We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Saturday, October 31, 2009

SD Law Limits Bike Trail Liability?

One of the arguments I've heard against building the Lake Herman bike trail is liability. Private landowners don't want to be sued by individuals who might tumble off their bikes on their land or wander off the trail and trip on a corn stalk or who-knows-what. I think I've even heard some folks fret about the liability the county might incur if the trail is alongside the road.

I'm still waiting for someone to provide an example of case law where an adjoining landowner gets sued by a cyclist for an accident on a bike path. We are certainly a litigious society, so I would think if there's a legal leg to stand on, someone would have already filed such a case.

But I'm thinking you won't find such an example in South Dakota, because statute appears to protect landowners and public officials from such liability. Check out South Dakota Codified Law Chapter 20-9, Liability for Torts. Specifically, see SDCL 20-9-12 through 20-9-22. SDCL 20-9-13 appears to absolve farmers like David Pitts of any obligation to maintain safe conditions around a bike trail through their land or even to warn trail users of hazards on the land. SDCL 20-9-21 appears to protect local government from liability for accidents on land local government might invite folks to use for recreation. Certainly landowners and public officials still have some obligations, but so do users of recreational land.

As far as I can tell, state law has just the protections I was looking for for landowners next to the bike trail. If I go for a ride and take a tumble, it's pretty much my own darn fault.

Blog Brings Neighborly Conversation: David Pitts Sets Record Straight

One of the greatest merits of blogging is that it gets me into conversations that might never otherwise happen... often with people who vigorously disagree with me. Sometimes that conversation happens online, sometimes off.

Sometimes it's a two-and-a-half-hour conversation with a fellow Lake County resident whose language I have called "selfish, inconsistent, and at least unneighborly if not insulting."

David Pitts called Thursday evening.

From the top: Mr. Pitts called to ensure that at least two issues were straightened out:
  1. Contrary to the characterization I gave in my original article on the bike trail the city wants to build across the land he farms on the southwest edge of Madison, David Pitts and his wife Gloria do not live in or by Ramona. They lived up in that neck of the woods for a long time, and Mrs. Pitts was postmaster in Ramona, but a year or so ago, they moved into Madison. David Pitts is a taxpaying resident of the city that wants a piece of his farm land.
  2. Mr. Pitts also felt I dismissed his arguments against the bike trail and said he should have just said no. (I believe he may be referencing this passage from my Oct. 22 post: "I have deep sympathy for arguments in defense of personal property. If Mr. Pitts wishes to simply say, "It's my land, and I don't want to sell," that's fine.") Mr. Pitts emphasized that he had already told the powers that be "No" to this project five times—six, if you count the open house we both attended last week.
Mr. Pitts and I have lived in the same county for my whole life. He's my dad's age; his son Gary graduated from Madison HS a year before I did. It took this long for the two of us to end up in the same room last week, two feet apart over the same maps. But even there, David and I didn't talk. He had more important people at whom to direct his questions and concerns than a strange skinny guy with a backpack. I went to the meeting to listen, not argue. I checked my rebuttive urges until I had slept on what I'd heard a couple nights. Then I published a pretty stern critique that I knew wouldn't go down well with some readers.

Mr. Pitts said he was pretty steamed when a copy of the text reached him. When the phone rang and he introduced himself, I was ready for steam and checking my own valves. But we never got hot with each other. For two and a half hours, we had a perfectly neighborly and serious conversation about property rights, farming, bike trails, and local government.

Mr. Pitts and I still disagree on the value of a bike trail. I've given my reasons; let me give Mr. Pitts's view some air time so we all—including some of the folks who are more committed to building this bike trail than I am—can better understand where he's coming from.

Mr. Pitts has lived in this county all his life, just like me. His great-grandfather homesteaded here back in 1880, beating my forebears to this turf by a good 60+ years. He says he wants to see the land he has in this county remain in the family. He has at least as much reason for attachment to his patches of Lake County as I have to mine.

Mr. Pitts has honest concerns about the mingling of recreation and industrial agriculture. He sustains his land and productivity with heavy equipment and big chemicals. The big sprayer drivers and the crop dusters are as stingy as they can be with those expensive chemicals, but there will always be some drift. Right now, Mr. Pitts sees the fenceline, ditch, and raised roadway as a reasonable buffer to harm to passersby. Invite them onto the other side of that ditch on a ribbon of asphalt, and Mr. Pitts says his effective operating area will be reduced much more than the width of the trail and a flat strip of grass next to it.

(I did suggest going organic; Mr. Pitts said it would take too long to cycle the land into alternative production methods and turn a profit again.)

I haven't seen case law to justify Mr. Pitts's concerns about his liability for injuries on a trail crossing his land (and I'm reading up on SDCL 20-9 to see if it applies). But Mr. Pitts's concerns are reinforced by a grim experience on his land 22 years ago. His son went hunting with a couple other boys. Those other boys were walking the creek bed, one on each side, while Mr. Pitts's son waited at the end of the creek. A pheasant flew between the two walkers. One boy turned, shot from the hip.

There were 110 pellets in the shell that boy fired. The doctor took 97 pellets out of the other boy.

Mr. Pitts's liability insurance paid for the boy's medical bills. He was thankful worse didn't happen. But his insurer told him that, if he had charged a fee for the use of his land, his liability would have been much greater. So now, when the city asks him to accept payment for a recreational trail on his land, he puts two and two together and gets a concern informed by grim experience about having to pay for others' accidents.

Now as a businessman, Mr. Pitts could probably find out what the additional cost of liability insurance might be to cover the additional use his land would experience with a bike trail on it. He could add that to an estimate of the bushels of corn or beans lost to a 3-6 acre strip of pavement and grass. He would then have a good picture of what the city would have to offer to make the trail easement worth his while.

But interestingly, the city and other organizers have not once made a formal offer. No officials have told Mr. Pitts what the city will be willing to pay for the privilege of laying a trail on his land. In his dealings with the city, Mr. Pitts has gotten the distinct feeling that the city is more like a bully than a partner or the entity whose bills he pays with his taxes.

Cases in point: When the first proposal for a trail to Lake Herman started floating around a few years ago, Mr. Pitts says a trail organizer asked if they could sit down and discuss the plan over coffee. Mr. Pitts said he could do that some time... but he didn't hear anything else on the topic until a county commission meeting that considered applying for the grant to build the trail. Mr. Pitts says trail supporters considered circulating a petition seeking support to obtain land for the trail "by any means necessary" even before making any straightforward financial offers to landowners like him.

Mr. Pitts also notes that, as he understood it, the federal grant eventually obtained to trail up the neighborhood was designated for a trail along Highway 34. However (and this is all grapevine and no documentation, but I'm giving Mr. Pitts his say here), he heard that some of the bigger businesses along Highway 34 west of town didn't want the trail crossing their lots, and the city backed off that plan. So Mr. Pitts can't help getting the feeling that the city is just shopping around for little guys like him to push around.

His experience with the surveyors this spring didn't inspire any further confidence in our city leaders. With little warning, Mr. Pitts received a letter from Ulteig Engineering saying they would be coming onto his land to survey along the creek for a possible trail. Having just put in his wheat, Mr. Pitts was not eager to have surveyors tearing through his field on a four-wheeler. He called Ulteig, expressed his opposition, and apparently got them to call off the survey.

Soon afterward, however, he received another letter, this one from Madison's city attorney, Mr. Jencks, saying surveyors would be entering his land under statutory authority. Mr. Pitts couldn't remember the statute number in our conversation, but he says that when he showed his lawyer the letter, the lawyer looked up the law and found it dealt with abandoned mines and still required owner permission. Another phone call, another cancellation... but this time not before marking flags had been set in Mr. Pitts's field. Those flags are on wires. Leave one in the field, and it will run right through the combine and into the straw. Feed that straw to livestock, have a cow chaw down that wire, and that wire could kill the animal. Mr. Pitts thus spent some extra time in the field picking up flags to make sure what he sees as an unauthorized entry on his land didn't also result in the loss of a valuable critter.

