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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You Know Those Receipts from Amazon.com?...

I mentioned looking for info on online interstate sales earlier. After I recovered from the flabbergastery of the new state website, I called the Department of Revenue and Regulation and left a message. They returned my call and answered my questions efficiently and expertly. (Who says government can't do anything right?)

And now for today's News You Can Use:

Ever wondered who pays the sales tax on interstate online sales? I've been wondering because I'm going to sell some paintings online. Here's what I learned from SDDRR, information that loyal readers can apply to their own interstate commerce endeavors:

  1. If I sell a painting to someone in Pipestone and ship it from Lake Herman, I pay no tax to South Dakota and have no obligation to Minnesota.
  2. If I sell a painting to someone in Pipestone and drive over there to deliver it myself, I establish a "nexus" (ooo, Star Trek!) in Minnesota. At the point, I pay the sales tax on that delivery and on every future sale I make to anyone in Minnesota, whether I deliver it in person or ship it. (Minnesota buyers, don't expect any personal deliveries.)

Of course, I got to wondering (I'm always wondering): when I ship a painting to Minnesota, does Minnesota just forfeit any tax on that sale? Won't they send a revenue hit squad across the border to shake me down? Are they so rich from income tax they don't need to quibble over interstate sales?

Oh no, my friend at DRR informed me. The Minnesotan who buys my painting has a use-tax obligation to her home state.

But wait a minute, I asked. Does that apply on our side of the border as well?

Yes, DRR told me. When a South Dakotan orders something on Amazon.com, Pierre doesn't expect Amazon to pay. The tax obligation rests on the buyer here in South Dakota.

In other words: when you log on to Amazon.com and order your copy of Jon Lauck's epic campaign tome, you will owe the state of South Dakota 73 cents (4% of today's sale price of $18.21), plus your local sales tax.

Now DRR lacks the resources to send out sales tax cops to everyone's homes to audit your receipts from Amazon.com and other online retailers. No need, since surely you've all been itemizing your online purchases and remitting your sales tax obligations out of the goodness of your South Dakota hearts.


However, for those of you who just moved to the state, send your checks to the Department of Revenue & Regulation, 445 East Capitol Avenue, Pierre, SD 57501.

Web Alert! State Website Gets Act Together!

So I go looking for sales tax info on selling paintings across state lines. I hit the South Dakota state website and -- Wham! Bip! Kablooie! Wonder Twin Powers Activate! It's all new, as of today! The home page all fits on one screen! Cute little buttons! Better layout! Better menus! Better pictures! You can even choose your own color scheme (hit the Site Settings button, right above Smiley Mike).

In all their wild re-engineerings, the web designers were careful not to forget to keep the terror alert button right on top (today's terror outlook: Bert). Don't be scared, though: to keep the terrorists from winning, the web designers have updated the page so the governor's watchful smile remains with throughout your visit.

Seriously, nice work, state web team! Keep it up!

Alternative Headline: Heidepriem Fights for Landowner Rights...

...Republican Governor Silent on Eminent Domain

We like Dakota War College. Family man, sends Madville Times referrals, critical of school boards when necessary. Plus, DWC has had a hard week already. So we hate to pick on him.

Nonetheless, we take issue with his headline, "So, does this mean he’d fight pipelines and other forms of energy development as Governor?"

Dakota War College runs a press release from Dakotans Concerned, the folks up in Britton trying to keep TransCanada from stealing their land. According to Dakotans Concerned, our pushy Canadian corporate neighbors filed eminent domain papers against 9 more landowners Friday, bringing the total facing court-approved theft to 18.

The Madville Times hesitates to put words in anyone's mouth, but DWC's PP appears to dismiss the position of Dakotans Concerned and their lawyer, State Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepreim, as bad for South Dakota: "Interesting that Senator Heidepreim is fighting the oil companies trying to develop South Dakota’s energy infrastructure."

We welcome interpretations and explanations of DWC's position on eminent domain and energy development. We also await an explanation of how the Keystone pipeline at all represents an addition to South Dakota's energy infrastructure; i.e., how specifically does this pipeline improve South Dakota's energy situation in a way that justifies the trampling of property rights (not to mention environmental concerns and common courtesy).

Finally, we ask for clarification: is DWC's desire to take a poke, small as it may be, at a perceived partisan opponent, overshadowing the bigger issue of protecting property rights for South Dakotans? The Madville Times has certainly offered criticism (and does so here) of the Republican administration that has remained disturbingly silent on these eminent domain actions, but we would offer criticism of any public official who did not protect his or her fellow citizens' rights from encroachment by foreign powers, political or corporate. We will also offer praise for any politician of any party who works either from his official position or in his day job (like lawyer Heidepreim) to protect landowners from eminent domain exercised for private gain.

Sioux Valley Wireless Fights Spam, but Not on Blogs

The Madville Times receives its wireless service from Sioux Valley Wireless, the only provider that beams an Internet signal to Lake Herman. Their service thus far has been impeccable: even in the blizzards last winter, we never lost our signal. Their service has allowed both Prairie Roots and the Madville Times to expand their online activities immensely, not just in blogging, but in academic pursuits and other fields. We are thus immensely grateful for the service Sioux Valley Wireless provides.

However, after last night's comment spam attack, I called Sioux Valley Wireless to see what could be done to prevent a similar attack. Their response: "We don't plan to do anything."

Hence, this letter to Sioux Valley Wireless:

I had a less than satisfactory interaction this morning with "Smith" [name deleted] in your department about an outbreak of comment spam I had on my blog last night.

To review the details: an individual operating from this IP:


...left comment spam on ten of my blog entries last night (Tuesday, October 30, 2007), starting at 6:17 p.m. To stop the comment spam attack, I had to re-engage comment moderation, a policy that hinders the openness and interactivity of my online endeavor. My blog is a business, with advertising, so I rely on good relations with my readership to attract more readers and advertisers. To have to engage comment moderation makes my "stock" in the blog world decrease in the eyes of some readers and thus may impact my bottom line.

I have deleted comment spam from other sources worldwide previously; this was the first time I received a deliberate and traceable local attack. I called Sioux Valley customer service this morning (Wednesday, October 31) to ask if Sioux Valley could take any action to address this problem. After some seeming hesitance at the outset, "Smith" promised to check with someone in the IT department and find out what might be done. Smith did call back quite promptly, within 20 minutes, to confirm that the spam problem was blog-related and then to say Sioux Valley would not take any action.

Reviewing Sioux Valley's Internet Acceptable Use Policy, I find that spamming is only addressed with respect to e-mail, not other forms of online interaction. Perhaps the absence of any mention of blog comment spam is the basis for Sioux Valley's inaction in response to this problem.

However, comment spam is a recognized problem in the blog community. Individual users have tools at their disposal to combat this problem, but as described above, using those tools can hinder the functionality and image of a blog.

As a rural electric cooperative, Sioux Valley Energy generally supports the efforts of rural entrepreneurs to build successful businesses and generate revenue for themselves and their communities. Sioux Valley Wireless's spam filter for e-mail is an important part of promoting this goal (and indeed, my e-mail accounts are remaining relatively spam-free, thank you!). By revising its Internet Acceptable Use Policy to recognize evolving forms of online harassment and by taking action to ensure its resources are not used for ill purposes, Sioux Valley Wireless could further promote honest rural entrepreneurship.

I encourage Sioux Valley Wireless to reconsider its position of taking no action against the user of its services who is generating this comment spam. I also encourage Sioux Valley Wireless to consider updating its policies to reflect the changing nature of Internet usage.

While I will continue to act responsibly to address the problem of comment spam from my end, I will appreciate any help Sioux Valley Wireless can offer to combat spam of any sort. Thank you.

Again, my apologies to my readers who've been enjoying the ease and speed of unmoderated comments. They were working great, especially on days when the editor is busy writing research papers and might not get around to moderating for a few hours. But a blog's gotta do what a blog's gotta do.

We'll look for some solutions, technical and personal (a friendly agreement among neighbors would be nice). In the meantime, your germane and civil comments remain welcome as always. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Reason #90 to Scrap Property Tax

[Also on KELOLand.com Political Blog Aggregator!]

