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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Howard Has High Hopes -- and Real Results!

As Mrs. Madville Times and I huddle together over the warm glow of the Internet, she directs my attention to some good news about Miner County, posted by Bernie Hunhoff at South Dakota Magazine ["Howard: Opportunity Lives Here," 2007.07.26]. Between the Knight Carver windmill plant, organic beef, and the Rural Learning Center (not to mention hiring our friend Joe Bartmann!), the Miner County Community Revitalization project is doing something right. According to stats Hunhoff cites from the latest MCCR newsletter,

the county’s annual gross sales have grown forty-two percent in the last four years. The Howard school has gained 35 students and the poverty rate has dropped from 14.3 percent to 8.4 percent. Wages have increased twenty-five percent in the last five years.

That's data no economic development specialist can ignore! Maybe every South Dakota county with license plates starting with two digits (and maybe some of the single-digit crowd, too!) should send a delegation to Howard, Fedora, Canova, and Carthage (don't forget Straw Bale Days!) and find out what lessons Miner County has for other rural areas looking to reverse their declining economic fortunes.

As is so often the case, a change of mindset could be making the biggest difference. In a pleasingly profound closing comment, Hunhoff says,

The best news is that the city and county citizens now realizes that as civilizations go they are actually in their infancy — not their declining years as previously feared. What a difference that makes in a man’s outlook … or a town’s.

Our better days always lie ahead....

Blizzard-Blogging!

Go get your spare change! The Madison Dairy Queen is getting ready to participate in the second nationwide Miracle Treat Day August 9. The proceeds from every Blizzard sold that day go to the regional Children's Miracle Network hospital, Sanford Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls.

KJAM has more details now; Madville Times had a great talk with Madison Dairy Queen's DeLon Mork this afternoon and will have a full story tomorrow. MT will also be live-blogging the event next week, sharing stories from families who've benefited from Children's Miracle Network, interviewing Blizzard-gourmands, and posting regular Blizzard count updates. So start spreading the word: August 9, Madison Dairy Queen -- buy a Blizzard, help kids! Stay tuned!

Economic Realities of Teacher Pay

New data shows that Sioux Falls teachers earn $5000 more than the average South Dakota teacher [Terry Woster, "Teacher Pay Up in City -- Still Lags U.S.," that Sioux Falls paper that advertises smut without a blush, 2007.07.31]. Expect an ever-increasing brain drain from the small towns to the big city...

...but expect a fair portion of that brain drain to keep passing right through Sioux Falls to Minnesota, Iowa, and other greener pastures. Woster notes that Sioux Falls (even with 12 administrators making six figures) still lags behind the national average teacher pay by $10,000.

The usual objections arise: some South Dakotans (and commenters on the article forum) note that Sioux Falls' $41,454.95 is pretty good pay for nine months of work, and that that money stretches oh so much farther thanks to South Dakota's gloriously low cost of living.

Both arguments ignore reality. First, trying to calculate exactly how much time teachers spend on the job compared to other professions is amusing but irrelevant. Let's compare apples to apples: teachers work similar hours and months across the country. Almost every state has an average school year within 5 days of 180 (sorry -- these 2002 figures are the best I can find this morning -- as always, I welcome updates!). Our school year is not 30% shorter than the national average; our teachers certainly aren't doing 30% less work than teachers in other states; so why do we pay them 30% less than the national average? Even English teachers can do that math (tee hee!). Our low teacher pay puts us at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states who will pay more for the same amount of work.

Our lower cost of living doesn't make up the difference, either. South Dakota's Cost of Living Index for the first quarter of 2007 is 90.1% of the national average. Iowa's is 93.3%. Minnesota's is 99.1%. Thus, the cost of living is 3.3% higher in Iowa than in South Dakota; its average teacher pay is 13% higher (and that's before Iowa's move this year to boost teacher pay to be 25th in the nation). Minnesota's cost of living is 10% higher than SD's; its teacher pay is 27% higher. I've argued numbers like these before; even after factoring in cost of living, teachers still come out ahead in our neighboring states.

Even when we factor in all the traditional excuses for South Dakota's low teacher pay, the ugly fact behind all these numbers is that South Dakotans just don't value teachers as much as citizens of other states do. That's not exactly the sort of morale-building piety we hear at the New Teacher Academies and educator receptions, but it's an economic and cultural reality that young teachers must face as they consider whether they want to dedicate their lives to education in South Dakota.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Zaniya Can Spare SD Iraq's Fate

Remember the UN, big organization the US helped form to promote freedom and peace around the world? They haven't been perfectly successful (although we have managed to avoid another World War since the UN's formation), but they enunciate some pretty good principles that the United States has signed onto, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which we approved in 1948. Zaniya Project Task Force members should all consult Article 25, paragraph 1:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Remember how we went after Iraq because Saddam wouldn't follow UN resolutions? Let's keep Bush from invading South Dakota and deposing Smiley Mike: Zaniya Project, quick! recognize UDHR Article 25.1, recommend a statewide single-payer health plan (like the proposed California Universal Healthcare Act, Senate Bill 840), and get it on the legislature's desk right away!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Madison Straw Poll: Hillary, Health Care, Education Have Voters' Attention

The Lake County Democrats conducted a straw poll at its Crazy Days booth in Madison on Friday (didn't expect that, did you?). The Dems have posted a summary of the results, including a complete table of responses. (Full disclosure: this blogger handled the web posting; Mrs. Madville Times is in charge of photography.)

The Lake County Dems polled willing passersby on these two questions:
  1. Which Democrat will win your vote for President in 2008?
  2. What are the most important issues the South Dakota Legislature should address in its 2008 session?
Among the 63 passersby who marked a preference, Hillary Clinton made a strong showing, pulling 43% of the vote. Barack Obama came in second with 24% of the vote. Not that the Madville Times makes a big deal of diversity, but it is perhaps interesting that, from a sample of voters that skewed older and consisted exclusively of white folks (as far as I can remember), 78% of the votes went for a woman, a black man, or a Hispanic (Gov. Bill Richardson). Another 6% went to Dennis Kucinich, a good Polish son. If voters aren't ready for a woman or minority as President, those voters didn't come to Crazy Days.

Of more immediate importance to the local electorate are the results of the legislative priorities poll. Health care edged education as the top legislative priority for 2008. Environment and energy were next in priority, followed by taxes, open government, and economic development.

Recent ballot issues may have worn voters out on gambling and abortion: those issues finished eighth and ninth in priority, respectively. Voters seemed particularly eager to keep the Legislature's nose out of abortion. Out of 67 voters who marked priorities, 33 of them -- that's one shy of a majority -- didn't even put a number or an X next to abortion, suggesting they don't want any new abortion laws even if the Legislature manages to take care of every other legislative priority. If you consult the results spreadsheet, you'll see that 2 voters marked abortion their first priority, while 20 marked it 9th, behind every other area listed.

Sure, none of this is scientific. The results are certainly influenced by the happy feelings participants got from buying my wife's yummy brownies (mmm, chocolate) and other treats from the lovin' ovens of Dem-ladies. But 68 people took time to voice their opinions, and they'll likely take the time to vote in November 2008 as well.

So, Dan, Dave, and Russ, are you reading this? You want to get re-elected? Focus on health care and education, then the environment and energy. Do those things right, and economic development should follow on its own (smart people with affordable access to health care, clean air and water and soil, and plenty of fuel and electricity will be much more inclined to stay in or move to South Dakota and live and work). Feel free to download the data and share it with all of your friends in Pierre.

By the way, Russ, I'd be happy to cite the numbers from the Lake County GOP straw poll, but we just couldn't find their table at Crazy Days. Hmmm....

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Why We Are Democrats

Loyal reader Nonnie submitted a comment that included the following:

If you want the gov't to take care of everyone's problems, higher taxes to fund more social programs, appeasement of international aggressors, etc, then you prefer the Democratic party.

If you believe in more personal responsibility and less reliance on the gov't to solve all of your problems, less gov't intrusion in your life, lower taxes, a strong national defense, then you are probably Republican.

I couldn't leave that unanswered. I ended up with a whole 'nother post. I guess Nonnie inspired me... or maybe it was just the aroma of brownies Mrs. Madville Times is whipping up for the Lake County Dems Crazy Days Bake Sale tomorrow!

