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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Another Rich McCain Backer... and This One Sings

He stayed strong, stayed extra long
'Til they let all the other boys out.
Now we've got a real man with an American plan,
We're going to put him in the big White House.

—John Rich, "Raising McCain"

(Please, Lowell, sue for copyright infringement.)

Talk about a Target-Rich environment: John Rich, one half of country duo Big and Rich—the perfect slogan for today's Republican Party—has penned a little ditty to support John McCain.

I don't see it on YouTube, but I'm sure it's only a matter of minutes before some version appears*. But before I've even heard those growly manly strains, I'm already gagging at the macho B.S. being used to market the Republican nominee. "A real man"? As if Obama is not? As if machismo is a pre-requisite for the Presidency?

But we can't take any chances, says McCain's pop celebrity endorser:

The entire world is looking for a way to sucker punch us.... National security is absolutely at the top of the list of issues. That's why I think John McCain is the guy to keep us safe. [John Rich, quoted in Beth Fouhy, "Country Star John Rich Wants Fans 'Raising McCain,'" AP via Yahoo News, 2008.07.31].

You bet, Rich. Keep preaching fear. That's what being a real man is all about.

For all the apparent creative artistry of his little musical endorsement, Rich might do just as well to strum Stephen C. Foster's classic "Little Mac! Little Mac!" an ugly little campaign song for General McLellan's run against Lincoln. (Note: Dems, be embarrassed: this song was for our party's guy in 1864.)

Compare this country cud to the will.i.am composition from January—you know, the one that has gotten over 8 million hits on YouTube? Where Rich captures the essence of modern GOP politics, the seemingly paradoxical combination of macho bull and fear-mongering, will.i.am captures the essence of the Obama campaign: hope, inspiration, and community. Where Rich gives us doggerel, will.i.am takes words from the Democratic nominee himself, words delivered in the face of a surprising defeat (remember the New Hampshire primary), and sets them to music to rally supporters to keep fighting the "chorus of cynics" to make their "unlikely story" come true.

Roll out your video, Mr. Rich. Fly the fear, the flag, the fighter jets. You'll never match this poetry:

...we will remember
that there is something happening in America,
that we are not as divided as our politics suggest,
that we are one people,
we are one nation.

And, together, we will begin
the next great chapter in the American story,
with three words that will ring
from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea:
Yes, we can.

[Senator Barack Obama, speech to supporters following the New Hampshire primary, 2008.01.08]

Update 2008.08.01 10:37 CDT: Folks looking for free downloads, rejoice! PP's on top of things, posting an mp3 of the Rich McCain song. As party music, it's not bad, but it's still mostly rhythm and volume trying to compensate for slick, formulaic pop-country. Save PP's bandwidth: click here to listen to the song on the Madville Times podcast!

LAIC Gets Madison Marketing Right

...now that's Unexpected™!

I haven't received the tip for tuition in my jar yet, but the LAIC must have attended Marketing 101: their new print ad for Madison is good stuff! Compare the clunker from June (left) with the smashing bit of authentic advertising (right!) on the back cover of the August Prairie Business Magazine (click each one to see a larger view):

Authentic, authentic, authentic—boffo! It's got all the real Madison things that can sell our town: real Madison people, nice lakes, green space, golf, construction, computers, little girls carrying way-too-heavy backpacks (because they're studying extra hard to be smarter than everyone else, and recruiters love smart girls!).

Special kudos to the photog with the keen sense to get a shot of Shawn Miller, the coolest-looking construction stud in town, if not in all of South Dakota. That shaved head, those ubiquitous sunglasses...dang! If they'd have just gotten his earring in the photo, phones at the LAIC would be ringing off the hook!

Now that the LAIC has realized it's o.k. to use real Madison people in its ads, I can restart my contest: I've already named Shawn, so who out there can recognize the other four friendly Madison folks in the August ad? Submit their names in the comment section here or via the contact form. First person* who can put verifiable names to all four faces gets dessert at Dairy Queen, my treat! (Don't forget: if you want dessert, you'll have to include your name with your comment! ;-))

And if you can name the person in the boat along with the other four faces, I'll buy you a DQ Meal Deal with your dessert.

*Dwaine Chapel and other employees of the LAIC are not eligible. Neither are wiseguys: Dessert refers to one dessert item (Blizzard, cone, Dilly bar, etc.) for one person. DQ Meal Deal refers to one sandwich, one side, and one beverage for one person. Dairy Queen is a registered trademark of Dairy Queen International... but I don't think they'll mind. If they have issues, I'll make you a grilled cheese sandwich instead. :-D

Shelterfest Music Festival Plays Madison September 6

We're not Bonnaroo or Farm Aid yet, but we're working on it...

More big doings in Madison: Shelterfest, a ten-hour outdoor folk/rock/indie music festival, takes place Saturday, September 6, at Hope Studios. The music is free, but the Shelterfest crew will be urging all in attendance to donate $5 to support the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. And hey, $5 for ten hours of live music is a heck of a deal!

My wife and our friend Michael Hope have been working on lining up bands and sponsors. Scheduled for the stage so far are Welcome to the Cinema from Brookings, John Goraj from Sioux Falls, and They the Down Low from Minneapolis, with more to come! Stay tuned to the Shelterfest website and the Facebook page for updates.

Just like the DQ Miracle Treat Day, here's a great way to get out, have fun, and do some good for your neighbors in the process. Plus, it'll be the first weekend of the school year for DSU, so what better way to welcome back our 2000+ college students than with some good outdoor music? Don't just tell your friends; haul 'em to Madison for Shelterfest September 6!

Dairy Queen Miracle Treat Day August 7

Start making room in your tummy now: Miracle Treat Day comes to the Madison Dairy Queen (and thousands of other Dairy Queens across North America) on Thursday, August 7, just one week from today. The way this works: the proceeds from every DQ Blizzard sold that day go to the Children's Miracle Network, which helps families cover their expenses when their kids get sick.

In other words, you eat something cool and creamy on a hot summer day, and you do good for your neighbors. If only all good behavior were that easy!

The Madison Dairy Queen has been the national leader in this fundraiser. Owner DeLon Mork and his crew have sold more Blizzards on Miracle Treat Day than any other Dairy Queen: 3800 sold on Miracle Treat Day 2006, then 7011 on MTD 2007. This year's goal: 8,000*.

Last year the Madville Times provided open-to-close coverage of the event. Tune in for more online multimedia madness this year. But blog friends, fear not! Instead of overwhelming your RSS feeds with Madville Times posts, I'm working on a new community website** where everyone in Madison can log in and post their thoughts, good wishes, favorite Blizzard flavors, and maybe even photos and video of their Miracle Treat Day Blizzard outings. It should be fun—I'll keep you posted!

*Update 2008.08.04: Sorry about the numerical confusion! I had originally posted a graphic that cited the goal as 10,000. I got that graphic from a rotating ad on the Madison Daily Leader's website. DeLon Mork told me that ad was made by the Leader based on some spitballing he and their ad folks had done; however, he'd never given that number his official stamp of approval. 8,000 is the official goal... but don't let that stop you from coming to Madison and buying an extra Blizard!

**The website is under construction right now, but feel free to snoop around, no hardhat required! Go ahead, click on stuff, register and submit comments—you won't break anything; it's only the Internet. ;-)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

South Dakota Green Notes: Local Wind, Carbon Credits, and Walkable Tea

Small signs of good green things happening here in South Dakota:

Farmers Cash in on Carbon Credits: KJAM reports that $1.3 million dollars is on the way to 414 South Dakota farmers and ranchers for their participation in the Farmers Union Carbon Credit Program. Convert cropland to grass, plant trees, get a check... heck of a deal! I should sign up my acre....

