Friday, August 31, 2012

Key Obama States

David Axelrod and Jim Messina, running the Obama presidential campaign, Obama for America, have identified their key, battleground states!
by Charlie Leck

The Ad Astra Weekly Polls Report
These are the key battleground states…
as identified by Obama for America

Colorado (Obama with a very slight lead)
Florida (Romney with a very slight lead)
Iowa (Even)
Nevada (Even, but the GOP is spending millions here)
New Hampshire (Obama with a lead of a couple of points)
North Carolina (It’s dead even at the moment)
Ohio (Obama has lead, but Romney intends to spend a ton here)
Pennsylvania (Obama with a slim lead and GOP about to spend a lot here)
Virginia (An extremely close call and will be right to the end)

Now, what do the polls really say about these battleground states!
The above comments about those nine states come pretty much out of the Obama campaign reports and their internal polling. National polls show an essentially dead even race, but we’ve explained here before that national polls don’t mean much. What counts is a state-by-state look at the numbers; and a careful look at the leading and respected polls shows the following about the states listed above…

Colorado (Consensus of polls I watch show Obama with a 1 point lead; however, CBS/NYTimes polls shows Romney with a 5 point lead). I respect the CBS/NYTimes poll so I’m calling this state even.
Florida (Poll consensus shows Obama with a 2 to 3 point lead)
Iowa (Poll consensus shows Obama with a 1 to 2 point lead)
Nevada (Poll consensus shows Obama with a 3 point lead)
New Hampshire (Poll consensus shows Obama with a 4 point lead)
North Carolina (Poll consensus shows Romney with a 1 to 2 point lead)
Ohio (Poll consensus shows Obama with a 2 to 3 point lead)
Pennsylvania (Poll consensus shows Obama with a 5 point lead)
Virginia (Poll consensus shows Romney with a very slim lead)

Virginia is a crucial state, but, then, which of these states isn't. Florida appears to be key as far as I'm concerned. I Obama could pull off wins in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, I think its safe to say he'll sin this election. A loss of any one of them will make it nearly dead even. A loss of two of them and he'll need to move out of the White House in January.

Next week’s look at the polls will show the bump the Republicans get from its convention and the following week will show the Democrats’ bump. About mid-September we’ll start to get polls analysis that will really mean something and on which you can start to place your bets. We’ll keep looking at all the states with the higher electoral college votes.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

GOP Platform

The platform that the GOP adopted at its convention in Tampa is startling! It includes a no exception ban on all abortions. It defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. As I expected, this is an agenda that caters to the extreme right-wing of the party and will likely offend its moderates.
by Charlie Leck

Well, the Republicans have gone and done it. They reshaped themselves into a party of far right-wingers, moving themselves dramatically away from the moderate center of American politics. So, what of it!

Here is one of  planks of the platform adopted by the GOP
at its national convention, regarding hunting out liberal bias in our colleges and universities.

“Ideological bias is deeply entrenched within the current university system. Whatever the solution in private institutions may be, in State institutions the trustees have a responsibility to the public to ensure that their enormous investment is not abused for political indoctrination. We call on State officials to ensure that our public colleges and universities be places of learning and the exchange of ideas,not zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the Left.”

Amazing! Simply amazing!

I believe (perhaps it is blind hope) that women and seniors will carry the day for President Obama this year. They’ll reject this hopeless and radical conservatism.

Give this Republican convention a week to settle down. Once the dust clears, the analysis will begin and the public will see just how far to the right the GOP has drifted. Republicans will win the hard South and the prairie states with no trouble. They’ll have trouble everywhere else. Their hard-right platform may have cost them states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

And explain to me what this GOP plank, about technology and ideology is trying to say.

““Liberty alone fosters scientific inquiry, technological innovation, entrepreneurship, and information exchange. Liberty must remain the core energy behind America’s environmental improvement.”


Of course, I can’t forget that the GOP will spend hundreds of millions of dollars of Super PAC money in the next two months. We’ll see some of the most horrendous ads known to politics and they’ll turn many a stomach with their lies and misleading statements. That’s politics in 2012, even if we don’t like it.