Sorry, Nonnie, but it sounds like you're paying too much attention to Rush Limbaugh and not enough attention to the real world. My wife and I both owned the Rush Limbaugh books when he first came out. We loved his rhetoric. We thought he was really sticking it to those godless, wimpy Democrats who wanted to destroy America, and we wanted to be on his side.

Then... well, my wife and I followed different intellectual paths (different readings, different experiences, etc.) But here's what we realized:

--We believe in personal responsibility, but not when it translates into selfishness that leads us to ignore the suffering of our neighbors. Call it Christian, call it communitarian, but our personal responsibility goes hand in hand with our social responsibility. Neither the Bible nor secular social contract theory says, "Do your own thing and to heck with everyone else." Your repsonsibility to others is more than just not throwing a punch at them. The moment you step into society, you are accepting the burden of common responsibility for the general welfare. You agree to pay taxes; you agree to help build roads, support a military, fund police and fire protection, and come to the aid of others when they need it. The GOP talks personal responsibility, but too often their talk devolves into license for rich guys to do whatever they want without regard for the impact on others and for elected officials to sit back and do nothing when really they have an obligation (Biblically, philosophically, take your pick) to actively promote the general welfare. That's not enough for this family. We want to exercise personal and social responsibility. That principle leads us to feel more (though not perfectly) at home with the Democrats.

--We believe in less reliance on the government to solve all of our problems, but when we turned down Rush, we started noticing how much corporations rely on government to solve their problems, and how perfectly happy Republicans seem to be to offer that help to those least needy entities in the world. Nationally we see subsidies to wealthy corporate farms, tax credits to rich ethanol plant owners but not the actual corn producer, lucrative contracts to private contractors (i.e. mercenaries) taking the place of accountable military personnel, and military adventures in Iraq to maintain profits for Big Oil. In South Dakota, we see indirect support for corporations: the state picks up the tab for education, which makes it possible for Citibank and other businesses to profit from a well-educated workforce, but the GOP resists any suggestion that those corporations ought to pay their fair share for that education system through an income tax (hey, what happened to responsibility for corporations?). Dems aren't pure on this issue, either: everyone in government seems susceptible to lobbying and big campaign donations, but we started to see the Republican rhetoric on this issue more as a hammer with which to bash the poor but never to challenge the way government props up big business.

Speaking of hammers, suppose I have a bunch of nails to pound in. Big nails. There's a hammer over on the table, one that my friends and I each contributed a buck to purchase. But Nonnie told me I should rely on myself, not others, so I'm not going to use that community hammer. I'll stomp on these nails, whack 'em with my fist and my skull, maybe dig up a rock and pound away, but by gum, I'll not stoop to using that hammer that we all paid for.

Or, I could just pick up that hammer, take a few swings, and get the job done right.

Government is a tool. It's not King George or Fidel controlling our lives. Our government is our tool, our creation. We don't have to use it to solve every problem, but it's silly to reject government when it is the best tool for the job. Sometimes government isn't the answer; sometimes it is.

You and the crankier, usually louder members of the GOP take the rhetorically easy but intellectually empty route of simply shouting "Government bad!" My wife and I used to as well, until we realized that the mature approach is to seriously evaluate social problems, determine their causes and impacts, and decide when government action would be an "intrusion" and when government action might be the most effective and even most moral route to a solution. We then have to work hard to keep an eye on our government -- on ourselves -- and make sure we doesn't abuse the power we grant ourselves as government to solve that particular problem. Such oversight and restraint requires much more vigilance and active participation in the system, but that's what democracy is about. Those principles lead us to feel more (though not perfectly) at home with the Democrats.

--My wife and I believe in lower taxes whenever possible. As Lake Herman Sanitary District board member, I've overseen a nearly 60% reduction in the district tax assessment, largely because the district is simply bankrolling money but not doing anything with it. There just isn't much for our little government to do, and I'm not going to go looking for work for it to burn up tax dollars on.

At the same time, our social responsibility means we have to fund schools, roads, cops, soldiers, firetrucks, and yes, welfare programs. We have to help each other. Heck, I just read an article yesterday by a follower of free-market theology who said self-sufficiency is the road to poverty. I don't agree with everything that author says, but basic Adam Smith economics says that rarely can individuals do everything for themselves as efficiently as they can if they share their talents in social cooperation through a market economy. How can Republicans cite that thinking on business and global trade yet ignore it when it comes to contributing taxes for services that are better performed by social cooperative effort than by individuals fending for themselves? We can all spend our individual dollars on health insurance from profiteering corporations who are answerable to shareholders, or we can contribute tax dollars toward a universal health care system answerable to every voter, regardless of income, and get better service for less overall cost. Only stubborn fools keep working alone when working together solves the problem.

"Lower taxes" doesn't work as a political principle, because, logically, it leads to the idea that the best society is one where there are no taxes and hence no government. But then you don't have a society; you have anarchy. Shouting "lower taxes" is rhetoricaly satisfying but intellectual empty. The real challenge is determining what functions we can and should provide for ourselves through our government and then determining the most fair and effective way to raise the tax revenue to pay for those functions. That principle leads us to feel more (though not perfectly) at home with the Democrats.

--My wife and I both believe in a strong national defense. I don't want Osama, Kim Jong Il, Ahmadinajad, or any other radical nutjob hurting my family or anyone else in America. I want to be able to help other nations when they face similar dangers. Sometimes, a nation has to go kick butt.

But there are lots of ways to avoid ever having to go kick butt, ways well short of appeasement. Sure, your Osamas and your Kim Jong Ils, you probably can't talk with. But you can do an awful lot with sensible and fair economic, diplomatic, and even military policy that can minimize the ability of those psychos to convince people to follow them.

The talk about "I vote Republican because Republicans are strong" sounds like a bunch of macho BS. Dennis Kucinich is as strong as any Republican candidate for his willingess to talk about peace, even when he knows people are going to call him a wimp for doing so. There can be as much strength in words and principle as in guns. We needed guns to beat Germany and Japan; but the lasting peace came from the words and principles we applied after the war in dealing justly with our former enemies. Because we believe in applying something more than macho BS to geopolitics, we feel more (though not perfectly) at home with the Democrats.

Nonnie, it sounds like you and I have the same core political beliefs. However, I would suggest (and I do this not as a personal attack -- I come not to tear down, but to build up) that your position is based more on rhetoric than reality. At the very least, I will contend that we can pursue every one of our shared core political beliefs from within the ranks of the Democratic Party. And believe me, as my wife and I involve ourselves more actively in politics, if we find the Democratic Party is not supporting our core beliefs, we will raise hell with our fellow Democrats until they see the light or until, as we have done before, we go shopping for another party more suited to our principles. (See? We're all about shopping and competition!) Nonnie, you are welcome to come with us.

Madison's Secret Weapon for Economic Development: Gizzards

Ever since the city commission denied Rosebud Manufacturing's request to expand its operations to the old Happy Hour building, we have wondered if maybe some other business that might the downtown feng shui even better might be on the way to that space. Tonight's MDL announces from its front page that such is indeed the case. That new business? Hold onto your hats: the Happy Hour Bar, deemed by MDL "a Madison landmark," will become... the Happy Hour Bar [Elisa Sand, "Happy Hour Will Reopen Saturday," MDL, 2007.07.26, p. 1].

Ron Beckman bought it; he's hired Michelle Siert to manage it. Gizzards and beer will be back Saturday.

I'm betting the city commission just missed gizzards. That's really the only explanation that makes sense, isn't it?

When You Need to Know, It's Joe on 1140...

