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Friday, January 30, 2009

Open Call: Saturday Crackerbarrel Reports!

The only thing I don't like about judging debate tournaments on the weekend is that I always miss the legislative crackerbarrels. Nuts! Our District 8 has two crackerbarrels scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday, January 31), one at the Flandreau City Building at 9 a.m., and one here in Madison at City Hall at noon.

I'd love to be there to cover them, but duty calls. So, I call on you, eager readers, to take your shot at local citizen journalism! If you're at the crackerbarrel and get some notes on what Russ, Gerry, and Mitch say, post them! If you take some photos or make some audio or even video recordings, post them too! Set up an account at my other little Web project, RealMadison.org, and share with everybody what you hear from our elected officials. Put up material for the good of the cause, and I'll highlight it here.

Of course, if creating your own blog is still beyond your desire, feel free to e-mail your content, and I'll bang together a post for you. Contact me through the Madville Times contact form, and I'll respond with an e-mail address where you can upload all your text, pix, audio, and video.

Democracy is about participation (where'd I hear that before?)... and so is journalism! Hit those crackerbarrels, and report!

Who Needs a Special Session When We've Got Spreadsheets?

The stimulus package working its way through Congress includes $167 million in state budget assistance for South Dakota. An expert on SDPB this morning says much of the money will be tagged for education, so it can't plug all the holes in our budget. State budget officer Jason Dilges is also saying the Legislature might need a special session to incorporate any federal aid into the state budget.

Hold on: I'm skeptical on both claims. If a big pot of money (yes, it's a handout, more welfare for South Dakota) is headed our way, even if every penny is designated for education, I can't believe some creative financial whizzes in Pierre couldn't find some way to shift that money around to cover the other gaps in the budget. (Just ask the shell-gamers at the Board of Regents: surely they can come up with a creative idea like their payday shifting scheme.)

And a special session? No way! As I understand it, President Obama and the Congressional leaders have set a due date of February 13 for final passage and signing. The legislative session runs through March 13. That's 28 days, kids. Our legislators usually put together the budget in the final week anyway. We know it's coming, we know it's going to be big, and we know John Thune ultimately isn't going to stop it (though he's getting good press being cranky about it).

So here's what you do: make a spreadsheet. Enter every budget line item in Columns A and B to reflect a budget with absolutely no stimulus package assistance. In Column C, you enter percentages that reflect what chunk of the coming stimulus would be assigned to each budget item (those need to add up to 100%). At the top of Column D, enter $167M, for the amount of federal stimulus in the pending federal legislation. Heck, you might not even need to enter the number manually: you could probably just link that cell via Web query to some web page at the CBO or the White House to automatically update the budget aid figure. Then in the rest of Column D, you enter simple formulas that calculate the post-stimulus funding for each item.

Then, the day President Obama signs the bill, we simply open up the spreadsheet, print Column D (well, better include the line item descriptions from Column A), and pow: there's your budget.

See? Not hard. No special session needed.

You know, my Excel students at DSU have their final exam on Feb. 18. This sounds like a really good final exam....

Candidate Knuppe: Democracy About Participation

Even with hat and handlebar 'stache, newly declared South Dakota gubernatorial candidate Ken Knuppe (pronounced /k-NOO-pee/ on SDPB this morning) won't get me to trade in my Dems membership and campaign for him. The Buffalo Gap rancher and fellow SDSU grad does, however, have down the talking points that make bloggers smile. At his campaign kick-off in Rapid City yesterday, Knuppe spoke of increasing citizen involvement in government:

Our government is not just for the wealthy or for those families who have been in politics for generations. Our government is for all people. It should be run so that we can all understand it and so that we can all participate in it as well.

Our society has slowly gotten into a mindset that the people in office are the ones with power. This simply isn't true. The most powerful person in a democracy is the voter. I want to empower South Dakotans to take advantage of that [Ken Knuppe, quoted in "Rancher Announces for GOP Gubernatorial Nomination," AP via Mitchell Daily Republic, 2009.01.29].

In other words, the government is us. Knuppe sounds the right note in challenging the established powers. Of course, just like my favorite presidential candidate, he has a long climb ahead to turn that populist ideology into a practical and effective campaign against those established powers who've been fundraising. Keep it interesting, Ken!

p.s.: If one can judge from the first things out of a candidate's mouth, Knuppe's Issues page is encouraging: economy, small business, agriculture, education... and not a word about abortion, gay marriage, or even guns. Can we keep it that way?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Recession Boogie: Things Can Only Get Better!