Wind Power Powered by Local Investment: Dakota Wind Energy is seeking stockholders for its planned 750+ megawatt wind energy project in Roberts, Marshall, and Day Counties in northeast South Dakota. The company says this project alone could light up 200,000 homes. The company says their business model will keep more of the economic benefits of wind power in the communities hosting the wind turbines than do wind farms owned and operated by foreign investors. Let's hope so!

Tea Wants More Walking, More Parks: Tea's city council gave first reading Monday night to an open space ordinance requiring developers to support more parks in the city. Says Mayor John Lawler, "We want to have decent-sized parks and we want to make sure nobody is more than a half mile from a park" [see John Hult, "Tea's Goal: Parks Within Walking Distance of Every Resident," that Sioux Falls paper, 2008.07.29]. Much of Tea's phenomenal growth has hinged on commuting culture, with Sioux Falls workers looking for small-town residences within reasonable driving distance of their big-city offices. It's good to see the automotive mindset isn't stopping people in Tea* from working to create a walkable town. (Walkability score on West Maple Street: 42 out of 100 -- better than some places, but still lots of room for improvement!)

*Say, just what do you call people from Tea? Teans? Tea-ians? Tea-ites? And do we call census workers there Tea-totallers?

Contraception = Abortion? Bush Thinks So...

...and will yank your hospital's funds to prove it!

In the waning days of his Presidency, Bill Clinton handed out pardons to wealthy crooks. President Bush may use his nothing-to-lose lame duckery to do even worse damage to the health and welfare of the country.

In a pro-life end run around Congress, President Bush is pushing a rule change for the Department of Health and Human Services that would redefine abortion to include contraception. The proposed definition:

any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation [cited in Robert Pear, "Abortion Proposal Sets Condition on Aid," New York Times, 2008.07.15].

As I understand it, that's how some birth control pills can work, sometimes causing a fertilized egg to be expelled before implantation. That's also how emergency contraception given to rape victims in the ER works. Yikes.

Hospitals and other medical facilities would have to certify that they will not refuse to hire medical personnel who refuse to provide the services included under the new definition. One impact of the rule change (aside from the contradiction with scientific truth and the FDA's own list of approved birth control methods): over 500,000 hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities could lose billions in federal funding if they don't comply with the new policy [see Charles Pope, "Agency Skips Congress in Bid to Block Birth Control Access," The Oregonian, 2008.07.23].

Marilyn Keefe of the National Partnership for Women and Families evaluates the rule change this way:

This regulation would cause real harm. Under the guise of clarifying long standing “conscience” exemptions in federal law, it would undermine women’s access to birth control services and information. It would threaten biomedical research. It could undermine state and federal initiatives to ensure access to birth control via contraceptive coverage insurance requirements and pharmacy access laws. And it seems designed to spur lawsuits against reproductive health providers who offer the only health care many low-income women receive [Marilyn Keefe, "Draft Women's Health Regulation Leaked Yesterday Would Undermine Access to Birth Control," press release, 2008.07.15].

Learn more about President Bush's contempt for rape victims, science, state laws (the rule change overrides state regulations—so much for small-government Republicans), and public opinion:

28 U.S. Senators have sent a letter (PDF alert!) to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt telling him to nix this rule change. Senator Obama's name is right below Senator Clinton's. Alas, no sign of our Senator Johnson's support for this protest. (I've read that 105 U.S. Representatives led by NY's Nita Lowey have sent a similar letter; if anyone has a link to a copt of that letter, please submit it!)

If you'd like to add your voice, use this form (or this one) to send Secretary Leavitt a message. You could even contact Secretary Leavitt through his HHS blog(!).

Update 11:10: Thanks to Scott at RHRealityCheck.org for posting the original text of the leaked draft regulation (PDF alert). I'm still looking for Rep. Lowey's letter....

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

KJAM Promotes Downtown

Sheer coincidence? Psychic link with the KJAM marketing department? Who cares! After my question this weekend about the mountain in KJAM's website banner, I click on the KJAM homepage and find this lovely image of our hometown, complete with anti-corporate rallying cry:

Looks like the very handsome and very single Matt Hendrickson must have scrambled up the National Guard's portable climbing tower Friday afternoon and captured this vertiginous view of our very verdant Egan Avenue. (Notice: no mountains.) Nice work, KJAM!

Now if we could get a full aerial shot and do a hyperlinked image map so folks could click on each building and go straight to each business's website....

Water Project District Aims for Madison and Brant; Herman to Wait

The Interlakes Water Quality Committee is releasing its official proposal to create a water project district to protect water quality here in Lake County. A water project district is a creature of South Dakota Codified Law empowered to levy taxes and engage in projects to monitor and promote water quality. The IWQC folks see a water project district as the right entity to create to keep the lakes in good shape for recreation and good country living.

I've expressed some concerns that the noble goals of the water project district might be sullied somewhat by some less than democratic means of creating the district. Word around the lake is that some folks were even crankier: I've heard the Lake Herman Development Association had retained a lawyer to fight any effort to incorporate Lake Herman into a district with Lakes madison and Brant.

My concerns, at least for Lake Herman's voice in the water project district's formation and operation, have been rendered moot for the time being. The IWQC is announcing that they will attempt to form a water project district consisting solely of Lakes Madison and Brant.

Including Lake Herman in the new district would make hydrological sense: Lake Herman is at the head of the main watershed of the county, gathering and filtering run-off from five channels draining the western part of the county before sending that water on to our neighbors at Madison and Brant and eventually to the Big Sioux. But politically, bringing Lake Herman into the same tent as Madison and Brant appears to be more than the IWQC cares to bite off and chew.

A Madison-Brant water project district has the potential to do some good. By scaling back their plans to leave out Lake Herman for now, the district will have an opportunity to demonstrate the water quality improvements it can achieve and what sort of taxes it will assess to achieve them. And in a few years, well, I'll still complain if the process isn't sufficiently democratic, but show some results, and my Lake Herman neighbors may come begging to join the water project district.

Fly Your Flag, Just Not at the Altar

Becky Akers wonders in the Christian Science Monitor asks a question my resident theologian and I have also considered: what's the American flag doing at the altar of Christian churches? Akers points to a long history of Christians ending up on the wrong side of government, even when they try to escape oppression by "grabbing government's reins" themselves:

The trouble doesn't lie with Christianity but with power. The two have always been at odds. Political power is a synonym for "physical force," for bending people to government's will regardless of their inclinations, interests, or welfare. But Christianity is love – power's antidote. Anyone who sincerely follows Jesus Christ will never try to compel others – because he didn't. Jesus sought to persuade by word and example, loving men so much that he let them judge for themselves the truth of his teachings [Becky Akers, "Does the American Flag Belong in Church?" Christian Science Monitor, 2008.07.28].

Give the full article a read: Akers makes some discussion-worthy points about her approach to citizenship and Christian faith.

Should the national flag, a symbol of earthly power, really occupy such a hallowed place at the front of a Christian church? Perhaps the more Christian approach would be to display the flags of every nation at the altar, to symbolize all of God's children. 190-some flags would make for a crowded altar... but then no one says Christian love is easy.

Forget Global Warming and Terrorism: Fight Disease and Hunger

A certain contingent of the Right shouts that global warming is a trick promoted by hysteria-mongering environmental fascists. A certain contingent of left like throwing that same F-bomb at the Bush Administration for its own hysteria-mongering in the War on Terror.

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Bjørn Lomborg offers a pleasantly rational, non-radical critique of both sides. He doesn't claim global warming is a myth: "There is unequivocal evidence," says the Danish economist, "that humans are changing the planet's climate." Nor does he claim that al-Qaida is a figment of the conspiratorial Right's imagination: he recognizes that "transnational terrorists take, on average, 420 lives each year."