Obama will begin answering these critics next week at the Democratic convention and in his own ad campaign that will begin the day the Democrats recess. How he spends his money will be vital; for he won’t have the amounts with which the rich GOP will get to play. Obama will need to depend on the American people sorting out truth from fiction. All of those who believe in him will have to give money to the campaign to the point that it actually hurts. We’ve no choice! We're up against people like the Koch brothers.

Then there is this plank about the minimum wage in the pacific territories, which is more truthfully a statement about the GOP and the minimum wage in the states.

“The Pacific territories should have flexibility to determine the minimum wage, which has seriously restricted progress in the private sector.”

In the NY Times on 29 August (Wednesday) an interesting article compares the GOP platform from the 1980 convention (which endorsed Ronald Reagan) to the platform of this year. It’s remarkable to see how far to the right the party has consistently drifted. Take a look at the comparison chart here! Or you can read the entire article (Platform’s Sharp Turn to the Right Leaves Conservatives Cheering!).

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

History Alive

Some days are okay and some are extraordinary. My day, yesterday, falls into the second classification and frankly I’m trembling a bit as I try to tell you about it. It was very exciting!
by Charlie Leck

UPDATED: 1 October 2012 (thanks to Tess's comment below)

My blog is not usually an account of my activities – a diary page or memoir – but today it must be because I just had a day that left me dazzled and filled with wonder – and, it all left me just a little bit star struck. I want so much to tell you about it.

History was amazingly alive before my very eyes yesterday. I was transported back to two of the most important and extraordinary years in the history of our nation. I sat and watched the central figures in the events of those times; and, I listened in on their conversations and watched them struggle to make difficult decisions. I liked the people I met and that I watched in action during these excruciatingly difficult times – Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, General Ulysses Grant, Frederick Douglas, Mary Todd Lincoln (in 1865) and, one-hundred years later, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta King, Herbert Hoover, Senator Richard Russell, Jr., Nicholas Katzenbach, Lady Bird Johnson (1965). I watched and listened to them as they struggled with some of the most important decisions made in America’s history.

I wasn’t’ dreaming! I was there, transported into those moments by extraordinary actors and the genius of playwright Christopher Hampton. Thanks to my sister-in-law, it was one of the really luscious days of my life – one I’ll never forget and about which I will do a great deal of thinking.

I’ll stop being so mysterious. I sat in on a first-reading by the actors at the Guthrie Theatre, in Minneapolis, of Hampton’s amazing play, Appomattox.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet Hampton before the reading; and also to chat with him for a few moments at its conclusion. Mind you, I got to do a bit of the talking and he acted, anyway, as if he was interested in what I had to say. He’s a gentle looking man – this playwright of such extraordinary credentials – and he speaks softly and with precision. He’s brilliant, with an Oxford education and a command over a half dozen languages, but he approaches a conversation as one who is hungry to learn and not to lecture. My goodness, I was standing there chatting up a man who has won a slug (if you’ll excuse the profanity) of awards – Tonys, Olivers, Circles, Oscars, Cannes and many others that I can’t easily abbreviate.

And, he was asking me questions. Can you believe it? Were you really there – in Mississippi in ’64. In Montgomery in ’65?

I was, indeed, star-struck. There’s no other way to say it. I mumbled and bumbled out answers as best I could.

Our local theatre of international fame, the Guthrie Theatre, is doing a Hampton festival this autumn and featuring three of his plays – Tales from Hollywood, Embers, and the play I’m most interested in, Appomattox, which will open on October 5 (and I’ll be in the audience for the opening). Hampton is here for the festival.

Appomattox deals with events separated by a hundred years – first, the American Civil War and the end of it in 1865; and then the Selma to Montgomery march by Dr. King and his followers in 1965 and the violence that surrounded it. The play is packed with intense dialogue that allows you into Lincoln’s White House to hear intimate conversations between Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, Lincoln and General Grant. You also see historic conversations and exchanges of correspondence between General Grant and General Robert E. Lee.