Given what Mr. Pitts told me Thursday night, it's not hard to construct a narrative where, far from being the bad guy, Mr. Pitts is the average little guy, just trying to make a living and keep his land for himself and his kids while the powers that be—powers who wages he's paid for years with his sales tax and now property tax dollars—try to push him around.

So maybe we can understand a little better why Mr. Pitts might be inclined to offer some stiff resistance to a plan that could lead to the city taking his land. And in the face of such resistance, maybe we'll have to accept a compromise and live with widening the county road for a less-than-ideal but better-than-current bike route.

That's a discussion we as a community need to have. The best decisions will come from an open, above-board discussion where everyone, including David Pitts, gets a say.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Madison School Board to Interview Farrell, Heidelberger

The Madison Central School Board holds a special session Monday, November 2, to interview candidates and fill the vacancy created by Dennis Hegg's relocation and resignation. On Monday's interview schedule, retired DSU educator and Madison Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year Tom Farrell and DSU teaching and research assistant and doctoral candidate Cory Heidelberger.

...wait a minute—that's me!

Looks like I have a job interview Monday. Funny: my Speech 101 students and I are starting our job interview unit on Monday. I love it when life and the classroom come together.

According to the agenda, the interview portion of the school board meeting is public. Come watch! If you have questions you'd like the board to ask us, send them in... or post your questions right here!

Forward Madison Job Creation Goals: Big Spending to Maintain Status Quo

Regular reader Rod Goeman responded to my Sunday post on Lake County unemployment with a question about whether the LAIC is making progress on its Forward Madison goals. Mention of the LAIC using Forward Madison dollars to win some more handouts from the state government and Citi (and money from Citi is really money from the federal government, right?) inclines me to promote and expand my original response to Mr. Goeman:

When the LAIC announced the Forward Madison program in October 2006, one goal was to create 400 new jobs by 2012. The article refers to a "five-year plan"—Stalin jokes welcome!—so I assume they mean by Jan. 1, 2012.

According to the SD Department of Labor, in October 2006, Lake County had 6,665 employed workers out of a workforce of 6,855 (2.8% unemployed).

Since then, our job count has exceeded 6,665 during seven months: Apr-May 2007, Sep-Nov 2007, and Apr-May 2008. The highest count was May 2007, 6,855 jobs.

Three years into the five-year plan, the Sep. 2009 numbers show 6,415 employed workers out of a workforce of 6,810 (5.8% unemployed). We are down 270 jobs from Oct 2006. The LAIC needs to create 670 jobs in the next 26 months to meet its Forward Madison job creation goal.

Recession or no, a look at historical job growth in Lake County suggests Forward Madison wasn't aiming very high when it started. Go back to the five-year period from January 1990 to January 1995 (the earliest figures available from the Department of Labor). Lake County added 360 net new jobs over that period. And that was low. By January 2000, our average five-year job creation rate was up to 553... and that was with a spate of annual job losses in 1999. The local job market sputtered frequently from 2000 to 2005, but as of December 2005, our average five-year job creation rate over the preceding 10 years was still 472.

Ten months later, the LAIC announces that Forward Madison has raised all sorts of money to produce a five-year job creation rate of 400. Forward Madison was lowballing the historical trend. Forward Madison raised over two million dollars to aspire toward job creation that was no better than the status quo.

Now let me put on my best economic development hat and try to divine why we might have chosen 400 as our jobs goal. Perhaps in 2006, the Foward Madison planners saw evidence that Lake County had exhausted its traditional avenues of economic growth and was falling into decline. Indeed, the following chart of local workforce numbers could support that hypothesis (click image for full size):

Lake County's job growth peaked in 2002. The 12-month moving average (always focus on the general trend, since, as you can see, monthly employment numbers bounce with the seasons) goes flat after that. City leaders could have looked at that plateau and said, "Oh my gosh! We're stagnating! Someone do something!"

Then again, we could look at that spike in jobs from 1999 to 2002 as the aberration. If that's the case, the modest rebound we see in job growth fits rather nicely with the historical trend prior to 1999. under that interpretation, a goal of 400 more jobs from 2006 to 2011 isn't an improvement; it's simply keeping the slope steady.

If you're getting ten hours a week at Gehl, you don't give a hoot about these numbers; you just want to get back to welding skid steers and bringing home a full paycheck.

But two years from now when the LAIC throws a big party celebrating the jobs it has created or saved (yes, the language will sound very familiar), let's be ready to ask whether the program really made a difference or just went along for the ride with the historical status quo.

Pine Beetles Love Climate Change; Pines Less Pleased

Remember the story about Harney Peak trails being shut down for timber cutting? Rangers are trying to thin the trees and minimize the spread of those darn pine beetles.

Where did those pine beetles come from? Us. Climate change:

SARAH GARDNER: But wait a minute. Explain for us how this little beetle has anything to do with climate change? Because, I mean, my understanding is that the pine beetle is a native species, right? It's always been there. And a lot of westerners believe the only reason it's gotten out of hand is because we haven't been thinning out the forests enough, right?

SAM EATON: That hasn't helped. And you throw in fire suppression and the beetles basically have an all-you-can-eat buffet of lodge pole and Ponderosa pine. But the scientists I talked to -- like Jesse Logan, who's been studying the beetles for decades -- say the main thing driving this outbreak is human-caused global warming.

JESSE LOGAN: It's by the actions of people. It's directly our actions that are taking these forests out.

SAM: Let me connect the dots here. Logan says pine beetles have always been held in check by deep winter freezes. But that 2-degree increase in average temperatures you mentioned earlier, Sarah, has meant fewer cold snaps -- especially in the high elevations of the Rockies. Basically, the pine beetle couldn't have asked for better breeding conditions [Sarah Gardner and Sam Eaton, "Climate Change in Our Own Backyards," Marketplace, 2009.10.27].

Marketplace is running a big series on climate change; part 4 runs this evening (SDPB Radio, 19:00 CDT). Each piece is lengthy and worth the listen. The series webpage includes lots of resources on climate change science and economic impacts.

End-of-Life Counseling Returns in House Legislation... As Do Cynical GOP Lies

More proof of the desperation of the right wing to stop health care reform: Dakota War College resurrects the "death panels" meme. Check out the sophistry as Powers propagates what has been widely recognized by every responsible journalist as a lie:
  1. Pat Powers speciously opens with the line "Government intrusion into end of life decisions," then fails to offer any proof of such intrusion. The only government action in the House health care bill referred to in the AP article referenced is a provision that "allows Medicare to pay for voluntary counseling to help beneficiaries deal with the complex and painful decisions families face when a loved one is approaching death."
  2. Powers cites the line from Senator Grassley about "pull[ing] the plug on grandma." Powers ignores the fact that Senator Grassley himself has completely repudiated that statement. As I said in August, Senator Grassley agrees that the only person making end-of-life decisions under the House legislation is you.
  3. Powers also declines to share with his readers the portion of the article that says the amped-up lies may have actually helped rally support for end-of-life counseling. The provision's sponsor, Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, tells AP, "There is nothing more basic than giving someone the option of speaking with their doctor about how they want to be treated in the case of an emergency.... I think the outrageous and vindictive attacks may have backfired to help raise awareness about this problem, which is why it's been kept in the bill."
The "death panel" charge was a pants-on-fire lie the first time it burbled out, and it's a pants-on-fire lie now. The GOP knows it can't win on the issues, so it makes stuff up, hoping people are too busy to pay attention to the facts. Oops: problem is, the more the GOP lies, the more people recognize what a failed, solution-less party it has become.

Today's Unbelievable Stat: Average Full-Time Blogger Makes $122,000

I must be doing something very, very wrong. Technorati's State of the Blogosphere 2009 report finds that "For full-time bloggers, the average revenue in a year is $122,222. For part-timers, annual income is $14,777. The average for the full and part-timers combined is $42,548" [Dean Takahashi, "Technorati: Full-Time Bloggers Are Making More Money Than Ever," VentureBeat.com, 2009.10.22]

$122,222 for full-time blogging—that's a lot of people clicking on a lot of ads for a lot of stuff they don't need.