MySiouxFalls.com controlling owner Joe Prostrollo is oh-so-busy setting records straight. Here's the straightest poop you can get, from his interview with Rick Knobe, Viewpoint University, KSOO Radio this afternoon:
  1. Shawn Cable does not work for MySiouxFalls.com... yet. Prostrollo said he is involved in negotiations right now to bring Cable on board, but nothing has happened yet.
  2. Shawn Cable does not own MySiouxFalls.com. He owns some associated domain names, but as Prostrollo has stated on these pages previously, that was because Cable was helping Prostrollo park some possible domain names for the impending media venture.
  3. Here's where the rubber starts to hit the road: Shawn Cable did help Joe Prostrollo develop the concept for MySiouxFalls.com. Prostrollo says he actually started forming the idea for an entirely online local news service while he was working in Denver and seeing the online technology for similar media projects develop. Later, while working at KELO, Prostrollo asked his fellow employees whom he might talk to get some advice on how to start a project like MySiouxFalls.com. He ended up talking to Cable, who in addition to being a talented musician, sharp weatherman, and intrepid storm chaser, is also quite the web guru. (It's that good SDSU education: gets us ready for anything!). Cable and Prostrollo had some productive conversations about how to make something like MySiouxFalls.com work.
  4. KELO management may be "perturbed" (Prostrollo's word) at Cable's involvement with Prostrollo's project. Cable did not write the code or do any other actual development work on MySiouxFalls.com as it exists today; Prostrollo said that work was all done by a California company. Cable may well have been looking at the possibility of a change in employment. After all, as Prostrollo pointed out, Cable is just 33, he's been working at KELO for a long time (longer than the combiend tenure of the entire weather staff currently at KDLT), and he's entitled to want to try new things. But in the world of contracts with anti-entrepreneurial, anti-free-market non-compete clauses (what, in a right-to-work state? more on that in a later post!), KELO may have decided Cable's interest in Prostrollo's venture was more than they cared to countenance.
  5. Joe Prostrollo talks the talk of a businessman committed to local economy. He emphasized that, while the site design work was done by a California company, MySiouxFalls.com is a local venture. No out-state investors, no big media conglomerates dictating what happens. There may be money telling Prostrollo what to do, but at least it's South Dakota money. The money his venture makes in advertising stays in South Dakota, says Prostrollo. And even if this venture survives and thrives to the point where it catches the attention of some big media conglomerate that wants to buy him out, Prostrollo says he would demand of that buyer some sort of commitment to local control. As stated previously, South Dakota is woefully short on truly local media. MySiouxFalls.com may give us a good alternative to the majority of outside-owned media outlets giving us our news.

Rounds Wants Increased Taxes

Real Republican conservatism at work: Governor Rounds wants higher taxes. AP reports that Smiley Mike (and the National Governors Association Economic Development Committee of which he is the newly appointed Republican leader) will study ways to get more money out of companies and ultimately consumers shopping online. Governor Rounds is chasing the fabled internet sales tax, revenue denied the state's coffers by out-of-state companies who don't collect sales tax from South Dakota buyers.

I know, I know, the good Governor can claim he's not increasing taxes but simply pursuing "lost revenue" (as much as five billion dollars nationwide... divide that 50 ways, that's a hundred million dollars for each state -- I encourage readers to submit more detailed and documented stats!). But it's still higher taxes, tax paid where no tax is paid now. Does the this Republican governor really want to risk stifling business and innovation with this draconian tax regime? And does this Republican governor really support the expansion of federal power that enforcement of such an interstate commerce measure would require?

Hmm... if the governor does believe South Dakotans can afford to give the state another hundred million dollars without hurting our economy or quality of life, why not pursue a more local solution, something more easily enforceable, like, oh, say, a state income tax? Oh, but I forgot, an income tax would go against Republican principles of limited government and no new taxes....

Principles are wonderful. If the GOP had kept theirs, they might have me.

Carthage Straw Bale Days: Music, Melodrama, Local Hooch, and (gasp!) Dancing

Uh oh -- Dakota Jam has some competition! If you aren't washed away by the "Sea of Savings" at Madison's Crazy Days this weekend, you'll want to see Straw Bale Days in Carthage (how's that for some distinctive branding?). This tiny town is celebrating its 125th anniversary, holding an all-school reunion, and exhibiting its love of straw bales all in one weekend, August 3-5. Among the events taking place, the Madville Times notes with particular interest the wine-tasting from the Straw Bale Winery of Renner -- kudos to Carthage for using its community festival to promote South Dakota products! The wine-tasting and other fun events will take place at Carthage's Straw Bale Museum, "the only 'originally built' museum made out of straw bales in the U.S.A." (Hey, building with straw bales -- another great use of a South Dakota product!) Carthaginians have also mustered an acting troupe to stage a melodrama on the Friday of their festival, though this observer warns the players they'd better do their lines fast and furious, since their hungry audience will be waiting for the firemen's beef sandwich feed!

In the midst of all this frolickery, the our friends in Carthage show their true anarchist colors in daring to hold not just a street dance but a street dance with karaoke. An upstanding community like Madison would never permit such sheer revelrous chaos in its streets. But then Carthaginians evidently like living on the edge. Better head to Carthage while it's still standing!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Brains and Bucks Part 5: The Ivory Tower

[Part 5 of a series on Universities, Research, and Economic Development, based on presentations by Dr. Douglas Knowlton, President of Dakota State University, and Dr. David Chicoine, President of South Dakota State University, at a forum on the role of universities in commercialization, held on the DSU campus Tuesday, July 24, 2007.]

Part 1: South Dakota as Community
Part 2: Audience Statistics
Part 3: Hard Numbers
Part 4: Main Street
Part 5: The Ivory Tower

As yesterday's forum and the preceding posts in this series have made clear, South Dakota's public universities can and do function as engines of economic growth for their home communities and for the entire state.

But is that really the universities' mission? I'm a humanities guy -- or, perhaps in the more common vernacular, I'm one of those artsy-fartsy types. In six-plus years of undergraduate and graduate courses at four different universities, I've always taken courses based on simple curiosity and fascination. Knowledge is good and beautiful in and of itself, regardless of what use it may be put towards, and that principle has guided my entire career as a student and teacher. As a painter, writer, linguist, speech coach, and theater director, I've never worried about the practical application of my knowledge.

Given that background, I have always viewed with suspicion the efforts of government and administrators to turn schools at all levels, university and K-12, into job-training centers. High school, I have frequently argued to students, if for training citizens, not workers. Universities ought to bastions of the highest scholarship, not centers of commerce and profit. Professors and students alike ought to be insulated from the mutable pressures of the market so they may freely pursue more lasting knowledge that interests them in the arts and sciences. The university is supposed to expose students to and expand the universe of knowledge and society, not confine its bright minds within the constraints of what is popular and profitable (we have the corporate media to promote that agenda). What ever happened to the ivory tower, where great minds could gather and toil in their books and musings without concern for such mundane matters as patents and commercialization?

Yet here I am now, self-proclaimed humanities guy, heading to DSU to write a doctoral dissertation on information systems and rural economic development, and nodding my head in sincere agreement with university presidents as they talk about the vital role of South Dakota's public universities in local (read statewide) economic development. What gives?

No, I'm not just brown-nosing the boss, (although I am looking forward to more conversations with Dr. Knowlton about our university's mission and how my research will contribute to it). And I'm definitely not abandoning my firm belief in the mission of the university to promote knowledge for knowledge's sake. Universities are centers of learning, not job-training. I remain disturbed by the increasing number of employers requiring advanced degrees of employees not as a recognition of valuable knowledge but merely a sign of trainability. That trend draws more students to universities who seek nothing more than the diploma, without valuing all the knowledge that diploma should represent.

But let's not get caught in a false dilemma. At yesterday's forum, neither Dr. Knowlton nor Dr. Chicoine presented a choice between ivory-tower academics and commercialization. Within their vision of the modern university, there remains room for both. The repsonsible university, suggested Dr. Chicoine, must do both. He cited the University of Chicago, home of numerous Nobel-laureate economists yet seated in the midst of Hyde Park, an economically depressed urban neighborhood. That such a schism should exist demonstrates a lack of connection between research and economic development, Dr. Chicoine suggested, that a university should not permit in its own community, for its own sake as well as that of its neighbors.

As an audience member pointed out, the University of Chicago did exercise its social responsibility from its founding in 1892. While the school was designed to create "a feeling of insularity and detachment from the surrounding city," University of Chicago faculty were closely involved with community improvement efforts and reformers like Jane Addams (this and more at Robin F. Bachin, "University of Chicago," Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago, Chicago Historical Society, 2005). Dr. Chicoine himself acknowledged that the University of Chicago has been making great efforts to connect its research with commercialization. It established the Office of Technology and Intellectual Property (UChicagoTech) in 2001 to manage the ARCH Development Corporation, a non-profit university affiliate that had been handling intellectual property and technology commercialization matters since 1986.

