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Monday, August 31, 2009

United States Postal Service -- Not Bad!

The United States Postal Service has been ridiculed by various conservative commenters as a poster child for ineffective government programs. Losing money, can't compete against Fed Ex and UPS,—proof positive the feds can't manage anything right, let alone compete with private health insurance, right?

But why exactly is USPS $7 billion in the hole? Is it inherent government waste and inefficiency? No: it seems the postal service is just subject to economic factors, like everyone else:
  • 70% of households with computers are paying bills online, up from 64% last year.
  • Increased use of e-filing for tax returns takes two bites out of postal paper volume: fewer papers sent to IRS, fewer refund checks sent to all corners of the map.
  • The recession means less junk mail. USPS estimates its total volume will drop 13% this year, from 202B to 175B pieces [see Andrea Fuller, "As Internet Booms, the Postal Service Fights Back," New York Times, 2009.08.]
And they still deliver and pick up my mail five miles out of town, reliably, six days a week. Not bad.

The fact that USPS is losing money says nothing some inherent flaw in government services. The real reasons for the USPS's deficit—less paper waste, easier tax filing, fewer credit card offers and ads cluttering up the mailbox—are all reasons to cheer.

AAA Predicts Slower Labor Day Tourism -- August School to Blame?

Stunning! Where I susually expect Triple AAA to beat the drum for more motoring, AAA South Dakota is actually predicting less travel here over the Labor Day weekend. AAA sees 9.5% fewer South Dakotans hitting the road this last summer holiday weekend, despite much cheaper gas than last year. They say part of the problem is relative: evidently last year's Labor Day was a big travel weekend. But this year's Labor Day will be dragged down by the later date and the down economy.

Parts of the problem not mentioned by AAA:
  • Lots of travelers got their fill of the road this weekend whooping it up at Prairie Village!
  • Lots of kids and teachers have been in school for over a week already. Hmm... anybody relying on tourism for their income care to revisit setting the school start date after Labor Day?

Chamber of Commerce Minute: Promote Your Town with Warm Showers!

Bicycling blogger Kevin Brady does the Lord's work and the Chamber of Commerce's by hosting some cross-country bicyclists over the weekend. He also points toward a tourism-promotion strategy that some Chambers of Commerce probably miss.

Mr. Brady's pedaling guests found his Vermillion home via an online service called Warm Showers. The website is mostly just a big list of hospitable folks across the world who are willing to give bicycle tourists a place to stay for the night. I know how happy a long-distance cyclist can be to trade the tent for a roof and a bed for just one night. A welcoming host and a safe place to sleep do wonders to recharge a cyclist for another long day of self-propelled voyaging. Such hospitality also gives tourists a chance to really connect with folks who live here and build fond memories, not to mention some good word-of-mouth that might bring future tourists this way.

Opening our doors to bicycle tourists isn't the big enchilada of tourism promotion. Hosting a cyclist here, and biking family there, won't bring in the sales tax dollars of a signature event like the Threshing Jamboree. But perhaps the Chamber could round up maybe a dozen members to volunteer to join the Warm Showers list. If each of those members manages to snag even one visitor, then heck, we've just brought another dozen tourists—nay, adventurers!—to our fair city... and we've done it without spending one thin dime on marketing or slogans or glossy brochures.

More free tourism consulting, courtesy of the Madville Times!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Munsterman Campaign: We'll Answer Your Question After You Ask Us Several More

For the record:

Subject: Interview opportunities with the Munsterman for Governor campaign.
Date: Sun, 30 Aug 2009 08:26:05 -0700 (PDT)
From: Pat Powers
To: Cory Heidelberger [and several other members of the South Dakota Blogosphere]

Greetings Fellow SD Political Blogger:

In response to a question that Cory Heidelberger had of SDGOP Gubernatorial Candidate Scott Munsterman a short time ago, the campaign extended an offer of making Scott available to Cory for some Q&A time. I'm terribly remiss in not extending the same offer to all South Dakota Bloggers for a similar opportunity.

As I related to Cory, If you have a number of questions for Scott, PLEASE feel free to call the campaign at (605) 695.3926 and arrange an interview with him. He's on the road quite a bit, so he's got plenty of time to talk. All I'd ask is that you have more than one question. In fact, several questions would be great.

I can assure you that Scott is extremely accessible, and as you might guess from his book which you can download for free at ( http://www.munstermanforgovernor.com ) he's not afraid to talk about his ideas for making South Dakota a better place. The book is about starting a conversation with South Dakota - and everyone is invited to ask questions, and join in the discussion.

If you're not comfortable making the call directly, any of you are welcome to drop me a note at dakotawarcollege@yahoo.com, and I'd be glad to facilitate it.

As always, if I can answer any questions, or assist you with any information on behalf of the campaign, please do not hesitate to ask.


Pat Powers
Munsterman for Govenror

My response:

Subject: Re: Interview opportunities with the Munsterman for Governor campaign.
Date: Sun, 30 Aug 2009 10:46:52 -0600
From: Cory Allen Heidelberger
To: Pat Powers
Cc: [Fellow members of the South Dakota Blogopshere]

Thank you for the kind invitation and contact information for Candidate Munsterman. When I care to fulfill the condition you set that callers come with a prepared list of several questions for the candidate, I will avail myself of the opportunity.

In the meantime, Candidate Munsterman has my question about what practical steps he would take to back up his lofty rhetoric about the budget self-sufficiency he wishes to achieve for South Dakota. Where would he have found the $71 million dollars to plug this year's state budget shortfall without accepting federal stimulus dollars? How does he suggest we reduce the state budget so we can send our share of spirit-sapping federal stimulus dollars back in FY2011? And what actions does Candidate Munsterman propose to fill the fiscal chasm that will yawn open again during the first year of the next gubernatorial administration when the stimulus runs out?

There, 3 is more than 1, right? If not, fellow bloggers, feel free to append my questions to your own lists when you call the Munsterman campaign.

Candidate Munsterman has had my original question available online on my blog and his blog since Monday, August 24. His campaign has been aware of said question since then as well, as evidenced by his campaign manager's comment on my blog on that same day. This is why I prefer written communication, since it is obviously taking Candidate Munsterman a heck of a long time to come up with an answer... and I hate to put people on the spot on the phone.

I look forward to hearing practical responses on the campaign trail from the "extremely accessible" Candidate Munsterman.


Cory Allen Heidelberger -- Madville Times
1883 Cottonwood Cove Trail
Lake Herman, SD 57042

We're working on a phone call, but jeepers, that means synchronizing schedules, making the candidate take time away from hitting the road and lining up speaking events and donors. Whip out the laptop, bang out a response before breakfast—simple!

9-12 Leader: "I'm Not a Public Speaker" -- Then Sit Down

...and come back when you're ready to lead the revolution.