The money-making bloggers also report making money on speaking fees and media appearances. Hm... the Kiwanis and the Rotary have both bought me lunch....

Note the above ad revenue numbers apply to only 28% of the blogosphere: 72% of the bloggers Technorati surveyed for this year's study are "hobbyists" reporting no income. I will also speculate that the data overrepresent the ambitious monetizing bloggers: the base samples appear to be self-selected users of Technorati and Lijit. That sample would naturally include more of the movers and shakers determined to raise the advertising profile of their blogs by every means available.

Still, $122,222—wowza! Makes a guy want to quit his day job and get some more widgets!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thune: 4.2% GDP Flip to the Good "Ineffective"?

Mr. Montgomery reports that Senator Thune "slams" the stimulus as "ineffective":

"If you really want to impact the economy and do some things that need to be done anyway, put more into infrastructure," he said. "And clearly tax relief should have been more of a part of this. ... If you're going to borrow a trillion dollars you ought to darn well spend it on things that get some results" [reported by David Montgomery, "Thune Slams Stimulus Bill as Ineffective," Behind Government Lines, 2009.10.28]

This just in: the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the United States Gross Domestic Product grew in the third quarter at an annual rate of 3.5%. That's a rebound from Quarter 2, which saw GDP shrink 0.7%. That 3.5% is the strongest GDP increase we've seen since Q3 2007, when the Bush economy grew at 3.6% before sliding into quarterly contractions of –5.4% in Q4 2008 and –6.4% in Q1 2009.

Overall, the Bush economy met or beat 3.5% GDP growth in exactly seven out of 28 quarters (starting with Q2 2001—I'll grant that negative-GDP Q1 to Clinton). That 3.5% rate also beats the 2.2% annual increase that the GDP averaged throughout all eight years of George W. Bush's presidency. (Get more BEA GDP stats here!)

If reversing GDP contraction is "ineffective" stimulus, then I'll take seconds. Keep priming that pump, President Obama!

More South Dakota Children Facing Abuse, Poverty

I've been looking over the Every Child Matters Education Fund report that came out last week saying South Dakota has the second worst rate in the nation of deaths from child abuse and neglect, behind only Kentucky. Of course, that's only 28 kids killed over a seven-year survey period. Only.

28 kids killed by their guardians. 28 adults, our neighbors, who could look their children in the eye and beat them, starve them... who are these monsters?

I shudder and turn away from seemignly intractable evil to peruse some other statistics:

We Americans kill more of our own kids than do our civilized neighbors:
Source: We Can Do Better, report of the Every Child Matters Education Fund, 2009, p. 8

What makes those other democracies such safer places for kids than America?

Among other things, teen pregnancy, violent crime, imprisonment, and poverty rates are much lower in these countries. Further, their social policies in support of families are much greater and typically include child care, universal health insurance, paid parental leave, visiting nurses, and more—all things which together can prevent child abuse and neglect in the first place.

The U.S. invests only modestly in similar preventive measures compared to the needs of the most vulnerable families. This serious social policy lapse creates an environment where child abuse and neglect are common—where preventable maltreatment fatalities are inevitable [We Can Do Better, 2009].

The Every Child Matters folks also chart children in poverty by state. From 2001 to 2008, the number of South Dakota children in poverty increased 50%. Our ranking nationwide in keeping kids out of poverty slipped from 17th to 34th.

Hmm... didn't I hear somewhere that 70% of Republicans think South Dakota is headed in the right direction? Four more years, Mr. Daugaard?

A Really Smart Grid Supports Local Energy Production over Long-Distance Transmission

I'm all about President Obama's plan to pump $3.4 billion into the smart grid, technology that will lower your electric bill, make our energy distribution system more resilient, and take a big chunk out of the $150 billion annual negative impact of power outages. I even appreciate the President's shout-out to South Dakota, as he noted smart-grid tech is essential to promoting renewable energy and supporting the longer-distance transmission lines that would let Chicago utilities plug in to South Dakota wind power (and solar power! Don't forget our big solar potential!).

But hold your horses, Mr. President: who says we should build our energy policy around long-distance transmission? Not John Farrell, who's coming to Brookings Saturday to talk about why we should say no to transmission and focus on local energy independence:

Transmission legislation moving through Congress would preempt longstanding state regulatory authority over transmission line approval and siting. The goal is to speed the construction of a $100 to 200 billion interstate transmission superhighway, bringing solar power from the Southwest and wind from the Great Plains to the coasts.

Why is this problematic? Let’s ignore for a moment that most people wouldn’t care to live by a 150 foot tower running through a 200 foot swath of denuded landscape. Or to have their land seized for this purpose by eminent domain.

Many states oppose the new transmission superhighway for two reasons. One, it’s expensive. Two, it undermines efforts to reap the economic rewards of renewable energy self-reliance [John Farrell, "Say No to Transmission," Marc Gunther's blog, 2009.10.24].

Farrell says we would do more to promote clean energy and local economic development by producing our own alternative energy and using that power locally. Forget the tree-hugging: on the purely economic side, Farrell says one locally owned wind turbine can produce a million dollars of economic activity. Plus, "Locally owned wind projects can create twice the jobs and 3 to 4 times the economic impact of absentee owned projects."

Thanks for your forward thinking on energy and technology, Mr. President, but let's aim more of that $3.4 billion in smart grid money toward supporting the efforts of states and communities to produce their own energy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Munsterman to Medicaid Patients: Drop Dead

Where is George W. Bush's compassionate conservatism when we need it?

Governor Rounds says increased enrollment in Medicaid may set the state back another $40 million. Candidate Scott Munsterman's solution: kick people off Medicaid.

Munsterman said the state should scale back Medicaid eligibility and provide vouchers to purchase health insurance for catastrophic events.

He also called for more personal responsibility on the part of Medicaid recipients.

“We have a higher rate of medical care within our Medicaid system than other people do who have their own insurance,” he said. “We need to look at deductibles, we need to look at co-pays. We need to have a program that they can engage in, and become responsible, too” [David Montgomery, "Munsterman Says Medicaid Eligibility Must be Scaled Back in SD," Pierre Capitol Journal, 2009.10.27].

More personal responsibility—that's conservative code for not my problem.

Sure, we can probably find folks who take advantage of Medicaid (just like we can find insurance execs who take advantage of their clients... but I don't hear Munsterman calling for dropping the hammer on that system). But the problem the state faces in funding Medicaid is not a sudden surge of goldbrickers. The problem is thousands of responsible South Dakotans who have lost their jobs or/and their health insurance and have nowhere else to turn to get their families decent medical care. They don't want charity; they don't want to face the stigma of irresponsibility that conservatives like Munsterman keep piling onto folks who need help through no fault of their own. But the recession is hammering them, the flu is coming, and they just want to be healthy and not bankrupt.

The proper response from society is to say to these neighbors, "All right, we'll get you through." Candidate Munsterman's response is plain old class warfare—if folks need help, it must be their fault, and they should pay for their irresponsibility.

Practically, his proposal makes about as much sense as cutting unemployment benefits during a recession. It continues the long, sad history of Republican "leaders" unwilling to take the lead on getting South Dakota as a community to recognize our common obligations to each other in tough times. Blame the poor, demand nothing of the well-off: typical GOP.

Update 2009.10.29 07:10 CDT: A reader forwards this breakdown of South Dakota's Medicaid enrollment and spending. The data come from 2006 through 2008, so they don't capture the recession-related surge in Medicaid enrollment. But in FY2006, here's who was on Medicaid in South Dakota:

Medicaid EnrollmentSD

Total Enrollment, FY2006118,50058,714,800--% of total residents
Children70,10029,182,40059.249.7% of Medicaid enrollees
Adults20,10014,879,70017.025.3% of Medicaid enrollees
Elderly12,4006,116,20010.510.4% of Medicaid enrollees
Disabled15,9008,536,50013.414.5% of Medicaid enrollees
source: State Medicaid Fact Sheet, StateHealthFacts.org, Kaiser Family Foundation, downloaded 2009.10.29

83% of the people Dr. Munsterman thinks need to take more personal responsibility for their health care are children, disabled, or elderly. Evidently the Republican philosophy is to balance the state budget on the backs of those who can't fight back.

