subject to open meetings laws. However, any time a court proceeding is closed, journalists should make sure the judge has followed procedure and explain the rules surrounding courtroom closures to the public. The media also should be active in challenging courtroom closures that they believe are unwarranted or improper.)
- Government files, which had been available, suddenly become unavailable.
- A government employee wants to know “why you want” information or records.
- A government agency increases the price of copies or duplication.A government agency (or a local government) purchases a new computer system that stores information in a new format. (A format incompatible with yours.)
- Meetings of deliberative bodies are held without notice.
- Regularly scheduled meetings are re-scheduled to new times.Meetings are held without printed agendas.A government council, committee, or other decision-making body holds frequent “executive sessions” without fully explaining why.
- Minutes from meetings are not available.Your local television station or newspaper does a big “Don’t Let This Happen to You” story warning about potential violations of people’s privacy.
We post this information for background on posts and actions that will ensue.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
How many imams does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: None. They have banned them as being too western.
South Dakota Right-To-Life changes name to Embryos Unlimited
South Dakota Right-To-Life has entered an agreement with the Sportsmen for Deadly Force coalition to cooperate should the state legislature adopt a statute permitting unlimited deadly force, preferably with firearms, to anyone with a pretext for defending their person, home, family, or anything else they choose. Modeling itself after Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, the organization has joined with the Deadly Force group to insure the supply of game so that more Deadly Force Sportsmen can have the ultimate big game experience. It is registering under the name Embryos Unlimited. The Deadly Force spokesman, above, said that it is murder to take a life until they are encroaching on your property. "Once they reach game size and encroach on your property or threaten you, you can blast the holy, living hell out of them."
The legislature is working on a bill to charge the Dept. of Game, Fish, Parks, and Sports Shooting to come up with rules regarding age, size, and bag limits for the game.
South Dakota Legislature proposes burka mandate
The South Dakota AB (abortion and abstinence) Task Force and Taliban Wing of that certain party (shown above) met in closed session and delivered proposed legislation to committees of the South Dakota Legislature mandating that all women in the state must wear burkas. The legislative committees got locked in heated arguments over whether the mandate should be attached as an amendment to the abortion ban, the mandate to teach abstinence in schools, or the cultural diversity bill that affects higher education.
"It doesn't matter what bill it gets tacked onto," said Rep. Roger Hunt, the main author of AB legislation. "What matters is that we save life so that we can deny it from having a life. Controlling other peoples lives and setting up a criminal code to make them adhere to our good, American values is the first priority."
In the proposed legislation, any woman caught not wearing a burka, making any claim to individual freedom or equality, or asserting herself in any manner will be guilty of a Class 3 felony.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Religious sensitivity and mass murder
As more demonstrations are mounted on the pretext of protesting the satirical drawings of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper last September, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo
notes some bloggers are claiming that the protests are being fomented and orchestrated. He also provides a link for a case that the protests proceed out of offense at people who do not take Islamic terrorism seriously as a spiritual state.
The lurking issue for Americans is the violence of the protests and the level of offense. Do satiric drawings compare in magnitude to the atrocities of 9/11 carried out in the name of Allah? What if Americans and Spaniards and British burned the embassies and consulates in their countries of any country that was complicit in the murders against their people? What if the people in countries where Islamic terrorists have struck were to attack and besiege the mosques in their countries?
Can any clerics or Muslim regimes understand what would happen if people took equal offense and action against them for the offenses committed? We really wonder, like many other commentators, if Muslim leaders do not understand what underlies the satirical drawings. They may be offensive, but they also speak to a growing distrust of and sense of betrayal and treachery and of a new holocaust being carried out in the name of religious faith.
The drawings were published in a newspaper over which the Danish government has no control--under the rules of a free press. They do not compare in any way to the thousands of people killed on 9/11 and in the bombings in Madrid, London, and others carried out throughout the world.
We wonder why these questions are not explored in the world press.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Arlen Spector, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says that the Bush domestic surveillance program was illegal. Click the headline above to read the full New York Times story.
What happens when Allah gets nuclear bombs?
When Islamic terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania taking 3,000 innocent American lives, they chanted "praise be to god." When they lopped off the head of an American worker in Iraq with a sword, they shouted "god is good." When one Muslim faction disagrees with another, it does not repair to a mosque for a theological debate; it simply machine guns them down--praising Allah while doing so.