Hey, legislators! As you bust your chops working on the budget, do you feel scared? I do. But don't stop and falter! Here's a little 80's blast to boost your spirits (watch for my synth-drum solo at 3:30):

You know, the last time we pulled ourselves out of a recession this big, we got a decade big hair and synthesizers. Are you sure you want that stimulus?

Olson Capital Outlay Bill Gives Schools Flexibility... Or Does It?

Senator Russell Olson has filed Senate Bill 91, the measure he promised during the campaign to allow South Dakota's school districts more flexibility in spending their capital outlay dollars. Capital outlay dollars are restricted by statute to land, building, and equipment expenditures. Current law also allows the use of capital outlay dollars to cover textbooks, instructional software, and 15% of transportation costs. Senator Olson's proposal would allow schools to spend up to 45% of their capital outlay funds on transportation, motor fuel, utilities, energy costs, and insurance on property and casualty (how the insurance provision got in there alongside energy costs, I can't say). The bill sunsets in five years: in 2014, the transportation spending limit reverts to 15%, and the other spending allowances disappear.

But notice: there's a catch! SB 91 gives this spending flexibility only to schools "with a current tax levy for the capital outlay fund that is equal to or less than its tax levy for the capital outlay fund in school fiscal year 2008." In other words, schools only get the flexibility if they don't raise their taxes.

Now I like the idea of flexibility in spending school dollars. (I'm curious: why do we have these separate buckets for tax dollars and restrictions on their spending in the first place?) But the cap on the capital outlay levy seems to restrict a school district's ability to raise funds if necessary. Administrators, school boards, is that trade-off worth it?

Representative Mitch Fargen (D-8/Flandreau) appears to think so: he's signed on to SB 91 as a co-sponsor. That's interesting, because the levy cap seems to reflect Sen. Olson's thinking that education has all the money it needs (see question #3 in the link) and doesn't deserve any increases. We'll see how this bill plays out.

Legislative Quick Hits: Bills of Interest in Pierre

The bills are really flowing now! Here's a quick list of bills that catch my eye:
  • SB 93: This one's great! It would support community-based wind energy development in South Dakota. That's what Rod Goeman and I have been talking about! Reps. Fargen and Lange are co-sponsors. Go get 'em, fellas! (See more wind power legislation at SB 94 and SB 95.)
  • SB 92: This one's not so great: Howie, Hunt (oh! and even my man Lange!) continue to pursue a practical ban on abortion in South Dakota. If they can't win by ballot, they'll just bankrupt Planned Parenthood. Hmph.
  • SB 114: Senator Kloucek and Representative Lange propose to study the feasibility of establishing an "equine processing facility." Mmmm: horseburgers.
  • HB 1135: Welcome to the Internet, South Dakota government! This bill would allow public agencies in the state to designate an official website (pick me! pick me!) where they may post their agendae, minutes, and other official notices. Such online publications could be in addition to or in place of expensive, wasteful print publication, as long as there's at least one library or other place with public Internet access. Sweet! Pat Powers digs it, and so do I.
  • HB 1164 would give township board some leeway (six feet, to be exact) in exempting certain established trees from right-of-way chop-down rules. Who would have thought we had such tree huggers in Pierre? Who would have thought co-sponsor Republican Rep. Shantel Krebs was one of them?
  • HB 1171 seeks to protect small schools like Bison from closing. The bill says if you're the only school in the county, the state can't close you. (Let's see if opponents counter with a county-consolidation bill.)
All bill drafts are due in the Legislative Research Council tomorrow at 5 p.m. Keep those ideas comin'!

Guns on Campus Bill Fails; Olson Ignores Constituents

Sure enough, Rep. Thomas Brunner (R-29/Nisland) decided to waste the South Dakota Legislature's time with a retread guns-on-campus bill. Fortunately for us, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted it down yesterday. Voting to kill SB 82 were both the majority and minority leaders, Senators Knudson and Heidepriem, along with Sens. Dempster, Turbak Berry, and Gary Hanson.

