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Monday, March 31, 2008

Public Radio! What Fun!

Jon Schaff and I just had a very pleasant conversation on South Dakota Public Radio. Alas, no partisan fireworks: Dr. Schaff and I appear to agree that blogs are generally a good thing for elected officials (if they can stand the occasional obnoxious comment) to use and that John Thune most likely will not be John McCain's VP choice.

In response to an on-air question from "Katie" about female bloggers in South Dakota, we both see a predominance of male voices. We came up with a few names of lady bloggers -- Erin Heidelberger, Denise Ross, Rebecca Terk, Anne Shirley, our regional friends at Dakota Women... oh! and don't forget Rep. Kristi Noem! I'm sure we missed a bunch of others, so ladies, feel free to submit your links.

Interestingly, Denise Ross says (right now, on SDPB, as I'm typing!) she doesn't think of herself as a "woman blogger," she just focuses on doing good work... as should we all!

SDPB's Cory Klumper talked about how SDPB could put a South Dakota blogroll on its website, but he's afraid they'd miss a bunch of blogs. Don't worry, Cory -- we all do! But there's one of the strengths of the SD blogosphere: we all have different interests, read different things, hang out with different people. What I miss, Jon Schaff or Todd Epp will catch. As a collective effort, we continue to provide a pretty good resource for people who want to read what a wide variety of South Dakotans think.

If Dr. Schaff and I disagree on anything, it's comment policy. South Dakota Politics remains comment-free, although they do take e-mails and frequently post and respond to those in full posts. There are certainly times when commenters can make me grit my teeth, but I find that minor bother is still outweighed by the value of open public conversation (as does Denise Ross).

And a special guest: Ben Hanten calls in to SDPB and says "blogs have become redundant" in their own personal "rants." His site, South Dakota 123, is the tool he says we really need to sift through the great quantity of words coming out of South Dakota and help people decide what of all this local coverage is really valuable.

"Redundant"? Well, maybe, but let's not jump the gun, Ben. Nothing wrong with a little self-promotion, but remember: South Dakota 123 needs South Dakota content to point to in the first place. ;-)

Thanks to SDPB for having us all on!

Dakota Midday Notes: Seth Tupper on Blogging for the Mitchell Republic

SDPB's Dakota Midday featured the SD blogosphere this noon. First up: Seth Tupper, reporter for the Mitchell Daily Republic and author of the paper's blog, the Republic Insider:

Tupper says he gets more reader response from simple reporting/factual articles rather than his occasional forays into commentary. He says he prefers to simple act as a "facilitator" for discussion. It's hard to predict which topics will draw comments, but the more local the stories on the Republic Insider, the more comments. He's very eager to see how much blog activity the local elections will draw. Just today, Tupper noticed that one local candidate posted his e-mail address in the comments section and invited readers to contact him to talk politics, so there's at least one candidate who's ready to put the Internet to use.

Tupper sees readers offering a great deal of service to him and the blog. He gets some good story ideas from his readers. He also appreciates the fact that blog readers themselves "police" the comments: if someone gets out of line, making unsubstantiated charges, getting personal, whatever, other readers will call that commenter to task.

Does the blog draw a new demographic? "We hope so," says Tupper, but he also notes that a lot of the people reading blogs are already big newspaper readers, already dedicated to following the news in their community and beyond.

No scoop on the credit card company that's balking at coming to Mitchell if it can't get free land. I would love to learn just which company this is....

Listen to the Cory Klumper's interview with Seth Tupper at the SDPB archive.

Lawmakers Blogging Every Day

...or at least that's the goal!

Pat Powers and I both have had some folks questioning whether a political candidate or elected official can afford to blog. I say they can't afford not to.

The Lawmakers blog agrees. They contend that blogging is not just a choice for elected officials: it's a duty. From their declaration of priniciples:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that every elected official should blog for the people every day, that every lawmaker in America should file a report on their blog for the people every day, that every legislator should have a blog with reader comments and use that blog to report to the people every day.

The goal of this blog is to get every legislator in every state in the United States of America to blog for the people every day.

Welcome to the 21st century, South Dakota. Blogging isn't just a hobby or a way to make pizza money. For legislators, governors, commissioners, and yes, school board members, it's a fulfillment of the obligation of transparency and accountability to the public.

Rep. Kristi Noem of Castlewood is the only South Dakota legislator who's even come close to taking this obligation seriously... and at just a post or two a week, she still has a ways to go to catch up with Lawmaker Blog's standards. We can only hope that more legislators will catch up with the new state of American public discourse and realize that blogging is no more of a liability than showing up at a crackerbarrel. As a matter of fact, blogging is the new crackerbarrel, and if you don't show up, voters will start to wonder why.

Pick Your Green: Cash or Grass

A man's got to eat, and a farmer's got to pay the bills. But look around at the acres being taken out of CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) and put into production, and you can't help wondering if the economy is pushing farmers to make short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability.

I know, my wife's the gardener, and my knowledge of farming is mostly literary (Grapes of Wrath, anyone?). But Sue Kirchhoff and Jeff Martin give a good summary in today's Sioux Falls paper of the trade-offs to be found in plowing up our grasslands to fuel the grain and ethanol boom:

Leaving at least some land idle amid the increasingly industrialized business of farming is essential for a variety of reasons. It provides a cleansing buffer for water that runs off chemically treated fields. Protection of fragile wetlands cuts soil erosion while providing wildlife habitat that, in South Dakota, is the basis of a multimillion-dollar hunting and tourism industry. Native grasslands sustain biological diversity that can't be replicated, and plowing untouched prairie releases carbon dioxide into the air, contributing to climate change.

Conservationists warn that the commodity and ethanol frenzy could undo years of hard work and undercut the investment of taxpayer money that has bankrolled federal land- and water-protection programs [Sue Kirchhoff and Jeff Martin, "Could High Grain Prices Devastate Prairie?" that Sioux Falls paper, 2008.03.31].

There is some hope. Even Republican Senator John Thune is working deny subsidies to farmers who cultivate virgin soil. And not all farmers are going for the quick cash:

Near De Smet, [Bill] Wilkinson has decided to go against the current. While others convert prairie to crops, he's put about 400 acres into a special preservation reserve.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers payments equal to about 35 percent of the land's value to farmers who agree to permanently idle their acreage. The goal is to set aside about 24,000 acres of untouched land in two South Dakota counties.Wilkinson, standing in a field of bluestem grass more than 4 feet high, says, "I'm one of those who intend to leave the ground better than when we got it" [Kirchhoff & Martin].

It's awfully hard for any businessperson, in ag or any other field, to say no to a chance to make good money fast. But that's why we need programs like CRP: to mitigate the damage that the lure of quick profits can do to our long-term national welfare.

ag post-script: The USDA Economic Research Service feed in the left sidebar here points me to a new USDA study: "Dietary Assessment of Major Trends in U.S. Food Consumption, 1970-2005." Among the findings:
  1. Americans have more grain than ever to eat. Unfortunately, only 11% of the grain they eat is good whole grain; the remainder is less nutritious refined grain.
  2. Federal dietary guidelines say we should limit our consumption of added sugars and sweeteners to 8 teaspoons a day. In 2005, we ate 30 teaspoons of such additives. One major source: the corn syrup food corporations put in everything from granola bars to hot dogs (ever put sugar on your hot dog?).
So how much of these record grain harvest are going to good use?

You've Got Questions? We've Got Public Conversation!

Online conversation is a hoot, but for those of you who like a little more direct contact, you have three great opportunities to ask me questions face to face, or at least voice to voice this week:

  1. Today at noon Central (11 Mountain), South Dakota Public Radio's Dakota Midday program is featuring South Dakota bloggers Seth Tupper, Jon Schaff, Denise Ross, and me. Madville Times gets air time in the show's second segment, around 12:20-12:40. Call in, ask us just who we think we are to have all these opinions!
  2. Wednesday evening (April 2) from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., I'll be at the Madison Public Library hosting a public meeting about education. Sure, I'm campaigning, but Wednesday evening, I'm eager to hear what other residents of the district think about education, what they're proud of in our school, what they'd like to see changed (if anything), etc. I'm enjoying the conversation online, but a lot of the questions appear to come from Anonymous commenters with IPs from elsewhere. I'd enjoy hearing straight from folks here in the district. Come on in, tell me what's on your mind about education.
  3. Thursday evening (April 3) from 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. I'll be at the MHS lunchroom for the candidate's forum. The public will get to ask 4-6 questions, though I'd certainly enjoy more, and I'll stick around afterward to take more if you've got 'em.
And as always, the comment line will be open here. Keep those comments coming!