Yesterday, the actors chosen to play these parts had scripts in front of them as they sat around a large square of tables and read their lines. Actors, however, are actors and there was nothing dry about the readings. The dialogue was rich and powerful and drew deep emotions from everyone who listened in. When J. Edgar Hoover sat in the oval office and conversed with President Johnson, you could feel the President’s coldness and contempt for the little man who had gathered far more power to himself than his position should have allowed. This was the profane and direct President Johnson, who felt the weight of Vietnam and the rampant racism of the South on his shoulders. There was danger everywhere and the President walked a mighty slim tight-rope.

The same brilliant actor will play both Lincoln and Johnson. It was amazing to watch him transform himself from one to the other and make both of them so totally alive and believable. The wonderful young actor who played the part of Doctor King was amazingly inspiring and remindful of the great civil rights leader. There were a half dozen people invited to hear the reading and each of us admitted, after it, that we were tearful and choked up during many moments in the play.

Hampton draws the play to a conclusion in the year 2010 with a fictional encounter in prison between James Bonard Fowler, the Alabama State Trooper who murdered Jimmie Lee Jackson in 1965, and Edgar Ray Killen, the only man convicted in the Mississippi murders of the three young civil rights workers in 1964. 2010 is contemporary – it is our time and place – and yet you hear in the conversation the repugnant hatred and racism that still lives in America in our own time. This conversation wasn’t shocking to me, but it was sad to sit there, listening in on the intimate conversation between two hateful racists.

I trembled as I listened to the two killers so lightly discuss their crimes.

Appomattox is going to be an incredible production!

Other plays, or screen plays, by Christopher Hampton include Total Eclipse, The Philanthropist, Dangerous Liaisons, Atonement and God of Carnage. He also has a long list of television credits. For theater buffs, the Hampton Celebration at the Guthrie is going to be nothing short of extraordinary. You can read about it on the Guthrie web site’s Hampton Celebration page. Come to Minneapolis for the celebration and, if you do, be sure to let me know about your visit. I’ll buy you a drink. Those of you who are locals should get your tickets now. Opening night is October 5 and there will be four preview performances before the opening.

by Christopher Hampton
directed by David Esbornson
(part of the Guthrie’s Hampton Celebration)

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Minnesota’s Supreme Justices Knock Me Out

I was surprised by their decision because I thought they’d do the right thing and not the political thing!
by Charlie Leck

By a 3 to 2 vote!
It was by a split decision that the Minnesota Supreme Court voted to allow a very poor description of an amendment to the constitution to stand 
on the November ballot just as the legislature wrote it and not as the Secretary of State had amended it. The three justices who voted to go with the legislature’s wording were all appointees of the former conservative Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty. They also ruled that the legislature’s original title for the Marriage Amendment question for the Minnesota Constitution should stand. [If you wish, you can read the StarTribune story about the decision here.]

Progressives wanted that language clarified on both constitutional amendment proposals so that voters would know exactly what they are voting on when they have the ballots before them in the voting booth. The language on both issues is very misleading.

Chuck Samuelson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota bluntly stated the following: “Today we are Florida! This was a political decision by a political court!”

In his dissent, Justice Alan Page (elected and not appointed to the Court), had some scathing things to say:

"It is ironic, if not Orwellian, that in the name of 'protecting' the voter and preventing unspecified voting 'fraud,' the Legislature has resorted to a ballot question that deliberately deceives and misleads the very voters it claims must be protected."

Orwellian? Indeed!

Make no mistake, this was a victory for the conservative and Tea Party cause in Minnesota!

The League of Women Voters in Minnesota, which brought the law suit, was disappointed but looked for the positives: “At least we got the conversation started.”

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Remembering the Space Pioneer

Image taken by NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover on August 23, 2012 using its telephoto lens on the 100-millimeter mast camera instrument, or mastcam. The image, which is color-enhanced to replicate the lighting conditions on Earth, shows Mount Sharp rising in the background and the rover's gravely surface in front.  

Our salute of gratitude and wonder to Neil Armstrong and the extraordinary accomplishment of his NASA team; but how Armstrong must have watched in awe as Curiosity was lowered on to Mars.
by Charlie Leck

Earth said goodbye to Neil Armstrong last week and gave him a hero's salute. He is out among the stars now, enjoying his eternal rest. What a wonderful human being he was.