Instead, Lomborg looks at global warming and transnational terrorism and says, with the cool calculation that only an economist could love (but that more of us should embrace), "Don't bother." Based on research by eight of the best economists in the world, Lomborg argues that efforts to reduce carbon emissions and fight terrorists won't produce a sufficient return on investment:

[On reducing carbon emissions] ...Spending $800 billion (in total present-day terms) over 100 years solely on mitigating emissions would reduce temperature increases by just 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.

When you add up the benefits of that spending -- from the slightly lower temperatures -- the returns are only $685 billion. For each extra dollar spent, we would get 90 cents of benefits -- and this is even when things like environmental damage are taken into account....

[On fighting terrorism] Increasing defensive measures world-wide by 25% would cost at least $75 billion over five years. In the extremely unlikely scenario that attacks dropped by 25%, the world would save about $21 billion. That figure is reached by adding up the economic damage caused by terrorists, and by putting a high economic value on the lives lost.

But even in this best-case scenario, the costs will be at least three times higher than the benefits. Put another way, each extra dollar spent increasing defensive measures will generate -- at most -- about 30 cents of return.

We could save about 105 lives a year, globally. There are few areas where we would consider spending so much to do so little. To put this into context, 30,000 lives are lost annually on U.S. highways. [emphasis mine, article by Bjørn Lomborg, "How to Get the Biggest Bang for 10 Billion bucks," Wall Street Journal, 2008.07.28].

So where should we spend our money? Lomborg says we get a better return on investment fighting disease and hunger. Putting $500 million a year toward simple malaria prevention measures like bed nets and subsidies for new treatments "would save 500,000 lives a year—most of them children." In economic terms, Lomborg sees a twenty-fold return on investment from disease prevention (people contribute more to the economy when they don't die at age 2).

Fighting hunger also reduces disease and increases productivity. Lomborg recommends investing a mere $60 million in providing micronutrients like vitamin A and zinc to hungry kids worldwide. That investment would produce over a billion dollars in health savings and productivity gains, a return on investment of 17 to 1. Another $60 million added to ag research (yup, that includes genetic engineering) would produce an ROI of $16 on the dollar.

Lomborg has made arguments about priorities like this before. I heard him on PBS once argue that for the cost of enacting the Kyoto Protocols, we could build water purification plants for all of Africa. His book The Skeptical Environmentalist is a splendid read, complete with 2900+ footnotes (and even some online errors, fully 'fessed up by Lomborg).

Lomborg now heads the Copenhagen Consensus Center to promote the rational prioritization of global problems and sensible policy solutions that do the most good with the resources available. You can read the group's ranked list of solutions for global problems (funny, no mention of abortion bans as a way to save lives).

So how about a deal: let's drop the War on Terror and global warming as rhetorical bludgeons. Better yet, let's cut funding funding for both issues by half and dedicate that money to fighting disease and hunger. Any takers?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mad Bombers for Dykstra?

Memo to Dykstra campaign staff: remember to take those campaign buttons and t-shirts off before you go to the airport. Here's a campaign graphic that won't make it past security:

New campaign graphic from the Joel Dykstra for Senate campaign website

Wow—now that's bang for the marketing buck!

If you think that's cool, contribute $100, and you get a genuine Taliban suicide bomber belt to break down the barriers of business as usual at your office. $1000 gets your kids the top bunk at the next big GOP madrassa.

Next up: Jimmie Walker joins the Dykstra campaign staff... and Dykstra announces new litmus test for Supreme Court nominees: must include TNT on list of arms covered by Second Amendment.

I'm joking, really... but again, campaign staffers, don't try that excuse with TSA at Joe Foss Field.

Women, Reason, Responsibility: Initiated Measure 11 Lays Philosophical Minefield

From Initiated Measure 11 (IM11) "finding" #3:

(3) That submitting to an abortion subjects the pregnant woman to significant psychological and physical health risks, and that in the majority of cases there is neither the typical physician-patient relationship nor sufficient counseling between a pregnant woman contemplating submitting to an abortion and the physician who performs the abortion;

This "finding," which we might enshrine into law come November, appears to declare that a majority of women who go in for abortions are incapable of making reliable, rational decisions. At the very least, the latent claim is that the majority of women getting abortions can't have given fully informed consent. This sounds like the typical fallacy of thinking that the people who disagree with you must be crazy, since any right-thinking person could obviously see the truth of your argument.

But let's set that fallacy aside, roll around in the pro-IM11 worldview for a moment and see what happens. Let's suppose the majority of women going for abortions are subject to misinformation, deception, coercion, whatever it is that trumps their vulnerable mental faculties and negates the physician-patient relationship and informed consent. Shouldn't we conclude that this same mentally vulnerable majority of women experienced similar misinformation, deception, and coercion in the sexual experience that led them to the abortion clinic in the first place?

In plainer English, if a majority of women can't give informed consent to an abortion, wouldn't that majority of women be incapable of giving informed consent to sex?

In the plainest English, if we vote for IM11, if write into the law the idea that women don't have brains, aren't we saying all sex is rape?

What's in Your Wallet? Darn Little, After Taxes and Health Costs

My wife happens up this handy graph from that august and ever so worthy of italics publication, The Economist:

from "Give Over," The Economist, 2008.03.12

Turns out that in Canada, unholy land of socialized medicine, folks actually have a lower tax burden than in profit-based-healthcare-loving America.

Now this is a very incompete picture: the graph gives tax rates for single folks with no kids. It also leaves unclear whether that tax burden includes the health premiums people pay to their province in Canada in addition to their taxes.

But the tax burden listed definitely doesn't include the amount that we Americans spend on private health insurance and out-of-pocket costs. Consider my family's health insurance: we pay 8% of our income for a high-deductible policy. If I get whacked by a semi on my bicycle (make room, please! Thanks!), we'll burn up a good 20% more our income meeting our deductible. So we could easily spend 50% of our income on health and taxes, more than even the heavily taxed Germans, Belgians, and Danes... and we get less service for our dollars than those folks do for their euros.

Fortunately, most of us aren't spending 28% of our income on healthcare. A July 3 Economist article marking the 60th anniversary of Britain's National Health Service notes that the United States spends "15.3% of its national wealth on health." Of course, Britain's socialized system spends just 8.4% of the UK GDP, and it manages to cover everybody. Plus, no one in England is worried about going bankrupt due to medical expenses. Sounds like a good return on investment to me.

Those numbers are tucked in a larger quote about the feasibility of socialized medicine. The author refers to the "utterly mistaken" assumption at the inception of Britain's NHS in 1948 that demand for health services would decline in the coming decades as health improved. Instead, people got richer and wanted more (our needs always expand to consume our wallets). The author says the following about meeting those increasing healthcare demands:

It seems crazily optimistic to hope that a tax-funded health system can meet these demands—but probably less crazy than relying on other systems. At the last count, America spent 15.3% of its national wealth on health, compared with Britain’s total of 8.4%, but many Americans are uninsured. France’s system of social insurance is stretched. Moreover, in the future, state-financed universal health care could offer the best way to deal with the consequences of genetic testing, which will be able to identify people’s susceptibility to diseases more precisely. Better-off patients should be allowed to pay for extra services that the NHS can’t afford, while staying inside the system (a reform that is currently being pondered by a government review); otherwise, the middle classes will opt out, and the sort of social solidarity on view in the Bagehot family’s maternity ward will crumble. But the debates that once raged about switching to a different model have abated: the principle of tax funding for most services seems entrenched. David Cameron’s Conservatives accept it. [Bagehot, "The Shock of the Old," The Economist, 2008.07.03.]

Even the Tories agree: socialized medicine works. Less expense, better results, and a more moral system. Hear hear!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

SD Blogosphere Polarizing for Fall Campaign?

I thought our blog picnic here at Lake Herman yesterday looked a little lefty. Todd Epp, Bob Schwartz, Scott Ehrisman, Jackie Dusseau-Bielke, Rebecca Terk, and my wife and I... we sent invites left, right, and center, but our favorite conservatives all RSVP'ed non, merci. Where was the loyal opposition?