The University of Chicago hasn't had to abandon its high scholarly pursuits to tackle the additional challenge of commercialization. The university's motto, "Crescat scientia; vita excolatur" ("Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched") doesn't exclude the idea of enriching mankind by using that growing knowledge to create inventions, jobs, and business opportunities; as UChicagoTech's mission statement states, commercialization can optimize that enrichment:

When the University accepts funding support for faculty research, it also frequently accepts an obligation to disseminate and manage the results of that research for the benefit of the public. When combined with traditional modes of dissemination, the commercial development of research results may contribute to their achieving the greatest impact, the widest dissemination, and the maximum contribution to the public good. Revenues from commercial development are used to support new and ongoing efforts in basic research and education.

South Dakota's universities can take the same approach. We don't need to kick out the humanities or any other discipline that can't demonstrate clear market potential. We don't have to turn every paper on Shakespeare, rural sociology, or search engines into a start-up company. But we can find ways (e.g. funding, expanded graduate programs, administrative support) that make it possible for those professors who are interested (and there are many) in finding ways to benefit society through the commercialization of their research.

Expanding our research commercialization efforts will increase our public universities' direct impact on local economic development. That's a good thing. At the same time, we must always keep in mind the great value of scholarly research beyond patents and profits. University of Chicago law professor Douglas Baird argues that academics must always come first. "Commercialization of university activities has to take a backseat. It's not a corporation" [Zachary Binney, "Patents Serve as Solid Source of School Funds," Chicago Maroon, online edition, 2005.01.11].

A university where professors and students do nothing but look for ways to make money would be a grim place. It would not be a university in the sense of a community of scholars dedicated to the universe of ideas. It is the interaction of all sorts of intellectuals -- inventors, MBAs, economists, engineers, sociologists, biologists, writers, actors, artists, philosophers -- that creates the truly interesting and vibrant community, both on campus and around town. The combination of intellectual endeavors and commercialization, of pure and applied research, will make all of our lives richer.

Brains and Bucks Part 4: Main Street

[Part 4 of a series on Universities, Research, and Economic Development, based on presentations by Dr. Douglas Knowlton, President of Dakota State University, and Dr. David Chicoine, President of South Dakota State University, at a forum on the role of universities in commercialization, held on the DSU campus Tuesday, July 24, 2007.]

Part 1: South Dakota as Community
Part 2: Audience Statistics
Part 3: Hard Numbers
Part 4: Main Street
Part 5: The Ivory Tower


In the midst of our discussion, Dr. Cecilia Wittmayer, DSU's VP of Academic Affairs, brought up the issue of Main Street revitalization. Dr. Wittmayer pointed to the final item on Dr. Chicoine's list of key ingredients in promoting economic development: "interesting, vibrant communities." Madison offers plenty of attraction for folks who like the outdoors, whether they like to hunt, boat, fish, and bike, or whether they just like to have a big house on the lake. However, said Dr. Wittmayer, "Not everybody is going to live at the lake," and even those who do still want someplace to shop.

Madison's Main Street ought to be the central attraction for shopping, but in Dr. Wittmayer's view -- a view shared by many in the audience at the forum -- our beloved Egan Avenue isn't meeting that objective. Echoing comments from Mrs. Madville Times on the state of Main Street Madison, Dr. Wittmayer said Egan Avenue doesn't project a "vibrant, interesting, compelling" image. Most of the buildings are occupied, but an increasing amount of the space has been taken up by service agencies -- e.g., lawyers, insurance agents, and realtors. A vibrant downtown needs more retail, diverse shops where people can drop in and browse for a while. Egan Avenue has seen a decline in retail. For example, where there used to be five new-clothing stores and one shoe store, we now have just one new-clothing store and one consignment shop. Much of our downtown retail has been lost to the big discount stores -- Pamida and Lewis in town and Wal-mart et al elsewhere -- and the proliferation of dollar stores (the third opens here in September). Dr. Wittmayer, an expert in retail and marketing, agrees that Main Street needs to be built on retail; otherwise, the town won't have the complete vibe that will make people want to live and work here.

Dr. Wittmayer didn't suggest directly that the universities need to take a direct role in promoting this sort of downtown retail revitalization; such efforts lie beyond the scope of the information and direction on research and commercialization offered by university presidents Knowlton and Chicoine at the DSU forum. In conversation after the main presentation, local Wells Fargo branch president Ed Fiegen suggested that Egan Avenue needs another renovation like it received about twenty years ago. The trees from that round of renovation have grown quite nicely; another spruce-up could bring flowers and benches and create more inviting public space. A number of downtown buildings could also use physical improvement, inside and out. A better image could encourage entrepreneurs to start or move their retail operations downtown, but those efforts require capital from government and business, not the university.

The university may not have a direct role in promoting retail downtown (then again, it might, but that's part of the dissertation the Madville Times will start working on at DSU this fall!). However, as we turn our attention to research and commercialization in hopes of promoting economic development, we university types mustn't slip into thinking that we can solve economic development problems all by ourselves. We can research and patent all we want, but if we don't help create a "vibrant, interesting, compelling" community, we won't be able to draw the entrepreneurs, workers, and capital necessary to translate all our brain work into big bucks for our hometowns and home state.

Outside of the labs and campuses, university professors, students, and administrators need to be aware of all the other factors involved in making the local economy grow. Dr. Wittmayer and others in the forum audience demonstrated exactly that awareness. The universities will help with economic development in their area of expertise: research. Investors, city officials, and residents can do their part by supporting efforts to preserve and expand retail and other projects that will draw people to the heart of the city and promote solid economic development.

But note that universities have expertise that can be of immense help in revitalizing downtown. Dr. Wittmayer is an excellent example. With her background in retail and marketing, she gets the key issues. She can identify problems and help businesses, the Chamber, the LAIC, and the city commission see the directions they need to take. Not all of the research the university produces has to turn into a specific commercializable product or service. Sometimes the university does its job just by drawing experts to the community who can then help us see and solve our problems.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Brains and Bucks, Part 3: Hard Numbers

[Part 3 of a series on Universities, Research, and Economic Development, based on presentations by Dr. Douglas Knowlton, President of Dakota State University, and Dr. David Chicoine, President of South Dakota State University, at a forum on the role of universities in commercialization, held on the DSU campus Tuesday, July 24, 2007.]

Part 1: South Dakota as Community
Part 2: Audience Statistics
Part 3: Hard Numbers
Part 4: Main Street
Part 5: The Ivory Tower


Drs. Knowlton and Chicoine both argued forcefully that world-class research is the foundation for any university's contribution to economic development. Knowlton, Chicoine, and the other leaders of South Dakota's public universities are operating under mandates from the Board of Regents to expand South Dakota's research profile and connect that research with entrepreneurs who can turn that research into economic growth. Both administrators are pushing those goals on their campuses.

Dr. Chicoine provided some data on the investment that goes into turning research into business. He analyzed data from FY1995 to FY2004 on research grants and expenditures, patents, and business agreements, and arrived at the following numbers for those ten years:

  1. Amount invested in university research: $257 billion.
  2. Number of "invention disclosures" (a researcher presents a new device, process, etc. to her university technology management office to see if the invention is worth pursuing a patent for): 105,378.
  3. Number of patent applications from this university research: 51,893.
  4. Number of patents granted: 27,078.
  5. Number of active licensing agreements (university patent holder makes a deal with an entrepreneur who wants to try commercializing the invention): 21,151.
  6. Number of start-up businesses arising from these agreements: 2,981.
Dr. Chicoine crunches these numbers and says that nationwide, the average research investment per disclosure is $2.4 million. Just 2.8% of those disclosures ultimately produce start-up businesses.

Dr. Chicoine asked us to imagine that South Dakota could pump $100 million into university research each year (or over 80% of our lottery revenue). If our university researchers translated those dollars into disclosures, patents, and business opportunities at a rate equal to the national average, that $100 million would produce 40 disclosures, 8 licenses, and 1 start-up. For perspective, Dr. Chicoine pointed out that SDSU has been fortunate to be able to triple its research funding recently... to $30 million a year.