KELO cheerily reports this morning that farmland values in South Dakota have risen 90% in the past five years [AP, "Farmland Values Increase," KELOLand.com, 2007.10.31]. This information comes from the "rosy economic report" issued by the State Bureau of Finance and Management. (KELO gives a link to the bureau, but leaves us hunting for the actual report, which actually came out on October 1.)

Concomitant with that increase in land value is an increase in the property tax assessment farmers face. Now the assessment may not be going up 90%, but farmers, you tell us: has the ethanol boom brought you increases in income proportional to the increases in your assessment?

Note also that two of the factors cited for the increased land values are "expanding farmers and those who want [the land] for hunting and recreation." Farmers thus face higher tax assessments because other people want to take their land for other purposes. Funny: free market principles should dictate that once you pay good money for something -- land, house, car, pickles -- you shouldn't have to pay more after the sale to keep it just because other people now want what you have.

Consider pickles: suppose you have a big party planned for next month and you buy a big jar of pickles on sale at Madison's Jubilee (soon to be Sunshine). You get it for sale at $10 (it's a big jar). Next week, MDL runs a story saying pickle juice can be used to run your four-wheeler. Suddenly everybody wants to buy pickles. Jubilee/Sunshine owner Dan Roemen comes knocking on your door and says, "Hey, you know those pickles you bought last week for $10? Well, they're going for $19 a jar now, so I need you to pay me another $9."

You'd tell Dan to take a hike, right? If anything, you'd expect him to pay you to get the pickles back and try selling them for a better price. The fact that everyone else wants pickles now doesn't mean you should have to pay more to keep the pickles you already bought, right?

So why do we impose the costs of higher demand on owners instead of the generators of demand with property tax? Property tax punishes landowners who had the good sense to buy early and cheap. Property tax also makes it easier for the rich guys -- in this case, big corporate farmers and wealthy hunters who fly in their overweight corporate jets to tear up our runways and blast away at our countryside for a couple hours -- to push the little guys off the land.

Property tax is unfair from a social justice perspective and from a free market perspective. But then South Dakota's whole tax system is based on unfairness: we tax the house you've already paid for, the food you have to find for your kids, and the ignorance of those who think they can beat the lottery (the house always wins, kids -- read your stats book).

Maybe if they can see through the confusion of the HUH? crowd and the impending election year, our legislature can take some time to look at reforming our wacky tax structure to bring some fairness to all landowners and workers in South Dakota.

Downtown Renovation: Do It for History... or Do It for Money!

MDL's Jon Hunter continues very sensibly to promote the rejuvenation of downtown Madison. He has appealed before to those of us with a sense of history and community; in last night's editorial, he appeals to his Republican friends' love of the bottom line. He notes that property owners willing to make the effort to get their old buildings on the national or state Register of Historic Places can get an eight-year freeze on their property tax assessments, plus grants and low-interest loans for historic renovation.

We will disagree on editorial policy, but MDL and the Madville Times are on the same page when it comes to promoting downtown development. Do it for the community, do it for the money, we don't care -- a beautiful, vibrant, busy downtown is worth fifty Dollar Generals.

Commissioner Jerry Johnson -- Philosopher

Expect the Madville Times radar to ping loudly any time the word "philosophical" appears in the hallowed pages of the Madison Daily Leader. Earning that appellation in last night's Leader is Madison City Commissioner Jerry Johnson -- not to be confused with Madison Fire Chief Jerry Johnson, who also figures in the fore of this story. Commissioner Johnson was the only dissenting vote Monday night as the city commission awarded to the Madison Volunteer Fire Department the highest honor the City of Madison can bestow: a one-day malt beverage license for a dance. (Recall that only the bravest, most worthy citizens have a chance of receiving this honor: this summer, not even the Jaycees or the DSU Athletic Department could win this prize.)

MDL's Chuck Clement explains the vote of our philosopher-king:

Commissioner Johnson told Fire Chief Jerry Johnson that his objection fell mostly along philosophical lines and not due to actual problems related to the firefighters' annual dance. Commissioner Johnson asked if there was 'a better, more appropriate place than the city armory' for the fundraiser that involves alcohol" [emphasis added; see Chuck Clement, "Dance OK'd for Firefighters," Madison Daily Leader, 2007.10.30, p. 3].

Commission Johnson does indeed appear to be staking out admirable philosophical territory. His votes earlier this year suggest an increasing awareness of the city's role in projecting positive messages for the youth, and one of those messages is that it is possible to have fun without alcohol. Similar comments, not just from this writer but from other community members, have arisen in response to earlier one-day malt-beverage license requests. Commissioner Johnson appears ready to stand up for this philosophical principle even against the pressure of a community tradition.

That takes guts. The Madville Times respects guts... especially philosophical guts.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Deputy on Leave After DUI Ticket

No, the deputy didn't ticket one of the folks on the do-not-ticket list; she got one herself. MDL reports tonight that Deputy Emily Bruns, 22, of the Lake County Sheriff's Department is on administrative leave after receiving a ticket from the Madison city police last Thursday, October 25 [Elisa Sand, "Lake County Deputy on Leave Pending Drunken Driving Charge," Madison Daily Leader, 2007.10.30, p. 1].

This is Bruns's second DUI charge; according to MDL, she was convicted of DUI on January 1, 2003, paid her fines, gave up her license for six months, etc. Since then, she studied up on law and joined the sheriff's department in August 2005.

Just last week we saw a much higher public official, state Office of Highway Safety director Roy Meyer, resign his position after a DUI arrest in Pierre ["Highway Safety Director Resigns," KELOLand.com, 2007.10.26]. I'd hate to see Bruns have to follow the same path. She was a student in my English classes here in Madison (guess I didn't deliver that anti-drunk-driving lesson well enough in comp class). She was a good kid in class. More importantly, we should be proud of any young MHS graduate who stays to serve her community. As a young woman -- as the only female on the city or county patrol force that I can think of -- she's in a great position to be a positive role model for our kids.

But -- well, hang on. Bruns got a ticket, but her day in court is coming (November 15 is the first hearing). I really hope the breathalyzer was broken. I hope Bruns can stay on the police force and maintain the trust we give our law officers when we hand them a badge and a gun and say, "Protect us. Protect our kids."

But -- I'm sorry. I keep coming back to "But...."

In the Meyer case out in Pierre, the former director of highway safety evidently felt that he could not continue in his position without damaging public trust in the office. Even before his trial (Meyer's court date is November 13), he submitted his resignation. Governor Rounds stated that had Meyer not resigned, the state would not have terminated him unless and until he was found guilty. Nonetheless, Rounds summarized for KELO why the Meyer case mattered... and his thoughts apply to Bruns's situation:

Rounds calls the incident preventable and unfortunate, and a reminder to everyone on all levels of state government how important it is to set a good example.

"He's been charged with DWI, which makes it a very difficult thing to step back in and to continue to promote the issue of eliminating drunk drivers from the road," Rounds says. [Lou Raguse, "Rounds Calls DUI Arrest Disappointing," KELOLand.com, 2007.10.25]

We are fortunate that our cops don't have much to deal with other than corralling drunk yahoos on the roads before they hurt someone. But given that South Dakota lost eleven kids to drunk driving in the spring of '06, and given the prevalence of alcohol problems among adults and teens alike in our state, we have to be dead serious about drunken driving. Our police not only arrest the drunk drivers and run the sobriety checkpoints; they very often are the folks who go to the schools to tell the kids not to drink and drive. Our law officers thus must be able to deliver that message with a sincerity and integrity no one can question.

I want Emily Bruns to stay and serve this community. She can do so much good as a role model for the kids following her through the Madison school system.

But (there it is again -- sorry) I want our law enforcement officials to uphold high standards, the same standards they will enforce on all of us without discrimination. Cops just can't get DUIs.

My only relief this night is the knowledge that it's up to Judge Tucker, and not me, to look at the facts and make the call.

Sorry, Kids! Spam Attack...

Sorry, kids! Spam attack tonight -- had to re-enable comment moderation until the spammers get tired. Your germane and civil comments remain welcome!

New Yankton, New Media, New Politics

...or is it a return to old politics?

The Yankton Press and Dakotan reports this morning that citizens displeased with Yankton's city government have filed petitions calling for the recall of Mayor Curt Bernard and Commissioner Dan Rupiper [Nathan Johnson, "Recall Petitions Filed," Yankton Press and Dakotan, 2007.10.30]. Recall drivers Kevin Culhane, Mike Freeman, Jay Gravholt, Ben Hanten, and Cory Nelson started their drive two weeks ago, following the resignation (forced by the commission, says Freeman) of City Manager Jeff Weldon. They needed 1,258 signatures; yesterday they filed petitions with over 1,400, and they say they can get more if they need them.