I'm glad Armstrong got to hang around long enough to witness the incredible Mars landing.

"One small step for man," Armstrong said as he put his foot upon the surface of the moon, and then continued: "One giant leap for mankind!" Indeed, a leap that has led us now to an amazing exploration of the surface of Mars.

Though we've been dabbling around on Mars for years, now we're beginning to witness some of the incredible information that Curiosity is sending back to us. I hope you're paying attention, because the real exploration of Mars is underway. In a blog earlier in the month (Curiosity on Mars) I provided links and blog sites  for many of the places where you can keep in touch with what's going on. The above photo came to me on a NASA blog that I follow.

This, like the moon landing, is one of the incredible events of our lifetimes. Keep in touch!


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Monday, August 27, 2012

Walking the Walk

    Photo by Anne W. Leck: Susan G. Komen Walk for a Cure.
     That's Jenny and Erika waving to Anne.

Two of our daughters came home to Minnesota to participate this weekend in the Susan G. Komen Walk for a Cure!
by Charlie Leck

I was very proud of them – those two dynamic and exciting young women – my daughters. They walked 60 miles over this three-day weekend and, together, raised well over 5,000 dollars for the Race for a Cure for Breast Cancer. My pride check-mated my suspicions of the Komen organization and my displeasure with the organization last fall, when it announced it would provide no more grant money for Planned Parenthood – wouldn’t even accept an application from them (but they’ve reversed all that). Participation in the Komen walks, all around the nation, appears to be off about 30 percent this year; and that’s a good sized hand-slapping for the Komen organization. To give them credit, Komen’s web site now carefully displays how much money they are spending in administration and fund-raising and how much of it goes toward research and other projects. They now allow audits that show the organization’s administration costs are under seven percent of their income.

In spite of recent public relations problems, there were over a thousand walkers out this year here in Minneapolis and St. Paul; and their efforts raised over a million and a half dollars for Komen. One has to admire and tip one’s hat to all of those who walked the walked and I salute them (including my two daughters).

    Photo by Anne W. Leck: Jennifer and Erika on the Walk for a Cure

     Photo by Chas Leck: 2012 Walk for a Cure (Twin Cities)

    Photo by Chas Leck: 2012 Walk for a Cure (Twin Cities)

    Photo by Chas Leck: A walker and her dad relax after 60 miles of walking! 

There was a wonderful story on one of our local TV stations this weekend about Glen DeKeyser, who will walk in all 13 cities this year, doing 60 miles in each of them, in an attempt to raise one-hundred thousand dollars for research for a cure for breast cancer. See the TV clip of DeKeyser’s effort right here! And, if you want to donate money toward DeKeyser’s heroic endeavor, you can donate here!

The following photos are by Chas Leck: Walkers on Kenwood Parkway, Minneapolis


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Saturday, August 25, 2012

GOP out of Control

Way, way out there on the extreme right – so close to the edge of the political spectrum that it may fall off, the grand old party looks odd …
by Charlie Leck

In a column – a brilliant and well-written one – in the Wednesday NY Times, Thomas L. Friedman made an extraordinary call for a true conservative party. “We Need a Conservative Party!” He pointed out how such a party would actually work and the incredible benefit we’d get from real and meaningful debate about sensible and current issues. In the column he pointed to a few of the nation’s true and creative conservatives, including Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, and Bob Inglis, former South Carolina congressman, and to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“We are not going to make any progress on our biggest problems without a compromise between the center-right and the center-left. But for that we need the center-right conservatives, not the radicals, to be running the GOP, as well as the center-left of the Democratic Party.”
“…As things stand now, though, there is little hope this campaign will give the winner any basis for governing. Too bad – a presidential campaign is a terrible thing to waste.”

Mr. Aikin – you know, the fellow from Missouri – has only highlighted again the utter stupidity of the very radical right wing in the Republican Party. And Aikin casts a long shadow, allowing us to see into so much of the Republican Party, to understand what it has become in this filthy era of politics.