Chicoine and Knowlton agreed that South Dakota is nowhere near having $100 million for university research. These seemingly daunting numbers prompted MDL publisher Jon Hunter to ask whether investing taxpayer money in research in hopes of promoting new business is just a "fool's errand." Indeed, it would seem that if the state were to come up with an extra $100 million, it could spend that money in ways much more likely to produce results than gambling on strokes of genius in our university laboratories.

However, investment in research can do more for local economic development than the above numbers suggest. First off, Chicoine and Knowlton agree that South Dakota's universities can outperform that national average of $2.4 million per invention disclosure. We can't afford not to, given our tight budgets. But Chicoine's numbers come from a nationwide survey, which includes numerous universities where commercialization and economic development aren't even on researchers' radar screens. Just by making economic development a priority, by helping professors and graduate students see opportunities in their research for commercialization and creating administrative support for things like applying for patents and seeking entrepreneurs and venture capital, South Dakota's universities can improve on those averages.

We must also remember that we don't have to come up with that $100 million (or whatever magic number we set as our goal) ourselves. A big part of the push for research is the push for federal grants to support that research. The more our public universities invest time and resources in applying for grants, the more they will see that investment pay off. That doesn't mean simply ordering professors to apply for more grants (at least this potential professor hopes not!). It means helping profs fill out those applications, hiring more faculty members to spread out the workload so profs have more time to write applications and focus on research, and perhaps creating a position or two in administration to help coordinate those application efforts.

Even if research money doesn't translate immediately into an explosion of start-ups and new jobs, increasing the public universities' focus on research still provides benefits for the schools and the state. Remember, the first goal of research is to solve scientific problems, to expand human knowledge, and that's a worthy goal in itself. Such research also builds a university's reputation and draws more world-class professors and students (i.e., from the local economy perspective, more residents, consumers, and potential workers and entrepreneurs). Those professors and students, all working on interesting scientific problems, also make the community more interesting, and according to Chicoine, "interesting, vibrant communities" are one of the key elements necessary for economic development. Finally, Research itself generates economic activity: when a university gets $100,000 from the federal government to study something, that money gets pumped into the local economy to buy more notepads, computers, test tubes, gas for field trips, and whatever else the researchers need the money for. So even if a research grant doesn't produce patentable or marketable results, the university still benefits its community by bringing conducting that research.

Dr. Chicoine's numbers do provide good benchmarks our universities can use to measure their performance with the research dollars they have. And our university presidents will face plenty of questions from the Board of Regents and legislators, many of whom do think purely in dollar terms. University administrators and researchers alike thus need to know these numbers and be ready to defend their work in terms of them. Nonetheless, we should also remember that scientific pursuits don't have to literally pay for themselves to be worth the investment.

Brains and Bucks, Part 2: Audience Statistics

[Part 2 of a series on Universities, Research, and Economic Development]

Part 1: South Dakota as Community
Part 2: Audience Statistics
Part 3: Hard Numbers
Part 4: Main Street
Part 5: The Ivory Tower


The Madville Times was among 33 area residents who came the forum on the role of universities in commercialization this afternoon on the DSU campus. As Drs. Knowlton and Chicoine presented their information on the role of university research in promoting local economic development, the Madville Times compiled some stats on the event itself:

  • Number of women in the room: 7
  • Number of female business owners in the room: 0.
  • Number of white men in the audience: 26.
  • Number of minority professionals in the audience: 0.
  • Percentage of audience comprised of businesspeople: ~20%.
  • Percentage of Madison residents in attendance: 0.5%.
  • Percentage of Madison residents whose improved economic livelihood may depend on the matters discussed by Drs. Knowlton and Chicoine and on the research their universities conduct: 100%.
  • Number of bloggers present: 1.
  • Number of cookies consumed by bloggers: 4 (thanks, DSU food service!)

Brains and Bucks, Part 1: South Dakota as Community

[Part 1 of a series on Universities, Research, and Economic Development]

Part 1: South Dakota as Community
Part 2: Audience Statistics
Part 3: Hard Numbers
Part 4: Main Street
Part 5: The Ivory Tower

Dakota State University and the Lake Area Improvement Corporation hosted a forum on the role of universities in commercialization this afternoon on the DSU campus. 33 locals, including Madison's favorite blogger, listened to presentations from DSU President Douglas Knowlton and SDSU's President David Chicoine on what universities can and should to capitalize (quite literally) on their knowledge base and create wealth for their local communities.

"Local" in our context takes on a broader meaning than just revitalizing downtown Madison (a subject which did come up -- more in a moment!). When South Dakota's public universities take on the challenge of expanding research efforts and generating more publishable, patentable, and profitable knowledge to benefit the local economy, "local" expands to mean all of South Dakota. While the geography may make such a perspective seem daunting, thinking of the entire state as one local economy has some merit. Dr. Chicoine, an Elk Point native and SDSU graduate who worked for 30-plus years at the University of Illinois, observed that South Dakota is an easy place for professionals from different fields and communities to work together. He referred to a discussion he had recently with a forum participant in Watertown on the topic of universities and economic development. The Watertown resident asked how Watertown could benefit from university research when it doesn't have a university. Chicoine pointed out that SDSU is just 40 minutes away, and that researchers and entrepreneurs in suburban Chicago would love to have a land-grant university within such a short drive timewise. South Dakotans can quite practically cover distances in half or a third of the time our urban counterparts can. Chicoine thus concludes that we can practically broaden our concept of community to include other towns and their resources.

Dr. Knowlton, too, observed that South Dakota has a statewide sense of community unlike that found in other states. He noted that the six public university presidents regularly meet and discuss ways the different institutions can collaborate. Such interaction and collaboration -- like this very forum, with two university presidents side by side, discussing how their institutions can create jobs and wealth for the whole I-29 corridor, if not the whole state, not just Brookings or Madison -- is not the status quo in other states. That high-level interaction is an advantage for South Dakota, not to mention, said Dr. Knowlton, a reason he personally enjoys his job.

On the grand scale, South Dakota as community makes sense. In the Sunshine State, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon collapse to the Couple-Three Degrees of Don Jorgenson ("Oh yah, my neighbor's brother golfs with him!"). Even living hours apart, our professors, entrepreneurs, reporters, legislators, bureaucrats, and bloggers interact statewide perhaps as much as comparable professional communities in St. Paul and St. Louis.

Dr. Chicoine said outright that our universities have to collaborate to make good things for the whole state. South Dakota just doesn't provide the revenue to support six universities pulling in competing directions. To carry out the economic development vision of Dr. Chicoine, Dr. Knowlton, and the Board of Regents charging them with this mission, South Dakota needs to think of itself, at least in the research and commercialization arenas, not as a bunch of separate communities competing against each other for meager resources but as one fair-sized city of 780,000 -- think Indianapolis, or San Francisco -- that just happens to be spread out over 70,000 square miles but has one common goal: more research, more jobs, more money.

Blogga Culpa, Blogga Carta

SD Watch this morning offers both a great confession and a great charter statement for bloggers everywhere.

First, the confession: SD Watch last night ran "breaking news" from an anonymous source "with a history of accuracy" that Shawn Cable had left KELO for MySiouxFalls.com. That report left me scratching my head, since MySiouxFalls.com owner Joe Prostrollo himself had debunked that rumor on this blog over the weekend, or so I thought.

Alas, poor Mr. Prostrollo is doing a lot of rumor-debunking. He contacted SD Watch and said no, no, and no! Cable is not an employee or owner of MySiouxFalls.com. Prostrollo sounds like he's a little exasperated at all the rumor-mongering when a simple call to his office (which he says no one but an Argus intern has done) would put such whirling imaginings to rest (or at least divert them to other dizzying heights).

So SD Watch gets on top of the story and issues its mea culpa right away.

But the confessional mood also sparks reflection (that's why our Catholic friends promote confession so highly, right?), and SD Watch ends up offering a sparkling definition and defense of blogs as something other than journalism. SD Watch acknowledges the same shortcomings of blogs that MDL editorJon Hunter cited when he took issue with blogs back in April. SD Watch recognizes that if we were journalists, we would probably publish only a fraction of what makes it to these ephemeral pages. But bloggers are not journalists; we are something different. SD Watch embraces that difference:

Blogs like this have a watchdog role. They can speak truth to power, even to journalistic institutions. But blogs are more provocateur than journalist.

