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Monday, June 30, 2008

Thune in McCain's VP "Top Tier"

Yes, South Dakota, maybe there is a Santa Claus: Politico's Mark Allen says our own Senator John Thune is in the "top tier" of vice-presidential candidates for the McCain ticket. Former Masschusetts Governor Mitt Romney is getting the buzz as the absolute top choice. Romney has fast fundraising potential from business pals and Mormons, big family love in swing state Michigan, and "presidential looks and bearing." However, McCain apparently doesn't like Romney all that much.

So if electoral pluses can't outweigh personal animus, Allen sees two other candidates in the top tier: Ohio's Rob Portman (again, think Electoral College) and our man Thune. Thune may be the "compromise" candidate, says Allen, quoting a McCain confidant. Allen emphasizes the one thing that's kept me from completely dismissing Thune's chances to make the ticket: his hero status for beating Daschle in 2004. Allen goes further, saying Thune is "at the top of the list of the party’s prospects for the presidential race in 2012 or 2016."

Thune for President in 2012?! Hokey smokes! Considering McCain is going to get thumped anyway in November, now would be the perfect time for Thune to get on the ticket and position himself to take leadership of the party in its charge against the incumbent Dem in the White House in 2012.

Of course, I'm just excited to see Jon Lauck get a shot at an office in the White House....

At Least Our Grocery Bags Aren't As Heavy...

It's not just Hy-Vee shrinking its cereal boxes: all sorts of food manufacturers are fighting higher prices by selling us smaller portions. Of course, you won't see any big big stickers proclaiming "Now Smaller Than Ever!" on your Apple Jacks, Hellman's mayo, or Wrigley's gum (yes, gum, down two whole sticks per pack).

Meanwhile, my wife's garden is exploding with lettuce. Looks like less Sunshine Foods and more real sunshine in my diet. See you at the farmer's market, where healthy local tomatoes and snap peas won't be shrinking any time soon.

Madison Mayor Mobilizes Mowing Militia, Mitigates Mess

In other commission notes, I am amused to read through the agenda packet and find our own Mayor Gene Hexom's report on his June activities (see page 11 of tonight's agenda packet). Among the highlights: this month's complaints and concerns:

With a mobilization of city resources that big, I'm suprised they didn't blow the sirens while they were at it. Good thing occasional non-lawn-mower Joe Bartmann is safe in Montrose; he might have ended up in jail here.

Notice that no such mobilization has yet been mounted to pave South Grant and Madison's other quaint gravel streets. Priorities, anyone?

If 6.1-inch grass is the biggest thing we have to complain about, well, Madison must be just like living in Paradise!

Munsterman to Motivate Mutual Municipal Money-Making with Madison

Mayor Scott Munsterman of Brookings is on the Madison City Commission agenda (PDF alert!) for tonight's meeting. Brookings's most powerful chiropractor is coming to chat with his Lake County neighbors about participating in the I-29 economic corridor. It will be interesting to compare the response Mayor Munsterman gets tonight with the response Senator Karl Mundt got 50 years ago, when town leaders rejected his offer to bring I-29 itself right to our doorstep. Madison appears more willing now to embrace the idea of local economy as a region, not just a town.

Oh, and Mayor Munsterman, don't forget to blog the meeting!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ná Díbrigí An t-Ath. Ó Gallchóir!

...don't deport Father Gallagher!

While reader Michael Blume (see correction at bottom of article) says people like me need to move to New York, a reader from Queens sends a token of appreciation:

Thanks for the bumper sticker, dear Celtic reader! I wish I could return the favor by publishing a Gaelic edition of the Madville Times, but we just don't have the staff... ;-)

Father Gallagher gave a wonderfully eloquent yet humble interview on SDPB Wednesday. Despite having every right to sound defiant and indignant, Father Gallagher spoke with nothing but love for his congregation and South Dakota, appreciation for all those who have rallied to his cause, and pure submission to God's will, wherever it may take him. (Readers, you can determine within your own theology whether you consider bungling by U.S. immigration officials as God's will.)

Father Gallagher also made special mention of Governor Rounds for taking a very active interest in the case and making calls to various officials trying to get them to come to their senses, process the papers, and stop Father Gallagher's deportation. Let's hope someone in Washington is listening!

p.s.: Here's proof positive that the sender of the bumper sticker is from New York... and has spectacular penmanship! "Lake Herman" never looked better in print.

LAIC Announces "Madison Main Street and More"

Last year, my wife was doing some research on Main Street programs around the country and thinking we should follow the lead of progressive places like Brookings and start a Main Street program of our own. She called the Lake Area Improvement Corporation, our local economic development agency, and asked if they could use some help getting a program like that going. No worries, the LAIC told us: they were working on just such a program and planned to roll it out come this spring. (On Erin's offer to volunteer, the LAIC said nothing.)

So spring rolled by, and we started to get worried. Where's the Main Street program?

Ah ha -- now it's here. The LAIC May/June newsletter (PDF warning!) announces the creation of "Madison Main Street and More." Filling the store fronts, restoring the old façades, creating green spaces downtown—yum! A reinvestment ratio (as of 2006) of $25.76 generated in the local economy for every $1 invested—super yum!

Tammy Jo Zingmark appears to be the point person on this project: she does the main write-up and invites folks interested in volunteering for the program to call her at the LAIC (256-0797).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Black Liberation Theology Not Marxism, Obama Not Hitler

A mostly silly discussion, but I haven't had fun with Sibby for some time....

Steve Sibson does me the favor of promoting my comment on Obama, theology, and politics to a full post and response. Sibby directs me to read in full Kyle-Anne Shiver's "Obama, Black Liberation Theology, and Karl Marx" [American Thinker, 2008.05.28] for "an honest discussion on Christianity versus Marxism."

Honest discussion? Spectacular leaps of logic and rhetoric, all aimed at manipulating the message of black theology into the bogeyman that Shiver, Sibson, et al. want it—need it— to be.

Ms. Shiver does indeed give me the shivers. Look what she does with the following quote from black theologian James H. Cone**:

And Cone brings it all the way home with this proclamation of liberation from traditional Christianity itself:

"The appearance of black theology means that the black community is now ready to do something about the white Jesus, so that he cannot get in the way of our revolution."

Move over Jesus and make way for Cone, Wright and Obama.

No, no, no. Cone doesn't say get rid of Jesus. No one is trying to replace Jesus with false contemporary idols. Cone is contesting the misappropriation of Jesus by white American culture. Jesus was not white. Jesus was not American. Jesus was definitely not the mild smiling chap we see blessing cherubic Nordic children and fluffy lambs in the kids books. He was a swarthy Middle Eastern Jew who would probably get special attention from the TSA if he tried to fly into JFK or Dulles. "White Jesus" is an absurd concept that we all need to sweep aside.

Shiver plays further word games, italicizing the words oppressor and oppressed in a Marx quote and proceeding to label any mention of the oppressed in black theology as evidence that black theology is all about Marxist class warfare, not Christianity. She puts Cone's (and Obama's) Christianity in quotation marks, continuing the scurrilous strategy of questioning another man's clearly professed faith. (I can say Sibby is wrong about a lot of Christian stuff without saying he's not a Christian. In other words, I don't have to call him a liar to argue that he's wrong.)

Shiver goes further in insinuating that Obama is still just the son of an "agnostic anthropologist," not a true Christian. She cites Obama's The Audacity of Hope:

"It was because of these newfound understandings [at Trinity under Wright]—that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice...that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity...and be baptized."

...and draws this shocking and irrational conclusion: "Wright's vision of Christianity was perfectly appetizing to Barack Obama; he didn't need to change a thing."

So wait a minute: since when did accepting Jesus Christ mean having to change one's commitment to critical thinking and economic and social justice?