Why the abortion question?
Why are we spending so many hours and so much energy on this question when there are little children dying all over the world – from hunger and malnutrition – from wars and terrorist actions in their countries – from abuse by adults – from the stupidity of cultural and political requirements on the control of births and genders? Tell me! Where is the righteous indignation about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children around the world from these absurdities that we have the power to fight, cure and control?

Even Mr. Ryan, of Wisconsin, opposes abortion under any circumstance – and that includes even after a pregnancy caused by rape or incest. That, while he continues to fight against the government participating in programs that aid in the safe delivery of babies for women who cannot afford proper prenatal and postnatal care. Oh what phoniness!

It is Mr. Aikin’s recently expressed view that brings into clear relief the consistent views of Mr. Ryan, which have really been no different – and clearly shows the view of a predominance of the Republican Party on these issues as well.

It is Mr. Ryan who wants to cut off all federal funding for Planned Parenthood – an agency, thank goodness, that has an exceptional history of serving the lowest income women and families in birth and child care matters.

Here’s what the Republican Party has become!
The platform at the coming Republican National Convention will take stances even more severe than Mitt Romney’s about these matters of abortion and family planning. In 2002, while campaigning for the governor’s office in Massachusetts, Romney indicated he agreed with the substance of Roe v. Wade. Hold the presses! These days, under pressure from the likes of the Tea Party, he is all in on matters of pro-life! Oh, my!

Who knows where Mr. Romney is on matters of concern to women? I don’t. Most women don’t! What Romney might have said several years ago on these issues don’t necessarily mean that he is there today. Romney is being pushed by the tenacious Tea Party enthusiasts more and more to the right.

Medieval Republicans
Let me say it straight about this high jacking of the Republican Party. I know a lot of Republicans. I hang around with a lot of them. They are sensible and bright people who are befuddled by the direction of their party in so many matters. They want to be loyal and faithful to their Party, but their Party is making it difficult for them. Why? That’s simple! Because it is now controlled by a radical band of unrelenting and uncompromising far right-wingers! Maureen Down calls it “the evermore antediluvian, anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-gay conservative core.” She also calls Mr. Ryan “the perfect modern leader to rally medieval Republicans who believe that Adam and Eve cavorted with dinosaurs.”

Let me introduce you to Paul D. Ryan, candidate for Vice President of the U.S.A..

What happened to the libertarians on this issue? Did they give up protecting the libertarian rights of people to choose when it comes to abortion?

What’s this business of a forcible rape? Is there rape that is not forcible? Have the men out there taken to their caves? Have Republicans gone crazy?

The platform of the Republican National Party – the one they are about to adopt at their convention – is going to make Mitt Romney very uncomfortable. It will, however, be just Jim Dandy for Paul Ryan! This platform, as it stands now, will call for constitutional bans on same-sex marriage and on all abortions! The platform will demand that the government “not fund or subsidize health care, which includes abortion coverage.”

The Day has come, when the extreme right may take control!
In addition, the platform will give evidence to some of the most extreme positions on taxation and national security that you could possibly imagine. A day has come that I would never have expected – the day when the extreme right is moving closer to controlling the life of the average American – and that average American is going to be called upon to give up many of the rights he now possesses. Now, how do you libertarians feel about that?

The Republican move toward absolute madness cannot be allowed to continue. Honest to God! I mean it!

It is becoming clearer to us just why candidate Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate. He is kowtowing to the extremist wing of his Grand Old Party and solidifying its support of his candidacy.

If Romney allows the platform of his party to be adopted as it now exists it will be one of the most extraordinary historical events of my life time. “So, help me God!” I mean it!


Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Polls and the President

The most reputable polls and their results over the last 5 days show that it is a close race with the President very slightly favored to win the election.
by Charlie Leck

Over the next two months, my readership will increase by approximately 10 times (if past history is any indicator) because of blogs such as this one. This is my attempt to sort through the current polling organizations, looking for significant clues about how the election is going. The results I indicate and how they predict the outcome of the election are based, of course, on the absence of any major impacts on the race by current events or campaign gaffs in the next 75 days. I will do such an analysis each week (on Thursday) right through the election. There will be intermittent blogs that will deal with how other people are reading the polls – especially when their readings are significantly different than mine.