Local 9-12 Project organizer Jason Bjorklund and I had a good visit last night... well, as good a visit as two guys can have at a public event where there are lots of friends and neighbors to meet and greet. We had a civil and wide-ranging conversation over supper, as I did with a number of other attendees. I heard Jason's sincere concern for his country, his frustration with the faltering economy, and his genuine desire for learning. He admits he listens to "more talk radio than is healthy" while he's driving truck, but he stays away from TV and is hitting the books, and that's cool.

When Jason took the floor at last night's Madison Glenn Beck fan club picnic, he (along with audience members) made a number of political statements, some of which I agreed with, some of which I didn't. So maybe you, dear readers, will find it odd that the one thing Jason said last night that rankled me most was not some spouting of paranoid Glenn Beckian nuttiness (actually pretty rare last night), but a personal evaluation. More than once, Jason Bjorklund told his audience, "I'm not a public speaker."

Jason's performance last night supported his claim: unscripted when it should have been, unfocused, lacking a unifying theme, with one unproductive detour (something about Left, Right, a triangle, and a cross) to an otherwise unused white board. But my beef isn't with a bad speech. I'm a speech teacher: I see bad speeches all the time. I stick around and try to help those speakers get better.

My beef is with a public speaker saying he's not a public speaker. I hear local candidates say something like this regularly: "I'm not a public speaker," they mutter aw-shucksily, while asking me to elect them to represent my interests in the courthouse or the Capitol. Such speakers are saying they lack an essential skill for leading public discourse.

So when's the last time you went to a job interview and said, "You know, I'm not really good at this kind of job"?

When's the last time you started a business and told your potential investors and customers you're not really good at handling money or delivering services?

When's the last time you heard a fireman hop in the truck and tell his colleagues, "Gee, fellas, I'm rather clumsy with ladders and hoses"?

When's the last time you heard a blogger build readership by saying, "I'm not really an interesting writer"?

Jason, you are engaged in political activity. You're not running for office, but you are attempting to lead and promote political discourse and action. You need to be a public speaker. A public speaker prepares, practices, and speaks with clearly defined purpose. A public speaker gets to the point, explains things clearly, leads the discussion, and moves people to useful action. That's leadership. That's what you're trying to do.

And against all the skilled orators of the established powers, the political parties, the media, the corporations, etc., who also have at their disposal the enormous power of money and institutional inertia, good public speaking may be the only tool you can leverage to win converts to your cause. You must be a public speaker!

Being a public speaker does not mean aping Glenn Beck's tearful tirades, much less parroting the catch phrases. I heard a number of folks at last night's picnic who sounded more interested in what I call singing in the shower: issuing their best imitation of their favorite smattering of lines from talk radio, but not developing a specific point further into a full argument or plan for practical action in the context of complicated political realities. I used to do a lot of that "singing" myself when I thought Rush Limbaugh was cool.

None of this is to say that good speeches will solve all our problems. Good speeches are necessary but not sufficient. To achieve your goals, Jason, you will need good organizing, money, and vision that goes beyond waiting for the next orders from Glenn Beck Central.

But think about it: would Glenn Beck have his million-dollar microphone if he weren't a somewhat skilled public speaker? Can you lead a movement if you can't tell them where you want to go?

No excuses, Jason: either you are a public speaker, or you go home, study, and practice until you become a public speaker. And no, you don't have to pay for a big speech course (although I'm happy to discuss rates for private lessons and consulting). You just have to decide to project the confidence of a leader and do the reading, the listening, and the preparation it takes to back that confidence up.

Welcome to the public sphere, Jason. I love rabble-rousers: now go get 'em!

Madison 9-12ers: 10 Things "We" Disagree On

I've listed the points where Madison's Glenn Beck fans and I can agree; now let's see where we disagree. (Again, "we" is a loose term, referring to other folks at last night's Madison picnic.)
  1. We need Congressional term limits. Actually, the Glenn Beckers themselves may disagree on this one. Ben Elliott voiced support for this idea and won some nods. Others suggested it takes too much effort to amend the Constitution. I suggest term limits are crass elitism: if you think you're smart enough to see that the incumbent is corrupt but that the general electorate isn't and that you thus need to impose a rule from above to limit choices at the ballot box for the electorate's own good, you're an elitist.
  2. John Thune should answer his own phone calls. Madison neighbor Jerry Heckenliable takes the position that a United States Senator who has 1000-page bills to read does not need any staff to respond to the phone calls of 800,000 constituents or carry out any other functions. In other words, Jerry wants Jon Lauck fired. So do I... but I intend to achieve that end by voting John Thune out of office in 2010, not by the absurd assertion that Senators need no bureaucrats (a.k.a., support staff) helping them do their jobs. ON what planet does Jerry get his news?
  3. Tim Johnson is disabled and should resign. Oh. Planet Mean, I guess. Jerry H. said this to me with a bit more bitterness than I find comfortable. Hmm, let's see: this year, Senator Johnson has missed 12 Senate votes (4.4%), all during a four-day period at the beginning of May.
  4. We need to get the government out of Social Security. No, Jerry, Social Security as a specific program and a general principle, is exactly what we build governments to handle.
  5. Bills in Congress are written by college-graduate staffers who've been told exactly what to write by their Marxist professors. No, Sibby, bills are written by corporate lobbyists acting as anarcho-capitalist tools.
  6. Brown is a good color for political t-shirts. Does no one in Madison understand marketing? Brown shirts don't stand out. Brown shirts are also an invitation to blog mockery. You might as well hang a piñata and hand me the stick. (The Sioux Falls Glenn Beckers at least went with red.)
  7. "I hate politics." Madison Glenn Beck fan club organizer Jason Bjorklund all-caps-shouted this in his big MDL ad. Jason, you're doing politics right now. That's a good thing, an admirable thing. Keep at it.
  8. Health insurance should be like car insurance. Jason didn't get to finish this thought—there were a lot of conversations brewing last night!—but he's wrong. Health care is not auto repair. People are not cars. Different rules of economics and morality apply.
  9. The Founding Fathers started with a model that gave more power to the states. Actually, that statement by itself is correct. As a states' rights argument, it's ill-chosen. That starting system was called the Articles of Confederation. It didn't work. The Founding Fathers scrapped that plan in favor of a stronger federal system... something Glenn Beck's ancestors likely would have called a dangerous step toward fascism... had the word actually existed in 1787.
  10. Montana has all the shale oil America needs. Yeah, and Mars has a lot of iron, but I'm not seeing the business model yet. Capitalists aren't stupid. If they wouldn't go broke drilling and transporting the Bakken shale oil, Exxon et al. would already be there in full force. Evidently the Bakken shale oil, which might have recoverable reserves equal to maybe twenty year, maybe less than one year of U.S. oil consumption, won't get pumped until oil prices jump back above $100 a barrel, the kind of prices that pushed Bjorklund to shutter his trucking business last year.
As you can see from this list and my preceding list of agreements, the Glenn Beckers have a lot of different issues on their minds. They aren't even of one mind or one clearly uniting philosophy. For a Saturday evening salon, that's engaging and enjoyable. For an effort aiming at taking back Washington, that could be a problem. More to come....