Ms. Shiver's article contains further wishful mishmashings of text, argument by juxtaposition and insinuation. (Many of the reader comments descend into further blatant nuttiness.) Most emblematic of Shiver's style of "logic" is the fun she has linking Obama to Hitler. Really. Her insinuations go like this:
  • Karl Marx was an anti-Semite. Shiver thinks Obama is a Marxist. Therefore, Obama must be an anti-Semite, just like Hitler.
  • Obama said words matter. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf about "the magic of power of the spoken word." Therefore, Obama is a demagogue just like Hitler.
  • Obama mentions Christianity in his speeches. Hitler "sprinkled Mein Kampf with Christian language." Therefore, Obama is just like Hitler.
I can't say much about the first insinuation (it is clear to any semi-educated reader the rhetorical associations Shiver is trying to make). As for the rest, well, I seem to recall President Reagan having some magic power with the spoken word and making rhetorical nods to Christianity. Shiver loves Reagan... therefore are she and Reagan just like Hitler? I think not.

You can do better than Shiver, Steve. If our worldviews are sound, we shouldn't have to descend to shysterly writing to defend them.

*I note with satsifaction that Dr. Cone has more theological training and experience than Ms. Shiver. Dr. Cone is an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary. I can find no online record of any formal theological training in Ms. Shiver's background. What is it about the Religious Right getting its theology from anyone but theologians?

Backyard Notes: CAFOs, Pipelines, Wind, Mowing

Can't call the Madville Times a NIMBY rag: we're all about what's going on in our backyards:

More Big Stinky Dairy Business Coming: An e-mail correspondent informs us that Riverview Farms of Morris, Minnesota, wants to build a 5,000-head concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO)... you know, like the operation that is stinking people out of house and home up by Thief River Falls. 5,000 cows (plus 4,000 heifers, say opponents) crowded onto 160 acres upstream from the wellheads of Milbank's water supply -- what could go wrong there? Opponents say CAFOs lower property values, hire few if any local workers, and increase costs for the county with heavy truck traffic tearing up county roads.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Agriculture* Bill Even brags that South Dakota is great for the dairy business... great, contends my correspondent, as long as you aren't a small independent farmer trying to make it with a reasonable number of cattle spread out on enough land to sustain them. Great also, it appears from Secretary Even's website, as long as you plan to hire foreign workers: "Immigration" is the second link from the top of the sidebar. (No English required to work here, says the website -- how tolerant.)

Oil Pipelines A-Comin': Another landowner, James Bush up by Britton, has settled with TransCanada out of court. Pipeline should be coming soon to backyards in the Jim River Valley. TransCanada is also making the rounds out in West River to get folks ready for an even bigger pipeline. Folks at the informational meetings TransCanada has held in Buffalo, Faith, and Philip sound pretty keen on running 900,000 barrels a day of the dirtiest oil in the world through their backyards. Haakon County Commissioner Neal "Obie" Brunskill says the pipeline sounds like a "good deal... if things work out like they're saying."

Just remember, Obie: when something does go wrong with the pipeline, Big Oil's strategy is to offer little to nothing in compensation, then fight you in court until many of the people affected are broke or dead. It works for Exxon; it'll work for TransCanada.

Pine Ridge Radio Prefers Self-Sufficiency: Meanwhile, our Indian neighbors take the do-it-yourself approach to energy. KILI Radio just got the first large-scale wind turbine on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The 300-foot tower should save the radio station $12,000 a year in electric bills and maybe even bring them a little revenue as they sell excess power back to LaCreek Electric. And if they're getting the wind out in Porcupine that we're getting here at Lake Herman, KILI should sound extra loud today.

Joe Bartmann, Mowing Menace: Montrose blogger and visionary Joe Bartmann committed one of the cardinal sins of town living: he let some of his grass grow for three straight weeks. Funny thing is, no one complained. Joe found that letting the weeds grow taller actually made it easier to pull them out. The longer grass staved off the dandelions.

Joe reports that he usually mows long anyway, leaving it 3.5 to 4 inches long. "A little bit longer grass is better grass," says Joe: it has more leaf to catch the sun and dew, needs less chemicals, keeps the weeds down, and grows more evenly and slowly than crewcut lawns. Go figure!

Joe also reports first garden radishes of the season. Radish and butter sandwiches -- ah, the good life!

Enjoy your sandwich, Joe. And everybody -- get out and enjoy your backyard this weekend.

Update 19:17: An alert reader catches my goof from this morning: Bill Even is the Secretary of Agriculture. Secretary of State Chris Nelson generally does not take official positions on feedlots and big dairy development.

The same alert reader offers his correction and more:

Bill Even is not Secretary of State, get your facts straight, he is Secretary of Agriculture.

You need to read and understand what is on the website before you start running your mouth. The immigration refers to farmers from other countries bringing their capitol here to make a living. Is that a bad thing? What is the problem with dairy farms, they produce milk that is processed in SD creating more jobs.

People like you need to move to CA or NY!!!!!

The reader apparently prefers foreign investors and immigrant labor to us locals. Sounds a lot like the dairy industry: they could make a lot more money if they just didn't have to put up with the people who actually live here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Treachery? From the Clintons? Too Juicy to Be True...

Update 16:40: Mr. Epp gets a better Twitter and notes at 15:29 this afternoon that the Clinton proposal came before the primary. Thus, as suspected, no great treachery, just some fun backroom maneuvering... and still an interesting last-ditch attempt by the Clinton campaign to use money and superdelegates to snatch victory from the jaws of Obama-mania. I hope Senator Clinton will still come to our state this fall to help campaign against Initiated Measure 11.

-------------original post-------------

Mr. Epp posts an intriguing note from the state Democratic convention in Chamberlain about an offer from the Clinton camp to hold a fundraiser here in South Dakota to help out our state Democratic Party. All they wanted in return was two superdelegates.

The story from Mr. Epp remains unclear. Was this quid pro quo offered before the South Dakota primary or after? Did it precede her endorsement of Obama the Saturday after the primary? Was the deal for the two superdelegates Clinton has or two more?

Ms. Ross wonders if there might be treachery unfolding even as Senator Clinton appears in Unity (NH) with Senator Obama today. The story sounds all too juicy to be true.

And so what: two measly superdelegates? What good could they do?

The conspiratorial side of me can't resist checking the numbers: Clinton has 1896.5 delegates, 222 short of the 2118 needed to win the nomination (Obama has 2229.5). Two more superdelegates out of South Dakota's seven... hmm... were she to find a way to flip the same proportion of party elites in every state... 823 superdelegates total, multiply by 2/7... 235 superdelegates.

As I said, too juicy to be true. We look forward to Mr. Epp's further on-the-ground reporting from the convention to give us the full picture on this little summer surprise.

Nelson Throws out Eminent Domain Referral; SB 174 Stands

Jeremiah M. Murphy of the Protect Private Property organization sends bad news for property rights: Secretary of State Chris Nelson has determined that the petitions submitted last week to refer Senate Bill 174 to a public vote did not contain enough valid signatures. Therefore, the law takes effect July 1, giving the DM&E and railroad companies more power to take your land through eminent domain.

Well, if they have this extra power, it would sure be nice of the railroads to start using it for a public purpose, like building some commuter rail across the state....

Asparagus for Astronauts: Mars Good for Gardening

My wife and I are far too rooted to this good earth to ever want to leave Lake Herman. (Erin's out planting herbs right now.) I like to tell people the only thing that could get me to leave would be some major disaster, like the Yellowstone supervolcano blowing its stack again, or a big old asteroid bearing down on the planet.

But we should always have a Plan B (note to NASA: get to work on more shuttles!). So should that asteroid come, it's nice to know we could pack up our gardening gear and set up shop on Mars. Really! The Phoenix Mars Lander has found that Martian soil—at least up in the northern polar region where the probe is taking samples—has lots of yummy minerals and a pH level between 8 and 9, just right for growing asparagus and other garden goodies.

Of course there are minor issues like an atmosphere too thin to breathe or protect from cosmic radiation and an average temperature of -81° F, but that's what domes are for!

Asparagus on Mars, humanity to the stars... in an infinite universe, there are infinite possibilities.

Latest Cause of Recession: Common Sense

We're still not in a recession: Gross Domestic Product is still growing (1% in 2008 Q1). We haven't even had one quarter of economic shrinkage, let alone two to meet the standard economists' (or CosmoGirl's) defintion of recession. We're still buying more stuff and doing more business than the same period last year, just not as much as various financial interests would like us to.