Not on the ground in Yankton, the Madville Times is not well-positioned to comment on the merits or conduct of the campaign. What does interest this doctoral student in Information Systems, and what should interest all South Dakotans, is the concerted application of Internet technology to this local political effort. From the beginning of their campaign, the petitioners have used blog technology to keep petition circulators and the general public informed. For the cost of a domain name and some web hosting (maybe $50-$70 for a year?), the New Yankton group is able to produce campaign propaganda, instant updates, responses to opponents, and practical campaign information that can reach a majority of Yankton voters in their homes.

The opponents get to take advantage of the new media as well. On the community blog site sponsored by the Press and Dakotan, an individual going by the handle "Reifelman" (identified by Dakota War College as former Rapid City councilman Mike Schumacher) has his own running criticism of the recall campaign and, distressingly, the recallers themselves. Psuedonymity and ad hominem attacks don't say much for a participant in the political process, but even this online opposition effort demonstrates the potential for individuals to make their voices heard in the new world of online politics.

But is this a new world, or are blogs and other online technologies returning us to the old world of politics at the personal level? Maybe the Internet forum is really a return to the town hall meeting or the old agora of Athenian democracy. The Internet certainly makes it easier for our Socrateses (oh, such an ungainly plural!) to pose their uncomfortable questions and spark discussion in the marketplace. Blogging is still not as cheap as strapping on the toga and sandals and strolling beneath the Acropolis (not as scenic, either). Participants still need a computer and Internet access, but that price of entry into the marketplace of ideas is still much cheaper than any of the other media that tie our sprawling republic together. Rich guys still have an advantage -- they always will -- but blogs and other Net tools help bring political do-it-yourselfers back into the game known as democracy.

If nothing else, the New Yanktonians are making clear that the government doesn't have to be them. The government is us*. You just have to speak up and be a part of the process. As the New Yanktonians and Jon Lauck will attest, blogs are becoming a useful part of that participatory democracy.

*Yes, yes, proper grammar demands, "The government is not they, it is we." But without the ending consonants, it just doesn't sound as good. But hey, that's just me.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Comprehensive Plan -- Ulteig Posts Observations

Those of you looking for info about where the big Madison Comprehensive Plan might be going can find the first details online (PDF alert!) at the Ulteig Engineers website. Project manager Joel Quanbeck has finally posted some observations on Madison's needs and possible directions for future development. Nothing concrete -- more an inventory of problems and possibilities that Madison needs to look at as it grows.

The document isn't too complex -- pretty easy-to-read bullet lists -- but it covers a lot of ground. Housing, utilities, parks, land use, economic development... whew! There's something for everyone to think about. Browse through it, do some brainstorming, and bring your ideas and questions to the open house Tuesday night (6 p.m., City Hall!).

Prairie Roots Too Hot for MDL

Oh, and Jon Hunter was doing so well...

MDL missed a chance to boost its readership with some profound social critique today: it rejected a letter to the editor from the other blogger in the house, Prairie Roots. Our man Hunter says his paper will publish "criticism of public officials and government agencies, but not of individuals or businesses."

Wow -- must be a new policy. MDL published some pretty harsh letters directed at yours truly once upon a time. Guess you'll have to go straight to the source to hear honest criticism of misogyny, poor taste, and bad business sense.

Now here's a question: if that's now the policy, does that mean in next year's election, Mr. Hunter will publish letters criticizing Representative Russell Olson and his fellow incumbents but only accept praise of the challengers? Yahoo! Sounds like a nice leveling of the playing field for working-class newcomers to politics who don't have donors to raise $32,000 for a simple legislative campaign. Thanks, Jon! Fellow Dems, if you don't have the dollars, then get your pens and keyboards ready! The pages of the Madison Daily Leader await!

Welcome to Main Street...

...unless you're a vegan, Hindu, woman, or anyone else we want to make fun of.

Prairie Roots [do you still need full disclosure? That's my wife!] runs a strong critique of the derogatory signage now appearing on Madison's Main Street in front of our newest restaurant. (And no, she doesn't use big words just make herself sound smart -- she's just that intelligent and good with language.)

Her thesis is spot on: Main Street is public space where everyone should feel welcome. Putting people down doesn't make sense from either a business perspective or a city-promotion perspective. If someone comes to Madison hoping to Discover the Unexpected, what will they think when they see a sign that essentially says you're welcome only if you're a male chauvinist meat-eater?

Sure, Main Street is also about freedom of speech. If a business owner wants to expose himself as a misogynist and drive away customers of cultures he doesn't like, well, it's his money, and his sign. But neighborliness as well as profit motive might suggest that civil discourse and a little respect might be better for the pocket book and the community.

Zaniya Still Alive, Along with the Bumbling Free Market

The Zaniya Project final report on expanding health coverage in South Dakota arrived at the beginning of the month without much media attention. But don't be fooled: it's still out there, and it will be on the agenda for the 2008 legislature. Terry Woster reports that, even though the task force failed to fulfill its mandate and left the hard work of cost estimates to the legislature, Governor Rounds and "at least some legislators" are considering crafting legislation based on the task force proposals [Terry Woster, "Task Force Ideas Weighed," that Sioux Falls paper, 2007.10.29].

If our legislators can't work up the courage to challenge the profiteers and give us genuine universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care, maybe they should first focus on the health information technology proposals of the Zaniya Project and add some consumer protection measures against the rampant billing errors that are costing responsible citizens thousands of dollars. An AP report this morning quotes one health care consumer advocate saying she finds multiple errors in 8 out of 10 hospital bills she looks at [AP, "Medical-Bill Errors Increasingly Common," Yahoo News, 2007.10.29].

That would match our personal experience: after our daughter was born, nearly every call we made to our private insurer revealed yet another error in our billing or other information. Gee, when you pay $300 a month, don't you expect the people getting your money to at least be able to add and type correctly?

Many of the Madville Times's guests say the government can't do anything right. From the looks of it, the free market isn't doing a bang-up job with health care, either, not even on a simple thing like billing. Maybe a little regulation from the state -- say, double-your-money-back guarantee on any billing error? free coupon for your next appendectomy? -- would scare our profiteering insurers into doing their math right and bring costs down for everyone. People can argue that individuals should take responsibility for their own health care, but they shouldn't have to spend hours and days checking the math with the professionals whose job it is to do the bills right in the first place.

Ulteig Engineers -- Fast on the E-mail

Want good press? Just reply to e-mails promptly. Yesterday we posted a suggestion for making more park space part of Madison's comprehensive city plan (open house Tuesday night, 6 to 8 p.m., city hall!) and e-mailed the text to project manager Joel Quanbeck of Ulteig Engineers. Just like last week, Mr. Quanbeck, surely hip-deep in city diagrams and Gantt charts, got back to me in his first hour in the office. He agrees that park and rec space needs to be a key part of the city plan: "Parks and open space amenities are one of the greatest enhancements a local jurisdiction can provide to increase the quality of life in a community."

Mr. Quanbeck is coming to town this week for the open house and to get a firsthand look at how the city is laid out and what improvements he can envision. It sounds like he's open to input, so if you see him at the open house Tuesday or out wandering about town surveying the parks and streets and lightpoles and such, don't be afraid to walk up and offer him your two cents' worth on the physical improvements you think Madison can use. Ulteig is also soliciting comments by e-mail, so share those ideas with the planners. (And keep those suggestions coming to the Madville Times -- we're getting some good ideas!)

School IT Directors Get No Love

You think teachers are underpaid in South Dakota? Our schools' IT guys (and some gals!) don't fare much better. The SD-blogosphere-spanning commentary about Madison Central's IT troubles with those darn kids prompted a check of salaries for the IT personnel.