Madison 9-12ers: 10 Things "We" Agree On

I enjoyed attending last night's picnic of the Madison Glenn Beck fan club. I actually heard a number of things "we" agree on. I put "we" in quotes only to emphasize that I can't verify that every person at the Westside Park picnic shelter is a "9-12er" (after all, I'm not). But among the couple-three dozen folks drawn by Jason Bjorklund's invitation, I heard a number of sentiments with which I, an atheist secular humanist who voted for Barack Obama and serves as treasurer of the local Democratic Party, can agree:
  1. Plutocracy reigns in Washington, DC. Various attendees railed against the big money interests whose lobbyists turn our Congresspeople against the interests of the folks who elected them.
  2. We need more free public health clinics. No, I did not plant a fellow traveler. A women at another table proposed this idea as an alternative to health care reform.
  3. We should follow Brazil's model of producing ethanol from sugar cane. Bjorklund is big on ethanol. He cited Brazil's self-sufficiency as a model for getting off oil.
  4. Small farms should build more alcohol stills. Bjorklund says we could kick oil for good if every small farm just brewed the 10,000 gallons of alcohol the law allows and if we converted our cars to run on alcohol the way old Model Ts could. Smarter folks can check the numbers, but energy self-sufficiency is a worthy goal.
  5. "I'm o.k. with single-payer...." Another double take. Bjorklund said he'd rather see it at the state level. I said if he can show me each state has a big enough risk pool to make a single-payer system work, I can give up my preferred national system.
  6. We can have more influence with our state legislators than with our Congressional delegation. Agreed: if you want to turn picnic rhetoric into meaningful change, the place to start is with Russell Olson, Gerry Lange, and Mitch Fargen. Call them, write them, make your voice heard in Pierre!
  7. A consistent Glenn Beck agenda means economic pain for South Dakota. I over-generalize by referring to a "consistent Glenn Beck agenda"—this very list should demonstrate the lack of one among the Madison picnickers. But a regular comment appears to be that we need to keep our money here instead of paying lots of federal taxes and then taking federal dollars with all the strings attached. I pointed out that South Dakota gets $1.53 in federal money for every $1.00 we pay in. Paragon of consistency Steve Sibson acknowledged that turning down federal money means economic pain for our welfare state. A hangover is no fun, but you can't stay drunk.
  8. "I'm not a public speaker." Jason Bjorklund kept reminding us of this fact, by word and by action.
  9. We need to get away from the Right-Left thing. Prick a seemingly right-wing crowd, and you find a melange of ideas that might be properly fixed all along the political spectrum. Trying to characterize last night's crowd as Right does no more to advance discourse than to characterize me as Left.
  10. Hot dogs are good. I'm as happy to sit down for processed pig brains gently charred as the next guy.

Madison's Glenn Beck Brown Shirt Club: Mostly Harmless?

Last night I went to the meeting of Madison's Glenn Beck fan club—the local 9.12ers group—organized by fellow MHS alumnus Jason Bjorklund. What did I see?


Madison Glenn Beck fan
and picnic planner Jason Bjorklund

No, really. The Madison Glenn Beck listeners have chosen brown as the color of their club uniform. They wear... brown shirts.

Brown shirts. For a political protest group organized by a charismatic national leader who writes bad prose. Two possibilities:
  1. If they didn't realize the connection, the Madison Glenn Beckers suffer a bad case of cultural perspective.
  2. If they deliberately chose brown shirts, they are at best tasteless and not funny.

The Glenn Beckers are also apparently into phallic imagery on their flags. The cannon, the snakes... but I still enjoyed my hot dog.

I saw and heard some anger and frustration, some good ideas and some bad ideas. I also saw a number of people I know: my cousin Aaron (yes, over 10% of the people at this meeting were Heidelbergers!), my antipodal blogger Steve Sibson, Madison insurance guy Lee Stoddard, former student Emyle Elliott, hog raiser Ben Elliott, good neighbor Imogene Ellis (she brought me cake one really hot day 21 years ago), fellow frequent foot power fan Jerry Heckenliable, and local media stars Neal and Linda McIntyre (see the front page of the Voices section of yesterday's Sioux Falls paper).

Alas—and I mean that: alas—I did not see or hear any sign of an effective political movement that can move general political discourse beyond the entertainment with which Glenn Beck makes his millions. Of course, even the putschists took a few years to progress from clumsy beer hall antics to actually winning an election.

But I enjoy almost any public political discourse breaking out on a beautiful summer evening. So I'll spend some time this morning analyzing the discussions I enjoyed last night while surrounded by brown shirts. Stay tuned....

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Prairie Village Steam Threshing Jamboree: Full!

My path to marriage began with a simple question in August, 2001: "Do you like steam tractors?" Erin said sure! and came to Prairie Village for Madison's signature event, the Steam Threshing Jamboree. We looked at tractors, visited the Lawrence Welk Socialist Hall, talked E-Prime over lemonade, crossed the road to the Moonlite for dinner... and the rest is history.

Fueled by romance and the Izaak Walton League's all-we-could-eat pancakes and sausages (so good they set off the smoke alarm... kind of like our own romance), we steamed over to Prairie Village on our bikes (with Madville Times Jr. in the bike trailer) to see the big threshers and tractors and take the Divine Miss K for her first train ride.

Let's see... about a dozen cars lined up waiting to turn into the Prairie Village entrance. Not too bad a wait to the west...

...uh oh. This is the line coming from the east on Highway 34. At 10:00 a.m. Before lunch, we heard traffic was backed up to Pizza Ranch, maybe even as far as Madison's Main Street, about three miles. Plus traffic backing up north on U.S. 81. Tell me again, which stretch of road needs four lanes?

Once in the gate, no worries. We've got cowboys (and cowgirls) on the job. And they didn't turn us away for not wearing Allis orange. This easy rider shows us real cowboys drink Coke on the job. One of his colleagues cheered our bikes: we left one more parking spot available! Good thing we did: when we rode the train around at 11:30, the horse patrol was directing cars to the last parking spots at the far southeast corner of the lot. I've been to the Jamboree off and on over the last 25 years, and I have never seen it this full.

Inside Prairie Village, the only traffic jam is the reasonably orderly convergence of tractors lining up for the hourly parades.

And on Prairie Village's Main Street, much calmer traffic.

On display among the antique cars, a 1921 Ford truck... more like a rolling carpenter's shop! Saws, vises, drill press, grinder... dang! Who needs a hemi? I'll bet Ford could pull out this blueprint and sell a million of these to do-it-yourselfers today!

Ours weren't the only human-powered vehicles at the Village. The Wentworth Depot features another of my dream machines, this rail velocipede from the 1880s. It's a two-seater, so the rail inspector can concentrate on his checklist while the other guy busts his chops cranking along the line. I really, really, really want to sneak into Prairie Village some night and take this baby for a spin. (I suspect I'll want to bring an oil can.)

Here's a full view of the velocipede with its outrigger.

Second choice for vehicle I might hijack at Prairie Village: this two-seat pedal car! Not an antique, but pretty cool with its stick shift. On the downside, I did not see any brakes... gangway!