Monday Numbers: Income, Education, Etc.

Some economic and budget stats for your consideration:
  1. Increase in South Dakota per capita income last year: 5.9%
  2. Increase in K-12 education funding approved by Pierre: 3%
  3. Increase in tuition and fees approved by the Board of Regents: 7.9%

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fargen Announces District 8 Candidacy... in District 5 Paper

Below is the text of Democrat Mitch Fargen's announcement of his candidacy for the District 8 House. He sent a copy to his SDSU pal Jeremy Fugelberg at the Watertown Public Opinion, which is where you can view the original Word document.

Fargen Announces Candidacy for State House of Representatives District 8

Flandreau ­­– Mitch Fargen, a resident of Flandreau, SD, formally announces his candidacy for the State House of Representatives in District 8. “I looked at the missed opportunities that the past couple of Legislatures have had when it comes to renewable energy, education and economic development and I believe we as South Dakotans can do better and deserve better.”

Fargen currently works as the Legislative and Membership Director for the South Dakota Farmers Union. He is a graduate of South Dakota State University with a double major in Business Economics and Political Science. For the past three years, Mitch has been actively involved in many pieces of legislation before the South Dakota Legislature, on issues important to South Dakota students, farmers, and small businesspeople alike. During the latest legislative session, he served as an advocate for the interests of the South Dakota Farmers Union, and the thousands of South Dakota farmers that the group represents, by providing a strong voice on the top issues affecting agriculture and rural communities throughout South Dakota. Taking this mission outside of the Statehouse, Mitch is also traveling South Dakota educating people on the homegrown benefits of ethanol blender pumps and using higher blends of ethanol in their vehicles.

Mitch proudly cites his roots as the motivation for his run. His mother has been a teacher and coach in the Flandreau School District for over 25 years and his father is a farmer, small business owner and employee of the City of Flandreau. “I have first-hand knowledge of the struggles overcome and the choices that need to be made daily by our rural teachers, small farmers and small business owners,” Fargen contends, “because I grew up in a family that had to make those choices and get through those hard times. I will never forget that.”

“The reason why I am running is I feel that my family, my neighbors, my state, and my country have done so much to enrich my life, and I need to repay that debt. I believe that with my experience and determination during these important times for South Dakota, I have an opportunity to do some good, to embrace the moment and try to make a positive difference while I have a chance to do so.”

Mitch has been in politics for over 10 years, volunteering on numerous campaigns throughout the state, and working with many local governments and policymakers to improve the lives of South Dakotans. “I have been at all levels of the political spectrum,” notes Fargen, “and this experience has given me enough of a perspective on how the system can work for the people. I have served at the national level in the offices of Representative Herseth Sandlin, Senator Johnson and the National Farmers Union. I also have local government experience, working in Brookings, SD to build bridges between the City Council and the campus of South Dakota State University.”

“I have been successful in these ventures and I will do my best to continue that trend as a District 8 State Representative.”

I imagine Fargen sent the release to the local District 8 media as well. I haven't seen it in the Madison Daily Leader yet. MDL was busy with solid coverage of Wednesday's bus crash and running school board and city commission candidate profiles... but they did find time to run Republican Russell Olson's announcement of his Senate run.

Lawsuit May Save South Dakota -- and Cosmos -- from Black Hole

Mad scientist preparing to destroy the world?

Maybe Sibby's right -- those godless secular humanist professors are out to destroy the world. Literally. Today's New York Times reports that two men have filed suit in federal court in Hawaii against CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research) to block further work on the Large Hadron Collider.

Figuring out the legal jurisdiction of a court in Hawaii over European scientists may be as tricky as understanding the science behind CERN's big project and the lawsuit. Short version: the Large Hadron Collider is a monster particle accelerator that, once operational, will smash protons together. Scientists do that to figure out the secrets of the universe. The problem, contend plaintiffs Walter L. Wagner of Hawaii and Luis Sancho of Spain, is that these experiments may also produce a mini-black hole, which would devour Switzerland, the Earth, and eventually the universe. The lawsuit contends guys about to make black holes ought to conduct an environmental impact study first.

I'm not worried yet. All the scientists sound pretty sure these high-energy proton collisions won't create black holes. Stephen Hawking says such tiny black holes would just evaporate. CERN itself has a nice website that says, "Microscopic black holes will not eat you." Any black holes they produce would have the energy of mosquitos, not nearly enough oomph to suck in an unlucky lab assistant's pen, let alone an Alp, before it evaporated.

But for those of you who need something to worry about besides tomorrow's snowstorm, well, there you go. If nothing else, think of this as one more reason to get going on a good space program. Earth is nice, and I'd hate to see it eaten, but we should always have a Plan B.

Education and Politics: Super Swings the Big Stick

William O'Dea, Belle Fourche schools superintendent and president of the SD School Superintendents Association, posted a withering critique of Pierre's relative inaction on education this year. Among his comments:

School Boards, educators and parents need to hold accountable those responsible for this neglect. This can be done by exercising one of our great freedoms, voting. We do not need legislators who spend their time on lions, deer, guns and moral issues (better left to the individual) while our neighboring state to the north pledges an additional 300 million dollars to education. Our state government continues to give agriculture a break in taxes while forcing home owners and commercial businesses to carry the load. Until we get a three-legged stool, to fund the needs of our state, schools will continue in a downward spiral.

We rightfully brag about good test scores and great teachers, but we must take note. Scores are moving closer to the national average and no-one in South Dakota wants our children to be “average.” Our teachers are moving to neighboring states while colleges find fewer students training to be teachers. Without a drastic change in the mind set in Pierre, these trends will continue. Soon we will realize the fruits of our inaction. That fruit being test scores at or below the national average, a lack of highly qualified teachers and schools lacking adequate programs to meet the needs of their students [William O'Dea, "Legislature and Governor Hit a Grand Slam, or How K-12 Education in South Dakota Gets Slammed Again," SDSSA, 2008.03.19].

(I wonder how long it will take the K-12 server filters to block that content!)

Professor Schaff (with whom I'll be sharing airtime on SDPB tomorrow noon!) airs his agreement with Supt. O'Dea's contention that the state needs to spend more on education, but says O'Dea's rhetoric does more harm than good:

O'Dea's email drips with contempt for what he calls "the majority" in Pierre. This is a thinly veiled attack on the Republican majority in the legislature. As I have said before, if one hopes to achieve legislative success in Pierre, alienating the Republican caucus is not a smart move. A Republican legislator told me this past year that they have meetings with certain groups of the education lobby, the education lobby spends their time attacking and belittling Republicans, and then the education lobby wonders why the legislature doesn't enact their agenda [Jon Schaff, "How Not to Win Friends and Influence People," South Dakota Politics, 2008.03.27].

So republican legislators don't enact the education lobby's agenda because of perceived partisan attacks? Sounds like putting politics over good policy to me.

Gentle readers, you know my own inclination to rhetorical excess, so I'm perhaps not the best person to ask whether O'Dea's comments are in order or not. But Governor Rounds certainly doesn't pull any punches in his criticism of superintendents; why aren't superintendents entitled to give as good as they get?

When the Legislature and Governor lavish funds on higher education and state government and treat K-12 like an afterthought, O'Dea's rhetorical heat is understandable and perhaps necessary. And in terms of partisanship, it's not O'Dea's fault that the legislative and executive branches he criticizes have been dominated by Republicans for 30+ years. Maybe in this election year, we need everyone to get out the big stick and say what they're really thinking. Get it out, argue it out, and let the voters decide whether the Rounds-Republican status quo is good enough for their kids.