Dang: tonight, I actually learn something from Bob Ellis. Evidently, the hard-core conservatives of the South Dakota Blogosphere had their own conclave. No roasted wienies, just the out-of-state consultants from the Sam Adams Alliance. "Look for some significant changes coming to the South Dakota blogosphere in the next day or two," says Bob. "Gideon [of the SD Wingnuts, the newest conservative blog doing its best to put South Dakota's worst face forward] is doing most of the technical work on it, but it'll be a team effort of several blogs once it's done."

Significant changes: Bob, Sibby, and Pastor Steve all moving to a compound near Pringle? Stay tuned....

Grant County: Watch This Before Voting on Mega-Feedlot

Sometimes Anonymous is a complete meathead... and sometimes Anonymous sends me gems. This morning, a gem: StinkFreeCarrington.com, an activist website created by citizens of Carrington, North Dakota, who are trying to keep Canadians from bringing more pollution in the form of a big concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) to their fair city. (Hey! I've driven through Carrington! It's on the amazing slanty hypotenuse route that shaves 200 miles off the trip from Madison to Edmonton, Alberta!)

StinkFreeCarrington.com represents the best of the Internet's potential as a tool for citizen activism. Video of public testimony and interviews, archived letters to the ND Department of Health, links to relevant news articles... this kind of website is exactly how citizens can help inform each other and take action to protect their communities.

Two highlights: First, this passionate testimony at a public hearing from Carrington's Marlene Boyer, a woman who cares about her neighbors, and who believes there's more to doing right than following the letter of the law:

You'll never get coverage like this in the mainstream media. The local paper, the hourly radio news updates, and the 6 p.m. TV news can't give this sort of complete transcript, straight from the source.

See also this interview, Part 6 of a series of interviews with residents of Thief River Falls, Minnesota, who have had to evacuate their homes due to the stink of an Excel Dairy run by South Dakota's Rick Millner. Paul Kezar talks about the lies his neighbors were fed, lies that Kezar sees as typical of the corporate culture that drove him back out of Minneapolis to come back to his small-town roots:

Listen to that: "These dairy farms are a corporation.... I came from small-town USA, dairy-boy, grew up on a farm, go live in Minneapolis for a while, you understand what corporate USA is all about. I didn't really care for it, because there's dishonesty, and there's things that coming from a small-town you just thought you would never see."

Paul Kezar is just a neighbor, a small-town guy, a dad trying to throw a nice birthday party for his little girl, a decent man who'd prefer that his house not smell like filth.

You can see more videos and other content like this at StinkFreeCarrington.com. Everyone around Grant County, SD, should review this testimony before the public hearings on the proposed Kilborn Township mega-feedlot next month (August 7, 8.a.m.: zoning board on setback requirements; August 13 4:30 p.m.: dairy permit).

And everyone interested in promoting citizen participation in local political affairs should see how folks in Carrington are putting the Web to work to make their case.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

KJAM Banner: Where's That Mountain?

I've been meaning to ask about the KJAM web banner:

I'm o.k. with James Taylor and those nice country boys (though the stoned-looking kid in the t-shirt makes me feel a little ooky). But in that nice sunset background, where's that mountain? It looks a little tall for Philosophizing Peak at Lake Herman State Park.

As I just learned in my multimedia class at DSU, stock photos are bad, bad, bad (something you'd think the marketing experts at the LAIC requesting $140,000 of our tax dollars would understand). The more connection of the image to the product/service you're selling, the better. How about something like...

Draft layout for new all-local KJAM logo
Sorry about the digital black eye, Matt!)

Now that's Lake Herman. Very pretty, very local. Using the music stars is fine for promoting the station (although Matt Hendrickson is getting cuter by the day, thanks to those daily miles on the treadmill!) Play with that draft design, pass it on to Three Eagles corporate....

Wellness Saves Nebraska Company Health Care Costs

Whether or not we Kucinichify our health coverage system, we could all keep health care costs down by emulating the wellness program at Lincoln Industries in Lincoln, Nebraska. A sharp Madville Times reader forwards this CNN report on the company's success in getting employees healthier and cutting their health coverage bills:

Lincoln Industries has three full-time employees devoted to "wellness," and offers on-site massages and pre-shift stretching.

Most unusual of all: The company requires all employees to undergo quarterly checkups measuring weight, body fat and flexibility. It also conducts annual blood, vision and hearing tests....

The company ranks workers on their fitness, from platinum, gold and silver down to "non-medal." To achieve platinum, they must reach fitness goals and be nonsmokers -- and the company offers smoking cessation classes.

For employees, reaching platinum means a three-day, company-paid trip each summer to climb a 14,000-foot peak in Colorado. This year, 103 qualified, the most ever. And 70 made the climb.

For the company, the payoff is significantly lower health-care costs. The company pays less than $4,000 per employee, about half the regional average and a savings of more than $2 million. That makes the $400,000 Lincoln Industries spends each year on wellness a bargain.

"The return on investment is extraordinary," [Lincoln Industries President Hank] Orme says.

The investment in "wellness" pays other dividends, according to Orme. He says fitter workers are more productive, have better morale and are safer. As evidence, he points to worker's compensation claims. Ongoing safety training and an increasingly fit workforce have pushed worker's comp costs down from $500,000 five years ago to less than $10,000 so far this year [David S. Martin, CNN medical producer, "'Wellness' a Healthy Investment for Company," CNN.com, 2008.07.25].

Lincoln Industries doesn't require its employees to participate, but wellness director Tonya Vyhlidal hints at the social, not individualist, nature of the program. "...[S]ooner or later, she says, the company's 'culture' attracts most employees to live healthier lives."

We should still do more to take care of each other when we do get sick. But we can also recognize our obligation to ourselves and the people counting on us (family, friends, employers, the whole society) to stay healthy and minimize our need for health care services in the first place.

British Health Care at Work: Appointment in 65 Minutes

"Socialized medicine doesn't work" is the claim my reactionary commenters bleat, utterly ignorant of reality. All I can do is continue to offer counterexamples until the crushing weight of reality becomes unbearable and they agree that we would do better to abandon our broken private for-profit insurance nightmare and act more neighborly, like our neighbors.

Today's counterexample comes from friends of my wife from Regent College, the Barretts, Americans who live and theologize in merry old England:

Ellie [the Barretts' older daughter] made us a bit nervous by complaining about her knee hurting for a couple of days and then starting to limp around at playgroup today. Crystal rang the doctor at 10:40am and was given an appointment for 11:45am (socialized medicine is terrible for its long waiting lists, isn't it?). The doctor poked and prodded a little bit, took her temperature, and declared her fine. Ellie, always susceptible to the placebo effect, thinks this doctor is a miracle worker! [Rob Barrett, "Non-English Tea," Coffee with Barretts, 2008.07.08]

65 minutes from phone call to appointment: not bad. Of course, the capitalist curmudgeons clinging to their free market fundamentalism will surely decry the gross overutilization of health resources displayed in this example. "The Barretts' little girl didn't need to see a doctor! Hypochondria run rampant! They should have waited until the little girl had open running sores or collapsed on the playground." Ellie is just one of those illegitimate people in the system, who doesn't deserve to see a doctor at our expense. (And she's a child of immigrants to boot.)


But the main point: if socialized medicine (or whatever you want to call the UK's National Health Service) doesn't work, how can the Barretts get an appointment for their daughter in the UK as fast as we can here in America, if not faster?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Madison Public Library Online... with Free Blogger Software!