Yet some pundits insist on calling the current economic situation a recession. Recession or not, why isn't the economy chugging along as vigorously as some would like? I humbly suggest the economy is experiencing a recession of foolishness and a resurgence of common sense:

  1. Americans are being "more cautious in their spending and investment, restraining overall economic activity." If "normal" growth of 2.5–3% requires risky mortgages and other unhealthy financial behavior, maybe it's time to redefine "normal."
  2. The economy is weak only because we let "market fundamentals" get "badly out of whack." To paraphrase business columnist Steven Pearlstein ["This Recession, It's Just Beginining," Washington Post, 2008.06.27], we did lots of things that don't make sense: consuming more than we produce, overexpanding industries, and pushing real estate values beyond our incomes with bad mortgages. In other words, we spent much of this decade living beyond our means. Restoring common sense means spending less on stuff we don't need... and accepting smaller GDP growth rates for some time.
  3. The Big 3 U.S. automakers suffered double-digit declines in sales in April, largely because folks aren't buying trucks and SUVs at the breakneck pace of the 1990s. Toyota sales in April increased 3%. Could it be people are realizing they don't need four-wheel drive to go get groceries in June? When you build your business on irrational desires (as GM, Ford, and Chrysler have) rather than practical needs, common sense and frugality are your worst enemy.
The folks who blindly chant "growth is good" buy into a phony economy. Common sense may not produce double-digit growth, but it does lay the groundwork for a sustainable economy that serves real needs, not simply shareholder portfolios.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

DC v. Heller Affirms Limited Gun Rights

So Justice Scalia and four colleagues finally put in writing that the Second Amendment gives us the right to pack heat in our homes, even if we aren't arming ourselves for service in the militia the Constitution mentions. Strict constructionists, where art thou?

But don't get too excited, Second Amendment brothers and sisters. Before you try reviving the guns-on-campus bill the South Dakota Legislature rejected this year, read Scalia's opinion:

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms [Supreme Court of the United States, District of Columbia et al. v. Heller, No. 07-290, slip opinion, 2008.06.26, p. 2].

Guns in your house? O.K. But guns in schools and courthouses, as some gun activists call for? Even Justice Scalia recognizes that's silly.

Big Commutes, Big Houses on the Way Out?

NY Times plays catch-up with Madville Times this morning, turning its attention to the impact of rising energy prices on housing prices and urban sprawl. Folks in the suburbs and exurbs are rethinking the size of their commutes and their houses. A two-story living room in a big house an hour from work sounds great until oil leaps permanently into the triple-digit price range:

But life on the edges of suburbia is beginning to feel untenable. Mr. Boyle and his wife must drive nearly an hour to their jobs in the high-tech corridor of southern Denver. With gasoline at more than $4 a gallon, Mr. Boyle recently paid $121 to fill his pickup truck with diesel fuel. In March, the last time he filled his propane tank to heat his spacious house, he paid $566, more than twice the price of 5 years ago.

Though Mr. Boyle finds city life unappealing, it is now up for reconsideration.

“Living closer in, in a smaller space, where you don’t have that commute,” he said. “It’s definitely something we talk about. Before it was ‘we spend too much time driving.’ Now, it’s ‘we spend too much time and money driving.’ ”

Across the nation, the realization is taking hold that rising energy prices are less a momentary blip than a change with lasting consequences. The shift to costlier fuel is threatening to slow the decades-old migration away from cities, while exacerbating the housing downturn by diminishing the appeal of larger homes set far from urban jobs [Peter S. Goodman, "Fuel Prices Shift Math for Life in Far Suburbs," New York Times, 2008.06.25].

We kept our Lake Herman house relatively small (1232 square feet), and I can still ride my bike the five miles to Madison and back, so we won't be moving to town any time soon. But it will be interesting to see the shift of urban development back to livable urban centers, where people can walk to work and shop and don't spend their lives encased and isolated in big cars and houses.

Bush Lifts North Korea Sanctions

...what's next: Sibby to Endorse Obama?

The Right calls Senator Obama naïve for expressing a willingness to talk to Castro and Ahmadinejad. So what will they call President Bush for trading with the Axis of Evil? North Korea hands 60 pieces of paper to China ("an accounting of its nuclear work"), six months later than promised, and President Bush announces he'll lift some trade sanctions and take North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Talking with Kim Jong Il would be right out. But opening up some trade and saying he's no longer a terrorist sponsor, just because he hands over some overdue papers, that's fine.

So I guess the Axis of Evil is now just a Point of Evil. Maybe if Ahmadinejad will just write "I will not wipe Israel from the face of the Earth" on the blackboard 500 times, President Bush will lift sanctions on Iran, too.

Civil Discourse, Peons, Fear and Trembling

So I'm two steps from the supper table—heaping salad from the garden, spaghetti, homemade rolls, yum!—when the phone rings. I get it, and a woman asks, "Are you the one who writes all those letters to the editor about the Highway 34 project?"

All those letters? I think I sent one letter, an edited version of this blog post, to the Madison Daily Leader on the subject of expanding Highway 34. That letter ran in print in May 2007.

I mention that I write a lot and ask if the caller has read my website. She says she has nothing to do with computers. Let's not get too carried away with calling newspapers "legacy media": I still get a lot more comments around town about my occasional letters to the editor than I do my daily blog output. (Then again, folks who want to comment about my blog don't have to wait to bump into me at the grocery store.)

Anyway, the lady caller, who avoided naming herself until the very end of the call, said she agreed with my suggestion that we build more turning lanes on Highway 34 rather than making it a full four-laner all the way from Lake Madison to I-29. "We've got other roads into Madison," she said. She'd rather see us improve Highway 19 up from I-90, not with four lanes, but just decent shoulders where folks would have room to pull over (she's right: I've biked Highway 19, and there's not a lot of room between your wheels and the ditch).

The caller expressed disapproval of the various Highway 34 Four for the Future signs around town. She suggested I balance that message by writing another letter to the paper on this topic. I noted that I've already written on the topic, and that a letter from a different voice in the community might be more effective. "Ma'am, why don't you write that letter?"

"Oh, I don't want my name in the paper. I'm just a peon."

Peon? There's a word that doesn't pop into every phone conversation. I asked the woman who she thought I was. I'm not money; I'm just a local who say what he's thinking. I'm no different from you, I told the caller. What's stopping you from writing that letter?

"I'm intimidated by the folks with money."

Intimidated. I've heard people say it before, in person and online. Folks around here are afraid of the simple business of saying what they think. There's this strange idea that if we engage in simple civil discourse, if we take a firm public position on anything, the "folks with money" in Madison are going to come and take away our birthdays.

But seriously, what does the caller think would happen: she'd write a letter to the editor, and the Highway 34 boosters would come over and tear up her rosebushes?

The caller wouldn't pin her intimidation to any specific outcome, but despite my polite urgings, she wouldn't commit to writing that letter herself.

Looks like I still have work to do. I'll keep trying!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama: Dobson "Making Stuff Up"

Says Senator Barack Obama in response to Dr. James Dobson's criticism yesterday of his June 2006 speech on religion and politics:

I think you'll see that he was just making stuff up, maybe for his own purposes.

For more on Dobson's willful deceptions, see also "James Dobson Doesn't Speak for Me," a website created by a group of religious leaders comparing statements from Dobson and Obama.

Update 18:10: Escapee from the "soft theocracy" Frank Schaeffer writes "Dr. Dobson Has Just Handed Obama Victory." Schaeffer says Dobson is simply lashing out, alienating more and more evangelicals as his power wanes with the Bush Administration. Sweet!

SD Newspaper Assoc. Offers Public Notice Website...

...and The Madville Times takes it for a test drive!

Monday's print MDL puts out the word that the old media is trying to keep government bodies from jumping to the new media by offering to do new media for them: the South Dakota Newspaper Association has created www.SDPublicNotices.com, an online archive of public and legal notices. Agendas, meeting minutes, publication of resolutions and ordinances—now all available in searchable form on the Internet... once they've been paid for and published in the print editions of the SDNA's member papers.