The Mortgage Meltdown -- One More Reason for More Local Economy

My expertise on finance and economics doesn't extend much further than my mortgage payment. The mortgage meltdown doesn't seem to affect our fortunes, since we got a nice, traditional, fixed-rate mortgage with no surprises from East River Federal Credit Union. (Well, our payment is going up about $120 a month, but that's the taxes catching up with the fact there's a house on this old pasture.) We keep paying, we keep the house. Simple.

Given that very simple interaction with the financial world, I'm not even going to try to explain how risky home loans in the U.S. could cost the world financial markets 430 billion to 600 billion dollars. Until otherwise instructed, I'm content to ascribe it to a combination of colossal greed and stupidity on everyone's part, borrowers and lenders alike.

Professor Peter Dreier, a smarter guy than I, offers more insight than I can muster on the mortgage mess and what we should learn from it. He agrees that borrowers made uninformed decisions, but that they were often cajoled and often flat-out tricked by lenders into taking out bad mortgages. But he also traces part of the problem to the end of local banks and the involvement in the mortgage industry of investors far removed from the homes and communities those mortgages are supposed to build:

At the other end of the financial services industry are the investors -- people and institutions that borrowers never see, but who made the explosion of subprime and predatory lending possible. Subprime lenders didn't hold onto these loans. Instead, they collecting fees for making the transactions and sold the loans -- and the risk-- to investment banks and investors who considered these high-interest-rate loans a goldmine. By 2007, the subprime business had become a $1.5 trillion global market for investors seeking high returns. Because lenders didn't have to keep the loans on their books, they didn't worry about the risk of losses [Peter Dreier, "The Mortgage Mess and the Economic Meltdown: What McCain (and the rest of us) Should Learn from the Keating Scandal," The Huffington Post, 2008.03.25].

Dreier points to an important market disconnect. Investors and entrepreneurs always need to be tied to the risk of their ventures. When your local bank or credit union can issue a mortgage and then sell it off to some faceless global institution, what motive does the bank have to make sure that you're going to be able to make your payments over the lifetime of the loan?

Turning mortgages into just another chit in the international speculators' game gets us what we've got right now. Keeping mortgages and banking in general local, where bankers and borrowers alike live with the consequences of their transactions, might have kept us out of the financial worries that have the federal government handing out money to the wealthy folks who helped bring us this mess.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Commentary: Madison School Board Candidate Responses

Here's the Madville Times public service of the weekend: all four school board candidate profiles online!

You've already read my answers; Jay Niedert's appeared alongside mine in print on pages 1 and 3 of Monday's (March 24) Madison Daily Leader; Tammy Jo Zingmark and Paul Weist had their say on page 12 of Thursday's MDL. I have reproduced their words exactly as printed; the only changes I made were in paragraph breaks and in maintaining the links I added for my online responses. Candidates, if you'd like any links added, let me know, and I'll happily update!

I'm about to comment on some of the responses, so quick! Before I corrupt your thoughts, go read what the candidates have to say....


...welcome back! O.K., a few little things that popped to mind as I read the responses:

--I was surprised to find that, while I'm the youngest candidate, I've lived in Lake County the longest of the four. (Take that for what it's worth: you could say I've been here so long I'm one of the old guard committed to doing things the way they've always been done and never rocking the boat.... ;-) )

--The candidates stand 3-1 against the trimester system. The lone trimester defender, Zingmark, confesses to not knowing much about trimesters but says the folks she talks to say the trimester schedule is great. Zingmark evidently isn't reading your comments, readers. A small minority have weighed in here in favor of trimesters, but the overall sentiment from my readers is that most folks would say "Good riddance" to trimesters.

--Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like all four of us are on the same page on a new gym facility: a new gym would be nice, but money's tight, and it will take more than just the school district to make it happen. We all seem to believe that a real community events center requires a broader community effort.

--On preschool, we again seem to stand 3-1, with Niedert and Weist joining me in saying the state shouldn't require preschool. Zingmark's only reservation about state-mandated preschool appears to be funding.

--Weist strikes a chord with my old anarchist heart, saying that "It would be my greatest desire to remove the need for disciplinary policies, but then that would not be reality." Ah, if only! I think there might be some philosophy in that response that deserves more than the 100-word limit Chuck Clement imposed on us.

--On AIM High, Niedert provides a useful number: he says the State Department of Labor funding we're losing in 2009 is just 20% of our alternative school budget, and that money was being used for a staff position that is no longer there. We thus may not have a funding problem. Let's hope that's the case!

Your own comments and questions are welcome! Fire away in the comments section here, and bring your questions to the candidates' forum on April 3 (that's Thursday, 7 p.m., MHS lunchroom).

Saturday Reading -- Patriotism and Protest

We've heard a lot about the anti-American sentiment imputed to Reverend Wright and, by association, Senator Obama. Consider this text:

Dives went to Hell because he passed by Lazarus every day, but he never really saw him. Dives went to Hell because he allowed Lazarus to become invisible. Dives went to Hell because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived. Dives went to Hell because he maximized the minimum, and minimized the maximum. Dives finally went to Hell because he wanted to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.

And I come by here to say that America too is going to Hell, if we don't use her wealth. If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty, to make it possible for all of God's children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to Hell.

The speaker? Martin Luther King, Jr., addressing striking workers in Memphis, Tennessee, March 18, 1968. Reverend King, for whom we have a national holiday. Reverend King, whom we hold up to our children -- and rightly so -- as a model of what peaceful yet passionate protest can achieve.

Read the whole speech. See what you think. I just heard some audio on American Public Media's Weekend America. Did King sound angry? Yes. Was he being unpatriotic, un-American, or un-Christian? No.

Just something to think about as the truth and the election go marching on....

SB 174 -- Eminent Domain Referral Movement Launches Website

Jeremiah M. Murphy and the folks pushing to refer SB 174 to a public vote have launched a website to promote their cause. These opponents of special government intervention in emeinent domain proceedings to benefit DM&E and other rail interests appear to be tuned in to the Internet as a campaign tool: along with using the website to recruit petition circulators and announce petition signing events (none listed yet, but the site's only been up for a day!), "Protect Private Property" is also including the SD blogosphere on his press release list.

Broadcast note: SDPB's South Dakota Focus discussed eminent domain on Thursday. SDPB will rebroadcast the debate Sunday at 1 p.m. Central. You can also watch the program online.

Protect Private Property also sends out a note this morning highlighting an editorial from the Brookings Register:

The right of an individual to be secure in his home, on his own land, is no longer sacrosanct. In a sweetheart deal solely for the benefit of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad, the South Dakota Legislature gave that American promise a shot to the heart this year by making sure West River landowners couldn’t delay their settlements with the railroad as it seeks to take their land.

When the Legislature starts passing laws to benefit one specific company, it's time to rein 'em in. DM&E may enjoy corporate welfare, but they'll find darn few sympathizers among South Dakotans who've worked for their land and never get special favors from Pierre.

Organic Farming -- Just Right for South Dakota

Man, do I have smart readers! On yesterday's commentary on food deserts and local food policy, Flying Tomato cites Wendell Berry, and Anon submits a link to a great Sam Hurst article on a Walworth County family that's working hard to make organic farming work, despite all the sheer land-wrecking nonsense of federal ag policy. The Stiegelmeier family are no commune of airy headed dreamers like yours truly: they're sixth generation farmers of the unforgiving 100th meridian, bucking the push for "Corn corn corn!":

Like his neighbors, Matthew [Stiegelmeier, 25] did just fine last year, but he did it without growing a single ear of corn, and that’s where his family’s story begins to diverge from that of the other farmers. “I’ve got a philosophical problem with growing corn. Most corn goes to livestock. I prefer to feed grain to people, and I prefer for cattle to eat grass.” He also has practical reasons. “I hate to cultivate. We’ve got rolling land. We’re always dealing with erosion problems. In Iowa, they have four feet of top­soil. We have four inches. Besides, I can’t use pesticides" [Sam Hurst, "Betting the Farm," Gourmet, April 2008].