Hooray for free Blogger software! Earlier I reported the Herseth Sandlin campaign's adoption of the same blog tool that brings you the Madville Times. Now, on a Crazy Days outing with Madville Times, Jr., I discover that the Madison Public Library continues its tradition of frugal use of our tax dollars by using Blogger to create an online library blog! No fees, no major technical knowledge required, just a simple, clean-looking online newsletter... with citizen comments! Nice work, Nancy!

There are just three entries from the beginning of the month so far, but I'm hoping that means another installment of library news is coming shortly. Oh! Here's a suggestion for content: have Bruce, Dana, Pat, et al. write quick synopses of one or two new books each week!

Boy, pretty soon the whole town of Madison will be blogging. Now if we could just get Mayor Hexom and the commissioners to blog... that would be really cool! Just remember, no tax dollars needed—just fire up Blogger! (Gene, Dick, Scott, Dan, Karen—if you need help getting started, just give me a shout!)

Stronger Regulation Saves Money

Bush Favors Profit over Preventing Bioterror

A little Friday dander-raiser and counterexample for my conservative readers: an article this morning contends that a broader and more rigorous food safety regulatory regime axed by the Bush Administration not only would have helped the FDA find and address the cause of the salmonella scare over tomatoes (and now jalapeño peppers) but also would have mitigated the $250 million in business losses:

The industry pressured the Bush administration years ago to limit the paperwork companies would have to keep to help U.S. health investigators quickly trace produce that sickens consumers, according to interviews and government reports reviewed by The Associated Press.

The White House also killed a plan to require the industry to maintain electronic tracking records that could be reviewed easily during a crisis to search for an outbreak's source. Companies complained the proposals were too burdensome and costly, and warned they could disrupt the availability of consumers' favorite foods.

The apparent but unintended consequences of the lobbying success: a paper record-keeping system that has slowed investigators, with estimated business losses of $250 million. So far, nearly 1,300 people in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada have been sickened by salmonella since April [Larry Margasak, "Food Industry Bitten by Its Lobbying Success," AP via Yahoo News, 2008.07.25].

If the stricter regulations had been in place, FDA investigators would have been able to discover more quickly that the problem was not a Return of the Killer Tomatoes (starring George Clooney! really!), and growers would have lost less money.

Bonus hypocrisy: The regulations the industry so vigorously (and apparently counterproductively) opposed were supposed to be part of America's War on Terror:

According to government records reviewed by the AP, business groups met at least 10 times with the White House between March 2003 and March 2004, as the FDA regulations were under debate. Food industry lobbyists successfully blunted proposals using arguments familiar in other regulatory debates: The government's plans would saddle business with unnecessary and costly regulations.

"The FDA's strong proposed bioterrorism rules were significantly watered down before they became final," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. The private advocacy group obtained the White House meeting records under the Freedom of Information Act and provided them to the AP.

Participants in the meetings included companies and trade groups up and down the food chain, including Altria Group Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc., when Altria was Kraft's parent; The Kroger Co.; Safeway Inc.; ConAgra Foods Inc.; The Procter & Gamble Co.; the American Forest and Paper Association; the Polystyrene Packaging Council; the Glass Packaging Institute; the Cocoa Merchants' Association of America; the World Shipping Council; and the Food Marketing Institute [Margasak, 2008.07.25].

So I shouldn't argue against giving up my Fourth Amendment rights to prevent terrorist attacks, but big food corporations aren't expected to sacrifice a little profit for their country? Right.

Crazy Days in Madison -- Come Buy Stuff!

For those of you who don't like crowded sidewalks, downtown Madison isn't the place for you today and tomorrow: it's Crazy Days! Come buy stuff! And when you have sated your materialism, enjoy these events:

  • Madison Junior Tennis Open (starts in 20 minutes!)
  • KJAM ping-pong ball drop (win a grill! 4 p.m. today!)
  • DSU Grill-Out (4–6 today... anyone have a location on that?)
  • Hawaiian Luau and Wine-Tasting (this evening, Madison County Club, Lake Herman!)
  • 10K, 5K, and Egan Avenue Mile (Saturday 8 a.m., downtown)
  • Mart in the Park—locally made crafts! (Library Park, Saturday, 9–3)
  • DSU Scholarship Car Show (Montgomery's/Lewis parking lot, Sat. 11–1)
...and probably a bunch of other stuff I've missed. Feel free to add your event to the list in the comments here.

By the way, Crazy Days weather: that dawn rain and wind was the last gasp for the nasty weather. Highs today and tomorrow: 85 sunny degrees. Light NW breeze today, light SE breeze tomorrow. Yahoo!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Outdoor Dining Good for Downtown Madison

KJAM reports that, in just a week, the Stadium Sports Grill has seen an uptick in business thanks to its new outdoor seating. The city approved the permit for Stadium's outdoor dining just last week.

Monday's MDL reported Jack Meyer's concerns that outdoor dining might be hard on the sidewalks and set a bad example for the youth (as if the kids don't know full well what's going on behind the closed doors and shaded windows of the Four Corners, or see for themselves the beer signs in "family-friendly" Stadium). Alas, according to Tuesday's paper, Meyer's attorney told him the city's permit is an administrative decision that can't be referred to a public vote.

Now I love a good petition drive and public vote. In this case, though, I'm pleased to see the outdoor dining permit stand. Outdoor dining is a staple of vibrant downtowns. Even KELO's Steve Hemmingsen recognizes the charm of a little outdoor commerce. A nice outdoor bistro on Main Street is just like a good front porch in a residential neighborhood: it makes the street part of our living space, a place where we can see each other, enjoy more chance meetings, and sustain our connection to each other better than we ever can from behind our walls.

I've had my grumbles about Stadium's occasionally redneck signage (work on your marketing, folks), but I am pleased to see them contributing positively to Madison's public space.

Moving from Abstraction to Reality: Why Marriage and Fatherhood Made Me Pro-Choice

As Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin announces the coming December birth of her first child, her Brookings neighbor PP offers the predictable political spin, turning her joyous event into a critique of her position on abortion. He suggests Herseth Sandlin's position on abortion is simply youthful folly and that having a child may open her eyes.

Stephanie's pregnancy is none of our business. Other than "Congratulations!" I have nothing else to say about it. But the suggestion that young missy will learn a thing or two now that she's finally acting like a real woman (that thinking is out there) makes me think about my own experience with marriage, fatherhood, and political evolution.

Not so long ago (still within this decade), I could have taken or left the abortion debate. My old conservatism left me uneasy with government intervention with medical decisions, but I could also sympathize with the crusaders who would mingle Jesus and personal responsibility to say, "You have sex, you're having the baby."

Then I got married. Having an articulate woman in my house all the time made me think a little more concretely about women's rights; having a pregnant woman in my house, all the more so. As Erin would go to the doctor for her pre-natal checkups, she and I would think about her relationship with the doctor and the choices we had to make. Erin even more than I saw how the language of the (failed, thank goodness) 2006 abortion ban and the retread language in this year's anti-abortion initiative would make her and our new daughter second-class citizens.

Initiated Measure 11 declares opinion to be fact. It disguises obligations as rights. It turns declares doctors to be dunces (or devils) and women to be wards of the state.

Much to my disgrace, in my bachelor days, I could have let such lawmaking pass. Not any more.

Marriage and fatherhood have put two real-life women in my household who make me recognize that legislation like Initiated Measure 11 is bad law based on bad science and bad philosophy. My wife and my daughter have made me realize that they and all the women around me are not abstractions or props in a debate. They are real people, with real rights, facing real danger from people who think women are irrational creatures who can't be trusted. My love for Erin and Katarzyna requires that I stand against Initiated Measure 11 and all other forms of misogyny.

I guess PP and Elli Schwiesow are right: the profundity of having a child really can open one's eyes.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

National Health Care: A Comment from Deron Arnold

My Saturday commentary on the failings of private, for-profit health insurance elicits a response from Deron Arnold himself:

Hey Cory,
Thanks for visiting my blog and mentioning me in a post.