Madison Central's technology director, Todd Beutler, is listed as classified personnel, along with the other support/non-instructional staff. Beutler is the highest paid among the classified personnel, earning $19.92 an hour (up 42 cents an hour from last year). Now compared to teachers, Beutler does pretty well. If we assume he works 40 hours a week for 50 weeks, his annual wage comes to $39,840, $4,000 more than Madison's average household income, a good $5,000 better than the average wage for teachers statewide, and by my extrapolation from the most updated figures the state Dept. of Ed. offers, at least a couple thousand better than the Madison Central average teacher pay. Plus, he works on the clock, not the contract, so one may assume he gets overtime when the kids make extra work for him.

Ah, but let's not compare apples and rutabagas; let's put all our IT apples in one basket and see who's shiniest. Look up "Network and Computer Systems Administrators" on the SD Dept. of Labor's wage estimate database, and you'll find the statewide average salary for such jobs is $24.44 an hour. It's just about a quarter higher -- $24.67/hr -- in the "East" region to which Lake County belongs, and another two bits higher -- $24.93/hr -- in the Sioux Falls metroplex. Just an hour away, it appears Beutler could make $10K more a year (and not have to put up with, among other things, his salary being a matter of public record).

Consider also that Beutler's 42-cent-an-hour raise this year comes out to $840 more for the year. That's just a bit more than two bucks for each of the nearly 400 new Tablet PCs that got dumped onto his network and that he gets to reformat this week. Anyone care to guess how much they'd pay a private specialist to do the same job on 400 computers?

There are lots of us who can look at the Madison Central technology directors wages and say, "Boy, wish I was making that kind of money!" But for those like Beutler who have the talent and training to do such work, public service remains at the low end of the opportunity scale. And on days like these when his work is subject to such public scrutiny and criticism, particularly from angry parents wondering why their kids are being punished so harshly for what some say is an easily preventable security breach, an extra $10K a year in the comfortable seclusion of private industry must look really good.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Why Computers in School? It's So Simple...

The attraction of the machines to many politicians and administrators is that they seem to offer a cheap and tractable substitute for teachers.

Thank you, Dr. Newquist! On target, as usual.

Suggestion for Madison Plan -- More Parks!

The Madville Times continues to wait for more details on the big Madison Comprehensive Plan. As of this breezy Sunday afternoon, the plan website still offers no details that we could all study before the big open house Tuesday evening (6 p.m.!) at City Hall.

This writer has class that night, so here's a suggestion for the comprehensive plan, just e-mailed to Ulteig Engineers project manager Joel Quanbeck:

Dear Mr. Quanbeck:

I don't know exactly how far the plans have progressed yet, but I'd like to throw in an idea my wife and I have toyed with for some time to increase the parkland in the city. We have a fair amount of city land from which houses were cleared following the 1993 flood. This space, like the stretch along East Center Avenue, would make a great addition to the city's green space. We propose joining these lands to create a contiguous park through the city. The East Center area already has a good number of trees, plus one existing park that would serve as an anchor for the project. To the northwest, we have unused floodplain land adjacent to Frisbee Park that would make a great expanded recreational area and might even have room for a city campground (like Howard, Brookings, and many other towns have) that could accommodate more visitors. There might even be possibilities for expanding parkland west from Flynn Field along the creek across the southwest part of town.

I look forward to seeing what your planners come up with on the Ulteig website. Do keep us posted!

Oh, and let's make sure we get some wireless hotspots in those parks so the kids can do their homework.

We Must be BATS: Bloggers Against Technology?

O.K., just a quick show of hands: how many of you find it hard to get your heads around the idea that there would be such consensus among South Dakota bloggers (SDP-Schaff, DWC, SDWatch, and yours truly) against the state making every high school kid lug a laptop computer around to class? I'm a little surprised myself.

Consider: here I sit on the most comfortable couch in South Dakota, writing an IT project management midterm on my laptop, taking a break to check my SiteMeter stats (coming up on 15,000! yahoo! keep 'em comin'!), and blogtificating on the perils of making high school education dependent on technology. Mere irony? Rank hypocrisy? Uncommon sense? Commenters, your opinions are welcome...

...but first, do check out the estimable Mr. Epp's take on the flap. And kids (yeah, you, Bulldog hackers!), check out his last paragraph:

Frankly, I applaud the kids in MHS for trying to stick it to The Man. If MHS were smart, they'd put some of these kids on an IT committee to help the district stay ahead of the "threats" our already computer-literate youth can concoct.

Oh, that Epp -- a regular anarchist! ;-)

Child Abuse Increasing -- What's Wrong with Us?

KSFY interviews Dr. Edward Mailloux of Child's Voice, the first child advocacy center in South Dakota. Dr. Mailloux gives terrible news: the center's case load of investigating and treating physical and sexual abuse involving kids has increased 30% in the past year [Robert Wilson, "Child Abuse Experts Say Cases in Sioux Falls Area Are Skyrocketing,"KSFY.com, 2007.10.26]:

...Dr. Mailloux says, "at the center this year in Sioux Falls, we will see at least 700 to 800 children, where 3 to 4 years ago we saw 200 to 300 children."

Dr. Mailloux says more than half those kids are from Minnehaha County. He believes part of the increase can be traced to parents and professionals knowing what to look for. But it's only a piece of the puzzle. "But I also think that unfortunately child abuse is becoming more prevalent in our area."

Even worse, child abuse appears to be more prevalent in our area than other parts of the country. Dr. Mailloux says our area sees twice as many child physical and sexual abuse cases as Dayton, Ohio, a metro area similar in size to Sioux Falls.

What's wrong with us? Why would South Dakotans be hurting their own children at all, not to mention hurting them more often? Could it be related to our near-top-in-the-nation rates of alcohol abuse and dependency (10.2%, 3rd in the nation in 2003-2004)? I wish I knew the cause so we could stomp it out of existence.

One factor the abuse rates apparently aren't related to is abortion rates. Professor Schaff suggested a couple weeks ago that "the abortion culture promotes child abuse." South Dakota has one of the lowest abortion rates in the nation, 6 per 1000 women of reproductive age. Ohio (Dayton, remember?) has an abortion rate of 15 per 1000 women of reproductive age, above the national average of 14.1. Those numbers suggest Ohio is much more a part of the so-called "abortion culture," yet Dr. Mailloux tells us South Dakota kids are in more danger of abuse.

Consider this just another example of how the legislature and our moral crusaders should spend less time crying for another year of abortion politics and concentrate on real, growing problems in our state. It might even be that child abuse, like abortion, is not going to be solved by legislation. But we need to figure out what's wrong and reach out to people so they feel like they belong and don't have to turn to violence or alcohol or other false paths to "deal" with their problems. Our kids deserve better, and we have a responsibility as a community to do better.

Bulldog Hackers -- Where Was IT?

For an outside perspective on Madison High School's technology troubles, see commentary from South Dakota War College (also on KELOLand.com):

Here’s another case where some parents should probably have some serious discussions with their school board (and the elected officials therein) because not only was the punishment ridiculously over the top compared to the offense, but they’re blaming the wrong people. At least a portion of the blame in this matter should reside squarely on the district’s IT staff.

A former system administrator, author Pat Powers, tells us exactly how easy it is for kids to do what they allegedly did, getting around the nearly random, mostly ineffective Internet filters (PP directs your attention to page 21 of the July 2007 MaximumPC). PP also includes simple 15-second instructions for getting around the proxy server.

Good grief -- is PP defending the little troublemakers and encouraging them to wreak more havoc on Madison Central's imperiled servers? Heavens no -- PP declares himself a fellow "mean dad" for whom "innocent until proven guilty" is a fine constitutional principle but no way to run a household of mischievous kids. But he directs some strong criticism at some as-yet unquestioned authorities: the MHS information technology department:

And in this instance, we’re handing inquisitive kids a laptop, and tell them “Use it as if it were your own. Take it home, learn everything you can about it.” And as an afterthought, we add “We’ll spank you if you learn too much about it’s workings.”

If you haven’t figured it out, this is a laughable policy, just for it’s [sic] sheer and utter ignorance.

Obviously, they have a need on a policy level to keep kids out of certain websites. That’s why you need to have a competent IT Department who knows what they’re doing when it comes to filtering Internet content.

But if they can’t or aren’t doing their jobs, why do we find over a dozen kids being suspended for it?

Now don't think PP is going soft on crime. His association with and reading of leftwing blogs hasn't contaminated his thinking that much. But he makes a strong argument that as we assign responsibility for this breach of network security (which, again, consisted of no damage or destruction, probably nothing more than kids finding a way to download some games or log in to Facebook), we need to consider how the adults in charge could have left such a gaping and obvious hole in the security measures.