The Stiegelmeiers also reject the notion that the only way to survive in farming in South Dakota is to follow the industrial model of pumping the land full of chemicals and genetically modified crops. Their methods are informed by higher principles:

Grandpa Milton gave land to his son and his new bride, and they tried industrial agriculture. But Jim hated the farm program, thought it made farmers dependent on the government. “Grandpa Mil­ton thinks Roosevelt walked on wa­ter,” Matthew offers. “Daddy thought he was a Communist.” Most of all, Jim hated pesticides. Several times in the late ’60s and early ’70s he got sick from them.

“One night at dinner, my sister-in-law told him, ‘I don’t see how you can be a Christian and put poison on food.’ That was the clincher,” Emily remembers. It was the early ’80s. Jim and Emily converted the farm to organic. They home-schooled the children and put them to work. “I’d rather sit on a tractor than in front of a computer,” Ben insists [Hurst 2008].

But again, these folks aren't dreamers: they're using organic farming and good land stewardship to make money:

Jim and Emily turned the logic of the farm program upside down. Instead of planting one or two commodity crops and accepting whatever price the elevator offered, they went looking for organic processors who, ideally, would lock in a premium before they planted. Matthew shrugs. “Why put a crop in the ground that no one wants to pay for?”

The Stiegelmeiers diversified into organic spring and winter wheat, flax, rye, barley, and buckwheat and relied on age-old ways to fight weeds and fertilize the soil. They certified their pastures as organic and grew alfalfa to feed a herd of registered British White beef cattle. Dan­elle started a small herd of sheep.

This past year, Matthew made $11 a bushel on winter wheat at mills in Kansas and North Dakota, at the time a four-dollar premium over commodity wheat. Organic flax sold for $19.50 a bushel, a premium of ten dollars [Hurst 2008].

The whole article is a good, no-nonsense read on how we can and should do ag differently. (Note in the article Professor Tom Dobbs's comments about "multifunctionality" and tying farm payments to public services beyond cranking out corn for cows, cars, and candy.) Federal farm policy, like so many other farm policies, comes out looking like a market-skewing sop to the rich and an enemy to the family farm, the small town, and the land. Maybe the Stiegelmeiers show us that the farm bill should just be plowed under and left fallow to let the land recover.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Blogorazzi Take Over SDPB Monday

We're not quite seizing the towers and transmitting our call for revolution until the tanks arrive, but the South Dakota blogosphere will get some airtime Monday, March 31, at noon on South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Dakota Midday. In addition to the regular report from Hoghouse Blog doyenne and SDPB "Political Junkie" Denise Ross, Dakota Midday lead off with a conversation with Seth Tupper, the Mitchell Daily Republic reporter who also produces the Republic Insider blog. And in the star-studded middle segment, Dakota Midday will feature the Madville Times and maybe, just maybe, one more twinkly beacon of interpid online opinion. You've read our text -- now come make fun of our radio voices!

Update: Beacon unveiled: Dr. Jon Schaff of South Dakota Politics announces he'll be joining me on the second segment of Dakota Midday on Monday. Yahoo! This will be my first voice-to-voice meeting with the esteemed professor. I look forward to the conversation... maybe we'll even get to discuss the wisdom of rousing the international left to the cause of Tibet! ;-)

Help the Farmer, Fight Food Deserts -- Promote Local Ag

Over at Dakota Today, Doug Wiken posted a graphic from the National Farmers Union pointing out what a small cut of the prive farmers earn from the food they make. Consider that the farmer makes 68 cents on a $3.29 10-lb. bag of potatoes. Those ten pounds of potatoes can be processed into about 12 bags of chips worth about $36. Farmers get seven cents on each bag. If I'm reading Doug's numbers right, that's an increase for the farmer -- 84 cents on those ten pounds of potatoes -- but not in terms of percentage of final value. Turn potatoes into junk food, and the farmer's cut declines from 20% to 2%.

Lesson #1: You can make your food dollar go further and see more of it go to your local farmer if you buy more real, raw food, stuff that looks the way it did when it came out of the ground, instead of all that processed junk that makes the corporations rich.

Wiken also made an interesting comment in his Wednesday post about a concept I'd never heard named: "food deserts." You don't have to be the Sahara or the Badlands to qualify; a "food desert" is an area in which residents have "low access to large food retailers," or, practically speaking, have to drive more than ten miles to get to a supermarket*.

Doug notes that his home turf, Tripp County, meets this academic definition. Even though they have a couple of grocery stores, the selection isn't that great:

Two grocery stores selling almost wholly "Surefine" products leaves much to be desired. Their rice and pasta is nearly inedible compared to some brands, and the canned goods are almost never as good. A spoonful of good-tasting food may be better than a cheaper cupful of food with the wrong taste, texture, or sauce. Of course, your food mileage may vary especially if you have to drive out of the food desert for a good dessert..even if they aren't your just desserts [Doug Wiken, "Farmer's Share of Your Grocery Bill," Dakota Today, 2008.03.26].

As my South Dakota readers know all too well, Tripp County isn't alone. Click the below image to see the 31 SD counties that can be called "food deserts" [image from Brooks et al. 2008*]:

It's more than ironic -- let's call it downright messed up -- that in a state where our farmers broke all sorts of production records last year and where agriculture has a $19-billion impact that makes up more than a third of the state's economy, folks in 31 of our 66 counties have trouble getting access to good groceries.

Brooks et al. cite economic and health consequences that can arise from not having a good grocery store nearby:

  1. Higher costs in time and money, especially as gas prices go up.
  2. Folks substitute less tasty, less healthy food.
  3. "Food desert residents consume less protein, fruits, and vegetables" (p. 2).

So here we sit, surrounded by thousands of acres of rich farmland, yet South Dakota kids are behind national averages in eating fruits and vegetables, including green salad [Brooks et al., 2008, p.3]. But what do you expect when farming is all mechanized monoculture, growing raw grains to feed cows and cars?

Lesson #2: Small towns should add food policy to their economic development strategies. Good jobs and good housing** are essential, but so is good food. Even in Madison, which has one good grocery store, lots of people say we need more choices. Our LAIC should work on drawing a second grocery store (Hy-Vee, we're ready for you!). Better yet, the LAIC and other local economic development organizations should promote local agriculture through Community-Supported Agriculture programs, cooperative grocery stores, and other ways to connect communities with their own farmers and land.

Maybe there's a tie-in here with the LAIC's goal of bringing in more residents. As I've suggested before, we could take a typical 640-acre farm with one farmer driving one big tractor through row on row of corn and turn it into 80 small farmsteads with 80 families producing a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and meat for local consumption (and still have 320 acres to turn back to CRP land). Eighty families could produce a lot of groceries. They'd also send their kids to school, buy lots of tools and seed in town, and pay more taxes than the one industrial-scale farmer they'd replace.

One square mile of good farmland turned to a full-tilt small-scale ag community could go a long way toward turning a food desert into an oasis of healthy eating and economic growth.

*Trevor Brooks, Stacey Trushenski, Mike McCurry, and Donna Hess, SDSU Rural Sociology Department, "South Dakota's Food Deserts" [PDF], Rural Life Census Data Newsletter, No. 1, Feb 2008. This article also cites some good journal articles on rural life and food supply. Here's their full bibliography:

  1. Accent Health. Retrieved September 2007 at www.accenthealth.com.
  2. Blanchard, Troy and Thomas Lyson. 2006. Access to Low Cost Groceries in Nonmetropolitan Counties: Large Retailers and the Creation of Food Deserts. Paper Presented at the Measuring Rural Diversity Conference, Washington, DC. Accessed July 2007 at http://srdc.msstate.edu/measuring/blanchard.pdf.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. YRBSS: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/ (Retrieved September 2007).
  4. Farm and Food Policy Project. 2007. Making Healthy Food More Accessible for Low-Income People. Accessed September 2007 at http://www.farmandfood project.org.
  5. Johnson, Kenneth M. 2003. Unpredictable Directions of Rural Population Growth and Migration. In D.L Brown and L.E. Swanson, editors, Challenges for Rural America in the Twenty-first Century. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.
  6. McCurry, Michael. Business Thresholds in South Dakota. Unpublished Document.
  7. Morton, Lois Wright, Ella Annette Bitto, Mary Jane Oakland, and Mary Sand. 2005. Solving the Problems of Iowa Food Deserts: Food Insecurity and Civic Structure. Rural Sociology 70(1):94-112.
  8. Morton, Lois Wright and Troy C. Blanchard. 2007. Starved for Access: Life in Rural America’s Food Deserts. Rural Realities 1(4):20-29.
  9. U.S. Census Bureau 2000. www.census.gov. Retrieved August 18, 2007.