The Prairie Village Herman & Madison Railroad blue USAF engine runs on diesel. Don't ask what the PVH&M crew were running on when they hung the bloomers from the water tank.

Ah, what might have been: the PVH&M loops through the old Herman townsite. Pioneers in this county thought Lake Herman would be a pretty place for a town. But then C.B. Kennedy wanted to increase the value of the land he'd bought three miles to the east, so rich guys friendly to his interests bought up buildings in Herman and hauled them back to New Madison. Small revenge: right now, there are more people at Prairie Village on the northeast shore of Lake Herman than there are in the city of Madison. (Now, Prairie Village, let's talk about putting up a sign to commemorate the Lake Herman bordello...)

A 9.12er... Wasn't that an experimental model John Deere introduced in Russia in the 1920s? Or wait, wasn't that the combination thresher and 108-bale haywagon Minneapolis put out back in the 1890s? Oh well, guess I'll have to wait until this evening to find out.

Not everything at the Village is an antique. These sculptures actually weren't in the flea market; they were featured in a sculpture garden of sorts by the sawmill in the show grounds. Now if a guy could rig up a chain saw to run on steam power, that would be impressive! (No word on whether the chain saw artist has obtained rights from Hanna-Barbera. If he were selling sculptures of the Enterprise and Mr. Spock, Paramount would be beaming in lawyers in an instant!)

Why yes, that is Austin Powers, rendered in wood. Behave. $900.

The best maintained building at Prairie Village, the iconic 103-year-old Junius Church has greeted travelers along Highway 34 from this site since 1967. I can see it from my house on the other side of Lake Herman. Different congregations hold services every Sunday here during the summer. It may be the prettiest place in Lake County to get married, especially when you step out the doors and see the sun gleaming on the lake.

Oh yeah: Madville Times Jr. enjoyed her first train ride. She clung tightly to her mother the whole way, just like on the buses in Winnipeg. We'll get her used to mass transit yet!

Among other joys of the Jamboree, I ran into Benjamin Stowe, a true railroad devoté. When I worked as summer help at the Village 20 years ago, Ben was there, barely a teenager, working right alongside Joe Habeger and Paul Redfield to build the Village railroad. He tells me this is his 22nd straight Jamboree... and he's still wearing his blue and white engineer's cap. Very cool.

What I like most about the Jamboree and Prairie Village is that this big event came from a few local folks with big ideas. They've plugged away since the early 1960s, doing crazy things like moving an opera house down the highway, building their own railroad, and daring to believe they could throw a party centered around antique machines that would double the population of Lake County for a weekend. They've forged a reasonable success, and they haven't needed focus groups or fancy outside marketing consultants to make it happen. They've taken what we have here on the prairie, our own heritage, and polished it into a cultural gem—a rough little gem, sure, but a gem nonetheless, the signature event of Lake County.

Update 22:15 CDT: Check out this video from Horseshoe Seven. My friend John caught the Minnesota wagon train heading for Prairie Village Friday right past his house on old 34. Yay, horsies!

Janklow Sues Dell -- Media Casts Felon as Everyman

KELO beat me to the obvious headline...

Most convicted man-slaughterers don't get gentle, positive press like this. KELO features former South Dakota Governor and Congressman Bill Janklow as he epitomizes the everyman struggle against big business. Janklow is suing Dell over the non-functional computer they sold him in May. KELO helps turn the screws of bad PR on Dell by showing him going through the lengthy and futile maze of telephone tech support.

This lawsuit is one nearly everyone can sympathize with. A company produces an inferior product. The company makes it nearly impossible to get service to solve the problem. The consumer's only recourse is expensive legal action. (Bonus philosophical inconsistency of the day: Some of Janklow's Republican friends argue that we need to limit lawsuits. Discuss.)

I'm betting the initial reaction of nearly every South Dakotan watching is the same as mine: "Go get 'em, Bill! Make 'em pay!"

But I see another angle here. Consider how Perry Groten (of course Perry would do this story! I still love you, Perry!) frames the narrative:

Not even a former governor and U.S. Congressman has the kind of clout to fast-track a lengthy journey through the customer support maze.

What if Groten had chosen an alternative framing:

Not even a convicted felon has the kind of clout to fast-track a lengthy journey through the customer support maze.

Hmmm. KELO and the rest of the mainstream media make plenty of hay keeping us scared of the bad, bad people in our midst. But Bill Janklow gets press like any decent ordinary Joe.

I know, Bill Janklow is anything but ordinary. He's darned interesting. He makes good press. He is a historic figure. He still has valuable contributions to make to South Dakota.

But he also killed a man through sheer recklessness.

How to properly allow Janklow into the public sphere is a complicated issue. The way we treat Janklow is also worth keeping in mind as we consider the place we allow all other felons in our community.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Commission Piddling Around with Public Urination Ordinance

Disclaimer: I herein totally abandon any pretense to citizen-journalistic quality. This post is complete toilet humor. Sometimes, you just can't hold it in.

I s#-- you not: The Madison City Commission will give first reading Monday night to Ordinance 1484, a measure to outlaw public urination.

My first thought? "Holy crap!" Oops -- I guess that's not appropriate, either.

Forget coming for the budget session after the commission meeting; Monday's meeting would be worth attending just to watch Commissioner Nick Abraham struggle to keep a straight face through the discussion. Let's just hope no one asks if this rule is part of the penal code.

Actually, the ordinance fails to mention any penalty. Could commissioners simply be peeing in the wind?

So why on Earth is the city making a pit stop to discuss an anti-potty ordinance? Did Karen Lembcke catch someone tinkling on the Main Street flowers? Did the Mayor Discover something similarly Unexpected out on the bike path?

Wait a minute -- does this proposed ordinance mean it actually isn't illegal now to take a public whizz in Madison? Ah, better hold your water. We already have ordinances that appear to make public piddling prosecutable. Sec 13-3-2(j) on Disorderly Conduct makes it illegal to damage, befoul, or disturb "public property or the property of another so as to create a hazardous, unhealthy, or physically offensive condition".

The new ordinance does appear to flow naturally from existing municipal powers: Sec. 22-38-2 does grant the city commission authority to regulate or prohibit any method of "sprinkling, watering, or irrigating of shrubbery, trees, plants, vines, flowers...." (But I also hear that extra nitrogen is good for your compost pile!)

Neither conservatives nor eco-compost-extremists are likely to flood the commission room with protest Monday night. But if we need police protection from public pee, we might want to check the wording of the proposed ordinance: "It shall be unlawful for any person to urinate in any public place in the City. For purposes of this section, a public place shall be any public or private property to which the public has permissive access." Any public place...does that include the bathrooms in city hall and the library?

But our commissioners are straight shooters. We can trust them to flush out bad ordinances.

p.s.: Just curious: why ban public urination but not public defacation?

State Govt Restructuring Eliminates Drivers License Exam Stations

Candidate Munsterman, I smell another small-town campaign issue!