Lake County Offering H1N1 Shots for Students, Pregnant Women November 18

The Lake County Planning Pandemic Committee (didn't know we had one, did you?) has sent out the following announcement of activation of its "mass prophylaxis plan" (didn't know we had that, either!). In a nutshell, pregnant women, babies, toddlers, and children with other ailments get first dibs; everyone else under 24 gets in next.

October 27, 2009

Dear Parent/Student:

Children and young adults are one of the primary groups affected by the H1N1 virus. Because of this, if adequate supplies are available, the H1N1 vaccine will be offered to all children/young adults 6 months through 24 years of age at a local community clinic.

The Lake County Pandemic Planning Committee will be exercising its mass prophylaxis plan by offering free H1N1 vaccine to the following individuals (if adequate vaccine): Tier 1: Pregnant women, Contacts of infants under 6 months of age, children 6 months to 4 years, and children 5-18 years with a chronic health condition AND Tier 2: Healthy Children age 5-18 years and young adults 19-24 years. If there are vaccine limitations the 1st Tier groups will take priority.

The community based H1N1 Clinic will be at the Dakota Prairie Playhouse in Madison, on November 18th, 2009 from 1PM-8PM. Parents/guardians are to come to the clinic to be with their child when the vaccine is administered. There will be no charge for the vaccine.

Due to the uncertainty of vaccine availability, an alternative date of December 2nd, 2009 from 1PM-8PM, has been chosen, in case the clinic needs to be rescheduled.

This exercise will allow our community the opportunity to test/exercise the Madison Area POD Plan. The POD (Points of Dispensing) Plan is a coordinated effort among several agencies and community members to dispense and distribute medication or vaccine to a regional population in an efficient/effective manner.

The attached Vaccine Information Statement can be read and the Influenza Vaccination Record Consent can be completed by parents/guardians prior to arriving to save some time at the clinic.

If you have questions about the vaccine or the scheduled clinic, please contact the South Dakota Department of Health Community Health Services Office in Lake County at 605-256-5309 or Miner County at 605-772-5381.

We hope that you will take an active part in protecting the health of yourself and/or child!

Lake County Pandemic Planning Committee
See the original letter (.doc) here; get a copy of the consent form (PDF) here.

Quiet Christmas for Gehl: Manitou Predicts Q4 Sales to be Low Point

Workers at Gehl may not get back to full hours any time soon: parent company Manitou saw third quarter revenue drop 47%. Manitou expects rotten sales to continue through the fourth quarter. But on the bright side, Manitou president and CEO Jean-Christophe Giroux sees orders picking up a little and sales perhaps picking back up in 2010.

Madison's sidelined Gehl workers aren't the only one hoping sales have hit bottom and are ready to bounce back: Manitou has cut 35% of its workforce just this year.

Digging for more bright side? Turn perhaps to Australia, where distributor LiftRite signed a long-term agreement this month to carry Gehl skid loaders. Long-term—let's hope that's the key word!

SD Higher Ed: Look for Savings on Software

Of course, if we can't get South Dakota voters to pony up tax dollars to pay for their investment in higher education, we'll have to find ways to spend less. One area where we might realize more savings: software that doesn't cosst an arm and a leg. This morning's examples:

Bibliography managers. These are programs that help researchers and students keep track journal articles, research notes, and citations, the kind of thing you did on note cards when you wrote your senior term paper for Mr. Dockendorf at MHS. Dakota State University has spent money to make one popular proprietary bib manager, EndNote, available to students and faculty. Before DSU got licenses for the software, I balked at the $120 the company was asking as a student price and turned to an open-source solution, Zotero. I love it! It does everything I need as a grad student. It can also do everything the National Science Foundation needs: NSF has worked the software hard and now likes it so much they've hired the Zotero team to build a custom version for their in-house use.

Course content management systems.
These are secure web-based systems we use to (among other things) post course content, deliver assignments and quizzes, conduct online class discussions, and post grades. The Board of Regents spent big money last year to switch from WebCT to Desire2Learn, a Canadian product. As a student and especially as a teacher, I have found I can do more work more flexibly and effectively with a patchwork of freely available blogs and other online tools than I can with this expensive proprietary software. I have built free Wordpress course blogs allow me much more flexibility in delivering content and engaging students. I've built a dissertation website with Drupal (you know the stuff the White House digs) that would be impossible in the confines of Desire2Learn. A team of creative DSU undergrads could use the same Drupal platform to build a course management system that would run circles around Desire2Learn. Plus, they'd build great job skills and save us money to boot.

These are just a couple examples of savings we could make on software. We may also want to watch whether Los Angeles gets savings by moving their e-mail to Google's cloud.

Higher ed shouldn't have to prove itself to win back the 58% state funding it used to get just ten years ago. But we'll keep trying anyway. Let's pare down that software bill!

[Friendly reminder: yes, I'm an employee of the Board of Regents. I'm also a student. But I'm speaking here as a taxpayer and voter. The thoughts expressed here belong to me, me, me, not my boss, not my profs, not my neighbor and regent Randy Schaefer.]

Higher Ed = Public Good, But SD Shifts Funding to User Fees

Brookings can produce some spectacular citizen journalism: Amy Dunkle graces the pages of The Post with a wide-ranging assessment of the cost of higher education in South Dakota.

There are lots of important lessons in Dunkle's report. South Dakota students and voters should pay particular attention to these numbers: while our governor and Legislature (and candidates for those jobs) may claim South Dakota has increased its funding for higher education, the truth is we citizens have been derelict in our duty.

Since 1999, the state's contribution (read: we taxpayer's contribution) to higher education has increased from $112 million to $174 million. That's about a 4.5% annual rate of increase. Not bad, right? Well, Board of Regents data (page 33 of this PDF) indicate that over the past decade, higher education's share of the state's general fund appropriations has stayed almost flat, actually slipping just a tick from 15.89% in 1998 to 15.33% in 2008. Sure, more tax dollars are going toward our universities, but the increase barely keeps up with the general inflation of the state budget.

In other words, when it comes to putting our money where our mouth is, South Dakota has not given higher education any higher priority than it did ten years ago.

Our universities are spending more and doing more, but the cost is increasingly borne by students and faculty. Tuition and fees are going up faster than the taxpayers' share. As Dunkle points out from BoR data, "the state’s support level was about 58 percent in 1999, leaving 42 percent for the student body. Today, that margin has shifted to about 52 percent for the students and 48 percent for the state." SDSU President David Chicoine calls that a "dramatic reversal" in higher ed funding in our state. Faculty are also bearing a greater share of the funding burden, as they face greater pressure to hustle research grants for their campuses.

Lacking the responsibility to pay our own way, we the taxpayers of South Dakota continue to believe we can rely on someone else—our students and the feds—to pay for the public good of education.
Former SDSU president Peggy Miller calls us out on that irresponsibility:

“We have got to make the investment. You do not reap what you do not sow,” Miller said. “If we continue to fail to sow, we aren’t going to get the future we deserve.”

Simply put, Miller said, “We grownups are going to have to step up to the plate and pay our fair share” [Amy Dunkle, "State Universities’ Enrollments Rising Without Much Financial Help from the State," ThePostSD.com, 2009.10.27].

I hope every gubernatorial candidate will read Dunkle's full report and weigh in on whether they think the status quo is acceptable, or whether they are willing to call South Dakotans back to their common responsibility to invest in higher education.

Update 2009.10.29 07:40 CDT: A reader offers this economic observation: "Forty plus years ago when I attended State the tuition was $198 a year. The minimum wage job I worked paid $1 an hour. In five weeks I could earn enough for a years tuition and the rest of the year work for books, room and board." Currently tuition and fees for a full-time undergrad at DSU are about $6600. Minimum wage is $7.25/hr. That's 22 weeks of work, before taxes.