Islamic terrorists celebrate a god with an uncontrollable bloodlust, a god who terms--in their minds--anyone of a different faith and world view an infidel that must be killed, a god that requires repression and cruel extermination, a god that rejoices in unimaginable cruelty, vicious destruction, and insane hatred. That god's emissaries are setting the agenda of people on earth.
When the cartoonists for a Danish newspaper drew images of that god's prophet in the form that the Islamic terrorists project into the world, the Muslim nation went into a rage. Other newspapers in Europe reprinted the cartoons. In one of those supreme demonstrations of reason and logic, the offended burned the embassies of the countries in which a free press was exercising its freedom of expression. The cartoons were not the official position of the countries' leaders. But the Muslim nation has expressed its preference for theocratic totalitarianism and expects the countries to expiate themselves with repressions and punishments against their press and their people.
Islam is an ideological vector for a disease whose major symptom is unbridled hatred and mindless killing. Not all Islam is. But we have not noticed anything but feeble assertions of tolerance and humane behavior from those who claim to be of more peacable beliefs.
When the practice of religion is expressed through genocide and mass slaughter, freedom of religion and religioius tolerance become absurdities. Does freedom of religion and religious tolerance mean that we must respect a god that stands for the demented destruction of people that makes Hitler's Holocaust look like a pink tea party? If so, the gross intellectual and moral failure that pervades Islam has spread to the West. We mount huge campaigns and alerts against the looming pandemic of bird flu, but are fearful of being accused of bigotry and intolerance when we acknowledge the mental and spiritual illness that has already killed hundreds and thousands of innocents.
We note that it was journalists, not countries, who have portrayed the realities of Islamic terrorists. We also note that there are some people, among whom are some who have been kidnapped and held hostage by Islamic militants, who say there is no rational and diplomatic way to deal with the rampaging hatred and bloodlust that confronts us. They also say that the Islamic militants should be given their due: we should be told exactly what they are and what they intend.
And they say that the West would be foolish not to remount its nuclear defense and attack system. They suggest, not ironically in the least, that once again our survival may depend upon whether we have the fastest and the biggest nukes capable of destroying our enemies before they destroy us.
This is not a pleasant prospect. But the question of mollifying the embassy burners and making nice to those who cannot tolerate freedom of thought and expression can lead to a massive betrayal of a free people. Intellectually and morally what is taking place in the world is pure dementia. We fought against it in World War II. Maybe we should start treating Islamic militance like we do the bird flu.
Maybe we should get refocused on the war on terror. And maybe we should start dealing with the truth. As bleak as it is.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
A dead professor speaks on the moribund state of open government
The people of Aberdeen had the door to responsible government slammed in their faces Thursday. The Chief of Police thinks in slamming that door shut he has closed the case on the death of Prof. Morgan Lewis.
Early the morning of Monday, Nov. 1, 2004, the custodian of Seymour Hall on the Northern State University campus came to work and found a body lying in a pool of blood by an entrance door. It was the body of Prof. Morgan Lewis who taught German at both the University and Aberdeen Central High School. Prof. Lewis was known among colleagues and students as personable, industrious, and dedicated. A Californian, he was gay and of Lakota descent.
The Police Department was not forthcoming about the ensuing investigation. The circumstances of the death were puzzling. Prof. Lewis died from a gunshot wound to the left side of his neck. The gun was found in a dumpster about 30 yards away. The police termed the death suspicious, but gave strong hints that their favorite theory was suicide. Forensic experts say that a suicide done in an open area where there is foot traffic is unusual.Based upon a medical examiners report, however, the coroner termed the death a homicide on the death certificate.
The police gave out no information on the case. They refused to discuss the evidence. Prof. Lewis’ obituary in the local newspaper did not contain the usual information about family, education and work history, or any other resume items that would further identify the new professor to the community. It all seemed vaporized.