Having been part of five actual news organizations and having freelanced for many more, I well know the difference between journalism and what goes on here and on most blogs. Journalism is based on facts, fairness, and editorial oversight. Blogs are based on, well, largely the whimsy, politics, and common sense (or lack thereof) of their owners. To call most blogs a scandal sheet is both accurate and not necessarily an insult.

Bloggers as provocateurs -- mmm, what a fine job description! Blogging may not produce the finest writing or the most reliable reporting, but, as SD Watch concludes his morning manifesto, "it’s just too darn fun to quit." If that fun can provoke controversy, conversation, and (dare I dream?) change and justice, great. But blogs are what they are: fun and free speech, with some occasional gravitas and social responsibility thrown in.

p.s.: Meanwhile, bloggers everywhere are nervously checking their inboxes for that magic e-mail from Shawn Cable giving them the SD Blogosphere scoop of the summer!

Oh, Shawn Cable, you torture us so!
Your adoring public wants to know,
If you're not working for Joe Prostrollo,
Then where, oh where, oh where will you go?

Dakota Diet -- Pass the Buffalo and Berries!

Speaking of buying and eating locally, MDL publicizes a new book by an MHS graduate, Dr. Kevin Weiland, that says South Dakotans (and everyone else) could improve their health by eating food from South Dakota [Chuck Clement, "Doctor Promotes Diet Based on Foods of Great Plains," MDL, 2007.07.23]. The Dakota Diet: Health Secrets from the Great Plains recommends a diet based on the Mediterranean model. "I based this diet on meat from grass-fed animals, whole fruits and vegetables," Clement quotes Weiland as saying. "I called it The Dakota Diet because it offered everything the Mediterranean diet offered, but the foods are all local."

Weiland, a doctor at the Rapid City Medical Center and associate professor at USD's med school, combines two really good ideas. First, eat fewer processed foods. The more times food goes through machinery, the more nutrients get crushed or burned or dried out, and the more preservatives, additives, and fake flavors (everything in the vast category my dad would succinctly label "crapola") get in. Even meat from feedlot livestock suffers the same problem, as livestock in the feedlot is processing processed feed, while their pasture-grazing counterparts give us meat one step closer to nature.

Second, eat where you live. The more you enjoy the bounty of your local environment, the more connection to and pride in that place you will feel. Plus eating locally, just like decreasing reliance on processed foods, means decreasing dependence on energy inputs in the food chain. When you eat non-local processed food, you incur the environmental cost of the factories processing the food and the big trucks hauling that food cross-country. When you eat grass-fed beef from a ranch just a county away and fresh veggies from your local farmers' market, you're eating direct solar power, with just a little oil for transportation mixed in.

So, doctor's orders: Eat more buffalo burgers, hunt that ditch asparagus, and pass me some bullhead. Yum!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Dakota Jam -- Perfect Stopover for Sturgis!

Hey, bikers! As you gear up for the big ride to the 67th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, be sure to add a stopover at Madison's Prairie Village to your travel plans. If you're coming through on Saturday, August 4, you can catch Dakota Jam, a great outdoor concert where you can boogie or unwind (or both!) after a long day's ride.

What's so great about coming to Prairie Village for Dakota Jam on the way to Sturgis?
  1. $10 in advance, $15 at the gate gets you seven hours (5 p.m. to midnight) of music!
  2. Three bands: Too Drunk to Fish, Poker Alice (no site of their own, but here's a quick synopsis of their eclectic repertoire), and Eclipse.
  3. Get there early! Tour the Village, see old tractors, trains, and pioneer buildings (seen a sod house lately?)
  4. Stay late... like overnight! Prairie Village has cheap camping: $10 for a spot, $13 if you want electricity. Party all evening, then just walk right back to the campsite and conk out for a good night's sleep under the stars. You can also camp at Lake Herman State Park or get a room in Madison, both just a couple miles away.
  5. See Lake Herman! It's gorgeous! Go for a swim!
  6. Dakota Jam is selling beer (though who needs beer to have a good time?).
  7. Find Jesus! No, really -- get up Sunday morning and get some Good News right at Prairie Village in the old Junius church before you hit the road. Or, if you can wait a couple hours, ride over to the Lake Herman State Park Amphitheatre for a sunny outdoor service.
  8. Ride Highway 34! Let everyone else deal with the traffic and cookie-cutter truck stops on I-90; have a wide-open adventure on a great country road. See the surprising view at Wessington Springs, roar by the Capitol, admire the majestic Cheyenne River Valley, and ride through the high country right by Bear Butte and right into Sturgis. A good day's ride (365 miles) through the heart of South Dakota -- there is no better route to the Rally!
No, I'm not working for the Chamber, and they're not paying me to blog (though they should be!). It just occurs to me that with Dakota Jam, camping, and the other pleasures and treasures of Lake County, Prairie Village is the perfect stopover for bikers looking to get away from the roads more traveled and have a fun trip. So Rally riders, stop by Madison! We'll be glad to have, and you'll be glad you came.

Roadwork on 34! -- Oh, Wait...

If you see big machines growling over Highway 34 east of Madison, don't get excited, thinking Governor Rounds and Congress have submitted to our thunderous local PR campaign, see the memo from SDDOT. Sorry, kids: we're just getting crack-and-seat plus asphalt resurfacing. The job includes, among other things, a right turn lane (is that the one at the ethanol plant, or do we get another one at another intersection?). Highway 34 will remain open throughout the project, but traffic will be reduced temporarily to (oh! agony!) two lanes as the workers resurface first the westbound, then the eastbound lanes. Asphalt overlay starts August 6, so keep your eyes open, and give the construction workers room to do their job.

Michael Moore's Wisdom for Zaniya: People Aren't Cars

While the Zaniya Project Task Force member State Senator Joel Dykstra says he doesn't see a Masschusetts-like plan coming out of the Zaniya Project, this writer remains nervous that the free market theology of the task force members may lead them to recommend a Massachusetts-style mandate to buy private health insurance, akin to the current requirement of all drivers to buy auto insurance. Thus, keep in mind Michael Moore's response this afternoon to a question on NPR's Talk of the Nation about the Massachusetts plan. "It's a bad idea," said the director of SiCKO. "It treats people like automobiles."

Exactly. Health care isn't a typical consumer product. It's not a mere subset of economic activity. It is caring for real people, for life itself. Instead of fretting over insurance agents' profits and the faux-sanctity of the free market, the Zaniya Project needs to put people first and focus on our social responsibility to take care of each other.

Madison Arts Boosters: Learn from JazzFest

Rob Morast offers interesting observations of the impact of JazzFest on Sioux Falls [Rob Morast, "Hailing 'A Signature Event,'" that big Sioux Falls newspaper that really doesn't need to peddle smut to stay in business, 2007.07.22]. Morast emphasizes that when we consider the impact of arts events on a community, we should not limit our thinking to economic effects. A signature event can create great cultural changes that may have a deeper, longer-lasting impact than any new high-rise office building or factory.

JazzFest, Morast says, "has helped inspire a wave of artistic acceptance in Sioux Falls." Prior to JazzFest, back in the heady days when Sioux Falls topped the Money magazine "Best Places to Live" list, the city still got rotten scores for "leisure and arts." But since JazzFest's humble beginnings, Sioux Falls has seen a near-revolutionary surge in arts activities: Morast rattles off a list of cultural events including Summer Jam, Taste of South Dakota, LifeLight, ArtFalls, RibFest (there's lots of music with that meat), and the scuplture walk and summertime outdoor music downtown. JazzFest set the stage for much of this artistic success, says Morast, by setting the "expectation that quality art or music could come to town." Steve Hoffman, Washington Pavilion executive director, adds that JazzFest not only increases the city's "cultural wealth" but also "makes Sioux Falls a destination."

Therein lies the justification for increasing our support for the arts in Madison (and in any community, big or small). People don't look at communities purely as places to make money (well, some people might, but those aren't the people I want to have over for dinner). That would be like looking at a house purely as a place to eat and sleep out of the rain. If that's all a house was, carpet and paint and appliances and dishes would all come in one color. Houses themselves would all be the same shape (although we may note with dismay the proliferation of subdivisions where that is the case). A house built and used solely for utilitarian, profit-making purposes lacks the soul of a true home.