Powers Protects Munsterman from Elitist Critique

Dakota War College celebrates Senator Thune's war on "elitists":

“With falling beef prices, higher costs of production, and onerous cap-and-trade legislation looming, the last thing ranchers and employees of America’s meat industry need right now is elitist lecturing and misinformation from Lord Stern—a reported meat eater,” Thune told Washington Whispers [Paul Bedard, "Senator Thune Says Horsefeathers to Global Warming Veganism," USNews: Washington Whispers,2009.10.27]

Indeed, those darned elitists... like our GOP candidates for governor? According to potential fifth-wheel Bill Napoli, DWC's owner works for an elitist:

Napoli says the other Republican candidates do not relate to typical South Dakotans because those candidates are elitist, white-collar politicians. Napoli, who owns an antique car shop, says he is a blue-collar conservative ["Former Lawmaker Considers Run for Governor," AP via KELOLand.com, 2009.10.27].

Of course, that portion of the AP article is exactly the portion that GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Munsterman's campaign manager omitted from his blog post on Napoli's announcement, and exactly the content that Munsterman's manager hilariously declared to violate "fair use" and thus justified deleting from a comment I left on his Thune elitism post.

Dakota War College: bought and paid for by the Munsterman for Governor campaign.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sun-Worshipping Son Worshippers: St. John's Monks Bring Solar to Prairie

I've been so busy focusing on wind power (you're thinking, what do you expect from a windy guy like Cory?) that I've ignored another potential boon for alternative energy in South Dakota: solar power.

But don't take my word for it: talk to the brothers at St. John's Abbey in Minnesota. They're doing the Lord's work by building the biggest experimental solar farm in the upper Midwest. By the end of November, the abbey will have installed 1820 solar panels on 3.9 acres next to their campus. The panels will use a tracking system that turns them toward the sun, boosting juice by 15%. The system will generate 575,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, the equivalent of the power used by 65 homes.

Put that in local perspective: we could cover the old beanfield in the middle of which our house sits with similar panels and generate power for every house on the west side of Lake Herman.

Now sure, we have our cloudy spells, just like we have our calm spells when wind turbines won't spin. But South Dakota's weather is a lot like Minnesota's—if I'm reading this map right, South Dakota actually has better solar potential than Minnesota, and the monks in Collegeville are making a go of solar. This fact sheet provided by St. John's Abbey says solar power is a great fit for our neck of the continent:
  • Minnesota (and thus South Dakota) has better solar resource available than Germany, yet Germany leads the U.S. in solar energy production.
  • Solar power depends on electronics, and electronics run better in cooler weather.
Cooler weather—know any place with weather like that?

Nathan Franzen of Westwood Renewables, the Eden Prairie outfit helping the brothers get some sun, makes the sale for you shadowy skeptics:

Franzen said most people don't think Minnesota is a good area for solar energy technology, but it actually is.

"The main reason for that is that solar works more efficiently in cooler temperatures," said Franzen. "So if you take this solar system and put it in New Mexico, on the same sunny day, it will actually produce more in Minnesota because of the cooler temperatures than it will on a hot day in New Mexico" [Ambar Espinoza, "St. John's Abbey Gets Upper Midwest's Largest Solar Farm," Minnesota Public Radio, 2009.10.07].

Xcel Energy, the same folks greening the Metrodome with wind power, is supporting this solar project with a $2-million Renewable Development Fund grant.

And why are the Benedictine brothers so committed to getting their solar freak on?

The Benedictine tradition at Saint John's Abbey advocates a strong commitment to good stewardship of its resources. Incorporating solar energy to the campus's energy sources is the first major step in the Abbey's initiative to broaden and strengthen the monastic community's commitment to green energy-and to education.

Just two years ago, under then-president Br. Dietrich Reinhart, Saint John's University was a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2007, which directs Saint John's to the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality as part of an ongoing commitment to good stewardship.

Saint John's Abbey and Saint John's University see themselves as responsible for the campus's natural environment and seek to take a leadership role in educational activities to promote environmental awareness, global thinking, and collaboration on the local level ["Saint John's Abbey Goes Solar! Construction on Solar Photovoltaic Project to begin in October 2009"].

Even conservatives can recognize that this kind of environmentalism isn't a secular humanist plot to destroy America. Local solar power, right alongside wind and other alternatives, is good Christian thinking: making the best use of the resources we have and doing good for the community.

p.s.: President Obama is announcing $3.4 billion in grants to promote smart-grid technology... exactly the kind of tech that will make distributed solar and wind generation more useful.

pp.s.: Not that you need any more reasons than local self-sufficiency and ending dependence on fossil fuels to say, "Go monks, go solar!" but you know that story fueled by Drudge and the new Freakonomics book that the last ten years have brought a cooling trend, meaning action on climate change is just silly? An independent statistical analysis finds that claim bogus. "The last 10 years are the warmest 10-year period of the modern record," said NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt. "Even if you analyze the trend during that 10 years, the trend is actually positive, which means warming" [Seth Boronstein, "Analysis Rejects 'Global Cooling' Claims," AP via MPR.org, 2009.10.26].

Poll: Readers Give Thumbs Down to Five Lanes on Hwy 34 in Madison

The results of the latest Madville Times poll shows we're not terribly impressed with the new paint job on Highway 34 through Madison. I asked readers, "How do you like the new 5-lane striping on Highway 34 in Madison?"
  • Love it: 10 (12%)
  • Hate it: 42 (51%)
  • Mildly amused: 13 (16%)
  • Mildly annoyed: 16 (19%)
Nothing like changing the status quo to rile up Madisonites. Strange thing is, after a full week, I have yet to use the new center turn lane.

Anyway, thanks for your input! New poll coming up!

Dakota War College: All "War", No "College"...

...and not much defense of "Dakota"...

Some days Pat Powers is just so full of bull, I don't know where to start. Fortunately, others do. Here are today's big three proofs that Dakota War College will say anything, regardless of the truth, just to cheer the right-wing rah-rah section and avoid discussing actual issues:

1. Where Pat Powers manufactures mewling over Democrats having the integrity to question business dealing involving another Democrat and then resorts to the usual mindless ad hominem, David Newquist tears into the real reasons for the controversy surrounding SDSU President David Chicoine's appointment to the Monsanto corporate board:

The professors who work under President Chicoine must abide by a policy in regard to their outside work and consultation. It is:

Professional employees should avoid entering into outside employments, occupations or endeavors for profit of any kind that may reasonably be thought to influence the decisions that they make in their capacity as Board employees, the degree of thought and effort that they devote to their responsibilities as Board employees or, in any other manner, the loyalty and diligence with which they pursue the best interests of the Board and of the students and citizens who rely upon the Board and its employees. [South Dakota Board of Regents Policy 4:35.B]

State Representative Bernie Hunhof and State Senator Frank Kloucek have raised the issue stated in this policy in regard to President Chicoine. The policy is based upon the fact that academic work and corporate interests are often in conflict. The conflict is that academic research and teaching when conducted with full academic freedom and integrity does not always produce results that will serve corporate interests [David Newquist, "Monsanto State University and the Sacrosanct State of Sanford," Northern Valley Beacon, 2009.10.26].

Dr. Newquist asks honest questions here, as do legislators Hunhoff and Kloucek, about the consistent application of Regental policy and the academic integrity of South Dakota's biggest university. Mr. Powers spreads political gossip.

2. Mr. Powers doesn't mind corporations eroding SDSU's academic autonomy, but boy, let a SDSU president and some Democrats meander onto the campus green to call for a little social justice, and he's ready to call out the shock troops (all three who showed up, with signs). Mr. Powers manufactured all manner of sturm und drang over the mostly Democrat-organized health care rally on SDSU's Sylvan Green last week. Badlands Blue dissects Dakota War College's selective memory and backpedaling sophistry... not to mention narcissism, as the moral of the story in DWC's world is that he's a special little blogger for obviously getting under the Dems' skin. Never mind that he wins this glorious victory by getting the story wrong.