Now one of the great advantages of the Internet is that it allows us to get our information straight from the source, without filtering through corporate interests. Heck, we can participate in putting that information out there ourselves. SDNA general manager David Bordewyk demonstrates old media's complete disconnect from that new media philosophy by insisting the exact opposite:

Local officials have argued that they can eliminate the expense of publishing the notices in newspapers and instead put those notices on their own Web sites, Bordewyk said.

"There's no need for local governments to go to the expense to do that," the SDNA executive said. "There's a cost for them to do it, too. They can't do it for nothing."

"Secondly, by the fact that they're published first and foremost in newspapers, it's a bona fide third-party publication. It's an independent third-party verification of a public notice. It is not government publishing this itself, and that's historically why notices, in large part, were published in newspapers because it provides third-party independent verification of that publication" ["Public Notices Put on Web," AP via Madison Daily Leader, 2008.06.23, p.14].

Independent verification? Um, when I submit the minutes from Lake Herman Sanitary District meetings for publication, the Leader never calls me back to check what I've written. All I get is the bill.

But let's not haggle over philosophical differences between old and new media; let's take this public notice website for a test drive!

The main page offers a search box (click image to enlarge) with lots of fun options. I can set "Items per page" to 10, 25, and on up to 1000 (now that's four-whell-drive search!). One option, fuzzy searching, lets you set the degree of tolerance for misspelling (no indication of whether it will help you find legal mention of Sibby and myself faster). The date selector lets you go all the way back to 1990 and even forward to 2012 (cool! I can fast forward to see if I win the 2012 school board election!). However, a note in the adjacent frame says, "Due to the time sensitive nature of the material contained on this website, notices over three months old are automatically removed."

Time sensitive?
What the school board put in the budget is less time-sensitive than a three-month window of interest. Hmm....

So I try out a search. I enter "Madison Central School Board" in the search box, ask the system to search for the exact phrase, select 25 entries per page, set File Date between Jan 2001 and Jun 2008, and narrow the search to Lake County and the Madison Daily Leader:

Oops. I'm pretty sure the Madison Central School Board has conducted some business in the past seven years.

So I change the search criterion to "all of the words" and get 64 results. Unfortunately, those results are not restricted to legal notices. The links open slow PDF format copies of the original newspaper pages—not just the legal notice of interest, but the whole darn page, complete with the "Good Old Days" columns, obits, photos, and all sorts of other extraneous material.

I click on the first link; two and a half minutes later, up comes a PDF of page 3 of June 13's MDL. There is a news story about the board's upcoming meeting to consider applicants for the vacant seat on the board. I try the second link; the SDNA burns another two minutes of my life, and I get a page full of legals... but the only one relevant to the school board is the minutes of the June 3 Prairie Lakes Educational Cooperative meeting. The third link doesn't even mention our school district. Hmmm....

I try something a little more fun: I search "Heidelberger." Let's see how many times my relatives and I have gotten our noses into official government business. There's a little better luck here, but the results drag up non-legal content. The search results include mentions in the April 16 Tyndall Tribune & Register and the April 17 Platte Enterprise of my Uncle Howard and Aunt Bev's presentation on tree care at a garden program in Parkston, letters to the editor in the April 7 MDL concerning my candidacy for the school board (oddly, no sign of Heather's letter).

All those PDFs, with no speedier text option, demonstrate that the SDNA is still more interested in spotlighting its print product than providing an optimal searchable online database. I could provide the governmental agencies of Lake County a faster, more user-friendly archive of legal notices by pasting their text into a separate Blogspot site and letting users rely on the built-in Blogger search bar.

Such an independent website would also be accessible through regular search engines. As it stands right now, I'm betting Google can't access the SDNA's content. (Try Googling "Madison 'Lake County Commission' minutes April 2008" and see what comes up.) Folks looking for minutes of the Lake County commission won't find them if they use Google, Yahoo, or the other usual tools; they have to know that the SDNA is offering this service and go specifically to the SDNA website to access their restricted and slow archive. I guess I'll have to do the public service of blogging about SDNA's project so it gets some Google juice and people can find it.

The SDNA's online archive of public notices is better than nothing. The information in all those agendae and minutes and other notices may not be available online anywhere else— Lake County's website has absolutely no document archives, and I sure can't blog about everything going on with the school boards, township boards, and other entities in our fair county. Of course, in the time it takes to download the PDFs from SDNA, you could probably just call your school secretary or county auditor and get the information you need straight from the source.

But the bigger problem is that, as usual, the old media seem more concerned with protecting the market share of a fading product rather than using new technology to provide the best possible public service.

Dell Rapids Takes Second Swing at School Bond

If at first you don't succeed, campaign, campaign again....

KJAM reports that Dell Rapids voters will go to the polls again this fall to vote on a $16 million dollar construction bond issue. Dell Rapids voters turned down the bond measure in May: a 52% majority supported it, but bond issues require 60% to pass. Superintendent Tom Ludens wants to have another vote in the fall to give bond supporters more time to press their case with a wavering 8% of the Dell Rapids electorate.

I am reminded of conversations I had this spring when I was campaigning for the school board. Some folks were worried that, if elected, I might blog about disagreements with majority decisions of the board. "Once the board votes, that's the decision," folks told me, "and you have to support it." I could see their point: for the school board to function properly, individual members can't sit around rehashing votes they may lose. The board votes, policy is set, and we move on to the next issue.

That thinking is even written into the Madison Central school board's member code of ethics: "Once a decision has been reached by the majority of the board assembled at the meeting, I will support it graciously" [clause 6].

Evidently the Dell Rapids school board doesn't apply the same thinking with respect to the popular will. Dell Rapids voters expressed their will. The Dell Rapids school board didn't like the result, but instead of accepting that vote and moving forward, the board has been pushing for a do-over since the week after the election.

A board member continuing to call for revotes on decided issues might cause meetings to run a little longer. Calling a public revote costs actual tax dollars. Given that added expense and trouble, I would think justifying a repeat public vote would require more than someone's desire to have a few more months to persuade a few more voters.

SD Takes Gov't Handouts for Failed Abstinence Ed Programs

Want to see a state with a welfare mentality? See South Dakota. We'll take any government handouts we can get our hands on... even when the handouts have been proven not to work. Case in point: abstinence education. We are taking $102,000 to tell kids that sex before marriage will mess them up phhysically and psychologically.

Now we shouldn't single out South Dakota: we are just one of 28 states slurping at the trough of federal money to keep the Unruhs in business. But two of those states, Arizona and Iowa, are turning down the money next year, joining a 40% decline in participation in the federal program.

What? Turn down federal money? Why on earth...

Well, Iowa Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat, says the federal program attempts to supplant the knowledge and authority of local teachers who actually know the kids and what will get through to them best. (Again, that's a Democrat talking local control.)

Idaho bailed out last year when the funding proved too unpredictable to budget. Idaho also saw the mounting evidence that abstinence-only education doesn't work. Case in point: Idaho's own rising teen pregnancy rate.

But in South Dakota and 25 other states, wasted federal money is apparently better than no federal money. $102,000 -- don't spend it all in one place!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

James Dobson: "I'm Not a Theologian"

Quote of the week from the man who presumes to question Barack Obama's ability to read the Bible and apply it to his own life:

I am not a Reverend. I’m not a minister. I’m not a theologian. I’m not an evangelist. I’m a psychologist. I have a PhD in Child Development from the University of Southern California...

[James Dobson, radio broadcast, 2008.06.24, transcribed by Pondering Pastor].

No kidding, Jim.

Oh, why stop there. Dobson has this exchange with his co-host [emphasis mine]:

Co-Host: “And you remember more recently that he quoted the Sermon on the Mount, cited the Sermon on the Mount as justifying same-sex marriage. So it seems that he is vastly confused about details of Biblical exposition, yet he’s painting himself in this highly religious aura.”

Dr. Dobson: “And then says, go read the Bible. Go read the Bible, I mean as though he is some kind of Biblical authority."

Pot, meet Kettle.