Not only does your driver's license cost 150% more now, but many of you will have to drive farther to get your license renewed. Folks up in Britton are seeing their local driver's license services end next month. Britton is losing theirs because, says the state, the Britton station issues less than 0.4% of licenses and IDs statewide. As of October 1, they'll have to drive 42 miles to Webster... assuming their licenses haven't expired. The exam station in Webster is open Fridays 08:00–16:30, so Marshall County drivers will have to take off work to get renewed.

According to the Marshall County Journal, the state appears to be cutting back to 56 licensing stations. That closes 16 of the currently listed 72 stations. I'm looking around for a complete list of the closures, but I hear Howard, Salem, and Flandreau may all lose their already infrequent visits from the driver's license examiner. I'm also trying to find whether this is coming from the Legislature (you know, the folks who vote for increased fees for less service) or if this is simply an in-agency decision to streamline budgets. More tips are welcome!

Update 15:05 CDT: Make that 17 towns losing service. State driver's licensing director Cindy Gerber says this move reduces the number of offices from 74 to 57 (I guess I can't count). The Aberdeen American News has the list:
  1. Beresford
  2. Britton
  3. Canton
  4. Clark
  5. Clear Lake
  6. De Smet
  7. Deadwood
  8. Flandreau
  9. Freeman
  10. Howard
  11. Mission
  12. Parkston
  13. Philip
  14. Platte
  15. Salem
  16. Tyndall
  17. Wagner
And cut the legislature some slack: yes, they increased our fees, but according to Rep. Sue Wismer (D-Britton), no one informed legislators that this fee hike would be followed by a reduction of services. Rep. Wismer and likely a number of her fellow non-metro legislators are not pleased:

"I find it kind of sad commentary on how unimportant (the state feels) it is to involve the Legislature in decisions that affect rural populations," she said. "It's this kind of action that breeds mistrust and long-lasting ill will between legislators and Pierre."

Some poor and elderly people in the Britton area seldom leave town, and now will be forced to drive at least 45 miles to renew their licenses, she said.

"It appears (the state is) taking the process of county consolidation into their own hands," Wismer said, referencing an idea that has been occasionally discussed in Pierre [Scott Waltman, "Driver's Exam Stations Closing in Britton, Other Communities," Aberdeen American News, 2009.08.28].

I can understand Rep. Wismer's frustration. She and her legislative colleagues (like our own Senator Russell Olson) now have to explain to voters why they are paying more and getting less. Besides, some legislators floated a county consolidation resolution this year; it failed to survive its first committee vote. The executive branch seems to be sneaking ahead where the Legislature has said 'Don't go there."

Update 15:30 CDT: Bob Mercer notes that the Rounds Administration gave no one any indication this move was coming. I smell rotten sneakers here....

Rounds: Flags at Half Staff for Kennedy... Since We Have To.

I'm trying really hard to avoid any snark relating to the death of Senator Edward Kennedy. But I'm going to take this one partisan shot... since Governor Mike Rounds sounds like he's doing the same:

I ask all South Dakotans to comply with the directive of President Obama to honor Senator Kennedy by flying the flag at half staff.

—South Dakota Governor M. Michael Rounds, 2009.08.27

Comply with the directive—not the words I would choose if I wanted to sound like I gave a damn. Certainly not the kind of words that accompany Governor Rounds's other half-staff orders:

On former State Rep. Tom Hennies: "Tom Hennies had a remarkable career of public service, both as a law enforcement officer and a state legislator.... He served with pride, compassion and integrity, and he will be missed. We extend our condolences to his family." [2009.08.14]

On former Lt. Gov. Carole Hillard: "I worked with Carole for six years, when she was the President of the Senate and I was the Majority Leader.... I gained a huge amount of respect for her. She was intelligent, caring, and always fair in conducting the Senate’s business. She was a 'class act' but it was never an 'act.' She was a genuine, kind, gracious person who was a good friend to everyone. She was also very proud of her family and loved to talk about what they were doing.... After she left government, she could have totally retired, but she worked very hard promoting democracy and economic development in other countries. She cared deeply about other people and about making things better. We are a better state because Carole Hillard gave her time, talent, and wisdom in public service to South Dakota." [2007.10.25]

On President Bush's Patriot Day directive: "It is appropriate that we remember and honor those brave men and women whose lives were taken in the deadly attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.... It is also appropriate that we thank those who serve the cause of defending our country and recognize our first responders who answer the call in times of need.” [2008.09.09 and 2006.09.08]

On former President Ronals Reagan: "President Reagan will be remembered as a hero and a leader.... He believed in the American people. He helped us see how bright our future could be. His vision of a free people with unbridled potential became our vision once again. America is better because of his ability to share the dream with each of us as if we knew him personally." [2004.06.07]

What Governor Rounds actually thinks about honoring Senator Kennedy is not the point. People get paid to make sure the words he says—or doesn't say—convey exactly the right message. They didn't have to gush over Senator Kennedy. But they could have crafted one sentence that sounds a little classier than, "Well, the President said so, so do it."

For some South Dakota officials who can find some respectful words, see Dave Kranz's Friday column. But as for certain legislators' lack of recall of legislation Kennedy pushed that affected South Dakota, start with immigration law, S-CHIP, and the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jason Bjorklund Calls 9/12 Project Meeting in Madison Saturday

Madison resident and "Fellow Patriot" Jason Lee Bjorklund buys a quarter of page 6 in tonight's Madison Daily Leader to send this message. I republish here in near entirety, because I think it's interesting... and because I'm warming for some serious critique tomorrow.

What is a 9.12er?

Does it bother you that our government is stealing trillions of dollars from future generations to try and spend their way out of a recession?!? Do you expect the same government that is bankrupting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to finally get it right with Socialized Medicine?!? Do you want your doctor to check the budget and sort patients by age before scheduling your surgery?!? Does it alarm you that our government is seizing control of banks and automakers? Does it make sense to drain our pockets and jeopardize national security by refusing to drill for our own natural resources to make ourselves energy independent? Do you think Gehl Manufacturing will survive the excessive taxes if Cap and Trade passes?!? Are you comfortable with surrendering essential liberties for the false security provided by the Patriot Act? Does the word "czar" make your skin crawl?

I am just a regular guy. I absolutely hate politics. I cannot say that strongly enough. I HATE POLITICS! The politicians, through their actions, have forced me to watch them like a hawk. They have forced me to start reading bills that they, themselves, refuse to read. They have forced me to study and relearn American History, American Civics, Philosophy... and I am going to make them pay for it! I was happy carving out my little niche in life, blissfully unaware of the fundamental changes taking place in our government and society. That is, until I noticed those changes affecting every facet of my life and the lives of those around me.

The politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, are building an unsustainable system of government that is out of line with the U.S. Constitution, our founding principles, and common sense. I am learning that the tags of Republican and Democrat are meaningless. They are designed to divide us and set us against one another. Do you believe that your money is best spent by you, not the government? Do you believe that individuals have the right to bear arms? Do you believe that marriage is between a man and a woman? Do you believe that you have a right to own private property? Do you believe that an unborn baby is a living human being? Do you believe that our country's principles, values, beliefs, and traditions should be preserved? Do you believe that our rights are unalienable because they are bestowed by God? Then now is the time to stand up and speak out! We must stand together to preserve the form of government our founders set forth!