3. I'll tackle today's pi├Ęce de resistance: Mr. Powers joins purported journalist Bob Mercer in misrepresenting the legal efforts of Dakota Rural Action to challenge TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline before the PUC next week. Mr. Mercer continues to portray Dakota Rural Action as failing to meet deadlines and, today, refusing to answer official questions. Mr. Powers happily piles on, spinning a fantastic yarn (more like a meager thread) about Dakota Rural Action running away from answering questions under oath. (Let's not forget, it's TransCanada that has questions to answer, as it's TransCanada that wants to dig another giant trench across our state, wreck more farmland and roads, and create another giant environmental hazard that they will make us pay to clean up someday.)

Messrs. Mercer and Powers both ignore the unconstitutional nature of the fishing-expedition questions with which the PUC attempted to sandbag DRA. Funny that neither professional journalist Mercer nor defender of liberty Powers have taken the time to address those questions. Must not fit with the narrative they want to peddle.

Mercer and Powers also ignore the dilatory tactics adopted by TransCanada to make discovery an enormous challenge for Dakota Rural Action's lawyers. Instead, Mr. Powers invests his sizable journalistic talent in throwing out a couple cheap, unsubstantiated ha-ha lines about DRA somehow rejecting science. Funny: on the Keystone XL docket, the only folks who appear to be rejecting science are TransCanada, who say the state's own experts on pipelines, wildlife, soil, and water quality are wrong.

I know, the above two links come from Plains Justice, where DRA's lawyer Paul Blackburn works, but that is an important side of the story. And heaven knows you won't hear it from Mr. Powers.

Mr. Powers ends with this claim about a reality of his own making, saying Dakota Rural Action is "more than happy to show up to complain, but they won’t go under oath. Amazing."

Mr. Powers characterizes Dakota Rural Action as cowardly complainers. Dakota Rural Action has stood up to defend South Dakotans' property rights and ag productivity from the predations of a foreign corporation. Even Steve Sibson could drop his partisanship and find common cause with Frank Kloucek and the South Dakota Democrats in standing for South Dakota property rights and environmental concerns over corporate profits. Mr. Powers and his Republican party have lifted one finger to those landowners... and it wasn't a helpful finger.

Mr. Powers seems to be sinking ever further into the "help me! my right-wing worldview has fallen and it can't get up!" crowd. His language appears calculated to further fuel the fires of faux patriots wallowing in the delusion that they fighting to "Take this country back!" from those darned Commies and greenies and fellas in old suits and whoever else they're characterizing as the enemy today.

And while Mr. Powers gossips and gripes, fellow citizens like Bernie and Frank, Peggy and Amanda, and Paul and Kelly ignore the insults and focus on the issues, trying to make South Dakota and America a little better.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thune: Working to Stop the Bailouts... Well, Not All of Them

I learn from Amanda Nolz that President Obama just signed into law more stimulus... for farmers! HR 2997 is actually the appropriations act for agriculture, rural development, the Food and Drug Administration, and other federal programs. It includes some increases that one would think will be good for South Dakota farmers...
  • $4 billion more for food stamps
  • $1.9 billion more for school lunches (and breakfasts, I imagine)
  • $290 million to keep struggling dairy farmers afloat (maybe Rick Millner can pay his bills)
  • $60 million to buy up dairy products for public food programs
And Senator John Thune, champion of ending federal bailouts, voted aye on this federal bailout of dairy farmers.
Let the free market rule, right?

A Bike Trail Is Not a Pipeline: Where I Don't Stand on Eminent Domain

Sibby cuts to to the heart of an issue that I've been grappling with myself on the proposed Lake Herman bike trail:

During the TransCanada pipeline issue, you took what I thought was a pro-property rights position. But now it is obvious that you are not for property rights. So your TransCanada position must have been based soley on your radical environmental ideological worldview [Steve Sibson, comment, Madville Times, 2009.10.25].

Steve isn't the only Sibson whom I expected to brand me as an ideological traitor, and I've been mighty nervous about that very prospect. I have been very vocal in my opposition to the use of eminent domain and my defense of personal property rights for everyone from the farmers and ranchers along the Keystone pipeline and DM&E rail routes to Madison's own Dick Wiedenman. Yet I have characterized farmer David Pitts's language in defense of his property rights against encroachment by a bike trail as "selfish, inconsistent, and at least unneighborly if not insulting."

Sibby and Jason Bjorklund both rightly ask, What gives?

Review the record: at no point have I said I support taking David Pitts's land or anyone else's by eminent domain for the proposed bike trail. I've said previously that I oppose using eminent domain to build a bike trail. When I heard folks talking about the prospect of resorting to eminent domain for this project, my heart sank.

But let's get clear on one thing: TransCanada's use of eminent domain to build the Keystone pipeline is very different from the potential use of eminent domain to build the bike trail to Lake Herman.
  1. The TransCanada land grab transferred land rights from various private parties to another private party. Eminent domain for this bike trail would transfer private land rights to the general public.
  2. TransCanada took land under the flimsy claim that its pipeline is a "common carrier," a notion I find laughable, since TransCanada is the only party making direct use of the pipeline. The Lake Herman bike trail would be open to use by all residents and visitors alike.
  3. TransCanada's Keystone pipeline provides no direct benefit to any landowner whose land has been taken for the pipeline easement or to any adjoining community. A much stronger case can be made that the bike trail provides direct benefits to the community: increased tourism, increased sales tax revenue, more recreational activities, and safer bike and pedestrain travel in town and to and from Lake Herman State Park (and I'm not even working hard to think up those advantages). Even the landowner stands to benefit—I will posit that direct access to a bike trail increases the sale value of the land for residential and commercial development. (Real estate agents, feel free to chime in with your perspective!)
It is also important to note that we aren't even at the eminent domain stage yet. David Pitts sure makes it sound like he won't sell, no way, no how... but his position may be nothing more than hardball negotiation to squeeze from the city every penny he can get. I have no problem with driving a hard bargain to get the best market price possible, and from the sounds of it, the city will likely offer a price significantly better than market value to make this project happen.

As I said to Jason, I don't stand to benefit much personally from the bike trail. The shortest route for me to ride to town will still be Highway 34... and contrary to Mr. Pitts's opinion that I have all the time in the world, when it's 0°F, I want my ride to be as quick as possible.

I don't need a bike trail. I don't need David Pitts's land to get to class or the park or anywhere else I ride.

However, I can look beyond myself. I can recognize that a lot of casual cyclists don't feel comfortable going pedal-to-gas-pedal with texting teen drivers and rumbling semis. I can recognize that plenty of campers feel a bit uneasy taking their kids on a bike ride to town on a county road with no shoulder. And I can recognize that bicycle tourists won't make an extra trip to Madison just ride on the shoulder of a highway.

I hope Mr. Pitts will look at both his self-interest and the public interest and realize that expanding the right-of-way easement on his land can serve both. He can make a guaranteed pot of money up front and still sell his land for development, quite possibly at a better price. He can also pave the way for increased recreational opportunities and tourism that will benefit everyone in the county. The Lake Herman bike trail is a win-win situation. We shouldn't need eminent domain to make it happen.

But if Mr. Pitts can't see that, if he fails to see how he himself comes out ahead on this deal, the city will have to make a very clear and evidenced case that the public benefits of the bike trail outweigh the personal property rights of Mr. Pitts and the other landowners along the proposed route. I await the making of that case.

Adware Outbreak: Death to Internet Explorer

Aaaarrrgghhh! After three years of blissfully pop-up-free Web browsing, my computer went ape yesterday, throwing nearly full-screen pop-ups at me every five minutes, complete with autoplay audio and video from some meathead telling me I should contact him for marketing advice (yeah, like invading my computer and interrupting my work is going to be effective). I checked my firewall and adware settings, verified my Firefox pop-up blocker was still on, ran my CCleaner, rebooted... still the pop-ups!