Interestingly, Dobson says he only just found out about Obama's 2006 speech to Jim Wallis's "Call to Renewal" group. Really? A potential Democratic nominee delivers a seminal speech on religion and progressive politics to an audience of key opponents of Dobson's right-wingery. The religion of the speaker becomes fodder for all sorts of questions and controversy as the primary season gets going, offering great motivation for interested individuals to dig up what the speaker has previously said about religion. Yet it takes two years for that speech to ping on the Focus on the Family radar? Wow -- maybe the Colorado Springs Caliphate really isn't ready to counter an inspired and surging Religious Left.

Update 2008.06.25 08:25CDT: Jim Wallis was in the seats for Obama's speech two years ago. Wallis calls Dobson on his own deliberate distoritions and speculates on the real reason Dobson has launched this barely coherent deceptive attack on Obama:

Older Religious Right leaders are now being passed by a new generation of young evangelicals who believe that poverty, “creation care” of the environment, human trafficking, human rights, pandemic diseases like HIV/AIDS, and the fundamental issues of war and peace are also “religious” and “moral” issues and now a part of a much wider and deeper agenda. That new evangelical agenda is a deep threat to James Dobson and the power wielded by the Religious Right for so long.

Dobson needs to get back to focusing on the family, since American politics is about to leave him behind.

Father Gallagher on SDPB Tomorrow

Father Cathal Gallagher of DeSmet faces deportation in one week, assuming the bureaucrats don't find the priest's permanent residency application that they lost in some desk in Washington, DC. The good father got some good press in that Sioux Falls paper on Sunday; now SDPB gives Father Gallagher a chance to tell his story on the air. Listen to Father Gallagher tomorrow (Wednesday) noon on Dakota Midday.

MN AG Acts Against Polluting Dairy Feedlot

A couple weeks ago, the Excel Dairy confined animal feed operation (CAFO) stunk so bad that the Minnesota Department of Health recommended neighbors evacuate the area. Now if someone drives me from my home by being a bad neighbor, I expect that thug to face some punishment.

Well, a reader alerts me tha now Excel Dairy faces some real trouble. The dairy and its South Dakota owners, the all-too-appropriately named Dirty Dozen LLP*, must answer to a lawsuit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota's Attorney General Lori Swanson. We're not talking shutdown yet, but the AG and MPCA want the Marshall County District Court to force Excel Dairy to comply with environmental regulations and pay fines for the damage they've done.

Veblen's Prairie Ridge Management runs the dairy. CEO Rick Millner says the lawsuit is "misguided." The smell has gotten better since residents began leaving, he says. Of course, he lives in Veblen, right?

Good farmers and good businesses should also be good neighbors. You have a responsibility to make sure the stink, the noise, and whatever other damage you may do in the course of making a living never gets so bad that we have to call the attorney general to put a stop to it. Excel Dairy's disregard for its neighbors and the environment deserves the fullest punishment Minnesota law can muster.

I enjoy my cheeseburgers. Let's raise all the livestock we can, but let's do it in a way that the land and our neighbors can support.

*Ryan Schuster of the Grand Forks Herald reports that almost too-bad-to-be-true name for the owning company. My earlier reading identified the owner as Dairy Dozen. My apologies for whoever of us got it wrong.

Mountain Lion Advice: Get Big!

"[T]he lions are actually more scared of us than we are of them."

PP may not believe it, but that's the advice from our trusty GF&P. KELO's Karla Ramaekers talks to GF&P's John Kanta for some advice on what to do if you meet a mountain lion in the woods. Basically, get big like bear. Stand tall, face the critter, shout at it, do all you can to look and sound like the toughest hombre in the forest (or slough, or Badlands, or—heavens forfend!—backyard). And if it comes at you, fight like heck!

GF&P has more mountain lion advice here. You can even learn mountain lion language—go figure!

Get big—that was the strategy my hiking buddies and I always followed. Unfortunately, we always ran into buffalo, not mountain lions. And trying to act big around buffalo is just silly. If you meet buffalo in the wild, act like deer, not bear: don't act threatening, just move along, and be small. More easily said than done when you're wearing a giant frame pack and hiking with guys who are 6'4"....

Fruitcake? Well, James Dobson Would Know...

James Dobson is taking to the Focus on the Family airwaves today to accuse Senator Barack Obama of distorting the Bible. Dobson takes issue with Obama's keynote address to Jim Wallis's "Call to Renewal" group in June 2006.

I've linked to this speech before. In it, Obama discusses his journey to Christian faith, his understanding of how to put that faith to work, and how he sees Christianity informing politics. It is a sensitive, thoughtful speech about the need to "tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America." Obama tells us that Americans understand that "something is missing" in a life that revolves around mere material pursuits. He says the black church, "in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man," helped him "see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope." Obama says his very intentional faith is indispensible:

Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts. You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey [Senator Barack Obama, "Call to Renewall Keynote Address," Washington, DC, 2006.06.28].

The proper theological response is, "Amen, brother!" Instead, James Dobson is saying that Obama is "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology.... He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter." For good measure, Dobson also labels Obama's position on abortion "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution."

Fruitcake? Is that a political assessment, a theological assessment, or a psychological assessment? The latter is the only one Dobson is remotely qualified to offer. Remember, Dobson is a psychologist* with a doctorate in child development. He's never had any formal theological training. Of course, neither has Obama. My wife has more theological training than the both of them, and independently of our political leanings, she has yet to spot anything "fruity" in Obama's pronouncements on religion.

Fruitcake doesn't strike me as the sort of word I would expect a pious man like Dobson to use in describing Obama's sincere effort to discuss faith in the public realm in words intended to promote understanding and practical action. Obama actually defends the idea that religion has a proper and vital role in public discourse, a position Dobson and his followers supposedly embrace... or does that only apply to religion that supports their political agenda?

Fruitcake sounds more appropriate as a description of the "theology" Dobson's fellow traveler Alan Keyes tried to use against Obama in the 2004 Senate race. From Obama's "Call to Renewal" speech:

Mr. Keyes is well-versed in the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson style of rhetoric that often labels progressives as both immoral and godless.

Indeed, Mr. Keyes announced towards the end of the campaign that, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved."

Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. [Obama, 2006.06.28]

Be sure to watch the video so you can hear the laughter and disdain for Keyes's words. Obama is saying that religion isn't about calling other people fruitcakes and claiming God wouldn't vote for them. Religion is about translating our beliefs into good work in this world.

If you listen to Dobson's full speech online, be sure to give the text it critiques a fair read as well. Heck, you can even watch Obama's speech on YouTube. But don't expect a flashy arena speech. No silver-tongued devilry, just intelligent talk about faith and action. Part 1 is below; you can find the other four parts on YouTube.

*Wikipedia slips up: their current entry for Dr. Dobson says his California psychologist's license lapsed in April 2008. However, the link Wikipedia provides to the California Board of Psychology indicates Dobson has renewed his license (number PSY3203) through April 2010.


Update 18:08 CDT: An ELCA pastor from the Delaware-Maryland synod offers an insightful breakdown of Dobson's manipulative, defensive, and deceptive commentary. To think some people are willing to pay good money for Bible study materials from a charlatan like Dobson.

Motongator Joe Country Music Festival This Weekend at Prairie Village

Get all the "Yeehaw!" and beer you can handle this weekend: Motongator Joe and a whole bunch of other country music acts are coming to our fair county to spend three days kicking up their heels at Prairie Village. $30 Check out the schedule for Motongator Joe's Country Music Festival, see what you want to come listen to.

Now I must admit, I'm still wondering how well our community will receive this event. Identifying our community with "hillbilly testosterone outlaw" anything still doesn't sound like the best marketing tack... but if it brings money to town, maybe the Chamber won't mind. Any event that advertises quiet hours for campers that don't start until 1 a.m. makes me a little nervous. (You know how I feel about keeping the peace on Lake Herman and letting folks get their sleep.) Fun and economic development are nice, but so is respecting your neighbors.

But hey, let's look at the big picture: We're getting three whole days of live outdoor music. Prairie Village will be busy, and we'll have a chance to show the Motongator Militia what a nice place this is to visit.