National polls on the popularity of one candidate or another are not valuable. The election will be decided by the states and how they cast their Electoral College votes. It is vital to look at which states will vote for whom and how many Electoral College votes each state wields. (It is crucial, for instance, how the candidates are doing in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.)

I want you to know that there are certain polls I dismiss because my past history with them found them to be unreliable markers to predict a close election. The polls I don’t watch are Rasmussen, Zogby International and Quinnipiac University.

The election at this moment
Here’s how the presidential election looks at this moment (based on my analysis of the most respected polling organizations – Gallup, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, CNN, FOX News, Pew Research, CBS/NY Times, Bloomberg).

The President will most likely carry the following states…

New York

The following states are leaning toward President Obama….

New Jersey
New Mexico
Rhode Island

The following states are tipped only very slightly toward President Obama

New Hampshire

Completely undecided states are the following (If the President can win Florida, I believe he will be reelected to the Presidency. He can win without Florida, but he will need to pick up enough of the following states to balance Florida’s large electoral vote advantage.)…

Florida (Romney leads, very, very slightly!)
North Carolina
Virginia (Obama leads very, very slightly!)

Any state not mentioned here is either solidly in the Romney column or leaning quite heavily toward it – so much so that I don’t think the President will concentrate on any of them. The Deep South states, as usual, will vote for the most conservative candidate. It is quite simple to see where the President will concentrate his energies in the next two months.

The Paul Ryan impact
The choosing of Paul Ryan as the VP candidate has not had a large impact anywhere except in the state of Wisconsin. Ryan’s candidacy has moved Wisconsin from a completely undecided state to one slightly favoring Mr. Romney.

Polls in Virginia appear to show that Ryan has had no impact on opinion there.

The National Convention Impact
The conventions always seem to have a very immediate impact on the polls and, therefore, we’ll probably see a 1 or 2 point jump in the polls for Mr. Romney at the end of this week and the beginning of next and then the same for President Obama in the week following.

No Prediction
Obviously, the result of this election cannot be predicted at the moment. I’ll make this prediction, however: The Romney campaign will unleash an unprecedented amount of money on campaign advertising in the next month. You are about to see the full impact on what the U.S. Supreme Court did for us in its Citizens United decision.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

History and its Revisions

In Minnesota, we are celebrating (or, perhaps, commemorating is the more appropriate word) the sesquicentennial of the U.S.—Dakota War of 1862.
by Charlie Leck

Years ago, as a Christmas gift, my father-in-law gave me a copy of an extraordinary book published in 1863: History of the Sioux War (and Massacres of 1862 and 1863) by Isaac V.D. Heard.*  I have always cherished the book even though I recognized that it was an early, sensationalized and limited history of the actual events because it was rushed to print in order to take advantage of the large market that sought information about “the events that had taken place out there in Minnesota.”

History almost always matures with age and often can be more trustworthy when recorded after there has been a settling of the sensationalism that surrounds an event. The history of the events that took place in Minnesota in 1862 is an extremely good example of this.

A recent issue of Minnesota History, a publication of the Minnesota Historical Society (in an issue devoted to the events of 1862 in Minnesota), makes this interesting statement about the recording of history:

“This essay is restricted to 13 histories that deal exclusively or mainly with the war and its aftermath. Their publication dates range from 1863 to 2009.
“Considering these volumes offers an excellent opportunity to reflect on the axiom that each generation writes its own history. This claim does not mean that succeeding generations change history capriciously. Nor does it rule out the reversion to earlier biases and emphases. Rather, it suggests that perspectives on the past change with time, new information and interpretations become available, and perceptions of the nature of history per se can be altered.
“All of these characteristics are evident in the U.S. – Dakota War histories collectively. The first books stressed the frontier viewpoint that the Dakota were backward, evil, pagan savages who committed atrocious acts. As the number of eyewitnesses and contemporaries decreased and ultimately disappeared, the war tended to become an object of academic interest, and authors placed more emphasis on the Dakota as an oppressed minority group. The meaning of the past was obviously influenced by each era’s interests and prejudices.”