The last line of the Declaration of Independence states, "...with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutally pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." To that end, I firmly pledge to you... my Life, my Fortune, and my sacred Honor. I have drawn a line in the sand. I will stand shoulder to should with you to defend it. To that end, I helped start, and currently lead, the Madison 9.12 Project. The madison 9.12 Project is a grassroots movement to bring together people of common principles and values to make a stand against anything that threatens our right to Life, Liberty, and our pursuit of Happiness.

[Grassroots organizer Bjorklund then proceeds to list nearly verbatim the 9 Principles and 12 Values that unite "us" defined by the 9/12 Project's national leader, corporate media entertainer Glenn Beck.—ed.]

If you agree with these principles and values, consider joining us! You can get more information at www.meetup.com/madison9-12project.

On Saturday, August 29th at 6:00pm the Madison 9.12 Project is hosting a Potluck Picnic at Westside (Pool) Park. We will be joined by members of the Sioux Falls, Mitchell, and Canton groups. If you agree with our group's principles and values, feel free to join us! Bring your family! The more the merrier!

Feeling surrounded? Stay tuned... and hey, Travis! Maybe we've got our first challenger for Thune! (Of course, now that Thune is pro-choice, do we want to dump him?)

Thune-Bush Plan to Perpetuate Right-Wing Conservatism: Destroy Trust in Government

I'm listening to Senator John Thune on South Dakota Public Radio make arguments about how Americans just don't trust government. The Senator says similar things in NYTimes.

We don't trust government, so we can't trust government to do health care. How very convenient an argument to make when that trust has been eroded by eight years of a Republican administration that failed to...
  • sustain the budget surplus established in 2000,
  • prevent the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history,
  • defend the Constitution against the fear that motivated the PATRIOT Act,
  • prosecute investigations and war without resorting to torture,
  • maintain good relations with foreign allies,
  • organize an effective response to Hurricane Katrina and rebuild New Orleans, and
  • take any real action to check or reverse the trend of more people losing health insurance and going bankrupt from health care costs.
...and I don't even break a sweat thinking up that short list.

If the GOP plan was to do such a bad job of governing that people would never trust government to do anything right regardless of who's in charge, then they did a heck of a job, Brownie.

Don't trust government? Then replace it with people you do trust. That's what 2008 was about. That's what 2010 should be about (any takers yet?). Don't let Senator Thune and the losers trick you into thinking they're still in charge.

No Shouting at Ghosts: Leave Name with Comment

We're having a spate of anonymous and pseudonymous comments this morning, so a friendly reminder is in order. I'm happy you're all reading, and I'm happy to get your input. But the price of publicity is nymity: put your name, your real name, a name I can verify, to your comments. If I can't tell who you are, I delete the comment, regardless of its content. Putting names to words promotes civil discourse and accountability. Words you are afraid to put your name to probably shouldn't be said... but you can also send them to me privately.

Despairing Resident Turns Big Stone Lake Pollution into Art

Some lemons just don't make lemonade... but I can appreciate the effort "mbt" from Ortonville is making to publicize the algae pollution on Big Stone Lake. "mbt" has two photoblogs: Lottapolluta and PollutionSolutionAnybody.

LottaPolluta is the more artistic protest against the gruesome green, with some color effects applied to the photos.

mbt, Where Have All the Snails Gone? LottaPolluta, 2009.08.11

PSA is the raw footage, straight photos of the scummy, smelly algae that has prevented mbt's family from using the lake in front of their house for three straight summers.
mbt, Crayfish Crawling, PollutionSolutionAnybody, 2009.08.11

Yes, that green is so thick you can walk on it... well, if you're a crawdad.

mbt's profile offers this raison d'être:

This blog is the result of smelling stench 24/7 for 4 weeks now due to the prevailing winds. I've made many calls, emails, and yes, this is a shallow lake, but to suggest any of this is natural is like saying cigarettes don't cause cancer. Maybe these photos can be my voice. If we admit there's a problem, then we can fix it.

Algae is a natural organism in prairie lakes, but we can fix it. Remember, it grows faster when run-off carries the nutrients algae thrive on—especially nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer—into the lake. We can control those nutrients through regulations on fertilizer use and a number of other practical actions:

Algae blooms and their associated problems are usually the result of excess nutrients in the water. Therefore, the primary strategy for preventing algae problems is to control the sources of nutrients washing into the lake. Using no-phosphorus fertilizers, maintaining septic systems regularly, diverting roof and driveway runoff into grassy areas rather than directly to the lake, disposing of pet wastes in the garbage, and planting a buffer of native plants next to the lake shore are the best actions to help prevent nutrients from reaching the water [Snohomish County Public Works: Surface Water Management Division].

Of course, lake residents can't solve the problem themselves; they need the help of folks all along the watershed upstream.

And I wonder: even if we could filter all the fertilizer out of Big Stone Lake, how much pollutant might still be rolling east from Rick Millner's giant foreign-funded cow poop lagoons up by Veblen? Let's hope Millner hasn't been so absorbed in resisting the legal orders of the state of Minnesota that he's forgotten to maintain proper environmental practices back here in South Dakota.

Steam Train A-Not-Comin'! DM&E Coal Line on Hold

Did anyone else catch this? (Oh, well, of course Kevin Woster did.) The Dakota Minnesota & Eastern Railroad filed papers in federal court in Wyoming yesterday to drop its condemnation actions against several Wyoming landowners. That's good news in itself: any day landowners escape eminent domain proceedings is a happy day in my book. One attorney for the Wyoming landowners says DM&E probably spent more on litigation than it offered the landowners for right-of-way across their land... so serves DM&E right!

But the court papers contain bigger news: DM&E isn't dropping the eminent domain push because it just became the Good Fairy of Property Rights. DM&E is dropping the suits because it is dropping (for now) its Powder River Basin coal train project:

[DM&E says in the court papers] “There are uncertainties regarding the time when DM&E will be able to meet the necessary thresholds for the project, and it is clear that the project will not proceed in the immediate term.”

...In today’s filing, DM&E’s attorneys also stated, “Due to significant changes in the economic climate, DM&E cannot say that there is a reasonable probability that it will proceed with its Powder River Basin project in the near term.”

...“Available financing has tightened, and the country has seen a record economic downturn altering the strategic growth plans of nearly every industry in the country,” DM&E attorney wrote. “This has resulted in a longer timeframe for commencement of the project than anticipated at the time these condemnation actions were filed” [Dustin Bleizeffer, "DM&E Drops Condemnation Against Wyo Landowners; Railroad Suspends Powder River Basin Project," Casper Star-Tribune, 2009.08.26].