As both a physician and a patient, I have been a long-time opponent of government involvement in healthcare.

However, this current situation (as well as millions of others in this country) certainly leads me to rethink that position.

[Deron Arnold, 2008.07.22, 21:10]

Best wishes, Deron. Take care of yourself and your family.

South Dakota Income Tax Committee Meets Monday

South Dakota takes a step toward its beta test of state income tax this coming Monday (July 28) as the Agricultural Land Assessment Implementation and Oversight Advisory Task Force holds its first meeting in Pierre (State Capitol Building, LCR 1 & 2, 10:00 a.m.). The 14-member task force (and only one lady—Rep. Kristi Noem, R-6/Castlewood—in the group*? hmm...) will try to figure out how to put HB 1005 into practice and assess farmers taxes baed not on property value but on income.

Well, not income, actually. The Legislature has bent over backwards to avoid creating a direct income tax. Legislators prefer the term productivity tax: they will replace the largely arbitrary land value assessment with the somewhat more scientific but grossly complicated calculation of how the productive potential of farmland. HB 1005 calls for a calculation of how much revenue a farmer could generate on his or her land based on crop prices, soil conditions, climate, and other factors over an eight-year period.

So as I understand it, even if a farmer leaves land fallow and spends the year writing poems instead of plowing, the state will still tax that farmer on how much he or she could have made by planting the land to corn, beans, rutabagas, what have you. Still sounds a lot more complicated than just saying, "How much did you make? Multiply by 7%, send that amount to Vern Larson."

Never fear: SDSU is on the job to bring sanity to the tax system. Dr. Burton Pflueger of the SDSU Extension Service and Economics Department will be on hand to Monday to update the task force on the data collection and model for this brave new tax system. The task force will also take a half-hour of public testimony starting at 2:30 p.m. They then have 11 months to pull it all together: the new income/productivity tax for farmers kicks in July 1, 2009.

And with Gerry Lange back in Pierre next year, maybe we'll see that beta test on farmers turned into a fair income tax for all South Dakotans by 2011. Keep your fingers crossed!

*ALAIOATF members: Senators Alan Hoerth, Dave Knudson, Kenneth McNenny, and Jim Peterson; Representatives H. Paul Dennert, Kristi Noem, Larry Rhoden, and Steve Street; and Public Members Walter I. Bones III, Kirk Chaffee, Curt Everson, Larry Gabriel, Ron Olinger, and Duane Sutton.

SD GOP Blog: Mostly Wrong, But All Local

I don't expect much useful news from the new official online propaganda organ of the South Dakota Republican Party, the Republican Tide blog. "Tide"? Where do you guys think you are, Virginia?

But my Republican friends at least get credit for buying all their propaganda locally:

For those of you who were wondering- only South Dakota residents will be posting on this blog. [Jason Glodt, political director, SD GOP, "South Dakota Made!" Republican Tide, 2008.07.23]

Expect mostly bull... but at least it's 100% South Dakota bull. What other South Dakota state political party can make that proud claim?

Current precentage of SD-produced content on front page of Republican Tide's competition: 7%. Virginia content: 93%. Your mileage may vary.

Tech Notes: Random Google Searches Bring Blog Visits

So what are people looking for on the Internet? Here are some interesting Google searches that StatCounter says have brought people to the Madville Times lately:
  • when do we get our stimulus checks—this search brought me lots of hits in May and June. Alas, the last checks should have been in the mail by July 11, so if you're still wondering when you get your check, you probably don't have one coming... unless....
  • CRITIQUE OF dR. JAMES DOBSON CHILD DEVELOPMENT—Rule #1: Don't use all caps with your kids.
  • wording to announce to the employees of the company closing—uh oh. Someone in Tampa, Florida, is about to have a very bad day.
  • $100,000 home brooklyn ny—good to know I'm not the only dreamer in the world.
  • monster trucks russ olson—now that would be a campaign event!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jerry Johnson Fights Fuel Prices with Conservation, Speed Limit

Think your fuel bill is high? Imagine if you had 26 trucks using a half million gallons of fuel a year.

KJAM reports that Jerry Johnson, co-owner of Madison's B&G Transportation, is using conservation and speed limits to save on fuel costs. They've set the governors on the trucks to 65 mph, idling less, and reducing deadhead miles. (Silly me: and I thought listening to Jerry Garcia would help drivers mellow out and use less diesel....)

Jerry Johnson also just happens to be a Republican candidate for the District 8 House. Would his energy policy at work translate into energy policy in Pierre? Would Johnson support lower speed limits for the rest of us on our highways? What other conservation measures might Johnson be willing to put into law?

Jerry, hurry up with that campaign website so we can find out!

Focus on the Focus: Ford Cutting SUVs

NY Times reports a big industry shift: Ford Motors, which led the 1990s gaz-guzzling charge with the F-series trucks and Explorer SUV, is shifting back to small cars. Expected changes:

  • "Convert three North American assembly plants from trucks to cars"
    • The Wayne, Michigan plant will switch from making Expeditions and Navigators to turning out more Foci.
  • "Manufacture more fuel-efficient engines" at all factories
    • Two V-8 engine plants switch to make more 4-cylinder and V-6 engines.
  • produce six... European car models for the United States market"
  • integrate the Mercury division in the small-car strategy [Bill Vlasic, "Ford to Make a Broader Bet on Small Cars," New York Times, 2008.07.22]
Swapping F-150s for Fiestas won't be an easy switch for Ford: big vehicles brought huge profits ($15K on full-sized SUVs). As Vlasic reports, in 2004, two-thirds of Ford's sales were trucks, vans, and SUVs. While car sales constituted 28% of other automakers U.S. sales in 2004, they made up just 28% of Ford's. Then Ford CEO Alan Mulally pointed out just how out of touch with the market Ford was: small cars make up 60% of the global market; large vehicles, just 15%. (I'm assuming the other 25% is "medium" vehicles... or maybe bikes!)

Here at home, we've already made the SUV shift. We use our 2001 Focus for almost every trip. I still love my Jeep, but it sits idle most of the time, coming out only when my wife and I are headed different directions, when Dad and I break out the trailer to haul mulch or lumber, or when the snow is flying and we've got to get to town. Even those trips we can minimize: We schedule our trips not to conflict. We get UBC to deliver lumber. And we plan ahead and get groceries before the blizzard comes. Those aren't absolute solutions, but they help to the point that we realize our next car can be even smaller.

Ford is officially announcing this mission shift Thursday, when it rolls out its surely gloomy second-quarter earnings report. Surely the intention is to give investors something (anything!) to cheer about.

And you know, a sensible production strategy that recognizes the realities of the economy and energy in the 21st century might be reason enough to buy some Ford stock, not to mention another Ford.

Update 08:55 CDT: Maybe Ford should add trains to its business plans: Amtrak reports a 28% increase in ridership and 33% increase in ticket revenue on its Downeaster line for fiscal year 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

James Dobson Endorses Barack Obama...

...or at least endorses changing one's mind...

Hat tip to Mr. Schwartz at the freshly remonikered Politics and Hypocrisy: It appears James Dobson is neither a theologian nor a man of his word. After saying he would not vote for McCain, Dobson now claims "the possibility is there that I might" endorse the presumptive GOP nominee.

But given how he defends this change of conscience, and he might just as easily endorse Obama:

There's nothing dishonorable in a person rethinking his or her positions, especially in a constantly changing political context [James Dobson, quoted in AP, "James Dobson Might Endorse John McCain," Los Angeles Times, 2008.07.21].

So in one fell swoop, Dobson proves his desperate need for attention and takes flip-flops off the table as an issue in the presidential debates. On behalf of the GOP, thanks a bunch, Jim!

Boy, I wonder if some days, Dobson wishes he had stayed out of politics and religion and just stuck with promoting spanking.