The IT department at the school is keeping a low profile. Try to find out who's in the IT department, and you'll find that the Madison Central website does offer a link to the Madison Central Technology Help Desk. They will be busy this week implementing new security measures on all 400 student Tablets. But maybe parents should contact the Help Desk to ask how to add those new security measures to their home computers to keep the kids out of bad sites. Unfortunately, the help desk link doesn't work. Neither does the Madison Central Computer Support Site linked on the district contact info page. Oops. Even tech coordinator Todd Beutler's website offers no information. But their e-mail probably works... as long as you don't include any blog links in your e-mail.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fundigelicals Head Toward Schism as Folks Realize Jesus Not Republican

...and He's not Democrat, either!

Church is tomorrow. After the sermon (and before election season kicks into high gear), check out David Kirkpatrick's "The Evangelical Crackup" [New York Times, 2007.10.28]. It puts into perspective why the religious right -- the "fundigelicals," as Mrs. Madville Times so playfully portmanteaus them -- sounds so desperate: their power is on the wane, and people are getting the message that applying values to politics means a lot more than waging war against secular humanists, homosexuals, and Kate Looby. As a matter of fact, some are starting to wonder whether applying values to politics means not waging war at all.

The Madville Times generally avoids the cut-and-paste blog style of some other bloggers. But Kirkpatrick hits a lot of nails on the head. Some excerpts [emphasis added]:

Meanwhile, a younger generation of evangelical pastors — including the widely emulated preachers Rick Warren and Bill Hybels — are pushing the movement and its theology in new directions. There are many related ways to characterize the split: a push to better this world as well as save eternal souls; a focus on the spiritual growth that follows conversion rather than the yes-or-no moment of salvation; a renewed attention to Jesus’ teachings about social justice as well as about personal or sexual morality. However conceived, though, the result is a new interest in public policies that address problems of peace, health and poverty — problems, unlike abortion and same-sex marriage, where left and right compete to present the best answers.

...The generational and theological shifts in the evangelical world are turning the next election into a credibility test for the conservative Christian establishment. The current Republican front-runner in national polls, Rudolph W. Giuliani, could hardly be less like their kind of guy: twice divorced, thrice married, estranged from his children and church and a supporter of legalized abortion and gay rights. Alarmed at the continued strength of his candidacy, Dobson and a group of about 50 evangelical Christians leaders agreed last month to back a third party if Giuliani becomes the Republican nominee. But polls show that Giuliani is the most popular candidate among white evangelical voters. He has the support, so far, of a plurality if not a majority of conservative Christians. If Giuliani captures the nomination despite the threat of an evangelical revolt, it will be a long time before Republican strategists pay attention to the demands of conservative Christian leaders again. And if the Democrats capitalize on the current demoralization to capture a larger share of evangelical votes, the credibility damage could be just as severe. [Go ahead, Bob -- form that third party. We Dems can't wait.]

...In June of last year, in one of the few upsets since conservatives consolidated their hold on the denomination 20 years ago, the [Southern Baptist] establishment’s hand-picked candidates — well-known national figures in the convention — lost the internal election for the convention’s presidency. The winner, Frank Page of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., campaigned on a promise to loosen up the conservatives’ tight control. He told convention delegates that Southern Baptists had become known too much for what they were against (abortion, evolution, homosexuality) instead of what they stand for (the Gospel). “I believe in the word of God,” he said after his election, “I am just not mad about it.” (It’s a formulation that comes up a lot in evangelical circles these days.)

...“Most of us Southern Baptists are right-wing Republicans,” [Page] added. “But we also recognize that times change.” For example, Page said Christians should be wary of Republican ties to “big business.”

...But many younger evangelicals — and some old-timers — take a less fatalistic view. For them, the born-again experience of accepting Jesus is just the beginning. What follows is a long-term process of “spiritual formation” that involves applying his teachings in the here and now. They do not see society as a moribund vessel. They talk more about a biblical imperative to fix up the ship by contributing to the betterment of their communities and the world. They support traditional charities but also public policies that address health care, race, poverty and the environment. [Time to change focus, Leslee and Roger!]

...“I think that a superpower ought to be the exemplification of a commitment to peace,” [former President Jimmy] Carter told Hybels, who nodded along. “I would like for anyone in the world that’s threatened with conflict to say to themselves immediately: ‘Why don’t we go to Washington? They believe in peace and they will help us get peace.’ ” Carter added: “This is just a simple but important extrapolation from what a human being ought to do, and what a human being ought to do is what Jesus Christ did, who was a champion of peace.”

...In the past, Hybels has scrupulously avoided criticizing conservative Christian political figures like Falwell or Dobson. But in my talk with him, he argued that the leaders of the conservative Christian political movement had lost touch with their base. “The Indians are saying to the chiefs, ‘We are interested in more than your two or three issues,’ ” Hybels said. “We are interested in the poor, in racial reconciliation, in global poverty and AIDS, in the plight of women in the developing world.

Oh, that crazy New York Times, always trying to inject religious values in the news....

MHS Hacking Plague -- My Fault?

KELO reports that the Bulldog hacking frenzy wasn't about breaking into school records and changing grades ("Ferris Bueller, you're my hero!") but about a much more... expected security breach: kids trying to get around the Internet filters [see Ben Dunsmoor, "Madison Students Suspended for Hacking," KELOLand.com, 2007.10.26].

Uh oh -- could it be the kids were just trying to get to Madison's most entertaining news source? Oh, kids, the Madville Times appreciates the readership, but if the school filter is blocking Blogspot sites, well, this blog isn't worth jail (well, not usually). Stick with the KELOLand.com highlights on school time (all very educational, guaranteed!), then read the full stories here after school. Keep those hard drives clean!

Oh, wait, the school will be cleaning the hard drives for the kids, as this little filter fracas will result in the school taking back all 400 computers and reformatting them. More fun for IT... and more fun for kids reloading all their old files and customizations while the teachers wait for everyone to get back online.

Madville Times -- Watching like a Hawk!

Actually, we shall not presume to have the vision of this noble bird. While entertaining some friends, we heard a terrible squealing outside our door. The fearless Mrs. Madville Times investigated and found this hawk killing a screaming rabbit. (So where was this hawk in the spring, when rabbits were eating our budding sunflowers?) The hawk then launched into the air and perched on our front porch, red in beak and claw [see Canto 56], and gave us his stern look, as if to see, "Don't even start with your liberal pinko be-nice-to-animals malarkey."

No malarkey here, Mr. Hawk. Hawks gotta eat, and rabbits are good eatin'.

The Madville Times welcomes cogitation and commentary on the metaphorical significance of the hawk's appearance during our discussion with our friends, one of whom is in Army intelligence and may be sent to kill or be killed some day, about how we should deal with Iraq.

Local Politics Starts Early -- Goeman (Seems to) Declare for County Commission

[If you need full disclosure, look at the ads.]

Who needs presidential politics? Instead of seeing which presidential candidate can sell out to the most corporate donors before the primaries (keep the faith, fellow Dennis supporters!), we can have a lot more fun with local politics.

What's that you say? The general election is still 373 days away? Indeed, it seems early to be talking about November 2008. Maybe we farm-staters could pass a rule saying no election news until after all the farmers have the '07 harvest in.

But you can't stop a go-getter, especially not when there are websites to build. From all appearances, it appears that local insurance agent and longtime school board member Republican Rod Goeman is considering another run at the Lake County Commission. Goeman ran in 2006 and finished third out of four, behind incumbents Bert Verhey and Shirlee Leighton (one Republican, one Democrat -- we're such a happy bipartisan people here).

A man of the New Media, Goeman doesn't appear to have offered any formal statements to the press yet. However, his campaign website appears to have been updated for the 2008 election. The website offers calendar info on the 2008 general election. The first entry on the Q&A page is "Why are you considering seeking a seat on the Lake County Commission in 2008?" [emphasis added].