Monday, June 23, 2008

GOP Nightmare: Democrats United!

Republicans are running out of fantasies to entertain that might help them cling to their belief that Senator McCain can salvage the GOP's chances of winning the White House in November. McCain supporters wanted to believe that Obama's hiring of former Clintonista Patti Solis Doyle was a big flip of the bird to Clinton. Yet Clinton is ready to start campaigning with Obama, with the first joint event in aptly-chosen Unity, New Hampshire, on Friday. Says Clinton in a video on her website:

Together we made history and I will continue to work toward our common goal of building an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us.... This goal is shared by our Democratic Party nominee, Senator Barack Obama, and I look forward to campaigning with him across this great country of ours.

Says Obama to women in Albuquerque:

"Standing here today, I know that we have drawn closer to making this America a reality because of the extraordinary woman who I shared a stage with so many times throughout this campaign -- Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. And in the months and years ahead, I look forward to working with her to make progress on the issues that matter to American women and to all American families -- health care and education, support for working parents and an insistence on equality."

Gee, doesn't sound like the conversation I'd expect to arise from "the biggest f--- you I've ever seen in politics." (Keep wishing, WorldNetDaily readers.)

And what about all those diehard Clinton voters who swore they would vote for McCain if Obama took the nomination? As expected, just primary season bluster. A Fox News poll finds Clinton supporters making the shift, with only 17% of them saying they'll vote for McCain in November. In April, 32% of Clinton's people said they'd pick McCain over Obama. I'm betting at least half of that lingering 17% are using their responses to pollsters as leverage for the vice-presidential slot. Get past Denver, and and with or without Clinton on the ticket, McCain's Clintonista support will dwindle to a single digit... maybe not even enough to compensate for the bleeding Bob Barr will cause.

Dems united -- scary thought, isn't it?

Obama Tackling Energy Speculators, Administration Denying Reality

Then again, Obama is getting energy policy right. Remember the Enron Loophole explained by Michael Greenberger on Marketplace last week? Obama must have been listening. His campaign announced yesterday that Obama plans to bring energy speculators to heel:

Senator Obama announced a plan today to crack down on excessive energy speculation and fully close the “Enron Loophole” to ease the impact of skyrocketing gas prices. The Enron Loophole was created by McCain campaign co-chair Phil Gramm at the behest of Enron, and exempts most over-the-counter energy trades and trading on electronic energy commodity markets from regulation.

That same campaign blog post includes a number of links from experts on how much speculation is inflating oil prices beyond any reasonable reflection of actual market conditions. Read, read, read!

Meanwhile, the Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman III contends "There is no evidence that we can find that speculators are driving futures prices." This from the same Administration that hadn't heard anything about $4-per-gallon gasoline coming this spring.

Memo to the White House: You can't find evidence if you aren't looking for it....

Update 09:11 CDT: McCain is saying plenty about energy also. Last week he proposed boosting nuclear and clean-coal. Now he says he can solve our energy problems with cash: $300 million in government prize money to the inventor who can come up with the best new battery to power electric cars. You know, there's nothing wrong with rewarding ingenuity. Engineers, fire up those slide rules!

Obama Needs Dose of Kucinich on FISA Reform

SD Moderate reminds me why I miss Dennis Kucinich. Barack Obama appears poised to cave on a pledge to filibuster any FISA reform offering retroactive immunity to the telecom corporations who have cahootsified with the government in trashing the Constitution and tapping our phones. Our own own Congresswoman has voted for that immunity.

Meanwhile Dennis Kucinich sticks to his principles and votes against the current legislation:

Thank you, Dennis. You need to pay a visit to Obama's office this week and remind him that compromise has its place, but not on Constitutional rights.

Of course, we all know where Senator McCain stands on immunity for wealthy interests who break the law....

Bucks Before Birds: Farmers to Plow Almost Half of SD CRP Acres

While I lament the loss of a couple dozen good trees, South Dakota is on pace to lose 44% of the wildlife habitat previously held in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Patrick Morrison reports in yesterday's Yankton Press & Dakotan that "300,000 acres of CRP were converted to production ground last year, reducing the overall number of CRP acres to 1.2 million." Biologist Chad Switzer of Game Fish and Parks estimates farmers will convert another 120,000 acres this year and 240,000 next. That's 660,000 acres -- over a thousand square miles, equivalent to almost all the land in Lake and Moody Counties -- where pheasants won't be able to nest, breed, or roost as they did just two years ago.

Why the decrease? Simple economics: with farm prices up thanks to ethanol and Asian demand, CRP just doesn't pay like it used to. And with America's failed energy policy driving up costs for fuel and fertilizer, farmers have to put short-term payoffs over long-term habitat protection

Oh well -- with ammo prices going up 50% or more, you don't want to shoot as many birds anyway, did you?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Stricherz: Hyperion Bad for South Dakota

And now for some guest Republican commentary from District 8 House candidate Patricia Stricherz. My post on the neighbors' deforestation project sparked a conversation about trees, the environment, and, ultimately, candidate Stricherz's opinion of the proposed Hyperion refinery at Elk Point. Don't expect this opinion to win her a fat campaign donation from the usual suspects on the GOP/petro-plutocracy side of the aisle:

...I do not agree with our Governor here. Like anyone, I am horrified by the high prices of fuel and feel that there is something stinky in Denmark pertaining to this situation. I believe that there are other alternatives and would like for our country to use these other alternatives and worry more about our citizens comfort and not the pockets of big business.

Living my teen years in Cheyenne, Wyoming with Frontier Oil ( it's now Husky Oil) and watching an entire family one by one die from cancer, as well as to many others ( one being my own Father) smelling the stench of the air ( there were days when we literally could not inhale) witnessing first hand the landscape around the factory being completely bare of plant life, it makes me just cringe to even imagine anything like that happening to our state.

I wonder just exactly what or how Hyperion plans on doing to make their plant "green" because if this is at all possible then why hasn't it been made mandatory for all existing plants to convert to this process. For Hyperion to make the claim that one in every 70 years will be diagnosed with cancer, is just insane. It's as if they are saying that it's okay to take the chance of losing one human life...after all its only one. No...it's more than just one, because that one life touches so many other lives and it's not right to make human life disposable.

...I am rather passionate about life and hate to see it disregarded for money, power or greed. I may be mistaken, but I believe that these three things were in Candide's seventh level of hell.

[Patricia Stricherz, e-mail, 2008.06.21]

Oh my -- did I just hear a pro-life philosophy applied consistently to the energy business?

Stricherz offers a few more interesting points on Hyperion of which I hope she will remind voters during the fall campaign. She believes that given the enormous impact the proposed refinery would have on the entire state, the project should be put to a statewide vote. If the refinery does become reality, she favors more stringent environmental regulations to hold Hyperion to its "green" word. (By the way, Mrs. Madville Times and I are watching There Will Be Blood, so forgive us if we feel extra suspicious of any oilman's "word" this weekend.)

Stricherz also says the talk of a refinery bringing down gas prices in South Dakota is exaggeration at best:

I just did a little research and found that we would only be saving pennies on the dollar. Cheyenne's gas prices are not that much different from ours. So I feel as if Hyperion is trying to decieve the people in order to get their way. Not good! Again I say...our environment and our citizens health is worth a lot more than a few pennies [Stricherz, e-mail, 2008.06.22].

Check prices for yourself: GasBuddy.com tonight reports an average price per gallon of gasoline in Cheyenne of $3.920. Average price in Sioux Falls: $4.016. Our drive to town this p.m. showed an average price in Madison for E-10 of $3.899.

I asked Stricherz if she would support increased taxes to fund environmental protection. No go there: Stricherz says we should focus on education first, get people to recognize their "responsibility [for] taking care of our environment." Whether education will work on Hyperion's oilmen remains to be seen.

Stricherz says she treasures the open prairie, native grasses, livestock, and trees here and doesn't want to see us give in to economic development that turns us into a "concrete state" like New York or California.