One of the 13 histories to which the article refers is to Isaac V.D. Heard’s account; and the article credits him with a degree of balance and objectivism absent in the other very early histories of this extraordinary event.

“Only Heard acknowledged that each side in the war had some justification. While he deplored the actions of some warriors and defended the conduct of the hasty, arbitrary military trials, he also believed that the Dakota had been provoked. He was especially critical of the deceitful cession treaties and the conduct of unscrupulous white traders. Writing when the white hatred of the Dakota was at a fever pitch, Heard clearly presented a minority opinion:
‘The treaties are born in fraud, and all their stipulations for the future are curtailed by iniquity.’
“Although he insisted that another reason for the war was traditional Indian hatred of the inevitable white frontier advance, he nonetheless saw the Dakota as victims who deserved humane treatment.”

I have written here before about the U.S. – Dakota War and I won't go into a full scale explanation of it again. I mean to tell you something more personal about it.

On last Sunday – an absolutely spectacular Minnesota day, when the temperatures hung in the 70s and the utterly blue sky was spattered here and there with white, fluffy clouds, I took  a drive out to the little community where the U.S. – Dakota War began. Acton is a non-descript community, hardly even noted on the map. It is a bit south of the town of Grove City, where we take our lamb (Sheepy Hollow) to be butchered and packaged for sale to our customers. So, I knew precisely the way to the village and I took the hour and a half drive out there, to see the precise spot where the war began.

Along Highway 4, as I approached Acton, I saw a small sign, pointing to the west, that said simply: Acton Monument. I thought I’d probably found the spot for which I was looking. I turned the car down a gravel road and then saw another sign directing me into a farmyard – into the driveway of a private home. It seemed odd, but that is what happened.

There, in some farmer’s yard, stood a monument and a marker sign that indicated that this was the exact spot where the war broke out. (A photograph of it is above.) Here’s what the state historical marker sign said (as I began reading it, I looked at the calendar on my iPhone, to see that it was today – August 19, 2012 – almost exactly 150 years after this incident):

“THE ACTON INCIDENT… On a bright Sunday afternoon, August 17, 1862, four young Sioux hunters, on a spur-of-the –moment dare, decided to prove their bravery by shooting Robinson Jones, the postmaster and storekeeper at Acton in western Meeker County. Stopping at his cabin, they requested liquor and were refused. Then Jones, followed by the seemingly friendly Indians, went to the neighboring Howard Baker cabin, which stood on this site.
Here the whites and the Indians engaged in a target-shooting contest. Suddenly, the Indians turned on the settlers and without warning shot Baker; Viranus Webster, another settler; and Mr. and Mrs. Jones. Then the Indians rode off, shooting Jones’ adopted daughter, Clara D. Wilson, as they passed the Jones cabin.
The Indians fled south to their village forty miles away on the Minnesota River. There they reported what they had done, and the Sioux chiefs decided to wage an all-out war against the white man. Thus the unplanned shooting of five settlers here at Acton triggered the bloody Sioux Uprising of 1862.
The bodies of the settlers were buried in a single grave in the Ness Lutheran Cemetery, near present-day Litchfield. In 1878 the state of Minnesota erected a granite monument there. This site, where the Baker cabin stood, was similarly marked in 1909.

The following five paragraphs is really all I want to say about this outing I took on that beautiful day. The rest is peripheral.

When I arrived at the monument and climbed from my car to inspect the site and take a photograph or two, another car pulled in behind mine. From that car came a group (4 or 5) of Native Americans, who had also come to see the monument. My spirit was extremely disquieted by this encounter. I wondered what they were thinking – what was in their hearts – as they read the same words as I. I certainly could not read it from their perspective and they probably could not understand mine. A deep sense of guilt and sorrow poured over me. I was well-read in the history of this event and I knew of the disgraceful ways the Native American, and particularly the Dakotah, had been treated.