That's not quite an official declaration, but this considering appears to involve a lot of thinking about specific projects Goeman would like to see the county pursue. Among them:

  1. maximizing Homeland Security grants (all those hackers at MHS should make us embrace that idea)
  2. auctioning off some county land by Lake Madison and investing the proceeds for some budget relief
  3. development of a better county webpage (that one issue might get the endorsement of this blog: the current county website has near-zero functionality and no useful records -- how about searchable online databases of all public records, like Minnehaha County has for property records? Wow: not only can you look up values of any property in the county, but you can pay your property taxes online!)
  4. change meetings times from 9 a.m. to times that might allow more working people to attend (hear hear!)
  5. consolidating city and county services in one facility, perhaps in an addition to the courthouse (does that mean we get the Old Firehouse Gallery back?)
  6. televising/webcasting commission meetings (how about hiring an official meeting blogger? ;-) )

Goeman doesn't list any campaign events yet -- again, he says he's only considering. But he's certainly ready to put the Internet to work in local politics. This blogger will be interested to see how many other local candidates establish a strong web presence and to what extent that web presence can impact the local electoral process.

[And just in case anyone thinks this is a paid political advertisement, please review the ad policy; you'll see the ads stay in the left sidebar. If anyone else in Lake County or District 8 is up and running, let me know, and they'll get reviewed as soon as possible!]

Computer-Use Policy -- The New Patriot Act for Kids

Fourteen students at Madison High School have received a two-day suspension for violating the school's computer-use policy. Evidently these students got hold of a password and accessed a staff-only area of the server. "They didn't do any damage or affect any data," says Superintendent Vince Schaefer. They just clicked on something they shouldn't have. In addition to the two-day time-out, these fourteen students lose access to the school's computer resources, In a school running on the governor's fancy laptops, that means two weeks when it will be well-nigh impossible for them to do all the computer-based homework teachers have to give to prove they're using the governor's money wisely. Either that, or teachers will have to spend extra time each day figuring out how to create alternative assignments for the rule-breakers.

Word among the kids is that this password was pretty common knowledge, and that more than the suspended fourteen had it/have it on their fancy laptops from the governor. The administration could dish out more suspensions, but that might mean emptying out the school, so the kids are hearing (and they do hear) that further punishments are unlikely, that the fourteen will be left to stand as an example of how not to use one's mouse. (More input is welcome, especially if anyone has the scoop on just how this password got around.)

When it comes to the classroom, I'm a law-and-order guy. I spent too much time dealing with honyockers (and occasionally some misguided parents) looking to get by with foolishness or get teachers in hot water for their kids' own foolishness to sympathize with rule-breakers. You break the rules, you deserve your punishment, and you have no one to blame but yourself.

The problem I have here is the form the punishment takes. The superintendent himself said the fourteen kids did no damage. They harmed no individual. They simply clicked where they shouldn't have clicked. In response, the school will zero out two days worth of grades and hamstring them for two weeks in their efforts to catch up. On a condensed trimester system, where a course lasts only 12 weeks, or 60 contact days (minus days lost for increased in-service time this year), the loss of those grades can put kids in a hole they won't have time to dig back out of, especially not now in the last third of the current trimester.

Schools do kick kids out, and sometimes denying them access to educational resources and activities is the right choice. But usually suspension or expulsion is dished out when the miscreants' behavior poses a clear and present danger to the proper functioning of the rest of the school. That's a hard standard to define, but kids clicking on a folder -- not maliciously hacking, not introducing viruses into the system, not deleting the gradebooks (if that was even among the files the kids might have accessed) -- doesn't seem to rise to that standard. No damage, the school computer wizard changes the password in 15 seconds, you bust their chops a little (and the chops of whatever meathead wrote the password down on a Post-It note above his desk), and you put the kids back to work.

MDL does not make clear whether the suspensions were conducted in school (ISS) or out of school (OSS). But let's compare the punishments for other violations of the school rules. Here are the punishments for the first, second, and third violations (and fourth, if listed) of certain rules, according to the MHS Student Handbook:

  1. Disruptive conduct: 1 detention, 3 detentions, 1 Saturday school, removal from class
  2. Drug/alcohol violations: 3 days OSS, 5 days OSS, expulsion
  3. Fighting: 3 days OSS, 3-5 days OSS, 5 days OSS and possible expulsion
  4. Falsification of notes, etc.: 3 detentions, Saturday school, OSS
  5. Gross teacher disrespect: 1 day ISS, 3 days OSS, removal from class
  6. Harassment: 1 day ISS, 3 days OSS, 5 days OSS
  7. Insubordination: 1 detention, Saturday school, ISS
  8. Physical assualt on staff: expulsion (whew!)
  9. Porn: 1 detention, 1 day ISS, 3 days OSS
  10. Bad Language (cussing, not subject-verb disagreement): 1 detention, 1 day ISS, 3 days OSS
  11. Stealing: 3 detentions, Saturday school, 3 days OSS (plus restitution at each level)
  12. Threats of physical violence: 1 day ISS, 3 days OSS, 5 days OSS
  13. Tobacco: 1 day OSS, 3 days OSS (plus additional training rules punishments)
  14. Vandalism: 1 day OSS, 3 days OSS plus possible expulsion (plus paying for damage in any instance)
  15. Unexcused absence: detention, Saturday school, conference w. principal and parents
Highlighted you can see some examples of much clearer harm to person and property that receive less punishment on first and even second offense. In our computer-obsessed society, we seem to put more value on machines than on human values.

Also compare those clear schedules of consequences with the latitude given administrators for punishment of violations of the computer-use policy (District Policy Manual File EHAB):

Violations of the policy will be handled consistent with MCSD disciplinary procedures applicable to the relevant person or persons. MCSD administrators may suspend, block or restrict access to network resources. Student violations may be subject to warnings, suspend, block or restrict access to network resources, detention, and suspension of school activities and/or suspended from school. Teachers and staff members may be subject to warnings, suspend, block or restrict access to network resources and/or employment dismissal. Violations of state and federal laws will result in legal prosecution. Examples of these laws include but not limited to, Cyber Law's, Federal Communities Laws, Federal Wire Tap Laws, Homeland Security Act, National Information Infrastructure Protection Act of 1996, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Individuals violating local, state and federal laws will be subject to disciplinary and/or legal action. Any individual accessing information on external networks, Internet, that is not deemed "educational" for class exercises will be subjected to disciplinary action.

It's not that computers are new and the policy is evolving. We've had widespread computer access in the school system for over a decade. We've had plenty of time to come up with specific punishments. Yet computers are treated like national security issues, with the executive branch given wide latitude to issue any range of unpredictable punishments for even the faintest whiff of a violation.

Teachers and administrators need all the tools and authority we can afford to give them to keep kids in line and make sure education happens. In this situation, though, it appears the school is placing a bit too much emphasis on the sanctity of Governor Rounds's all-holy computers, at the expense of students whose punishment will cause more harm than the victimless keystrokes they committed.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fifty Years Ago: Lack of Teamwork and Foresight Cost Madison Economic Development

Back in May, we asked if anyone could document the local lore that Senator Mundt could have brought I-29 to Madison if it hadn't been for opposition from local business interests afraid of losing shoppers to Sioux Falls.

Lo and behold, Madison's mainstream media checks in with just such evidence. In Thursday's editorial, MDL's owner-publisher Jon Hunter lays out the story. After finding an article announcing a tentative path for I-29 through Moody County instead of the expected Lake County route, Hunter spoke with Bob McCaughey, former aide to Senator Mundt. Our hometown senator had succeeded in pulling the proposed I-29 route east from Minnesota and planned to bring it right through Madison. Writes our man Hunter:

McCaughey said the proposal became divisive in Madison, with some businesspersons in favor of it, while others were adamantly opposed. Mundt was surprised by the disagreement and frustrated that he was caught in the middle.

Mundt decided that he wouldn't work to bring it to Madison anymore. Case didn't particularly care since we was from West River. But apparently political leaders in Brookings and Watertown worked to veer the final version west to come near their towns.

In the following decades, Brookings County and Watertown's Codington County experienced mostly steady population growth, while Lake County's population declined. Keeping I-29 out didn't keep business or residents here. Oops.

Hunter concludes by noting that the current drive to expand Highway 34 to a four-laner has not aroused the same divisiveness. (Unfortunately, it also does not have a well-placed champion like Senator Mundt.)

Dwelling on woulda-coulda-shoulda's doesn't do much good. And indeed, there's no guarantee that I-29 would have brought or kept more businesses here. However, our lack of cooperation and courage on the I-29 issue 50 years ago is a good reminder that when we look at possible economic change, we need to see not only the threats but also the opportunities.