Private Health Insurance at Work: Hassling Breast Cancer Patients

Saturday I told you about Deron Arnold's battle with cystic fibrosis and his insurance company. Today, another example of private health insurance not just abandoning the sick but harassing them when they need help and rest the most:

NPR's Joseph Shapiro tells us about Jamie Drzewicki, 58, of Florida. She works two jobs: activities director at a nursing home and, with her husband, musician at clubs and cruise ships. She got regular mammograms and pap smears and stayed healthy... until she got breast cancer. Then she learned that her employer-provided health policy had an annual benefits limit of $100,000. Her treatment racked up more bills than that, and she now owes the hospital $62,000.

While one office in the hospital is trying to help her apply for financial assistance, another office in the hospital has called the collection agency. While Drzewicki tries to recuperate, she gets two or three calls a night from the collection agency, saying they're going to sic the lawyers on her if she doesn't pay up. Just what you need to hear when you're trying to recover from cancer, surgery, etc.

To add insult to injury, Drzewicki had to switch jobs. When she came back from her surgery, her old boss gave her a hard time about missing work. Thanks for caring.

We still have millions of people who can't afford a health insurance policy in the first place. But even working folks who can collect the scratch to cover an insurance policy are being left high and dry by their take-the-money-and-run insurers. Shapiro cites a poll by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health that finds one in five Floridians and one in four Ohioans reporting they are being contacted by collection agencies. The number one reason for those calls: unpaid medical bills.

The problem with health care is not illegal immigrants or freeloaders. Middle-income families with two or three incomes, like the Drzewickis, are getting squeezed by the private insurance racket. Workers are playing by the rules, trying to stay healthy, and still ending up broke (and don't forget sick).

Getting sick isn't a crime or a sin. It happens to everyone... and it should bankrupt no one. The sick don't go bankrupt in France, Germany, Canada, or anywhere else in the industrialized world, at least not at the rates they do here in America.

Save money, save lives, and be a good neighbor. Support universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health coverage.

Read more: see Joseph Shapiro, "Health Bills Can Lead to Debt Woes for Insured, Too," NPR, 2008.07.20.

Watch Your Windshield: State Chip Sealing US81/SD34

If you're coming to Madison on US 81 from the south or SD 34 from the west, watch out for chips—not Ponch and John, but rock. KJAM alerts us that the state Department of Transportation is doing chip deal work on seven stretches of highway in southeast South Dakota. The roads under repair:
  • US 81 from SD 34 south 11 miles – length 11.0 miles;
  • SD 34 & US 81 1\2 mile west of the South Junction of US 81 East 11 miles – length 11.3 miles;
  • SD 115 from Interstate 29 to Dell Rapids – length 3.2 miles;
  • SD 11 from Corson to Garretson – length 9.1 miles;
  • SD 42 from SD 17 west 13 miles – length 13.0 miles;
  • SD 115 from the Harrisburg Corner to 85th Street – length 2.6 miles
  • SD 11 from US 18 south to SD 46 – length 15.0 miles
The state gives no exact schedule for each road, but they expect to finish all seven stretches in the next four weeks. Flaggers and pilot cars will slow you down during the actual work, but worry more the days right after the work, when all that loose rock and fast drivers are just waiting to turn your windshield into modern art. Ugh! Looks like we might wait a month to replace our windshields, just to make sure....

Pipeline Task Force: Any Hope for Environment?

Governor Rounds has appointed seven men to the South Dakota Underground Pipeline Task Force, as called for by this year's Senate Bill 190. Remember SB 190? That was the bill that, in its original form, would have imposed a two-cents-per-barrel fee on crude oil pumped through the state. With the Keystone pipeline project no expanding to ship 1.1 million barrels per day across the Plains, that's $22,000 in new state revenue a day, or $8 million a year.

But that was before the hoghouse. Now all we get from SB 190 is a lousy task force.

Well, I suppose I can't say lousy, since it remains to be seen what assessment they will make of the "the adequacy of state laws and regulations relating to pipelines in South Dakota." Of course, with a majority of the task force representing energy companies, there's that much likelihood that the task force report will say, "Our regulations are plenty adequate; let's pump some oil!"

The only member who looks clearly like a check on the Republican big-money Big-Oil cheering section is Mark Anderson, president of the South Dakota AFL-CIO. Anderson would have been a good pick for last year's Zaniya Project task force, given his advocacy for a better health care system. Dennis Davis, long-time executive director of the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems, might bring some water quality concerns to the table. But the governor evidently wasn't interested in picking anyone from an organization whose primary mission is environmental advocacy.

Not that what these fellas decide will put much of a dent in the ability of TransCanada and other oil interests to swipe your land and run big leaky pipes through it. SB 190 empowers the state to do nothing more than require pipeline companies to do paperwork. Still, if you know these fellas, give 'em a call, tell them how you think pipelines should be regulated:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

No Holiday: Congress Eyes 2009 Gas Tax Hike

Revenue for road construction and repair is declining. The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission concluded this year that the United States needs to spend $225 billion dollars a year for the next 50 years to upgrade and maintain our ground transportation system; current federal, state, and local spending combined is $90 billion a year. South Dakota is feeling the crunch, even as our fair state receives two dollars back from Uncle Sam for every dollar we pay in (and South Dakotans say they don't like big government).

John McCain maintains that we should cut the federal gas tax. That's still a bad idea. It's not just columnists and economists saying so: it's guys in hardhats who will lose their jobs and, believe it or not, a lot of McCain's colleagues in Congress. Not only has Congress pretty much buried talk of a gas tax holiday, but they are now quietly laying the groundwork to raise gas taxes by a dime a gallon. Congress is looking at implementing this tax increase in the 2009 highway bill, in time to address a projected $3 billion deficit in the Highway Trust Fund. If they're willing to even mention a tax increase in an election year, they must be serious.

I'm not eager to pay higher taxes, but I'm also not fond of potholes and collapsing bridges. Consider that the 18.4 cents per gallon we pay for gasoline was set in 1993, when that tax was 17% of the retail pump price. That 17% levy didn't stop the expansion of the economy, travel, or vehicle size in the 1990s. A 17% tax per gallon on today's $4/gallon gas would be 68 cents.

Another perspective: our Canadian friends pay a 15% federal fuel tax. Our friends up in Newfoundland and Labrador pay an additional 62.5 cents per gallon in state tax and 13% in sales tax.

Much as I enjoy creating my own ice road to Madison across Lake Herman in winter, that only works for three months of the year, tops. I'd rather our county, state, and federal government keep hiring Amert Construction et al. to build those nice solid concrete and asphalt paths on dry ground for me. And until we find another way to fund highway construction, that means paying even more at the pump.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Private Health Insurance at Work: Hassling Cystic Fibrosis Patients

Let's put health care in a real, personal context:

Deron Arnold, brother of one of my wife's old school friends, is 36, a pathologist in Minnesota. He has a wife, 3-year-old twin sons... and cystic fibrosis. That means, among other things, his body overproduces mucus, making it hard for his lungs to work.

Deron pays Blue Cross Blue Shield for his health coverage. Yesterday he got a letter from the Blue Cross Blue Shield saying that as of October 28, the company will no longer cover expenses at Fairview University Hospital in Minneapolis, where Deron plans to have his transplant. As of August 23, Blue Cross Blue Shield will stop covering physician expense at that hospital.

Deron, understandably, is in shock:

The implications of this are obviously potentially huge. I spent much of the morning on the phone in heated conversations with employees who knew about as much about it as I did. And had as much power and authority to change it. One Blue Cross employee even suggested transferring my care to Loyola...the nearest provider who could provide the same level of benefits. (For those of you who don't know, Loyola is in Chicago.) [Deron Arnold, "In Shock," Here in Time, 2008.07.18]

No accountability, no answers... doesn't sound like a very effective health coverage system to me.