The police had the means of death. They had a list of people who had the opportunity to inflict death. They had no motive for either suicide or homicide. With no information about the ensuing investigation coming from the police, the people began to speculate. Some said a spurned or jealous lover did it. Some thought it was a hate crime. Some said it was done by a hired hit man for a drug deal gone wrong or some other underworld reason. Some said that an angry student or a jealous and resentful faculty member with a wounded ego may have done it. The police department provided no information that were working with evidence and information that was more sound than the speculations.
The doubts about the police department handling of the case were heightened when the policeman assigned to patrol the NSU campus suddenly resigned. He had been reprimanded and threatened for talking about the case. His quitting came in the midst of other resignations and firings in the department. Two policemen who were fired appealed their terminations. The firings were found wrongful and the City had to pay settlements for them. The citizens had plenty of reasons not to trust the police department or the city.
Withholding information during the course of an investigation is legitimate practice when an investigation might be compromised. When a case is closed, however, it becomes a matter of public record.Thursday the Chief of Police announced that the case was ruled a suicide and was closed.
He made the announcement to a meeting at which a large number of faculty and staff from NSU were present. His announcement was met with skepticisim and disbelief. This was reported in two stories on Friday by the Aberdeen American News. The announcement was also covered by a better story in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader
. That story is better because it follows up on the line of authority through which such cases are handled.
Despite questions from faculty, the Chief of Police refused to discuss or disclose any evidence that led to the ruling. He said legal reasons kept him from discussing the evidence. There are no laws that prohibit the police from explaining the evidence and how it leads to a ruling. In fact, there are laws that require full disclosure of the record. [SDCL 1-27-1 & 3; 1-25-1.]
In suspicious deaths, all evidence is open for pubic examination. Law enforcement agencies cannot be held liable for any information uncovered in the course of their investigations.
“Legal reasons” is simply a false dodge.
Then the Chief said that three consultants, two from Minnesota and one from Florida, concurred in the suicide ruling. Who the consultants were, what standing they might have, and why they were consulted was also not revealed. We could supply a lengthy Supreme Court-type brief from legal scholars on why this dodge is nonsense, but suffice it to say that the way a police department does its job is the people’s business and they have the right to know.
The Chief’s only response to the skepticism was to exhort the people to trust him. In the context of his wrongful firings, this is not likely.
People raise the question about whether the information on this case can be acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. That act applies to federal agencies. State law applies to state and local agencies.
South Dakota law has loopholes that permit some elements of government to operate in clandestine, devious, and potentially illegal ways. However, its general provisions are that all public officials must keep records and must make them open to public inspection.
The Argus Leader, among other media, have sued to have some state records opened for inspection. Media and other citizens may have to sue the City of Aberdeen to get access to the records of this case.
Another route is for the City Council to exercise its power of investigation. While council members are prohibited from exercising power over any city official or department, it does have the responsibility to oversee the functioning of the government and to work in consultation with the mayor in solving problems. Under the Home Rule Charter, Section 2.09, the council has the power to investigate any matters of government and to “subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony, and require the production of evidence.” It is also mandated by statute that the council examine the records of any officers under its purview periodically and to require that actions be taken when it finds failure to perform competently as required.
In this case, the news accounts have stated that the coroner will amend Morgan Lewis’ death certificate from homicide to suicide. However, the coroner does not have to change that information if he does not possess convincing information that warrants it. If the coroner refuses to change the cause of death, a judge must rule on it. In other words, a judge could require that the case be opened for judicial review and decision.
The county state’s attorney has a major role in how potential homicide cases are processed. In this case, the state’s attorney has supported the Chief of Police in closing the records. Concerned citizens have grounds to make an appeal to the state Attorney General, if they find the performance wanting. The Attorney General has the responsibility and the power to consult with, advise, and exercise supervision over the several state's attorneys of the state in matters pertaining to the duties of their office.
While the president of NSU accepted the ruling of suicide, he told the Argus Leader that the questions of professors were legitimate. He stated it is the nature of the profession to require evidence, to be skeptical until a conclusion is fully supported, and to examine all evidence from as many perspectives as possible.
That is also the right and responsibility of citizens.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
A cartoon world war
Well, at least the Joint Chiefs haven't gone this far.
This cartoon by Tom Toles in the Washington Post received protests from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Meanwhile, cartoons that originated in Scandinavian newspapers satirizing Muhammad as the authority for terrorism and repression have produced armed demonstrations by offended Muslims.