Communities are not houses; they are homes. Businesses and residents move to communities not simply to pursue optimal economic conditions but to find a place to call home, a place that will enrich them in all ways, financially, culturally, and spiritually.

Think of a stereotypical factory or office. Maybe you have a good job there, and you could make a heck of a lot of money if you just put a cot in the break room and stayed there around the clock, but nobody does that. People want to put in their 40 hours a week, then get the heck out, away from the machines, the noise, the computers, the drab office walls, and enjoy the lake, a movie, a concert, or just the peace and quiet of the back yard.

Likewise with communities. If a community is all factories and offices without a good assortment of cultural activities for the three-quarters of the time people have away from work, people will feel something lacking. Investors may hear the thrum of economic development, but they won't feel the buzz of a truly vibrant and enriching community. Most businesspeople and workers won't move to a community that lacks that artistic cultural buzz... and the ones who do are probably profit-focused drudges who won't make for interesting neighbors who will actively participate in events that build real community.

So when our school system deprioritizes funding for the arts, and when some in our business community say we don't need those artsy types around here, we hamstring our efforts toward full economic development. To really distinguish itself and create the most vibrant, attractive community possible, Madison needs to throw its full support behind the arts. Increased attention to the arts in our schools is one important step; creating a signature event like JazzFest is another. We're trying, with events like Dakota Jam (a DSU athletics fundraiser, entering its third year), but we're still looking for that one breakout arts event that will define Madison as a destination for arts lovers.

Zaniya Project: Plagiarize This!

If the Zaniya Project Task Force members find they've spent so much time reading the Madville Times that they might not be able to produce their final report by their September 30 deadline, I encourage them to plagiarize -- oops! um, I mean, study and borrow liberally from, with proper citation -- New York Assembly Bill A07354 (view the summary and the full text), a state single-payer health plan primarily sponsored by Assemblymember Richard N. Gottfried. (Props to Mrs. Madville Times who finds time in the midst of mommying and organizing to moonlight in the Madville Times Policy Research Division!)

The bill says that in New York, a state of 19.3 million residents, 3 million are uninsured and 3 million are underinsured. Section 5108 of the bill says this single-payer plan would cover, among other things, regular medical services, lab tests and imaging procedures, home care, rehab services, prescriptions, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, dental, vision, and hospice care (beats my private plan with Assurant already).

The plan would be funded by combining existing Medicare and Medicaid funds, a 10% payroll tax (paid either entirely by the employer or on an 80-20 employer-employee split), and an unearned income exceeding 50% of adjusted gross income. (Quick: take you monthly health insurance premium, divide by your monthly income, and compare percentages. Right now, Mrs. Madville Times and I pay 9% of our gross monthly income for a health insurance policy that gives us much less coverage -- e.g., $7500 family deductible, no maternity, dental, or vision -- than what the Gottfried bill proposes.) Gottfried claims the bill could actually save New York $5 billion in administrative overhead.

Expand access and save money? Hmm, sounds like A07354 aligns perfectly with the Zaniya Project's mandate. I welcome the task force's more in-depth analysis of this plan, but the back of my envelope suggests that if we scale the plan down to South Dakota size... hmm, let's see... 780,000 South Dakotans, divide by NY's population, multiply by $5 billion... we could save $200 million in administrative costs (perspective: the state lottery contributed $120 million to the state coffers in FY2007). Plus, more people get health care, workers stay healthier and happier and contribute more to the economy, employers see a cost-saving single-payer plan and flock to the state... that's good policy! Now's your chance, Zaniya Project: swing for the fences!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Be a Yokel -- Buy Local!

Yesterday's Yankton Press and Dakotan notes a new publication coming from our friends at Dakota Rural Action: the 2007 Locally Grown Foods directory. DRA already has a few local growers listed online; the full print directory will come out sometime this fall.

Why buy locally grown foods? Give Prairie Roots a shout; she can lay out the case in great detail. Basically, locally grown foods are good for the belly, the billfold, and the big blue Earth:
  1. Belly: fruits, vegetables, meat, and grain raised by your neighbors tastes better, is fresher since it doesn't have to survive a truck trip from California, and probably has fewer chemicals and hormones in it. Plus, local growers have to look their buyers -- their neighbors -- in the eye and live with them; they are highly motivated to produce a high-quality product!
  2. Billfold: You might spend more upfront (though we can get local beef in town for cheaper than the usual supermarket beef), but your dollars recirculate in your local economy, helping you and all of your neighbors. The local farmers you buy from then have more money to come back to you to buy whatever goods or services you sell. Less of your money leaves town in the pockets of big food corporations.
  3. Big Blue Earth: Locally produced food reduces our dependency on fossil fuels. Local growers lean toward organic methods, which use less (or no!) petroleum-based fertilizer. Local goods require less processing and transport, meaning even less fuel being burned to get chow to your table. And eating food grown where you live by people you know increases your sense of connection with the land and its health.
Locally grown food has benefits for everyone, from hippies to the Chamber of Commerce. Whether you're looking to save the Earth, strengthen the local economy, or just eat a mighty fine steak, get DRA's Locally Grown Foods directory.

Zaniya Project: Cognitive Dissonance Abounds

Terry Woster gives us a peek inside the thinking of the Zaniya Project Task Force this morning [Terry Woster, "Task Force Looks at Government's Role," that smut-peddling Sioux Falls newspaper, 2007.07.22]. If there are any big, new ideas brewing, the big dogs on the task force aren't saying so.

The article leads with State Senator Tom Dempster's assertion that (as Woster phrases it) "Government will always be involved in health care funding but shouldn't run the system." That position smells of cognitive dissonance, bred of the conflict between the obvious plusses of a single-payer system and the free-market theology that we dare not blaspheme against. We demand government cover nearly half the medical expenses in the country, and we see the government providing that payment more efficiently than the for-profit system, yet our leaders say government can't effectively manage health care.

The Zaniya Task Force isn't angling toward a Massachusetts-style plan to require citizens to buy health insurance, either. Says State Representative Joel Dykstra, mandatory proposals "wouldn't be something I'd support." (Ah, a Republican talking like a Republican.) This disavowal of the Massachusetts plan gives cause for relief. The Massachusetts plan seems an absurd intrusion on the free market. If we believe in the free market, we shouldn't allow government to skew market forces by requiring consumers to buy a certain product. On the other hand, if we, like Massachusetts, are willing to so grossly violate free market principles, why not go whole hog and just eliminate the free market in this realm and make health care the purvey of the government? Other free market forces already fail in health care: people don't have time to comparison shop when they are birthing, bleeding, or broken, and even those who can ask about price can't get accurate information from the doctors and nurses, the main point of contact in the provision of service. Plus, insurance plans discourage comparison shopping with their exclusive networks. To say free market forces and personal responsibility hold sway in health care stretches credibility.

The Zaniya Project seems nowhere near new thinking on health care, though. This resistance to obvious new approaches exhibits itself in some cognitive dissonance on Dykstra's part as well. After turning up his nose at mandatory proposals like the Massachusetts plan, he turns around and says (in Woster's words) "He expects discussion of a personal responsibility program, though. That concept wouldn't force a person to have insurance but would require some showing that the person could handle the cost of health care." Hmm, that sounds like a mandate to me, cloaked in the usual blind rhetoric of personal responsibility. But what would Dykstra propose? What does it mean to "handle the cost of health care"? Will teachers making $30,000 a year be thrown in jail for not leaving the profession to make twice as much elsewhere so they can handle catastrophic illnesses that their insurance plans won't cover? Do my wife and I get a ticket and probation for incurring $12,000 in expenses for our daughter's delivery when we only had a couple thousand in available savings? A mandate's a mandate, and either of the mandates Dykstra mentions is a bad idea mired in oldthink.

(Here's a thought, Rep. Dykstra: maybe personal responsibility should be left to individuals to decide -- another Republican-sounding, while legislators, those individuals elected by society to represent society's interests as a whole, ought to focus on how we can meet our social responsibility -- there's a social contract theory term of the day.)

The task force is also tinkering with incentives to get employers to provide coverage. Even those efforts may be hamstrung, though, as "some members have said one concern with that is how to make it fair to employers who gave that benefit to their workers without state incentive."