**By the way, it's been five weeks since I last heard from the Lake Area Improvement Corporation on my request to look at the housing study. What gives?
--update: I e-mailed after breakfast, and Kari got back to me. The study is done. We can read it. Copies cost $250. My breakfast came back up.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

One Blogger Who Won't Be Running for Anything...

With me in the school board race and Pat Powers now going for State Senate, I'm wondering what happened to Steve Sibson, the first of our happy little crew of SD blogorazzi to rattle the "I'm gonna run" saber. Maybe the registered mail from Mitchell is running slow.

Or maybe Sibby just listened to one of KJAM's Mighty Matts, who offers a hilarious parody of candidate questionnaires on The Jackrabbit's Den. Political spectators and certified (certifiable?) candidates alike should get a kick out of Matt's anti-declaration:

What influenced you not to run to politics? Well, I have a pretty thin skin when it comes to personal attacks. I make it a point to treat others with respect, even if I don't agree with them. I guess it all stems back to my dear mother instilling a sense of MANNERS that has been my biggest weakness. As has been experienced in the Democratic primary and even our own little episode with the hired thug out of Virginia slamming someone who hadn't even DECIDED to run, I know that I couldn't be that cold-blooded. So screw it, I'm not running!

Of course, with the right kind of brainwashing, perhaps I can be a sociopath along the lines of Michael Savage, Fred Phelps, Badlands Blue, and Ted Rall and make a mint in politics! [Matt Hendrickson, "Why I'm Not Running...," The Jackrabbit's Den, 2008.03.20.]

Don't let anyone wash that brain, Matt. Your listeners love you just the way you are.

Nice Computer, Johnny -- Now Let's See the Report Card

Education Week's Technology Counts 2008 report shows South Dakota can be the tops (or darn close) when it wants to in certain educational achievements. The report gives South Dakota an A-minus in our K-12 schools' "access, use and capacity to use technology":

South Dakota earned an A for access, largely because its schools have an average of 2 students per computer, far ahead of the national norm of 3.8 students per instructional computer. The state also averages 1.9 students per high-speed Internet-connected computer, compared to 3.7 students per computer across the country [AP, "Access to Technology in Schools Among Tops in Nation," Sioux City Journal, 2008.03.26].

Only Virginia scored better; we tied Georgia. Not bad!

The only dings we got -- the reasons for that minus instead of the full A -- were the following:

  1. The state doesn't test students on their tech skills (only five states do)
  2. We don't include tech requirements in our teacher and administrator recertification requirements (ten states do that to teachers; six do it to administrators)
In other words, we're great on actual tech in the classroom; we just aren't doing enough bureaucratic follow-up. Oh darn.

But there is an understory here. Well, click on the below chart to see Ed Week's breakdown of South Dakota's performance on "STEM" subjects: science, tech, engineering, and math:

Our achievement levels for 4th and 8th graders are all above average and we have less of a pooverty gap in math achievement among our 8th graders -- hoorah! But our achievement gains in math are slower than the national average, and the numbers of students scoring in the "excellent" range on math and science tests is decidedly mixed.

Not enough data to say computers aren't delivering the bang for the buck, but certainly reason to wonder what else we need to do to translate great tech into top-of-the-nation academic performance.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Full Slate for D8 House -- Stricherz Enters Race

The Republicans have filled their ticket in District 8. Patricia K. Stricherz has just joined Jerry Johnson to campaign for the District 8 House seats against Democrats Gerry Lange and Mitch Fargen. Stricherz lists her address as Dell Rapids, but her mailbox appears to be up in Moody County in the Egan-Trent metroplex (hey, Russell -- you're from Egan; friend of yours?). Two on two -- a good fair fight!

Not much available online about Ms. Stricherz: if there is only one Patricia Stricherz in the area, she and her husband are both Gulf War vets* interviewed in March 2007 by KELO about high demand for VA services.

Now if just one more envelope of Republican petitions would show up on Chris Nelson's front step, we could have a primary and get to know Ms. Stricherz all the sooner!

Update 2008.04.02: A little more Googling turns up another document (sorry, PDF format) apparently giving the dates Ms. Stricherz and her husband served in the military:

Stricherz, Jay M
Stricherz, Patricia K
Army 1992-1995

The Stricherz family played a role in realizing the new Watertown Veterans Memorial dedicated last August on Lake Kampeska.

McGovern Hedges Clinton Bet...

..or offers diehards an "out" for party unity?

Former SD Senator George McGovern seems to be easing back on his hearty endorsement of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

O.K., now before Badlands Blue or James Carville sends out the hit squad, let's look at what McGovern is saying. Back in October, McGovern gave Clinton, a former campaigner for him back in 1972, his blessing at an Iowa City campaign event:

Over the weekend, former South Dakota Senator George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee and a man whose name is synonymous with liberal and anti-war politics, arrived in Iowa to give Clinton an enthusiastic endorsement. "She seems to have a greater feel for the problems of the country. She gets stronger all the time," McGovern told the crowd at an Iowa City Democratic event that drew a crowd estimated at 1,800 people. "I think that if we can elect her president, she'll be a greater president even than her brilliant husband."

McGovern, who had once seemed to be leaning toward Obama, praised the Illinois senator and spoke well of Edwards, but concluded, "We have an old rule of courtesy in the United States: Ladies first" [John Nichols, "George McGovern Backs Clinton," The Nation.com blog, 2007.10.08].

October -- ages ago, it seems. Now McGovern is suggesting that Clinton can't win... though through no fault of her own:

"I have a feeling that in this country where we're at today in our thinking, it's going to be harder to elect a woman than to elect a black man," he told The Associated Press. "I wish that weren't true ... I'd love to see Hillary as president."

He says he occasionally chats with men who don't think a woman is ready for the responsibility.

"Some guy will say, 'Well, I think that's too big a job for a woman, I don't think she can handle those terrorists,"' he said, adding that he seldom hears the same thing said about black men [AP, "McGovern Unsure U.S. Is Ready to Elect a Woman," Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2008.03.26].

Now notice McGovern isn't questioning Clinton's readiness for office. Nothing he says here contradicts the words he expressed back in October. He's not saying he picked the wrong horse. But he is suggesting that if the horse he picked loses, it's not his fault, or Clinton's, but that darned electorate, for just not being ready to elect a good woman.

Now for some more positioning, on Obama:

McGovern, who centered his 1972 campaign on his opposition to the Vietnam War, has been critical of the Iraq war, calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney earlier this year. He said both Clinton and her Democratic rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, have reasonable plans for ending the conflict.

He says he likes Obama but didn't know much about him when he endorsed Clinton last year.

"I think very highly of him now," McGovern said [AP, 2008.03.26]

Again, nothing wrong or contradictory between McGovern's October endorsement and today's words. But these words carry a hint of backpedaling: Just in case Clinton loses, well, can I be blamed? Had I known him better, maybe I'd have endorsed him.

I mentioned McGovern's comments to the other Obama-leaner in the Madville Times headquarters, and she put the elder statesman's comments in a rather harsh light: it sounds to her as if McGovern is backing away from a fight that should be fought. If the folks McGovern talks to really are expressing the Neanderthal views he reports, he shouldn't be sighing that we just may not be capable of electing a woman. He should be using his every breath to bring people around to the idea that we should be ready to elect a woman, his woman, the most well-qualified woman we've ever had on the national scene (at least that's how McGovern describes Clinton).