In our e-mail exchange, I again suggested that with talk like that on Hyperion and the environment, Stricherz mind find herself stretching the seams of the Republican tent a little far and that she might find herself more comfortable on my side of the political aisle. No go there, either... although Stricherz strikes a bipartisan—or is it nonpartisan?— note:

I am a child of God first and foremost and do not wish to be identified as much by my political affilations as much as my opinions, beliefs, and ideas [Stricherz, e-mail, 2008.06.22].

So, just how many joint campaign appearances will the GOP's Jerry Johnson and Russell Olson of Madison be making with Stricherz on the campaign trail? Stay tuned... (and hey, Jerry, e-mail me your platform!).

What Part of "Yes We Can!" Doesn't Press Understand?

Just a little Stuart Smalley morning affirmation...

I am greeted over breakfast with this heck-in-a-handbasket hand-wringing from the doom-and-gloom media:

Is everything spinning out of control? Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Air fares, college tuition and health care border on unaffordable. Wars without end rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism.

Horatio Alger, twist in your grave.

The can-do, bootstrap approach embedded in the American psyche is under assault. Eroding it is a dour powerlessness that is chipping away at the country's sturdy conviction that destiny can be commanded with sheer courage and perseverance [Alan Fram and Eileen Putman, "Everything Seemingly Is Spinning out of Control," AP via Yahoo, 2008.06.22].

Fram and Putman get two awards this morning: Honorable Mention for Bad Headline Writing and a special Unruh Award for Denying Reality. The writers proceed to cite Senator Obama's promise of change and his supporters' belief in "his exhortation, 'Yes, we can'" as proof of a growing American sense of helplessness.

Are there problems in our fair country and county? Sure. Are we helpless and hopeless? Heck no! If I believed there was nothing we could do about petro-addiction, hyperconsumerism, plutocracy, and fundagelical nuttiness, I wouldn't be blogging. I'm not here to chronicle the collapse of Western civilization; I'm here to stop it. ¡Sí se puede!

McCain Addiction to Privilege More Troubling Than Addiction to Painkillers

My wife mentioned over supper yesterday that Cindy McCain, second wife of GOP Presidential candidate Senator John McCain, is a drug addict. I looked up from my chips, wondering if DailyKos had replaced Prairie Roots at my dinner table. Nope: same sensible lady I woke up with.

Cindy McCain herself openly admitted her addiction to Percocet and Vicodin in the Arizona press in 1994. The public confession came in an effort to get out in front of potential bad press from a Drug Enforcement Agency investigation looking into whether Mrs. McCain had defrauded her own medical charity to obtain bogus prescriptions—basically, she was stealing drugs to feed her addiction.

Now my wife isn't into the politics of personal destruction. She leans toward the position of Harold Pollack, who writes in the Huffington Post that we ought not trash Cindy McCain for falling victim to an all-too-common medical problem.

What does distinguish the story of Mrs. McCain's addiction is her ability to escape legal consequences. Mrs. McCain paid financial restitution and got treatment, but she never served time, and her husband's lawyers initially got a deal with the DEA to keep the whole matter secret. How many of us commoners would receive such gentle treatment from the law for theft and drug abuse?

Ponder this double standard: Michelle Obama says a few words about her newfound pride in her country (McCain himself would say one's feelings about one's country can change), and attacks fly that we can't trust her or her husband in the White House. Cindy McCain actually breaks the law, violates the trust of her family and her charity, and her wealth and her husband's power win her special deal from the government to protect her reputation as a pillar of the community.

I generally take a personal responsibility line on drug addiction, but I can dig up some sympathy for drug addicts as victims of a medical condition who need help. I have a little harder time finding sympathy for folks who use their wealth and power to escape the punishment regular folks would face.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

TransCanada to Hold West River Meetings on Pipeline in Pipeline

Hold onto your land deeds, West River readers: TransCanada is coming to your neighborhood. Those land-thievin' Canucks intend to double their profits on our oil addiction by running another pipeline from the tar sands down to U.S. refineries. The Keystone XL (that's "Xtra Large") will carry 700,000 to 900,000 barrels of oil per day (the pipeline coming through stolen East River land will carry a maximum of "only" 590,000 bpd). To create the appearance of seeking our input, TransCanada will hold five public meetings starting next week:
  • Monday, Buffalo, Harding County Memorial Recreation Center
  • Tesday, Faith, Faith Legion Club
  • Wednesday, Philip, Philip High School Fine Arts Building
  • Thursday, Murdo, Murdo Elementary School Mini Gym
  • Monday, June 30, Winner, Holiday Inn Express (Douglas, pick me up a pamphlet or two, and tell me if they serve hors d'oeuvres!)
The show runs in each town from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m., with company reps giving the formal spiel at 4 and 6 p.m.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Howdy, Neighbor -- Goodbye Trees

I'm not prejudiced against backhoes. Really, I'm not....

I should be happy to be getting new neighbors. Some folks bought the last chunk of available lakefront property in our neighborhood last year. Their intent, as we understand it, is to build a nice little lake getaway.

So wouldn't you think they'd enjoy having a nice, well-established shelterbelt to provide a little privacy? Keep the trees, build on the three-quarters of the lot that's clear?

Heavens no. The backhoe, front-end loader, and dumptruck arrived this morning to clear out darn near every tree on the lot. House a-comin' -- those trees gotta go.

Call me a sap. Call me a treehugger. Call me worse. But my heart genuinely aches to see those trees torn down. I felt the same way last year when I drove down the Valley Road and found a great old stand of massive cottonwoods, some looking big enough to have been around since homesteading days, reduced to grim, gnarled piles of refuse, just to make way for a few more acres of some profiteers crops.

It particularly hurts to see trees torn from the prairie because, as my wife reminds me as she watches the destruction, every tree in a shelterbelt—and and so many of the trees we see in South Dakota—is here as a result of some person's labor. (I planted 150 trees and bushes in my yard a couple years ago; I know whereof I speak.) Someone planted those trees long ago, before many of us were born, knowing that he or she would never enjoy the fullest shade and shelter of those trees. These trees are monuments to someone's unselfishness and foresight, better memorials than any tombstone.

And then these trees, which have withstood deer, drought, and windstorms (another mighty blast last night, a surprise gale and downpour that sent us mere humans scurrying for cover while the trees just danced), are knocked over in a workday, to make room for a little bigger garage.

We'll still have the new neighbors over for dinner when they move in. But we hope that everyone in South Dakota will make a little promise: if you absolutely have to clear out some trees for the sake of progress, see if you can transplant them somewhere. And if the trees you have to clear are just too big to move, go down to the conservation district office next spring, and get some saplings, and plant replacements, one for each one you pulled down. Then plant them... wherever, your yard, your kids' yard, wherever you can find a spot. Plant them somewhere you can tend them, somewhere you think they'll last.

SD Motor Fuel Consumption Plummets

Did I read that right? KELO reports that state fuel tax collections in South Dakota dropped 38% in May. Holy cow -- did we South Dakotans really buy 38% less fuel last month? Let's hope that's a sign of real conservation and not just Lou Raguse forgetting a decimal point. Nope, not Lou's fault: it's a Joe Kafka AP story.

Wow -- maybe $4/gallon gas really is the psychological tipping point. No amount of AAA propaganda and boosterism can cover up what could be a real trend toward conservation.

Now before we go dancing in the less-clogged streets t celebrate the new conservation ethic, let's not forget the downside: less fuel-tax revenue means less money in the already tight road-repair budget.

A loss of fuel-tax revenues compounds the shortage of federal money for road projects, [South Dakota Secretary of Transportation Darin Bergquist] said.

Money has become so tight that the Transportation Department is focusing on maintaining highways rather than improving roads or building new ones, Bergquist told legislators.

"We are in preservation mode," he said.

The revenue shortfall has been coupled with highly inflationary costs of road projects in recent years, Bergquist said. "We have seen unprecedented increases."

Although federal highway funding has doubled since 1993, inflation has far outpaced the extra money, he said.

Nearly 80 percent of state highways are in excellent or good condition, most of the rest are fair, and only 3 percent to 4 percent are in poor condition, Bergquist said. But he said no change in federal funding could lead to 19 percent of state highways slipping into poor condition by 2020 ["Officials Say S.D. Needs Road Money," AP via Sioux City Journal, 2008.06.20].