Again, the Zaniya project sounds like it's wedded to the status quo and dares no more than to work around the edges rather than to consider serious and fundamental reform. Employers are abandoning health coverage because of the skyrocketing costs. The only incentive that will draw most of those employers back to providing health coverage would be big subsidies. Again, in for a penny, in for a pound: if the state is going to spend its money and skew the free market system, it might as well do so in the most efficient way possible and set up a single-payer plan that will put all businesses (and workers, and families) on an equal footing.

We hear again of the task force's attention to health information technology. "'It's just crazy,' Dempster said, that he can go halfway around the world and use a debit or credit card but must fill out 'name, address, allergies and prescriptions every time I go to the clinic.'" Certainly a big health info tech push will bring efficiencies, but not enough to reverse total health care inflation. Dempster also thinks South Dakota's medical cost-reporting law will help "boost competition and hold down cost," but again, the Zaniya Task Force is putting its hopes in free market theology that just doesn't apply to the warped world of for-profit health insurance companies, who make their billions by finding ways not to provide their service.

The Zaniya project takes its name from the Lakota word for health and well-being. Perhaps the task force members could learn a lesson from an old Lakota holy man, Black Elk, whose greatest challenge was to deal with a broken "hoop" -- i.e., a worldview that was challenged by the ugly reality around him. As he watched the white man advance across the prairie and his people lose their freedom, he saw fellow Lakota who sold out to the "Wasicu" enjoying the support of the white soldiers, while his own people, who tried to resist the Wasicu and stay true to their beliefs, suffered. "I could not understand this, and I thought much about it," he said. "How could men get fat by being bad and starve by being good?" [John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, University of Nebraska Press, "21st Century Electronic Edition," Chapter 10, pp. 105-6.]. Black Elk's beliefs told him one thing, but the facts of the changing world around him said something different.

The Zaniya Project Task Force members -- businessmen, insurance agents, other Chamber of Commerce types -- face a challenge to their "hoop" of free market theology. To see real solutions to the health care crisis, the leaders of this state and this nation have to recognize that the realities of the problem may require changing or even abandoning some fundamental beliefs. That's a radical and difficult step for anyone, and alas, this morning's report indicates the Zaniya task force members are nowhere near considering accepting that challenge.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Cable, Prostrollo, and One Less Rumor

StatCounter has been showing a surge today in searches for "MySiouxFalls.com" and "Joe Prostrollo", along with continuing interest in the great Shawn Cable mystery, leading to my site. It seems everybody who isn't out mowing or waterskiing today is hoping to find some conspiracy behind these convergent events. Shawn Cable, secret GOP operative, hacking weather satellites to actually cause rain on Democrats' parade floats next year?

O.K., rumormongers, here's the connection between Shawn Cable, Joe Prostrollo, and MySiouxFalls.com, posted this afternoon by Joe Prostrollo himself as a comment to my earlier post:

Cory,
I do have to give you credit. You have missed your calling. I think I could use you as an investigative reporter on MYSiouxFalls.com. I'm going to give it to you straight and first. I worked at KELO TV earlier this year after 22 years in Denver. I wanted to create a news website that was devoted to video and text content. The technology was advancing to the point that I could use Flash 9 streaming and have a good quality site. There never was any covering up of me owning domain names. The only reason I bought the Rounds ones was the competitiveness of the news reporting. A good reporter wants to be right and sometimes, 1st. Now, as to Shawn Cable. Yes, I know him, I worked with him and he is my friend. We were having coffee at Kaladi's one morning after the After Nine show on KELO. We had our laptops and I owned MYSiouxFalls.com and was developing it. We both decided to park domain names on GoDaddy for like $2.99. He picked names in weather, Iowa, MN, Neb. and god knows where else. Is there a connection between Shawn Cable and MYSiouxFalls.com??? Yes, there it is. He knew I was developing it. And that my friends, is the rest of the story. If you have any questions, ask me. My email is jprostrollo@mysiouxfalls.com. I have nothing to hide. It sure beats the hell out of guessing.

Joe Prostrollo
MYSiouxFalls.com
Humans love to look for connections; it's our evolutionary strength that makes up for our lack of claws, fangs, fur, and Spidey-sense. It also leads people to spend time looking for connections even when they aren't there, or when they aren't nearly as big as some might hope.

But hey! This means mystery remains! We've heard from Mr. Prostrollo; Mr. Cable, it's your turn! Everyone wants to know: wither the singing weatherman?

While covering the Manchester tornado, Shawn Cable leapt out of Dorothy the weather van and, in the face of the awesome storms all around, exclaimed on air, "Great God!" The Madville Times cries out similarly in the face of this storm or rumors and web searches. Shawn, if you need some time to yourself to recover from this difficult transition... or if you just want to let this wave of gossipy hysteria roll a little longer so you can keep laughing at us for making a mountain out of a molehill, the Madville Times will understand. But when you're ready, Shawn, the comment line is open and ready for you to give the balloon of wild and mostly baseless speculation a satisfying pop!

The Price of Public Employment

Governor M. Michael Rounds has finally given in to logic and law and agreed to make public the salaries of the state's nearly 14,000 employees [Kevin Dobbs, "State Agrees to Provide Its Salary Figures," that Sioux Falls newspaper that really ought to stop peddling smut and unmentionables, 2007.07.21]. Rounds's lawyer Neil Fulton has indicated that the state is compiling a list "with all deliberate speed" and will hand the completed product over to the media "shortly."

The article notes that Secretary of State Chris Nelson has already made the salaries of his office's employees public. Secretary Nelson has shown himself to be a very open, straightforward, and non-ax-grinding public official. Guys who count ballots and keep elections honest need to be like that.

Governor Rounds and other state officials could learn something about openness from the Secretary of State. Instead, Rounds, Attorney General Long, and others have been more inclined to delay and obfuscate. Long has said the information is already public; however, his report on the matter "doesn't attempt to characterize how easy [sic] that can be done." (I am reminded of the Vogons posting Earth's demolition orders at the local planning department on Alpha Centauri -- hmm, does AG Long write poetry?) Dobbs tells us "Jason Dilges, commissioner of the Bureau of Finance and Management, has called [assembling the state salary data] a 'Herculean task' that was not reasonable to request of state agencies." (What, no master spreadsheet? Four keystrokes: hit Ctrl-A and Ctrl-P? I'll add that to my list of doctoral research projects.)

Corey Landeen of the SD State Employees Organization continues to fret over the release of this salary information:
"It's a bad situation for a lot of people.... It puts people in an uncomfortable position of having their pay being an issue within their communities, and that's been our concern." [Dobbs]

As stated on these pages previously, such is the price of working for the taxpayers. In every other business, the boss knows (or should know) how much of her money each employee is taking home. For public employees, the boss is the public -- us. Public employees (like yours truly) and citizens in general need to remember that, in our blessed democracy, the state is not some separate entity towering over us, with a separate identity, agenda, and secrets. L'├ętat, c'est nous! A state employee's business is everybody's business.

If you choose to work for the state, you must accept that public scrutiny is part of the job. My experience as a public school teacher showed me that public knowledge of my salary was nothing compared to the public scrutiny of my every word and action in carrying out my daily duties. Carry out your duties in accordance with law and conscience (as I always have, and as the vast, dedicated majority of our public employees do), and the fact that everyone knows you're getting $30,900 a year won't matter.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lake County School Administrators -- Bringing Back the Locals

The Madville Times welcomes another former Lake County resident back to the area. KJAM reports that the Rutland School District has hired Madison native Ron Swier to take the helm as principal and guidance counselor for the district. Swier taught PE and history at Rutland back in the 1970s. Swier comes back to us from the Bridgewater, where he principalled for a while. Swier replaces Val Parsley, who ably ruled the Rambler roost for a decade and a half before deciding to take on a new challenge as HS English teacher at Colman-Egan this year.

Swier joins Madison' s new superintendent Vince Schaefer, a Franklin alum, in returning to the old stomping grounds to lead our schools. The Madville Times has commented earlier on how this area struggles to keep good school personnel from leaving for bigger money and broader opportunities in the People's Democratic Republic of Minnesota and other greener pastures. However, it's good to see that Lake County has something (stubborn hometown spirit? Lake Herman? Crazy Days?) that can draw some of our natives back to do good work here.