More cause to celebrate:
  • The Powder River Basin Project is the same project that would have sent coal trains rushing along refurbished track in South Dakota and Minnesota. DM&E might still go condemning land for other purposes here in South Dakota, but with this project on hold, the company has that much less reason to do so.
  • Score another victory for recession: if industries are slowing down enough to stop this rail project, that means they're also slowing down enough to use less coal. That means less emissions, less pollution, less demand for new coal plants... and more energy resources saved up for our great-grandkids.
Funny how a few legal papers can brighten one's day. Yahoo!

Update 15:15 CDT: Don't celebrate too hard, South Dakota. I hear on SDPB that Mike LoVecchio, spokesman for DM&E's parent company Canadian Pacific, is changing the story, saying the project isn't on hold, but that the company simply plans to deal directly with Wyoming landowners. The rail line will still happen; they'll just wait until the economy improves.

And here in South Dakota, CP/DM&E are still more than happy to have the power to take your land (remember 2008's SB 174?), granted to them by a Republican legislature. Grrrrr....

Credit Card Reform Act Kills No Jobs Yet

...Rounds Preaches Fear Instead of Forming Plan B

The Credit CARD Act of 2009, passed by Congress back in May, took effect seven days ago. The giant sucking sound you don't hear is jobs draining out of the Sioux Falls metro-usurial area. Anyone at Premier Bankcard sending out résumés yet? Anyone?

Governor Mike Rounds insisted that the law would kill thousands of South Dakota jobs. Governor Rounds' needle is still stuck in that groove. He argues that limits on fees on low-limit cards will drive the industry to increase fees on transactions. Another commentator echoes my own mild fear that we credit-card deadbeats may lose our bonus points and rebates. Governor Rounds thus predicts that credit card companies will lose customers and thus fire up to 3,000 good South Dakotans.

It is perhaps noteworthy that Governor Rounds was previously citing 5,000 as the number of jobs we could lose. Keep rounding down, Mike....

But 5,000, 3,000, whatever the number, I actually think 3,000 fewer South Dakotans profiting from usury would be an improvement in our quality of life. And if those job losses do ever happen, maybe the state can help those people transition to a more honest, satisfying work that actually produces something useful: growing industrial hemp!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New New Media Coming to Eastern South Dakota

My Web-Spidey sense is all a-tingle! We've got at least a couple new online news ventures coming our way in September:
Locally grown news—yahoo! So where's Joe Prostrollo nowadays?

Lake Herman Sanitary District Dodges Bullet on Constituent Info Sales

The Sioux Falls School District has gotten itself into hot water over selling the addresses of its constituents. And indeed, I must agree with Sioux Falls parent Shannon Barnes:

They tell them, you know, 'Don't post your personal information on Facebook. Don't post your personal information on MySpace. Don't give out your address. Don't even give out what school you go to,' And yet, they are selling these names and addresses [Shannon Barnes, quoted in "Complaint Alleges Names Could Fall into Wrong Hands," KSFY.com, 2009.08.25].

As Lake Herman Sanitary District president, I received a call earlier this summer from a salesman for a local retailer who asked if we would give him our address list so they could do some direct mail advertising. As noted in our minutes from last week's meeting, I declined to hand out that list. (At least Lawrence and I can agree on something! ;-) )

Of course, I hear the Lake Madison Sanitary District will sell you a copy of their address list for a reasonable fee. Porbably a good deal. Besides, Lake Madison folks spend more money, anyway—much better targets for an ad campaign.

I'm also happy to note that my current employer, Dakota State University, does not sell its student lists to commercial interests or anyone else. Heck, we aren't even printing a paper directory this year.

Breaking: SD Computer Network. Culprits: Sensible Shoes...

...and some guy in stripey bibbers.

Evidently the statewide computer network is broken this morning, with the City of Sioux Falls, Minnehaha County, and half the K-12 network unable to log on.

If you believe the graphics on KELO, the culprits are some big shoes and a pair of stripey bibbers:

Actually, "a fiber-optic line was cut during renovation of the state library in Pierre" this morning. Oops. Notice the effective use of the passive voice to avoid assigning responsibility.

Update 10:35 CDT: That Sioux Falls paper and surely-peeved BIT commissioner Otto Doll need no passive obfuscation of the obvious: they say simply that contractors cut the line.

Harvard Backs Judge Schreier: No Such Thing as "Abortion Trauma Syndrome"

Judge Karen Schreier got one thing right in her ruling last week on South Dakota's law putting bureaucrats and ideologues between women and their doctors. Her Honor declared that the portion of the law "requiring doctors to tell pregnant women that abortion increases the risk of suicide and suicide ideation is 'untruthful and misleading.'"

Funny: that's what I said last year about the sloppy science cited by abortion-ban proponents. And that's what the Harvard Review of Psychiatry said just this week:

In a review of 216 peer-reviewed articles on the subject of abortion and mental health, the authors of this study found that “the most well controlled studies continue to demonstrate that there is no convincing evidence that induced abortion of an unwanted pregnancy is a per se significant risk factor for psychiatric illness.” (p. 276) [cited by "Serena", "New Study Debunks 'Abortion Trauma Syndrome,'" Feminists for Choice, 2009.08.24]

But I'm sure Harvard is biased. They're just liberals who want women to kill their babies so there will be fewer kids growing up to go to college and pay tuition... oh, wait a minute....

Some more interesting facts from Feminists for Choice:
  • The percentage of pregnancies termianted by induced abortion is about the same in the U.S. as worldwide, about 22%.
  • In terms of physical risk, women are more likely to die from childbirth, appendectomy, or tonsillectomy.
  • If women who have abortions suffer any depression, it's more likely caused by the very anti-abortion protestors professing to protect them:
    "[Entering] abortion clinics through a group of anti-abortion demonstrators [is] a stressor that has been shown to be associated with psychological distress . . . [And] increasing a women’s belief in her ability to deal with having an abortion decreased her likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms following abortion. Such findings suggest that insofar as inaccurate “informed consent scripts” undermine a woman’s belief in her ability to cope after an abortion, they may contribute to her risk for depression [p. 270 of the Harvard study, emphasis Serena's]."
The whole anti-choice movement appears to be doing more harm than good. If Leslee Unruh and Steve Hickey are truly worried about women's well-being, they'll at least stop trying to bad laws based on bad science.

Why No Town Halls... with Insurance Agents and CEOs?

Quick thought: our elected officials are catching heck for not holding more town hall meetings to answer to their constituents for their health care policies. But why don't we hear similar cries for the folks in charge of our health coverage now, our insurance agents and their managers and CEOs, to hold town halls and explain their inefficiency, their exclusion of maternity and pre-existing conditions, their unfair legal tactics and anti-competitive practices?

Surely we have at least as much cause to be enraged over the actual harm done by insurance companies and the 22,000 Americans dying for lack of health insurance each year as we do over the potential problems in an evolving House bill that hasn't even had floor debate yet.

But do I get to march into Tim Campbell's office and shake in his face a poster showing him with a Hitler mustache? I think Monica would come from behind the desk and throw me out on my ear (and I'd have it coming).