South Dakota's designated idiots go wild
Who gets to influence the governor at a state-organized pheasant hunt?
[Or where is that mongolian idiot with the hand calculator when you really need him?]
The idea is very simple. It is that any elected or appointed or hired official acting in the behalf of the public serves at the will of the people in our democracy. There are even laws, although selectively ignored and violated, that require those officials to keep records of all the proceedings that take place within the purview of government business. And those laws also require that any member of the public has the right to view those records and arrangements must be made to provide access.
Except in South Dakota.
In South Dakota taxpayers give the governor a neat, little choo-choo plane he can tootle around in at their expense. They bought the damned thing. They foot the bill for maintaining it. The governor may find some funds to pay for the fuel when his larking gets too far afield from government business, but for the most part taxpayers, who are repeatedly told that there is not enough money to really support education in a vital way in this state, foot the bill.
For years, the state has sponsored the Governor's pheasant hunt. The list of guests used to be open. The event is organized by government officials and is designed so that the folks who enjoy blasting the heads off what some claim is the world's dumbest bird can revel and rejoice together. And socialize with each other in various ways. Now the list is closed.
The Sioux Falls Argus Leader has sued the state for access to the list. The state has replied to the suit with a doozy of a reply.
"If the Argus Leader can compel release of this information, so too can the economic development offices of neighboring states, so too can competing businesses, so too can solicitors of all types," says the state's designated idiot, who cannot operate a hand-calculator.
Note that the people who own the state and for whom all these designated idiots work are not even given consideration in the scheme of things. Rather, the state has an elaborate argument that while the state is required to keep records and make them available, the economic development department is exempted. That's probably because its idiots are designated to screw around with state money and the state future and see what kind of postures the state can get into to please any corporate predator who might have designs on the state ass, so to speak.
The people of South Dakota are getting ripped off every day in every way. They seem to like it. It's a form of bondage.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Ethanol, Ethanol, you fickle bitch
Ten or fifteen years ago, South Dakota became part of the corn belt. Blame the plant scientists. It used to be part of the wheat belt, but the nation can grow far more wheat that it can eat or sell to other nations. A couple decades ago, South Dakota went through changes in its characteristic farm crops, from wheat and flax and hay to sun flowers, soybeans, and corn.
When farmers in the state got good at gowing corn--actually the plant breeders got good at it by creating varieties that do well in this northern climate--they hit that old competitive market. American farmers grew more corn than they could sell. So, they needed to enlarge the market. As demand for U.S.-produced renewable energy appeared on the horizon, ethanol seemed like an excellent market for corn. It has helped immensely. And many farmers are growing corn to make ethanol and soy beans for biodiesel.
Ethanol had a tough row crop to hoe. Initially, it took as much energy to create a gallon of ethanol as it could produce in whatever engine it would eventually drive. The technology has improved and, consequently, so has the ratio of energy put in to energy put out. That has been good news to corn farmers.
But there is a new technological development on the horizon. President Bush mentioned it in his State of the Union speech:
"We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years."
The new development is in the phrase "cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switch grass."
That "cutting-edge technology" is called cellulosic ethanol. It is ethanol made from plant waste, not the expensive fruit of the plants. It would reduce the cost of ethanol considerably, make it more abundant, and make its renewability more efficient. And it would push corn-based ethanol right off the market. There would not be much point in buying corn to make ethanol when much cheaper vegetation products will do just as well.
So, what seemed like a boon to corn farmers now seems to signal another change in what kind of crops are grown. If farmers want to produce for the ethanol market, they may have to switch to exceptionally high-yield crops that produce cellulose if they are to make any money in that market.
The thing that energy people do not talk much about is on-farm and wind farm hydrogen production. This is a multiple system of energy-producing components, such as wind power and solar power that drive electrolysis machines that convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is used in fuel cell engines that drive automobiles, farm machines, and electric generators.
A few trial stations are in operation. Many engineers say it is the cleanest, most reliable, and potentially abundant source of energy. But energy corporations and, therefore, politicians don't give it much promotion.
For those who are curious, you might click on this U.S. Dept. of Energy website
Click the headline to read full story in The Onion.
Stint and Hump applaud their leader's new cabinet appointment.