The proper response from Dem diehards is, Who the heck is Madville Times to question a great man like McGovern? And indeed, maybe there is a more statesmanlike explanation for McGovern's comments today than mere bet-hedging. Maybe McGovern is mapping an "out" for the Clinton diehards that will allow them to forego the Tonya Harding option and gracefully accept an Obama nomination: Let him lead. Clinton can't win. It's not her fault, and it's not our fault. The opposition is just too strong. It's kind of like the Clinton response on the failure of her health care reform effort in 1993-94: she didn't fail; no one could have succeeded against the "entrenched opposition."

Saying your candidate can't win so you might as well back the other one is cold comfort (believe me: as Kucinich true-believers, Mrs. Madville Times and I know whereof we speak). But maybe McGovern is suggesting, subtly, that such cold comfort would be better than the warm blood waiting to be spilt at a fractious convention.

Bloggers for Government? The Powers Candidacy

Brookings real estate agent Pat Powers, author of the popular South Dakota blog Dakota War College, has mailed his petitions to Pierre so he can run for the District 7 State Senate seat. He faces a Republican primary battle against legislative veteran Orv Smidt.

I find Powers's candidacy fascinating. He has commented before (though I can't find the link this morning) that bloggers might not want to get involved in politics because of the huge paper/electron trail they have generated. Typical politicians have the good sense to equivocate on the hard questions and focus on soft, feel-good positions that are hard to argue with in a sound bite. Powers has spent three years laying out pretty clear positions on almost every policy question under the South Dakota sun. Typical politicians avoid giving voters reasons to disagree with them; Powers regularly puts out stiff opinions that arouse spirited public argument. Even Republican readers can probably track down a DWC post or two that they could turn into a reason not to vote for Powers. I can just imagine the potential drive-by propaganda:

  1. Pat Powers opposes drug testing in schools... meaning Pat Powers is soft on drugs?
  2. Liberal blogger Todd Epp encouraged Powers to run... meaning Powers is a steealth liberal?
  3. Pat Powers wants to shoot fireworks off inside city limits... meaning Powers is a threat to public safety?
  4. Pat Powers opposed HB 1005... meaning he opposes tax relief for farmers (and isn't a good Republican team player)?

Note that I know better than to draw any of those conclusions. My point is that Pat Powers has 3800 blog posts for curious voters and political opponents to sift through and make hay of. Is he ready to defend everything he has written?

That thought might make typical politicians cringe. Powers isn't the cringing type. Three years in the sometimes bruising public arena of political blogging has given Powers valuable practice at expressing and defending his positions. He'll get over his momentary panic attack and be ready to defend all he has said and will say.

I hope he will turn his blog into a political asset. Dakota War College constitutes a more thorough archive of political thought than has been posted by any other South Dakota politician short of maybe George McGovern. And it's all online, instantly available to every South Dakotan with a computer and signal. Sure, political opponents may be able to use the blog against him, but for the vast majority of South Dakotans, the blog is a chance to get straightforward information about what this candidate is all about. For a candidate who is all about open government, this sort of personal political transparency is a profound example of practicing what he preaches.

I will be rooting for Powers, at least through June. As a blogger myself, as well as a researcher and a citizen, I'm interested to see how Powers's very public participation in political discourse thus far will influence the voters. Hmm, maybe he'll even inspire his friend Russell to blog....

Lake County Commission Candidates and That Crazy State Website

Yesterday brought an info-tech crisis of minuscule proportions. No voters disenfranchised, no names left off the ballot, just a little confusion as to who's who in the Lake County Commission race. For a while, it looked like Chris Nelson was telepathic, entering Rod Goeman as an official candidate a day before he actually turned in his petitions. The official candidate list was also showing Democrat Gene Anderson as an Independent and Craig Johanssen and Scott Pedersen as both having clones joining them in the race.

Kay Schmidt, Lake county Auditor, returned my call yesterday afternoon and confirmed that she had Anderson down as a Democrat. She sounded surprised, maybe even concerned that I had been able to access whatever working data they had about the candidates. I assured her there's not hacking on my end -- I'm just reading the Secretary of State's official public candidate list.

This morning, all appears to be fixed. We have two Democrats running for county commission and five Republicans. No Independents or Greens, no clones. Thank you, data-entry clerks, wherever you are, for keeping things straight.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

North Dakotans Fight TransCanada Pipeline Approval in Court

The Dickinson-based Dakota Resource Council has filed an appeal in North Dakota's South Central District Court to overturn the ND Public Service Commission's approval of TransCanada's planned Keystone pipeline.

The appeal argues the Public Service Commission did not adequately consider the pipeline's environmental impacts, or sufficiently explore alternative routes for the 30-inch line. Its route skirts Lake Ashtabula, in east-central North Dakota, which supplies drinking water to the city of Fargo....

One of the landowner plaintiffs in the appeal, Janie Capp, of Lankin, called the line "a risky experiment" with "higher pressure and heat than normal, and pipe that is weaker than the normal minimum federal standard."

"It's a huge leak waiting to happen, and it's our water that's at stake," Capp said [Dale Wetzel, AP, "Keystone Oil Pipeline Opponents Appeal ND Construction Decision," Grand Forks Herald, 2008.03.25].

Keystone pipeline project spokesman Jeff Rauh tells the Herald that he doesn't expect the appeal to delay the beginning of construction in June. Evidently he doesn't expect any of the eminent domain hearings to slow things down, either. I guess if I were Big Oil, I'd be pretty confident too that the judiciary will follow the legislative and executive branches in rolling over for corporate greed and America's addiction to oil.

More Lake County Commission Candidates

Lake County is awash in democractic (small-d) spirit, it appears. While we still only have one candidate for coroner, other offices are drawing a fair crowd of contenders. Most popular office so far: Lake County Commission. We are now up to seven candidates for three seats: Rod Goeman has officially filed*, making for a June 3 primary among him and his fellow Republicans Dan Bohl, Chris Giles, Scott Pedersen, and Roger Hageman. Gene Anderson from Volga just filed yesterday as an Independent (the first of the race here!)**, so he'll be on the November ballot, as will lone Democrat Craig Johanssen.

Hang on a minute... Volga? Anderson lists his address as 22059 463rd, Volga. But yup, check the map, and you'll find Anderson's homestead up a mile on the good side of the Lake-Brookings county line, amidst the Nunda-Sinai-Lake Campbell metroplex.

So get your pencils ready, Lake County. You're going to have lots of choices on the ballot this year. And stay tuned: the filing deadline for candidates is today. Stragglers can still mail their petitions (reminder: registered mail, postmarked by 5 p.m. today!), so by the end of the week, we'll have the roster of eager public servants ready to study.

*Update 09:55 CDT: How odd! As you'll see from the comments below, Rod still has his petitions in his pocket. Pierre thinks he's official, though. Just so folks know I'm not blowing smoke, here's the screenshot from Secretary Nelson's site, as of a few minutes ago (click for the full size image -- sorry about the file size!):
Note also the odd double-listing of Johanssen and Pedersen -- probably just a computer glitch... or hackers trying to sow chaos by disrupting the most important election in the country, the Lake County Commission race! ;-)

**Update 11:30 CDT: More strangeness on the candidate list: Candidate Goeman, who says he has now officially submitted his petitions, notices that Gene Anderson's petitions are clearly marked "Democrat."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Thump -- Hello, Other Shoe! Olson In

Republican Russell Olson has filed his petitions for a run against Democrat Scott Parsley for the District 8 State Senate seat.
See, there's Russell, right below Scott. Better get used to that order. ;-)

Fighting the Right Fight: Community over Corporate Welfare

I've given Sibby heck before for fighting the wrong fights. His quixotic charges against secular humanism, one-world Marxism, and Pat Powers drive me all the more crazy because Sibby can be so spot-on right when he turns his attention to the right fight, the battle to protect individual rights and community good from greedy corporations looking to profit off the public dole.

His post today on Mitchell city government and the cowardly credit card company that couldn't afford to move to Mitchell without a government handout is a perfect example of how right Sibby can be. Once he gets past his obligatory Clintonesque Judasification of Pat Powers, he gets to the real, important point: Mitchell Mayor Lou Sebert thinks "consensus" means you keep your mouth shut and let the city do what it wants, even if that means giving away public parkland to a rich corporation. Sibby quotes the mayor from the Mitchell Daily Republic:

Sebert also held that the Park and Rec Board members acted "inappropriately" by stating their individual opinions to the newspaper. It was his understanding, he said, that the board reached a "consensus" that was opposed only by Rubendall and Everson.