GF&P Needs You to Eat More Carp

The Madville Times reported Wednesday on the commercial fishermen from Lake Norden plying Lake Herman's waters for the wily carp. We wondered aloud just how much the state makes on the deal. Turns out not a penny: Game Fish & Parks replied quite promptly to an e-mail inquiry (you know, GF&P is two-for-two in replying within 24 hours to requests for information, not to mention derring-do on Lake Madison -- GF&P appears to be one agency we're getting our money's worth from) with information on their commercial fish regulations. GF&P says that commercial fishermen (no word on women employed in this profession) pay the following per-pound rates for the fish they take from our lakes:

  • Buffalo: 2 cents
  • Freshwater drum: 1/4 cent
  • Bullhead: 1 cent
  • White bass: 4 cents
  • Carp: 0 cents. Says GF&P: "We don't charge for carp due to depressed markets and the high costs involved with seining operations."
Sounds like the bottom is dropping out of the fish market, or at least the carp market. One would think healthy eaters would be shifting from the much maligned red meat to all the other white meats, including fish. Carp is the most harvested fish in the world, with all five species (silver, grass, common, bighead, and crucian) all topping Nile tilapia and Atlantic salmon (who knew?) , but in the US, we just don't eat the carp (shrimp are the most eaten aquatic species in the US). And what fish we do eat doesn't come close to the amounts of other meat in our diet. In 2002 (the most recent year for which these charts offer comparable data), each American ate an average of 15.6 pounds of fish, 51.5 pounds of hot dogs, 67.6 pounds of beef, and 80.5 pounds of chicken.

Our friends from Lake Norden may be able to find a niche for their product in Manhattan, but, as GF&P puts it, we need some other markets to open up if the dwindling number of commercial fishermen in South Dakota are to stay in business. Guess it's time to start asking for carp patties at Hy-Vee...

Oh! and after all this good press, the fish guys still park their backhoe on the state grassland. What did I say about driving on the grass, kids?

Teacher Pay: Olson, Admin, and the Lawsuit

KELO reports that depositions are proceeding in the school funding lawsuit, and that testimony from one state official favors the schools instead of his bosses. Given an example of a district with serious funding problems, State Board of Education member and Britton-Hecla superintendent Don Kirkegaard said in his deposition that he as a parent would not send his own children to school there. (Leave it to a guy from Britton to tell it like it is!) Kirkegaard also notes the failure of the funding formula to adjust to actual operating expenses from year to year.

Will it really take a lawsuit for the schools (court date June 2008) to get the money schools need to do their jobs right, or might the Legislature defy expectations and do the right thing without a court order? But even if they work up some courage, where will we find the money?

Some have suggested we just need more economic development. Bring new businesses, new jobs to town, and all the school's problems are solved. We certainly need jobs to give families a reason to stick around, but job creation isn't the sole solution. If it were, the Howard School District, which has enjoyed job growth from the Knight & Carver wind turbine operation, wouldn't need to continue its property tax opt-out.

State Representative Ed Olson of Mitchell has made the papers this week talking about market solutions in school contracts themselves. The former educator says scrap the standard salary schedule based on education and years of service, adopt performance pay, and let school districts offer higher pay for high-demand fields like math and science. Such thinking reflects some ugly realities of the free market: schools like any firm have to compete for the best workers, and unfortunately, the best math and science experts can command higher salaries in private industry than the best English and history experts. Somehow the market ignores the fact that communication skills and an understanding of our nation's past successes and failures are as important to good citizenship as math and science skills. Enshrining certain academic fields as "worth more" than others poses some serious philosophical problems to school districts dedicated creating well-rounded citizens... but so does not being able to fill open positions with qualified teachers.

Folks love to suggest cost-savings on the administrative end. It's hard to see teachers get paid $34K while superintendents make twice or thrice that amount and not feel a little sense of inequity. Teachers face the very critical scrutiny of students, parents, and administrators (not to mention video cameras) almost every minute of the day; superintendents face heat of their own but enjoy some insulation from such daily (hourly, minutely) pressure. Maybe more South Dakota districts need to look at joint superintendentships or even part-time administrative positions. Our friends in Ventura, Iowa, cut their superintendent's contract by 40%. Their superintendent, Dan Versteeg (another South Dakota ex-pat) took a pay cut of about $30K, dropping down from $71K to the low $40K range. Ouch!

Ventura's elementary principal Brian Rodemeyer makes an interesting observation on what it takes to make things work under a part-time superintendent:

“One of the keys is the district has to have trust in the other administrators that the day-to-day operation of the school will be handled in a professional manner. I believe we have that at Ventura — trust and confidence in support staff and administrators.”

Hmm... trust your teachers to do the jobs they've been hired to do without someone nannying them or laying more board and state mandates on them all them time -- there's a novel concept.

But even cutting administrative contracts won't save the money needed to run the schools. Every bit helps, but a cut like the Ventura districts's saves enough money to hire one new teacher. The Madison Central School District's opt-out this year is $180K; that's $30K from the superintendent, business manager, HS principal, HS assistant principal, middle school principal, and elementary principal. Make those cuts and watch market forces come into play.

If solving the education funding problems in South Dakota were easy, solutions would have happened by now. The legislature has probably run up against the simplest market reality of all: education needs more money, but South Dakota doesn't want to spend it, not on education. At least that's the position our legislature (and our state Chamber of Commerce president) have taken.

A judge's ruling in favor of the schools next summer is the best hope for better education funding. It will force the state to act before education funding reaches a full-blown crisis.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

TransCanada: Are You Sure You Don't Want to Use Thicker Steel?

Of course TransCanada tells us there won't be a spill. If they acknowledged that possibility, they'd have to acknowledge the health risks associated with oil spills. Read the science here, then keep your fingers crossed.

Hmm, windmills haven't spilled oil or required eminent domain....

Huckabee Right for the Right?

Don't expect the Madville Times to endorse the Reverend Governor Huckabee any time soon. However, Gail Collins of the New York Times poses an interesting question: why are the Dobsonites feeling blue to the point of threatening GOP insurrection when they have Huckabee to rally around?

Why do the leaders of the religious right keep sidling away from a Baptist minister whose greatest political sin seems to have been showing compassion to a prisoner who appeared to deserve it? Why can’t they rally around the candidate who pushed for more government spending to promote poor children’s health and education, and reminded his conservative critics that when they talk about being pro-life, “life doesn’t begin at conception and end at birth?

I think we have answered the question.

The full quote from RevGov Huckabee can be found on his campaign site:

To me, life doesn't begin at conception and end at birth. Every child deserves a quality education, first-rate health care, decent housing in a safe neighborhood, and clean air and drinking water. Every child deserves the opportunity to discover and use his God-given gifts and talents.

Again, not enough for a Madville Times endorsement... but enough to suggest RevGov Huckabee might understand a little more about life and politics than the grumbling kamikaze schismatics of the right.

Quiet Legislative Session in '08? Maybe That's Just What the Chamber Wants

Last night's MDL brings us an AP report on SD Chamber of Commerce and Industry president David Owens's prediction of a quiet 2008 session of the South Dakota Legislature [AP, "Chamber Leader Expects Quiet Legislative Session in 2008," Madison Daily Leader, 2007.10.24, p. 5]. At first, the suggestion seems surprising: with the Zaniya recommendations to unwrap, K-12 funding still inadequate, major budget requests from the Regents, and the Hunt-Unruh-Howie (HUH!) cabal ready ready to rumble again, how can anyone think the Legislature won't be the hottest show in the state this winter?

But maybe the Legislature won't achieve much. Maybe the HUH-sters (someone give me a K, so we can call them HUHK-sters) will drag the Legislature into endless dithering over futile abortion bans. I've heard from one former legislature that right-wing has so polarized the atmosphere with it's tunnel vision on abortion that compromise on practical matters is becoming harder to achieve than it was even a decade ago. Add the fact that it's an election year and that legislators will be eager to get to the fundraisers, where they can now collect $1000 a head thanks to campaign finance reform (reform? did someone say reform?), and we might have a recipe for gridlock: lots of bickering and not a lot of enthusiasm for breaking through to achieve workable solutions.