History tells it a bit more delicately, but the Dakotah of that time were being treated abominably. They had been cheated out of their land in return for treaties that were constantly broken and then revised. They were not being paid what they had been promised. Without the promised funds, they were starving to death because their land and their hunting game had been chased away by farm developments. The white man had low regard for the Dakotah people and had little or no mercy for their plight. A hungry, starving man can be pushed only so far, and the white settlers and the government agency pushed the proud Indians farther than imaginable – to the very end of their patience and understanding. On an August day that may have been as beautiful as was this one, the anger and hatred of the Native Americans of Minnesota exploded.

Hundreds of white settlers were killed in the days following that incident at Acton – as were many, many of the Native Americans. In the end, a group of Dakotah leaders were hung on scaffolding at Mankato, Minnesota, on the orders of President Abraham Lincoln. Some innocents died there as well.

The magnificent lens of history lets us look back on the events of those days of war. Through that lens we can more carefully see the desperate situation of the proud Dakotahs. How far, up against a wall, can you push a man? How long can you allow him to go hungry, unable to feed his family? How much can you steal from him before he explodes?

I looked at the Native Americans who had come to Acton to visit the monument, just as I had. Were they still angry? Did they still feel cheated? I wanted to sit down on the grass, in the shadow of the monument, to talk about these things; but I did not. I simply offered to take the camera from one of them and shoot a photograph of them standing together on this historical spot. They happily accepted my offer.

I wanted to apologize, but I did not.

That was a logical ending place for this blog; however, I wanted to append this comment about Mary Lethert Wingerd’s wonderful book, North Country: The Making of Minnesota.**

Wingerd has written what must be the very best history of early Minnesota. I’m sure it isn’t included in the list of books the Historical Society recommends in this article I am referencing here only because it is much more comprehensive about these early years than the other books; and her account of the history of the war is but a part of the total. Yet, to really understand the roots of the war that took place here 150 years ago, one must deal with the entire prologue of events that Wingerd so carefully documents in her book. I’ve written before on this blog about the book and I’ll stand by my earlier statement that this is the best book ever written about the early history and development of Minnesota – and about the meeting of the arriving white man and the natives who already lived here.

In Wingerd’s book, the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862 is actually the climax of her story and marked the end of the rich culture of early Minnesota (the story of the fur traders who came into the land and coexisted with the natives who were already there – the Dakotah and the Ojibwe). Her prologue in the book ends this way (and this is worthy of your time)…

“The U.S. – Dakota War of 1862 and its aftermath mark the forceful closure of this era of cultural mingling, a sharp divide between the familiar Minnesota story of settlement and the neglected history of the multicultural borderland that preceded it. The final chapters of this transformation are unsettling, even tragic, and painful to acknowledge. But it is tragic as well to have forgotten such a vibrant part of our past and the lessons of coexistence it reveals. The social relations that thrived and then were eventually wiped out not only suggest roads not taken but also may help us reflect on new, more inclusive ways to think about America and the world, as well as Minnesota, in the future.”

Little Crow was the chief and leader of the Dakotah and,
with great understanding of the consequences, led his
men into battle against the white settlers and then the
U.S. military.

This is a remarkable photograph of the wife and children
of Little Crow while they were incarcerated at Fort
Snelling (at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi
Rivers). It was taken in 1864 by Benjamin Franklin Upton.
More than 1300 Dakatoh were imprisoned there. Later in
1964 they were all deported to a reservation in South
Dakota (Crow Creek) where they were kept as if
prisoners. The spot was a wasteland of dry prairie that
would provide no comfort to those who were deposited

Cut Nose was one of the 38 Dakotah men executed by hanging
in Mankato on 26 Dec 1862. He had been befriended by my wife's
paternal great-grandfather, Warren Wakefield, when Warren was but
a boy, and by Warren's father, Bradford Wakefield, and had been
in their Orono settlement house at least once. I tell the story of
Cut Nose and Warren in my book, The Wakefield Pioneers.


*Heard, Isaac V.D.: History of the Sioux War (and Massacres of 1862 and 1863) [Harper & Brothers, New York, 1863, withdrawn from the Weyerhaeuser Library at MacAlester College, St. Paul, MN]
**Wingerd, Mary Lethert: North Country (The Making of Minnesota) [University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2010]

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