Do I get to call for the firing of the folks running DakotaCare for their unwillingness to take hard questions about fascism and euthanasia at a public meeting called by local political agitators?

Learn to Park! South Dakotans Color Outside the Lines

Hat tip to Jeff Martin, who Facebooks this video of bad parking in Aberdeen, courtesy of Lonestar's Jason Robinson and Keech Rainwater:

It's interesting how slight automotive improprieties rouse us to such ridicule. I do the same thing, shouting "Learn to park!" at kittywampus cars from behind the safety of my rolled-up window. I almost never yell similar things about the way my neighbors walk or sit or bicycle. Why are we so hypersensitive about each other's automotive behavior?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sleep Well, Says Robert Reich: Deficit No Big Deal

Worried the deficit is too big? Robert Reich (no ignorant fellow) says don't worry, it's nothing:

Second, deficits and debts mean just about nothing anyway -- at least out of context. In 1945, the federal debt was 120 percent of the entire U.S. economy. Yeegads! Yet only a few years later, the debt as a proportion of GDP had been tamed -- and not primarily because of cuts in government spending. Yes, of course, wartime spending ended. But the big change was in the denominator of the equation. Economic growth kicked in big time, and reduced the debt as a proportion of the economy to manageable levels [Robert Reich, "Don't Succumb to Deficit Hysteria," Robert Reich's Blog, 2009.08.25].

As a matter of fact, Reich actually thinks the deficit needs to be bigger. I kid you not: with the economy still sluggish, Reich says we need to pour on more government spending to get people back to work. Uff da! Sing yourself to sleep with that one, and tell me what you think in the morning!

Badlands Blue Rides Again... with Real South Dakotans!

Badlands Blue is back, in the form it should have taken in the first place. Three South Dakota boys—Travis Dahle, William Anderson, and Nate Mason, fellow debate veterans all!—have gotten hold of BadlandsBlue.net. They're already going hard on health coverage reform and GOP hypocrisy.

No Dem money wasted on sneaky snarky out-of-state consultants on this Badlands Blue: just real commentary from real South Dakota progressives. That's my kind of blog! And with Todd Epp on hiatus, there is a gap in the progressive South Dakota blogosphere that could use some filling. Welcome to the show, fellas!

Speech Tournament at Ha-vard: Now That's an Away Game!

New restaurateur and Madison ex-pat Mark O'Loughlen sends me a copy of the high school sports schedule from his new home in Thermopolis, Wyoming, population 3172.
Mark notes with approval (as do I!) the inclusion of the speech team schedule on the flyer distributed at the bank at elsewhere around town. Now that's the respect for debate I like to see!

Also noteworthy is Thermopolis's speech competition scchedule: a full slate of twelve contests, including one very remarkable away game:

Alas, the Thermopolis debaters are passing up the Karl Mundt Debate Tournament here in Madison to travel to Boston and debate at Harvard. Harvard. (Notice they even spell it with due homage to local pronunciation: Haaa-vard!)

Note that a Class 3A high school with 233 students, in a county with 4900 people, manages to find the resources to send its debate team to 12 contests, including a four-day trip to Harvard, and compete in extemp, oratory, interp, and all three divisions of debate. Meanwhile, Madison High School has been cutting events and debate trips to faraway places like Yankton.

Oh well. Go Bobcats!

Don't forget: Eat at Butch's!

Want to Fix Health Insurance? Turn to Marx

Patience, I'll get there....

My wife Erin is reading Methland, Nick Reding's account of the destruction wrought by methamphetamine in rural America. Reding connects the increase in meth use to the consolidation wrought by Big Ag (see also commentary by Patrick Deneen).

Over buffalo burgers last night (yes, we live well), Erin explained how Reding also manages to work Karl Marx's critique of Adam Smith into the argument:

Smith's capitalism depends on lots of small actors in the market, none of whom individually can wield enough influence to skew prices... or to unduly influence the government that regulates the market. The "Invisible Hand" is invisible because it is the product of umpteen Main Streets, not one Wall Street. The Invisible Hand doesn't require much regulation, since real competition is a pretty good check on individual power.

But Marx says the market's mandate to "grow or die" means all those competing actors start cannibalizing each other. Capital consolidates, and the Invisible Hand becomes visible: we can identify a few big firms that dominate the market, unduly influence prices, and (worst of all) mingle and merge with government just when we need government more to check the power of these growing gargantua.

And then I thought about health insurance. The Invisible Hand cannot work in health insurance. Thousands of tiny firms would have thousands of tiny risk pools that couldn't cover their costs, espcially not when we're talking the high costs of modern medicine. Insurance depends on spreading the risk; the bigger your pool, the better you spread the risk. Insurers have to eat each other—grow or die. That's why health insurance now lacks competition. It doesn't require an evil plot (though you can argue that); it just requires insurers to act exactly as Marx said they would. Consolidate, get big, control the government with lobbyists.

The conservatives opposing health coverage reform by chanting "Let the market solve" assume that Adam Smith's principles still apply. But the free market can't work in health insurance. There is no Invisible Hand, only big Visible Fists like Aetna and Cigna.

The only way you check the power of those big actors in the market is through stronger government intervention. Uncle Sam Insurance offered as an option alongside private insurance might help, but Marx's critique strengthens my belief that, in health insurance, the best solution is to carry the logic of consolidation to its inevitable conclusion: combine everyone into one nationwide risk pool, a single-payer system for all Americans.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Blog-MSM Synergy: Pierre Paper Builds Local Story from Madville Times Post

Back at you, David!

Pierre Capital Journal political reporter and blogger David Montgomery isn't afraid to acknowledge that he gets good story ideas from the blogs. Today he tips his hat toward my article last week on the patterns of commuter income flow in South Dakota. Montgomery found the Bureau of Economic Analysis data I discussed so interesting that he whipped up a big story for his paper (not the blog, but the news that pays his rent!) focusing on what those data say about his neck of the prairie around Pierre.

Blogs don't exist solely to compete with the mainstream media. We can work together, putting more eyes on more problems, sharing and expanding ideas, and building stories and understanding together.

David, you're welcome, and thank you for the acknowledgment!

Munsterman Wants SD Off Federal Teat... But How?

Just a little empty rhetoric from South Dakota gubernatorial candidate Scott Munsterman:

It’s true that we were able to balance the budget this year during our legislative session, but at what cost? Balancing our budget required an infusion of $71 million of federal stimulus money from the national government. Crawling on our knees when times get bad is not a good sign of a healthy, fiscally responsible state that budgets for the future. South Dakota can take care of South Dakota [Scott Munsterman, "Fiscal Leadership Is a Must," Let's Wake Up South Dakota, 2009.08.21].

Yeah yeah yeah. South Dakota has never taken care of South Dakota. We have consitently taken more money from the federal government than we pay in.

I look forward to Munsterman's putting some meat on the plate: tell us exactly what $71 million worth of programs you plan to cut. I'm sure $71 million in budget cuts will go over splendidly in the Republican primary. And then in November... well, we can only hope candidate Munsterman will give us the chance to test that strategy in the general election.