And maybe that's just what the Mr. Owen and his chamber pals are hoping for. Maybe they approve of the legislature bogging itself down with debates about faux-family-values issues instead of meat-and-potatoes family-values issues like funding education and raising wages. Maybe the last thing the Chamber wants is state government taking a hard look at easing the tax burden on home- and land-owners and more fairly balancing it among private and corporate citizens.

A couple other notes from Mr. Owen:

While the policy wonks know it doesn't work, property tax isn't a huge issue for real people. I haven't seen anyone change the tax theory just to embrace a better theory. You generally change taxes to solve a problem, to put out a fire."

The real person writing this blog and paying high taxes because of neighbors' building choices and arbitrary guesses by a county official thinks property tax is a huge issue and would happily embrace a better theory. But if it takes a fire to motivate change, how about the hot path our graduates are beating to other professions while a big chunk of our teachers head toward retirement?

Oh, but Mr. Owen thinks the whole school funding question "is going to settle down":

Once more money goes to schools, there's no going back, he said. "As soon as you agree to spend more than you have, you have pulled the trigger of dead certainty for a tax increase." [AP, cited above.]

Owen doesn't sound terribly excited about investing more money in education. Oh, by the way, Mr. Owen (and all of your business constituents), where are you getting all your well-trained, computer-savvy employees from?

Connections: Highway Maintenance and Local Economy

Remember that PBS show Connections? James Burke would show the wild string of connections along a string of seemingly unrelated inventions, historical events, and characters. For instance, listed today on the latest incarnation of Burke's historical inquiry, the KnowledgeWeb Project, Burke shows the connection between Napoleon and the development of modern computers (Egypt, shawls, fashion craze, automated looms, punch cards, ENIAC).

Similar unexpected connections can be found in the quest for solutions to policy problems. KJAM reports today that federal funding for highway projects is falling while construction costs rise [their more vivid headline: "Highway Funds Dwindle While Construction Costs Skyrocket," KJAMRadio.com, 2007.10.25]. Good thing we got Highway 34 east of town resurfaced this summer -- who knows when we'll get a good dip out of the funding well again.

It's hard to make more highway funds appear out of thin air -- the economy and our Congresspeople need to make that happen. We can try to make the highways last longe,r but how do we do that? The Madville Times tries to go easy on the highways by bicycling as often as possible, but our friends commuting to Sioux Falls can't make that trip on two wheels every day.

So maybe we should rely on local economy. We just got our copy of the South Dakota Local Foods Directory from Dakota Rural Action yesterday, and that got me thinking: if we encouraged more small farmers to grow more diverse crops for local sale and consumption, we wouldn't need to truck vast quantities of raw corn and beans off to faraway processors and then re-import that food in processed form to our grocery stores. That would mean fewer big semis thundering in and out of town, less wear and tear on the roads, and less highway expenses. Ah, connections!

Locally grown food: good for you, good for the roads.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

ND Delays Transcanada Decision

AP reports this afternoon that the North Dakota Public Service Commission (our PUC's counterpart) has pushed back a deadline for deciding where Transcanada can lay its Keystone pipeline across the frozen tundra of our northern neighbor. The city of Fargo and the North Dakota Water Users Association (that would be everyone in North Dakota, wouldn't it?) want to intervene in the approval process. According to AP), the "intervention" deadline passed months ago, but the ND PSC is considering hearing their objections. The North Dakota regulators have thus moved their decision deadline back from November 21 to December 12.

According to the Bismarck Tribune (you can try the Fargo Forum, but they charge for archived news), Fargo mayor Dennis Walaker doesn't like Transcanada's plan to run 590,000 barrels of oil a day right alongside the Sheyenne River (1.3 MB map!), Fargo's main water supply. Google isn't popping up any direct quotes, but one might imagine the ND Water Users Association has similar concerns.

South Dakota landowners facing eminent domain at the hands of the invading Canucks shouldn't celebrate yet: it's only a three-week delay, and not at all a clear statement that North Dakota regulators will take Mayor Walaker's (and this blog's) advice and kick Transcanada out of the state. But every spoke in the wheel helps. Our own PUC has sent its "sternly worded letter" to Transcanada; maybe it's time for the PUC to show some teeth on behalf of its fellow citizens and issue a delay of its own. Big corporations usually understand actions better than words. Let's try a little forced inaction, and give out landowners a little more time to fight for their land.

Update 2007.10.25: The Fargo Forum offers a little more detail today [see Janell Cole, "High-Risk Venture," In-Forum News, 2007.10.25]. PSC Commissioner Kevin Cramer criticized Fargo city officials for not bringing up their concerns during the regular hearings in July and September. Fortunately, though, "Cramer said he had no desire to penalize citizens for the negligence of their local officials, so he doesn’t oppose to reopening the official record and delaying a decision" [Cole]. TransCanada, of course, doesn't think the PSC should give anyone but the company a break. "We don’t think any additional information is necessary," says TransCanada lawyer Todd Kranda. Indeed -- more information can only hurt Big Oil's chances of ramming its pipeline down our throats.

Fishing with a Backhoe

Living at the lake brings many delights: the change of the seasons, the starry nights, a peaceful, contemplative afternoon of fishing...

Of course, fishing isn't so contemplative when it's done with four pick-up trucks, a couple flatboats, a semi-trailer, and a backhoe. David Raw Commercial Fishing from Lake Norden has been braving the waters of Lake Herman the last couple weeks, plying the waves for the wily carp. The first couple days of fishing netted carp that were hauled off live in special water trucks. Since then, they've hauled away another several semi-trailer loads of flopping fish in wire cages. (If you're having a rough day, be glad you're not the guy who has to work in the truck or open the door when it gets to the fish factory.)

The carp are on their way to the big city. "Chinatown," says one of the men on the scene. The bane of our waters can turn a fair penny among Manhattan's connoisseurs. Evidently carp are also used to make Jewish fish balls. Mmm....

Now the radical environmentalist in me sees private business profiting off public resources (yes, even the carp is a public resource) and thinks, "Hey, wait a minute! The public had better be getting a good cut of the profits here!" And surprise: these backhoe fishermen may actually be getting paid by the state to harvest all those carp. SDCL 41-13-7 authorizes the Department of Game Fish and Parks to "contract for the removal of rough fish and bullheads from any of the public waters of the state." So Mr. Raw and his men appear to make money on both ends (that must make up for the smell).

Update: the most reliable source in Lake County -- my dad -- quizzed some commercial bullhead fishers a few winters ago. They told him they pay the state five cents a pound on the fish they take.

Why the good deal? The prevailing opinion is that carp are bad. According to Minnesota DNR officer Tom Conroy, "Carp can be extremely detrimental to aquatic vegetation, water quality, and waterfowl" [Tom Conroy, "Southern Region Outdoor Column: Natural Resource Management and Antacids," Minnesota Department of Natural Resources news release, 2005.12.19]. Tony Dean appears to agree that carp as an invasive species threaten established fisheries and ecosystems. And of course, there's the threat to homeland security from flying carp. (I love nature, but when a carp climbs aboard the kayak, get ready to rumble.)

But a quick search of online fishing resources (not the usual purview of the Madville Times, but it's surprising what one can learn online) reveals there is debate on the true harm caused by carp. In a 1999 article in the Paynesville (MN) Press, another MN DNR officer, Bruce Gilbertson, says carp don't cause poor water quality; it's the other way around:

Like human swimmers, game fish prefer clean water. Lower water quality gives species like carp a competitive advantage, by reducing game-fish predators, for instance.

"If we improve the water quality," said Gilbertson, "we should see more game fish." [Michael Jacobson, "Netting Catches 50 Tons of Carp on Rice Lake," Paynesville Press, 1999.03.10]

And let's not forget, we're not talking about a native species. According to the American Carp Society (no kidding!), we have no other than President Ulysses S. Grant, the U.S. Fish Commission, and state governments eager to increase declining fish stocks to thank for bringing the wily carp to America's lakes and streams.

Love 'em or hate 'em, the carp may not suffer much from this apparently heavy harvest on Lake Herman. Offcier Gilbertson notes that 70 years of commercial carp fishing on Minnesota's Rice Lake didn't effectively control the carp population there. Without water quality improvements, the carp may continue to enjoy their advantage over other fish and keep coming back.

So enjoy your sushi and fish balls, dear Manhattan friends! There'll likely be much more where that came from.