"They may be opposed, but they’re part of a committee," Sebert said. "When you’re in a committee like that, you’re a committee. You’re not a citizen" [Seth Tupper, "Hisel on City Controversy: Time to 'Just Move On,'" Mitchell Daily Republic, 2008.03.22].

Sibby then offers this comment:

Wow, political leaders were working out a sweet heart deal behind closed doors, and the expectation was that Park board members are not citizens looking out for the public good, so they were to keep their mouths shut about taxpayer’s property going to a private business. This does not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about Mitchell’s city government [Steve Sibson, "The SD GOP Problem Lands in Mitchell," Sibby Online, 2008.03.24].

Posts like that show that Steve is concerned about his community. His advocacy for the Clean and Open Government ballot initiative show he can fight for legislation that will make a practical difference. His past commentary on eminent domain (e.g., here) shows he recognizes the very real threat posed to individual rights by greedy corporations.

It thus drives me all the more nuts when he launches back into his ethereal battles with the chimerical demons of the radical right blogorazzi that leave most South Dakota readers saying, "What?"

Of course, who am I to criticize a guy for flights of fancy and hopeless battles? I still have a Kucinich bumper sticker on my car (and will in 2012! Forward the revolution!).

But Steve! You can be so right when you're not busy being Right. Keep at least one foot on the ground in Mitchell and South Dakota. Focus your fight on secretive government and corporate welfare. It's those pols with their "Anything for a Buck" mentality, not secular humanist academics like me, who are the real threat to our freedom.

Teacher Pay -- The Crunch Is Coming

Terry Woster covered the coming teacher pay crisis in that Sioux Falls paper yesterday. He drew the usual commenters who say that everything is fine, because (1) South Dakota has a lower cost of living and (2) we underpay everybody. I sighed and repeated the stats that show that teachers in the rest of the country come out ahead of teachers here even after factoring in cost of living and taxes. If South Dakota's low teacher pay reflected only the cost of living, the average teacher salary would be $45,545, not $34,709.

And again, while roofers, secretaries, and many other South Dakota workers get taken to the cleaners on payday, that won't matter in terms of trying to recruit new teachers to replace the coming wave of retirees. When new college grads with shiny new teaching certificates hit the job market, they're going to look for the teaching positions that will help them pay off their student debt ASAP. They aren't going to look at $35K/year in Madison or Flandreau and say, "Ah, everyone else is underpaid there! Sign me up to get hosed, too!" They'll say, "I can do the same work that I love and am trained for in Pipestone, Worthington, Sioux City, Cheyenne, or Fargo, get my summers off for study just like here, and pay off my college loans two years sooner. Hello, Minnesota (IA, WY, ND...)!"

Watertown school board blogger Fred Deutsch agrees (though in calmer terms, as usual). He notes that Watertown has been lucky not to experience an outflux of teachers seeking better pay. Of course, Watertown also has the big-town advantage of being able to offer more job opportunities for teaching candidates' spouses, making it easier to attract and retain teacher candidates with families. But he sees the retirement boom coming, he sees fewer eager candidates coming to area teacher recruitment fairs, and he is concerned.

I don't like higher taxes any more than you do, gentle readers. But South Dakota education is about to get squeezed by the toughest opponent it can face: the free market. Labor supply is dwindling, and our competitors are paying better wages. I love South Dakota, but we can't bank on everyone else letting such love (or illusions about the cost of living) dictate their economic choices. Keeping a qualified labor force in education in the coming decade is going to require more money. Invest now in higher teacher pay, and we can avoid a crisis later.

Fargen, Johnson Official for District 8

Democrat Mitch Fargen and Republican Jerry Johnson have turned in their petitions to run for our two District 8 State House seats. (Secretary Nelson must have someone working on Easter!) In numbers and parties, the ballot is now a repeat of the 2006 contest, with one Republican and two Democrats. We also have two Madison candidates, Johnson and veteran legislator Gerry Lange. We have a youthful challenger again -- last time Russell Olson for the GOP, this time an even younger Fargen for the Dems. We'll see if Fargen generates any of that "golden boy, future governor" talk that occasional commenters like to laud Olson with.

We have no incumbents this time, at least not yet. With a full ticket for the Dems, the pressure is off Senator Dan Sutton (D-Flandreau) and Representative David Gassman (D-Canova) to do their duty for the party. But is the fire out of their bellies? The general impression is that both men will be content to leave the battle in the hands of others, but they have 33 hours yet to surprise us.

So the Dem ticket as it stands offers us a remarkable spread of generations and backgrounds. Both Lange and Parsley served in the military (Lange, Air Force; Parsley, Navy) and have worked for the electric industry; Lange also brings his background as a farmer and history professor and a lot of that institutional memory of the Legislature. Fargen has perhaps the most conventional political background, with SDSU degrees in business econ and poli-sci and work as membership coordinator and legislative assistant for the Farmers Union.

The GOP will give us Olson, with one term in the House under his belt, to to challenge Parsley for the Senate seat. Johnson brings six years of Madison City Commission experience to the race. But what about that third seat? Are the Republicans becoming so complacent as to let the Dems have a freebie in District 8 again? Olson and Johnson can't be the only two Republicans in the district willing to fight the good fight, can they?

Dems statewide are determined to retake the Legislature by 2010. Chortle if you will that the Dems only manage to do that every 36 years... but guess what: 1936, 1972... 2008! We're due! Even if you're still chortling, why let the Dems have even one seat without a fight? Take a cue from the Obama campaign book: every state, every district, every seat matters.

Come on, District 8 GOP, you can do it. One more Republican. 50 signatures. A chance to poke a stick in the Dems' eye. How can you pass that up? Get some young buck (or buckette!) from CreditSoup. Get someone working on wind turbine blades over in Howard. Stir up someone in Woonsocket to challenge the usually solid Dem vote on the west side of the district. Let's see some hustle!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday Reading: Obama's March 18 Speech

For those of you with attention spans longer than ten seconds, see Senator Obama's much-discussed speech on race, Reverend Wright, and the pursuit of a more perfect union. The NY Times graphic provides the video and text side by side. For those of you who want to make sure you aren't being swayed by delivery, the NY Times also offers the transcript alone.

I was going to provide some highlights, but Frank Rich is right: Obama's speech doesn't reduce to sound bites. Tuesday's address in Philadelphia is a thoughtful, coherent address. Each paragraph feels naturally and tightly interwoven with its neighbors, the sign of one author working hard to develop a very complete idea, not a committee of advisors pasting together a collage of focus-group keywords. It deserves careful reading, from start from finish.

A friend of mine said the other day he wanted Obama to go further in denouncing whatever Rev. Wright said. I suggested that maybe Obama didn't feel the need to belabor the obvious. As I review the transcript, I find that Obama did address his former pastor's error... an error more profound than any racial impropriety:

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who's been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

[emphasis mine; words Barack Obama's, address in Philadelphia, 2008.03.18, as published in the New York Times, 2008.03.18.]

On an earlier topic, Obama did offer one memorable sound bite for Professors Schaff and Deneen:

This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected [Obama, 2008.03.18].

No wild-eyed rejection of human fallibility or natural law there; just a belief that we can always do better.

Lots to think about. Read the speech, the whole speech, from his hearkening to the Founding Fathers to his closing story of Ashley Baia, sacrifice, and hope in South Carolina. Once you've read it, your comments are welcome.

SD Dems Stay Practical on Primary, Postpone Opening to Indeps

That Sioux Falls paper reports on the South Dakota Democrats' decision to wait until 2010 to open up their primary to independent voters. When Bob Stevens of the state party told us about the possibility of an open primary at our Lake County Dems meeting March 8, I thought it sounded like a great idea. (Again, my political mantra: the more the merrier!) But at yesterday's big party confab in Pierre, the participation had to give way to practicality. As party executive director Rick Hauffe explains it, opening the primary would require approval from the national party. That process would take at least a month, maybe longer if Howard Dean et al. are distracted by other issues. Hauffe says that timeframe puts too much pressure on the Secretary of State's office to get ballots out in time for the big day, June 3.