Then I noticed something: IEXPLORE.EXE was showing up in my Task Manager. I run my crappy old version of Microsoft Internet Explorer maybe once a month, just to see if occasional Web gizmos run there as they do in Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. I haven't run it on this computer for weeks. The pop-ups were showing the Firefox icon in the title bar. But when I hit Alt-F4 or hard-closed with Task Manager, as the pop-up window closed, I got an error message saying something was wrong with Internet Explorer.

Enough's enough: I went to Control Panel >> Add Remove Programs >> Add/Remove Windows Components and unchecked Internet Explorer. I went to C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer and deleted everything it would let me delete.

Half hour later, no pop-ups yet.

Internet Explorer never touches my computer again.

Self-Reliance thru Distributed Electricity Generation: Yes South Dakota Can!

I work, just a little, for the South Dakota Resources Coalition. I put together their mostly monthly newsletter. But this isn't a paid post: I just think everyone might be interested in the program SDRC is presenting in conjunction with their annual meeting Saturday in Brookings:

John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance will speak on the topic of community renewable energy. Farrell thinks like I do: he says that instead of making massive, expensive investments in transmission infrastructure to send South Dakota wind power far away to big cities, we ought to focus on building distributed generation capacity to power our own communities.

Distributed generation: like local wind turbines.

Farrell has studied the potential for American energy self-reliance. He finds that South Dakota is one of 32 states that could produce all of its own electricity. And in a state that prides itself on pioneer spirit and self-reliance, that's the sort of goal we should all be able to get behind.

Farrell speaks Saturday, October 31, 1 p.m., at the Brookings Public Library. Following his presentation will be a panel discussion on energy self-reliance, as well as a presentation by David Staub of Sisseton on what he learned about distributed renewable energy during his electric rail tour of Western Europe. After the presentations, the SDRC will hold its annual meeting.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Health Care Notes: Medicare for All, End-of-Life Expense

Worthwhile reading on health insurance reform:
  • Heaven forbid a Democrat act like a Democrat: Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin spun fast to get away from fellow Democrat Howard Dean's claim that South Dakota's lone Congressperson can be counted as a vote in favor allowing Uncle Sam to offer every citizen health insurance. She says her position on the public option is "far more complex than that, and I think South Dakotans understand that," said Rep. Herseth Sandlin.

    No, actually, we don't. Medicare is a public option. It works. Extend it to everyone. Simple, really. Oh, oops: that's another Democrat idea from which Democrat SHS will want to distance herself.

  • Mr. Wiken at Dakota Today points to six good reasons to extend Medicare to all Americans: exorbitant health insurance CEO salaries.

  • Lorraine Collins asks some harder questions about how we spend out health care dollars:
    Quite a few years ago a friend told me that the last ten days of her mother’s life cost a quarter of a million dollars. She was in anguish as she told me this, not only because of the financial burden, but because the last ten days of her mother’s life were not improved by this huge expenditure. She was either unconscious or suffering during the entire time. It was cruel for everybody, and there should have been some way to prevent this from happening [Lorraine Collins, "History Calls," Black Hills Monitor, 2009.10.24].

White House Undermines Capitalism by Choosing Socialist Open-Source Software?

Expect the wingnuts to start spinning conspiracy theories about how the swine flu "national emergency" declaration is the first step toward suspension of the Constitution and hauling Bob Ellis to the death camps. Bob Ellis is taking a blog break—code to his followers to buy up ammo and retreat to the mountain militia hideaways. My cousin Aaron is already fretting on Facebook about HHS Secretary Sebelius getting extraordinary powers. [Funny: we descend into tyranny under similar emergency declarations to respond to Hurricane Katrina (2005), Hurricanes Ike and Gustav (2008), and North Dakota flooding (2009).]

If you wingnuts want real evidence that the White House is building Marxist tyranny, check out (hat tip to Deane at Gadgetopia!) the White House's latest software decision: the Obama Administration is abandoning proprietary content management software in favor of Drupal. Drupal is open-source software: it is built not by a single corporation or entrepreneur but by thousands of people around the world, collaborating online, working not for any direct monetary gain but for the general good of society. Individuals and teams of programmers build and improve the software and post their code online, where anyone can download it, use it, tinker with it, and make it better.

Cooperation, no profit, social good, open to everyone... aaahhh! Socialism!!!

Actually, open-source software can be viewed through a safely capitalist lens. The White House is working with plenty of for-profit firms to make this software switch. They can use this open-source software to provide better service for a cheaper price (every capitalist I know likes that formula).

The White House's move to open-source software is also a perfectly logical outgrowth of the Web philosophy and political philosophy the Obama campaign made manifest last year. Adopting Drupal for WhiteHoue.gov embodies in tech the same participatory values embodied in President Obama's approach to government:

...[B]y being open source, the White House is opening itself up to all the bright ideas, powerful plug-ins, and innovative tools that the considerable community of Drupal aficionados come up with. It's a community that the White House says it is eager to tap into. "Open source is a great form of civic participation," the White House's Phillips told me this afternoon. "We're looking forward to getting the benefit of their energy and innovation" [Nancy Scola, “WhiteHouse.gov Goes Drupal,” Personal Democracy Forum, 2009.10.24].

Drupal creator Dries Buytaert (whose company Acquia has helped the White House jump to Drupal) naturally says similar things about the civic sense and business case for Drupal in government:

First of all, I think Drupal is a perfect match for President Barack Obama's push for an open and transparent government -- Drupal provides a great mix of traditional web content management features and social features that enable open communication and participation. This combination is what we refer to as social publishing and is why so many people use Drupal. Furthermore, I think Drupal is a great fit in terms of President Barack Obama's desire to reduce cost and to act quickly. Drupal's flexibility and modularity enables organizations to build sites quickly at lower cost than most other systems. In other words, Drupal is a great match for the U.S. government.

Second, this is a clear sign that governments realize that Open Source does not pose additional risks compared to proprietary software, and furthermore, that by moving away from proprietary software, they are not being locked into a particular technology, and that they can benefit from the innovation that is the result of thousands of developers collaborating on Drupal. It takes time to understand these things and to bring this change, so I congratulate the Obama administration for taking such an important leadership role in considering Open Source solutions [Dries Buytaert, "WhiteHouse.gov Using Drupal," personal blog, 2009.10.25].

p.s.: I dig Drupal. I use it for RealMadison.org, the Lake Herman Sanitary District, and my online dissertation. If I like, it must be socialist, right?

Local Unemployment Down Again: Pierre Area Labor Market TIghtest

The good news: Lake County's unemployment rate dropped another half-percentage point in September to 5.8%. 35 more people jumped into the labor force, but we added 65 new jobs. Not bad!

The bad news: we're still well above Lake County's historical (since 1990) average unemployment of 3.3%. And statewide, the unemployment rate has dropped to 4.4%, a rate the rest of the country would envy and that some economists would argue is unnaturally and dangerously low. (A favored economist of our President felt otherwise.)

Our neighbors in Brookings continue to be the labor leaders in the surrounding seven-county area:

Area LaborForce Employment Unemployment Rate
Brookings County 19,135 18,530 605 3.20%
McCook County 2,830 2,705 125 4.50%
Minnehaha County 101,350 96,580 4,770 4.70%
Kingsbury County 2,900 2,755 145 5.10%
Miner County 1,250 1,180 70 5.70%
Lake County 6,810 6,415 395 5.80%
Moody County 4,000 3,755 245 6.10%

Stanley County is the current employment champ, with all but 2.1% of its workforce on the job. Among our major metropolitan areas, Pierre is best worker's market, with 2.6% unemployment.

Highest unemployment: Buffalo, Shannon, and Dewey counties. Watertown remains the toughest big town in which to find work, with unemployment at 6.5% (a half-point drop from August).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wasson Says Give Black Hills Back; Hickey Supports U.S. Apology to Tribes

By turning a South Dakota spotlight toward Aaron Huey's disturbing photo essay and commentary on our Pine Ridge Reservation, Dr. David Newquist generated some valuable conversation about one of the biggest and most ignored problems in South Dakota. (His post also provoked some predictable hot air.)