Now maybe, just maybe, another encouraging 38 will save us from a road-repair disaster: nationwide SUV sales dropped 38% in May versus same month last year. If people are driving less and driving less weighty vehicles, maybe the roads won't need as much repair. (Yeah, right -- now if we could just put heated domes over the roads so they wouldn't freeze and thaw every winter and spring....)

Our state DMV director Deb Hillmer appears to agree with me: she told legislators yesterday that vehicle weight and use are the main causes of road wear. Taxing vehicles based on age (that's how we do it now) doesn't square with the impact those vehicles have. It may thus be time to find a new formula for taxing vehicles to fund highway repair. (Hey, how about a vehicle productivity tax? ;-) )

Update 09:05 CDT: On a related note, A Duke University prof says we should think of gas mileage in terms of gallons per mile rather than miles per gallon:

[Dr. Richard] Larrick said most people think improvements in miles per gallon are all the same, where a 5 gallon per mile improvement would yield the same gas savings in a car that gets 10 miles per gallon or 20 miles per gallon. (One mile equals 1.61 kilometers, and one U.S. gallon equals 3.79 liters.)

"The reality that few people appreciate is that improving fuel efficiency from 10 to 20 miles per gallon is actually a more significant savings than improving from 25 to 50 miles per gallon for the same distance of driving," Larrick said [Julie Steenhuysen, "U.S. Drivers Should Think in Gallons Per Mile: Report," Reuters via Yahoo, 2008.06.19].

Or maybe we just need to do like Clint Eastwood in Firefox: hop in our MiG-31s and думать на русском языке -- think in Russian!

Government Health Care Outperforms Private Insurers

The free market is supposed to provide goods and services more efficiently. If the free market can't do that, the government may properly step in to provide those goods and services (so says Adam Smith).

So why are we still letting the private insurance racket gum up the works of our health care system? The American Medical Association issued its first National Health Insurer Report Card this week, and the representatives of the "free" market come out looking pretty bad:

UnitedHealthcare had the lowest rate of contract compliance, according to the AMA report. About 62 percent of medical services billed were paid by UnitedHealthcare at the contracted rate, compared with 71 percent for Aetna and 98 percent for Medicare [Carla K. Johnson, "AMA Issues First Report Card on Health Insurers," AP via Yahoo, 2008.06.16].

What's that? The federal government pays its bills and complies with contracts better than private health insurers? The devil you say!

The private insurers' spinpeople try to shift the blame to the doctors. Laggardly UnitedHealthcare cites a "significant lag time between when services are provided and physician claims are submitted." But if such lag time exists, is there any reason doctors would be submitting their claims faster to the government than the private insurers?

The reality is that when doctors seek payment from Medicare, they aren't dealing with private profiteers who try to delay payment and keep funds in their own bank accounts to earn interest for themselves as long as possible. They're dealing with a government agency whose primary obligation is to citizens and the law, not shareholders.

Doctors spend "14 percent of their total revenue to simply obtain what they've earned," says the AMA's Dr. William Dolan. That's enough to drive some doctors to do what the whole country should do: ban private insurance!

Four years ago, Dr. Marcy Zwelling got so frustrated with the time and cost of making sure she was paid accurately by insurers that she stopped dealing with them. She now runs a so-called "boutique" practice. Most of her patients pay her an annual fee out of their own pockets.

"The best thing is, I get to be a doctor" instead of a claims processor, said Zwelling, of Los Alamitos, Calif. She says she doesn't make any more money than she did when she accepted insurance, but she has more time with patients [Johnson, 2008.06.16].

We have the rest of the industrialized world operating under some sort of national health care plan, spending half as much as the U.S. per capita on health care, and achieving comparable health outcomes. We have small operators like Dr. Zwelling getting out of the private insurance racket, creating true free market conditions for patients, and improving quality of service. Whichever direction we take health care reform, it's pretty clear that eliminating private insurance is part of the solution.

SDSU Feminists Take on Blog Challenge

Feminists ahoy! PP has some new noisy blog neighbors in Brookings: the South Dakota State University Campus Women's Coalition has launched The "F" Word: Feminists in South Dakota. it sounds like Initiated Measure 11 is their primary raison d'être, though the student activist authors promise other political discourse. Among the commentary they offer so far is this worthwhile observation on the hypocrisy of pharmacist "conscience":

Now, some drug stores and supporters are taking it a step further. Besides not providing tobacco or porn, these places also refuse to provide birth control of any kind… even emergency contraception to rape victims (or just girls who *gasp* want to be responsible and not get pregnant before they’re ready to bring a child into the world — a little extra reading if you’d like). HOWEVER, these “pro-life” pharmacies will fill that Viagra prescription quick fast and in a hurry for you! [cjg131, "Prescription Predicaments," The "F" Word: Feminists in South Dakota, 2008.06.17]

In other words, the pharmacists who read Bob Ellis (heaven help us) will dole out drugs to prop up men's efforts to have sex, but they won't sell women protection against pregnancy from all those pharmaceutically hornified guys. Encourage men to have sex, discourage women: the only way that makes sense is if those noble pharmacists think the Viagra poppers are all homosexual.

Fire away, Feminists of South Dakota! Your state awaits your further contributions to the discussion.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama Shows Way to Wiki-Politics

Despite all my blogging and my studies at DSU, I can still recognize that the Internet isn't everything in politics... but Barack Obama has shown us that it certainly is something. Mrs. Madville Times forwards me this read-worthy blogpost from Michael Stoner on Obama's skillful use of the Internet. Some highlights:

Obama the "Wiki-Candidate": Stoner cites Noam Cohen of the NY Times:

But at the same time, Mr. Obama’s notion of persistent improvement, both of himself and of his country, reflects something newer — the collaborative, decentralized principles behind Net projects like Wikipedia and the “free and open-source software” movement. The qualities he cited to Time to describe his campaign — “openness and transparency and participation” — were ones he said “merged perfectly” with the Internet. And they may well be the qualities that make him the first real “wiki-candidate" [Noam Cohen, "The Wiki-Way to the Nomination," New York Times: Week in Review, 2008.06.08].

No wonder the South Dakota blogosphere (at the lefties among us) fell so hard for Obama. His whole style matches the Webby values that have drawn us to the Internet as a means for social interaction and change.

New-Money Machine Fueled by Web Ethos: Stoner points to Joshua Green's article in the June Atlantic Monthly on Obama's fundraising, which notes that Obama has gotten this far without "deep connections to traditional sources of wealth." The Internet is a big part of the reason -- not just Web fundraising, but Web ethos:

Green shows how many in Silicon Valley came to support Obama. Engineers, venture capitalists, and others in the Valley are used to smart, young entrepreneurs starting companies that quickly dominate a niche (think Google, begun by two Stanford students). To them, Obama’s age or lack of experience in Washington wasn’t a put off; they were attracted by his charisma and brains and out their experience and technology to work for him [Michael Stoner, "Obama Campaign Far Ahead in Use of Internet," mStonerblog, 2008.06.14].

Obama Gets YouTube:
It's not just the will.i.am video that went viral back in January; the campaign knows how to put its own multimedia on the web to work for its purposes:

Also, note all the video that appears on Obama’s site. Lots of it. Speeches, policy comments, from lots of venues, on lots of issues. From the candidate (who looks good on TV) and from ordinary people. There’s also an Obama channel on Youtube; on 14 June, there were 1,103 videos posted, with 51,382,633 views. The McCain channel, in contrast, had 207 videos with 3,753,163 views [Stoner, 2008.06.14].

YouTube views aren't close to replacing electoral votes (though might the former method be more logical?), but they do show the Obama campaign is reaching out and touching a lot of people the McCain campaign is not.

The Internet isn't everything. But Barack Obama has done more than tap into a useful technology; he has shown a grasp of the social vibe that makes that technology hum. Collaboration, decentralization, participation -- if Obama can translate those online campaign principles into Presidential policy, we have an interesting four years ahead of us.