So now, because of an inexplicable business decision, a man with an incurable, terminal illness, who could get a phone call at any moment saying, "We have a lung; get to the hospital now," has to devote precious time and energy to figuring out whether he can even afford to have his hospital do the operation.

Things like this don't happen in Canada.

Another example: another friend of ours with cystic fibrosis couldn't get her private insurer to cover the treatments that can keep cystic fibrosis in check while she attended grad school. She thus had to do what some of my readers tell me to do: leave the country. She went to Canada, to Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Just like us during our stay in Canada, she paid her taxes and national health insurance premiums. Canada didn't kick her out, or tell her she had to go to Calgary instead of Vancouver. Our friend got her treatment, and her education... in Canada.

Cystic fibrosis is hard enough. Private insurers shouldn't make it harder. Countries with national health insurance don't make it harder.

Father Gallagher Can Stay -- People Power Works!

KJAM's Matt Hendrickson called yesterday (and sends an e-mail update this morning) to announce that Father Cathal Gallagher got his green card yesterday. What a relief for all involved!

One can say much about the bureaucracy, the snafus, the grief of the folks in Father Gallagher's old parish in Kingsbury County, who still had to give up their priest for a replacement.

This morning, I simply take note of one heartening comment from the very grateful Mr. Hendrickson:

Thanks to everyone for your notes, prayers, blog postings, and other things. Yesterday was not only a happy day for Father G, but for a couple of thousand people (try the 3,000 who signed petitions, wrote letters, and generally came together to fight against this injustice).

If anything, this has shown me that the power of the people can be much greater than the stodgy bureaucracy.

I've said all along, the government is us. Government can do lots of things wrong, but it's up to us to fix them. And if we make the effort, we can win.

Congratulations, Father Gallagher, and best wishes in whatever you are called to do next.

Poetry and JazzFest -- Come Groove!

It's JazzFest's big day! You might get a little wet, but no heat stroke this year: high temp of 83, SSE winds around 11, 70% chance of precip.

Of course, if you really don't like rain, come hang out in the Poetry Tent. Open reading begins at 2 p.m., followed by featured readers at 4 p.m. and the poetry slam contest (be the funkiest of the funky, win $200!) at 6 p.m.

Two of those featured poets, Norma Wilson and yours truly, had the pleasure of versifying for the electronic masses yesterday noon on South Dakota Public Radio. (SDPB will post the audio online soon.) Norma read some cool poems about jazz and blues—what could be more apropos for this weekend?—while I gave it my all with my usual wistful pinings for nature and love. And for those of you who cotton more to grit and a good horse than rhythm and rhyme, you can download the audio and hear historical Western writer P. A. Ritzer talk about his book Seven Ox Seven: Escondido Bound.

So bring your rain hat (no umbrellas allowed—people still gotta see the stage!), and bring your groove. See you at Yankton Trail Park in Sioux Falls this afternoon!

Friday, July 18, 2008

How Walkable Is Your Town? Let WalkScore.com Tell You!

$4 a gallon have you ready to park the jalopy rely on your feet for transportation? Good for you! As you trade the truck for tenny-runners (the F-150 for flip-flops? the Caddy for Keds?), you may get a kick out this really cool website: WalkScore.com, where you can type in your address and find out how walkable your neighborhood is. The WalkScore folks just ranked San Francisco as the most walkable city in the country, with a score of 86 out of 100.

So how do some South Dakota addresses stack up at WalkScore? I whip out the phone book and try some familiar locales:
  1. 414 NE 5th Street, Madison (which is for sale!): 74
  2. Mayor Hexom's house, Madison: 55
  3. Madville Times World Headquarters, Lake Herman: 0 (but we have bikes!)
  4. Todd Epp's house, Harrisburg: 29
  5. Pat Powers's house, Brookings: 28
  6. The Fishback house on 8th Street, Brookings: 78
  7. Governor's Mansion, Pierre: 74
  8. Frequent commenter Stan Gibilisco's current abode, Deadwood, SD: 42 (Stan, I just punched in your ZIP; feel free to type in your actual address for a more specific score!)
It's summer, it's Friday, the boss doesn't care: Go to WalkScore.com, enter your home address, your friends' addresses, see how easy your walk will be when the oil runs out!

American Health Care: Pay More, Get Less

Ah, the triumph of capitalism... for capitalists. America's health care system manages to get customers to pay more money for less service. If you're an insurance agent, you love that equation. If you have a broken leg or a sick child, well, you're here to serve the "economy."

The Commonwealth Fund offers all sorts of useful information about America's inferior health care system, which they give an overall score of 65 out of 100 (scores like that would get me kicked out of DSU). Among the lowlights of the scorecard they issued yesterday:

  • 75 million Americans age 19–64 uninsured or underinsured
  • U.S. ranks last out of 19 countries in "mortality amenable to health care"; i.e., if we offered coverage and care as effectively as France, Germany, Canada, et al., we could save 101,000 lives a year
  • our lowest score: a 52 out of 100 in efficiency (so much for free market fundamentalism)
  • more Americans suffering debilitating health problems (18% in 2006, up from 15% in 2004)
  • one-third of adults reporting mistakes in their health care
  • less than half of U.S. adults say they can get "rapid appointments" when they're sick (what? people have to wait for care in America?)
  • 37% of adults skip some care because of cost; overseas, that number is 5%
The Commonwealth Fund report is titled Why Not the Best? Indeed, why not? Too many Americans want to cling to their free market ideology, when evidence here and abroad shows that our current system doesn't work nearly as well as systems in other countries that provide national health insurance.

Save lives. Save money. Support health care, not health capitalism. Support single-payer, not-for-profit health coverage.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rhyme Time: Blogger Joins Poets on SDPB and at JazzFest

jazz haiku

to be or not—ha!
i know the answer—easy:
do. be. do be do.

With apologies to Shakespeare and Sinatra, I'm switching literary gears for a couple days: I'm putting on my poet's cap to perform some original poems on SDPB and at JazzFest!

Tomorrow at noon I will have the pleasure of joining USD's Norma Wilson on SDPB's "Food for Thought" to talk poetry with Julia Monczunski. We'll read some poems, talk about inspiration and versification, and plug the Poetry Tent at JazzFest! That's where Wilson and I will be rapping out poems Saturday afternoon along with a bunch of other South Dakota poets.

The JazzFest Poetry Tent opens Saturday at 2 p.m. with open reading—if you've got rhymes, raps, or any other form of poetical musings, the stage is yours! Then at 4 p.m., the featured readers take the stage. Norma Wilson and I will be performing, along with Dee Nelson, David Evans, Jr., and South Dakota poet laureate (and one of my old SDSU profs!) David Allan Evans. And at 6 p.m., the big Poetry Slam! There's real money here: best slam poet wins $200!

There's no formal program for the featured readers—heck, as I look through my stack of poems, I'm still not sure which ones I'll read. I'll probably bring extra and just go with the mood of the crowd. Check out a sample of David Allan Evans's work, including his classic "Pole Vaulter." Below is one of mine. Enjoy... and come groove at JazzFest!

* * *


Alone, a grey evening, whispering spring only in the lateness of the light,
Booms over the prairie
A single jet
Low but hidden by speed and cloud and looming night.
A human being (no longer may we assume a man)
A fellow being sits alone tonight
That one above me, roaring through featureless sky
Awash in the instrument panel glow
Holding steady the screaming engined magic trick
Of metal wings and explosives balanced on rushing air
She passes over (a she! could be!) a thousand lives
Forgotten in a few seconds by all but the youngest or least distracted
She flies tonight, practicing magic
By hydraulics and computer and push of a button
Tricks unseen over empty snowy fields
Over first thaw puddles refreezing for the night
Ice unrattled by her dragon rumble.