Among some of the noteworthy comments elicited:

U.S. House candidate Thad Wasson wins the award for gutsiest politician in South Dakota by declaring he supports returning land to the Sioux Nations. Not just a few more scraps of land in or around existing reservation boundaries, but prime turf like the Black Hills. "[T]he reason no politician wants to address this is greed," says Wasson. The man from Piedmont (yes, Wasson lives in the territory he would consider giving back) may have guaranteed himself expulsion from the South Dakota GOP, but he has proven he can shake up any political discussion.

Pastor Steve Hickey, who is to me as ACESA is to John Thune (i.e., something I fight with every fiber of my being), points to some good things happening in Indian country. He also celebrates—yes, celebrates—the formal apology to American Indians Congress has passed. "I'm sorry" may not seem like much after five centuries of cultural decimation, but Pastor Hickey says the apology "will have spiritual implications that few realize." Pastor Hickey never ceases to surprise me... sometimes in a good way.

Dr. Newquist himself follows up with more commentary. The Brown County Democrat supports the Pennington County Republican's call to give back the land.

Lake County Forming Water Quality Committee

The Lake County Commission is picking up the water quality baton that the Interlakes Water Quality Committee threw down in an apparent fit of pique following its electoral defeat in July. The commissioners will hold a special public meeting on Tuesday, November 10, 7 p.m., at the 4-H exhibit hall on South Egan Avenue to discuss water quality issues. The commission hopes to find folks from around the county—not just lake residents, but farmers and town folks, too—who would be interested in serving on a new official water quality committee. This new committee would be a formal branch of the county government, answering to the commission, charged with working on projects like those addressed previously by the IWQC, which was a volunteer group under the non-governmental Lake Madison Develoment Association. The advantage of this formal status: Lake County government could then serve as the grant-seeking and enforcement agency for water quality projects.

Credit where credit is due: MDL publisher Jon Hunter gave this idea daylight at the beginning of September. Steven Kant, a vocal opponent of the Lake Madison/Brant water project district vote, was quick to express his support last month for a countywide water project committee, as was I. A number of voters who opposed the water project district in July argued that water quality was better dealt with on a countywide level rather than relying strictly on the votes and tax dollars of residents along two lakeshores.

Lake County is now taking a logical leadership role, addressing an issue that rightly deserves countywide attention. Everyone in the county benefits from lakes that draw residents, campers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, not to mention the added property and sales taxes those lake lovers generate. Everyone in Lake County thus has a stake in protecting water quality throughout the county watershed.

If you're interested in seeing this new committee formed and maybe even serving on it, come the the meeting November 10!

p.s.: Hey, if the county's plan takes the pressure off the sanitary districts to take up water quality projects, maybe we can finally zero out the Lake Herman Sanitary District budget!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Four More Years? Daugaard GOP Poll Says Yup.

Governing.com's Josh Goodman rates South Dakota's 2010 gubernatorial race as "likely Republican." The only real insight Goodman offers on a Daugaard–Heidepriem race: "Don’t you love South Dakota names?"

Huh? There's something funny about our names?

As usual, you have to go local for real detail on South Dakota politics. Kevin Woster gets hold of internal polling numbers, apparently from the Dennis Daugaard campaign, that show Lt. Gov. Daugaard mostly ahead among likely GOP voters. Senator Dave Knudson does come out with higher name recognition, but Daugaard has the highest favorable ratings. Daugaard also wins the lion's share of voters willing to commit to a candidate at this point.

Perhaps most encouraging for the Daugaard campaign should be this result:

Almost 70 percent of those surveyed said South Dakota is headed in the right direction; 83 percent gave the governor a favorable rating; and 81 percent said they think the next governor should continue Rounds’ policies [Kevin Woster, "They Seem to Like Rounds, and the Road We're On," Mount Blogmore, 2009.10.21].

That seems pretty remarkable, given seven years of mostly visionless governance. The Rounds Administration has stood for little besides expansion of state government and the continuing decimation of rural communities. But 81% of South Dakotans (or at least Republican South Dakotans) want more of the same. Numbers like that tell me running on the platform of "Four more years!" isn't such a bad idea, at least through the primary season.

The Daugaard campaign shouldn't get too complacent: his boss has a $200 million budget shortfall to contend with. There will be more program cuts. There will be more fee and tax increases. A 2010 legislative session filled with hard fiscal choices just might incline South Dakota voters to ask what would be so great about four more years of the Rounds-Daugaard administration.

Uterus = Pre-existing Condition: Health Insurers Discriminate Against Women

Hat tip to Joe Bartmann (sometimes I actually learn something from Twitter)!

While Dakota War College groans about Rep. Herseth Sandlin trying to take action to prevent problems that don't exist, let's take a look at a problem DWC will have an even harder time denying: health insurers treating womanhood itself as a pre-existing condition. An updated report from the National Women's Law Center finds that the individual health insurance market (insurance folks obtain themselves instead of through their employer's group coverag) commits rank discrimination against women.

In South Dakota, every major health insurance plan available in the individual market practices gender rating—i.e.,charging women higher premiums, just because they are women. 60% of those plans charge non-smoking women 4% to 18% more than they charge smoking men. In other words, South Dakota's health insurers view a uterus as less of a liability than cigarettes.

And South Dakota is supposedly a pro-life state. Yeah, right.

The NWLC report finds Montana is the only state so far with the wisdom and decency to ban gender-rating from any insurance plan. With good health insurance so vital to economic stability, we should follow Montana's lead and end this discrimination against women.

Love to Sibby: President Obama Protects Gang Rapists, Just Like Thune

No problem, Sibby...

President Barack Hussein Obama is as guilty as Senator John Thune of protecting gang rapists. The Pentagon supported the position of 30 Republican Senators in opposing the Franken amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would deny federal contracts to companies that try forcing employees to sign contracts surrendering their legal right to take their employer to court for workplace abuse like the gang rape and imprisonment Jamie Leigh Jones says she experienced at the hands of her Halliburton/KBR coworkers in Baghdad in 2005.

The Department of Defense gave this reason for opposing the amendment:

“The Department of Defense, the prime contractor, and higher tier subcontractors may not be in a position to know about such things. Enforcement would be problematic, especially in cases where privity of contract does not exist between parties within the supply chain that supports a contract,” reads the DoD note. “It may be more effective to seek a statutory prohibition of all such arrangements in any business transaction entered into within the jurisdiction of the United States, if these arrangements are deemed to pose an unacceptable method of recourse” [Araminta Wordsworth, "Thirty Senators and the Jamie Leigh Jones Rape Case," National Post, 2009.10.21]

Now I might split hairs a little, noting that DoD's reasoning is different from that of Senator Thune and his free-market fundamentalist colleagues. The Obama Administration dances in technicalities but then grants that it might be better to ban forced arbitration in all contracts—that's an idea worth considering!

Senator Thune, however, frets over removing arbitration as a "tool available for labor and management to use when it comes to labor agreements..." except, of course, when labor might benefit from using that tool. As Think Progress points out, Thune's excuse on his Franken Amendment vote is all hypocrisy:

While Thune is committed to the principle that corporations have the right to use binding arbitration to muzzle victims of rape, he has long argued against the use of arbitrators in regards to reforming how unions sign labor contracts. In fact, Thune has fashioned himself a chief opponent of the Employee Free Choice Act simply because of arbitration. Arbitration is a part of EFCA because, all too often, when employees vote to form a union, they still can’t get a first contract due to their employer’s delay tactics. However, Thune has argued that the most “egregious” provision of EFCA is arbitration. Arbitration to help unions form contracts with their employers, Thune argues, would “kill jobs” and hurt “every American business, both large and small” [Lee Fang, "Thune Offers Weak And Hypocritical Argument For Voting Against Franken’s Anti-Rape Amendment," Think Progress, 2009.10.21].

President Obama deserves serious criticism for letting his Defense Department take the wrong side on the issue of federal defense contractors, arbitration, and protecting women. So does Senator Thune.