Now if anybody can leap tall electoral buildings in a single bound, it's our ├╝ber-capable Secretary of State Chris Nelson. I'd love to see independents have the chance to participate in the most exciting primary season since perhaps 1984 Hart vs. Mondale, and I hate to put mere practicality over participation. But as Florida and Michigan are making clear, you don't take chances with hasty votes. For now, if independents want to participate in our primary, they'll have to bite the bullet (perhaps a very small bullet, depending on your perspective), pop down to the courthouse, and change their registration. But let's give Secretary Nelson and his people the heads-up now, and come 2010, let's see that primary ballot open!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

China Oppressive, Blanchard's Point Elusive

I'm still scratching my head over the erratic tangent on Tibet, Palestine, and the "international left" at SD Politics. Dr. Blanchard seems to be painting with a very broad brush that's still short a few bristles.

His wee-hours Friday post (1:33 a.m. -- perhaps trying to show who's ready to take that international crisis call while our children sleep? ;-) ) starts off well, addressing my accusation of a "logical stretch" in the conflation of the issues of Tibet and Palestine. He says his observation is really quite simple: the "international left" makes great hay of what they perceive as Israel's oppression of Palestine; China's oppression of Tibet is much more real and deadly; the "international left" thus ought to make more hay over Tibet.

To support his claim that the "international left" is dropping the ball on Tibet, Dr. Blanchard offers some interesting media analysis: he searches some American lefty journals (The Nation, The Progressive, and Washington Monthly) and finds a great paucity of articles on Tibet compared to substantial coverage of Israel since 2000. There are many reasons Israel would appear with more frequency in American media than Tibet (more instances of armed conflict, closer relation to big news about terrorism and American military action), but I will grant that Dr. Blanchard's point is made: the liberal media has not paid sufficient attention to the crimes China has been committing for decades in Tibet.

Of course, if we accept Blanchard Search of Media Articles (BS-MA) analysis as a valid instrument, what happens when we apply it to the organs of the "international right"? A search of "Israel" on FoxNews.com produces 6011 stories up to the end of 2007. Search "Tibet" over the same time period, and FoxNews.com spits out 116 stories. Apply BS-MA to National Review, and you get 3515 articles mentioning Israel pre-2008 and 95 mentioning Tibet. Heck, search Dakota Voice and you get 55 articles on Israel and 1 on Tibet, and that 1 is from this week*. Average those three ratios, and you get 48 Israel stories from the right for every 1 on Tibet, versus an Israel:Tibet average ratio from the lefty journals of 24:1. If the "international left" ignores Tibet, the "international right" ignores Tibet twice as much.

One a.m. appears to get the best of Blanchard in his last couple paragraphs. He acknowledges his colleague Dr. Schaff's point that "blame for the West's neglect is widely shared on both sides," but then claims "It is perhaps excusable if I prefer to criticize the other side." Excusable? To ignore the real enablers of the Chinese thugs, the corporations and consumers (including ourselves) who pump China full of money for the guns the People's Army turns on Tibetan monks? No more excusable than Blanchard finds it for the European intellectuals to prefer to criticize Israel and America rather than take a hard look at their own complicity in Chinese oppression.

And then, Blanchard's irresolvably illogical conclusion:

But it is worth noting that the international left spent decades putting pressure on South Africa and Israel. In the former case, this produced a striking achievement. But the fact of the matter is that both these regimes were capable of moral embarrassment, they had/have a conscience. Regimes like China, North Korea, or Syria, do not. I think the right is more capable of dealing with that fact than the left is [Ken Blanchard, "Tibet and the Left II," South Dakota Politics, 2008.03.21].

Try following Blanchard's point:
  1. The "international left" has moral power.
  2. Moral power won't work against China.
  3. The right has power that will work against China.
  4. While neither the right nor the left is doing anything about China, I prefer to criticize the left, which doesn't have the power to produce results in China anyway.

Ultimately, Blanchard sounds like he's watching a house burn down and yelling at Grandma for not being able to lift the water bucket he has in the back of his truck.

China is an oppressive regime: we're all clear on that. Almost everyone, left, right, up, and down, has chosen to ignore ideology and human rights in favor of cheap labor and Wal-Mart's Always Low Prices. Helping Tibet -- and China's Christians and bloggers and rural poor -- will take a lot more than pasty-faced professors' kicking Chinese scholars out of their conferences. It will take a lot more than President Bush's shaking hands with President Hu. And it will take a lot more than Dr. Blanchard's and my playing "So's your mother!"

Some closing math: The U.S. buys 25% of China's exports. China's 8% annual economic growth keeps its population mostly docile, keeps China's military plenty strong to quell any stray malcontents or Tibetan monks, and drives up their demand (and our costs) for oil, concrete, and other resources. If we cut our consumption of Chinese goods by half (and given that 30% of consumer spending is discretionary -- i.e., stuff we don't need -- I think we could do it), we could bring the Chinese economy to a screeching halt. The Chinese Communists would be so busy dealing with unrest at home, they wouldn't have time to hammer Tibet. Any takers?

*The Dakota Voice reprint of the John W. Whitehead article on Tibet opens with a quote from Nancy Pelosi; criticizes the coddling of China by governments, corporations, and the International Olympic Committee; and cites Amnesty International and Dream for Darfur. The essay casts China's oppression of Tibet as in the proper light: a human rights issue, not a right-left issue. (Someone check my blood sugar: I just referred to something on Dakota Voice as reasonable.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Clinton's 3 A.M. Girl Promotes Obama

Hat tip to TPM Election Central...

For all you Dems on your way to the state party confab to elect delegates in Pierre tomorrow, here's some recommended viewing: Casey Knowles, 18-year-old HS senior in Washington State and Obama campaign volunteer, offers a 60-second lesson in media literacy and the politics of hope.

Obama-Richardson '08?

New Mexico Governor and former Presidential candidate Bill Richardson finally issued his endorsement today: Richardson says Illinois Senator Barack Obama should be the next President of the United States.

"I believe he is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime leader that can bring our nation together and restore America's moral leadership in the world," Richardson said in a statement obtained by the AP. "As a presidential candidate, I know full well Sen. Obama's unique moral ability to inspire the American people to confront our urgent challenges at home and abroad in a spirit of bipartisanship and reconciliation." [Barry Massey, "Governor Richardson Endorsing Obama," 2008.03.21]

Richardson also emphasized his confidence in Obama on foreign policy and national security:

"There is no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama has the judgment and courage we need in a commander in chief when our nation's security is on the line," Richardson said. "He showed this judgment by opposing the Iraq war from the start, and he has shown it during this campaign by standing up for a new era in American leadership internationally" [Matt Apuzzo, "NM Gov. Bill Richardson Endorses Obama," AP, 2008.03.21].

Richardson knows whereof he speaks on foreign policy, and Obama made a significant acknowledgment of that fact:

Obama said Richardson "frankly has more concrete accomplishments on the international stage than my opponents, Democrat or Republican."

Richardson was a roving diplomatic troubleshooter when he was a congressman from New Mexico, negotiating the release of U.S. hostages in several countries and meeting a rogue's gallery of U.S. adversaries, including Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro [Apuzzo].

Richardson was also President Clinton's energy secretary, UN ambassador, and special envoy to North Korea. How's that for experience?

Speculation is rife that Richardson is angling for the VP slot. I've suggested Richardson would be an asset just for that tough-looking beard.

But seriously, consider the positioning: Obama himself says Richardson has a better record on foreign policy than anyone else in the race. Richardson helps win the Hispanic vote, a key constituency Clinton has been relying on. heck, even geographically, Richardson takes some of the Southwest vote that McCain might otherwise have the advantage with.

The conventional wisdom is that VP doesn't matter much... although the Cheney vice-presidency might suggest otherwise. And we would expect an endorser and endorsee to say nice things about each other. But hearing the words Obama and Richardson used today about each other today, I can't help thinking about the team that could be...

...but let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's still 71 days until the South Dakota primary....