Voting against the sensible advice of Vermillion police chief Art Mabry and for 18-year-old packing heat in chem lab: Senators Abdallah, Rhoden, Gray, and our own Russell Olson. Yes, once again, Olson has ignored the opinion of his constituents here in Dakota State university country, who turned out in force at a crackerbarrel last year to say guns on campus are a bad idea.

How short some memories. Perhaps Senator Olson requires a reminder of the general will (and common sense) at Saturday's crackerbarrels (Flandreau City Building, 9 a.m.; Madison City Hall, 12 p.m.).

Stimulus Package: What's in It for South Dakota?

Let's start the morning with some numbers:
  • Predicted shortfall in South Dakota's FY 2009 budget: $58.7 million
  • Predicted shortfall in South Dakota's FY 2010 budget: $83.8 million
  • Total two-year shortfall: $142.5 million.
  • State budget aid for South Dakota included in stimulus bill passed by the House yesterday: $167.9 million.
And that's just one item on the list, which includes $198.7 million for South Dakota roads and bridges (that thump you just heard is John Goeman falling out of his chair). Grand total by KELO's count: $476.6 million.

Did our state budget crisis just go poof?

Not a bad haul for a state whose governor skipped the Inauguration. And Governor Rounds was telling us we shouldn't expect the federal government to bail out the state.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Google Honors Jackson Pollock

My lovely wife points me toward Google's homepage today:
Very cool. Three cheers for my favorite 20th-century artist!

Tech Trailblazer Elkton HS Implementing Netbooks Now

Shortly after I posted yesterday on the possibility of using netbooks—super-cheap laptops—and other innovations to save big money in school tech budgets, I received an e-mail from Gabriel Pooler, 2008 DSU graduate and now tech director at Elkton School District. Netbooks? Pooler says Elkton HS is already implementing that plan... on Friday!

Here's the press release:

The Elkton School District has begun a self-funded one-to-one netbook pilot for its senior class. They plan to use the pilot program to determine if a laptop program is a feasible option for the high school.

Netbooks are super compact, low cost, energy efficient laptops with Windows XP or Linux. They have enough power to run Windows Office, Internet, Email, and other common applications that don't require huge amounts of processing power. Elkton is using the Acer Aspire One Nebook with Windows XP.

Elkton School District plans to use the Netbooks to supplement the schools current curriculum. The high school will use the free existing email and web hosting resources that are provided by the State’s K-12. Each high school student will have access to the Internet in the classroom to allow them to research topics on demand, participate in online activities with teachers, and email assignments to teachers in a paperless classroom environment.

While state funding of the one-to-one laptop program this year seems unlikely, Elkton hopes that by taking the initiative to test this new technology with their own money, they may rise to the top of the list if any state funding does come through. If funded the state would pay $130 for each netbook, instead of $400 for each tablet. Even without state funding it is likely that Elkton will go forward on its own because of the low cost of deploying this system.

Elkton will save additional money by moving the students into a lighter Web 2.0 environment and equipping them 1GB flash drives that allow students to back up and transport their own data more easily. If a one to one netbook project for the high school happens next year, it is estimated that it will actually reduce the current strain on the school’s existing network and servers. By moving the majority of the students away from a resource intense network model to light Internet orientated model the school won’t need to buy any additional new servers. It would also allow the netbooks to replace its aging high school lab, thus further saving money.

$400 per laptop—that's twice the perhaps overly optimistic $200 per machine that the New York Times and I mentioned yesterday. Pooler says he chose the $400 models to get bigger hard drives and better batteries. Oh darn: so Elkton will only save 70% on what they would have blown on Tablet PCs.

The computers will rely heavily on open source software for more savings. Elkton hopes to fund expanding the program to kids all the way down to grade 7 through tax revenues from the nearby wind farms. Pooler says it best:

If that happens we will be able to say we are using "Green" energy money to pay for "Green" technology (Netbooks are considered green tech) and create paperless "Green" classrooms and save a lot of "Green" aka cash.

Pooler tells me Elkton is the first school in South Dakota and possibly the entire nation to implement a netbook program for an entire grade. Hm: ground-breaking technological innovation at Elkton High School, enrollment 114. Another good idea, brought to you by small schools. Nice work, Elks!

Senate Bill 70 Advances: Buckaroo-ism Afoot!

You may recall from last week my discussion of Senate Bill 70, a measure that eliminates the 48-hour waiting period to buy a pistol. At first, I thought this was sheer buckaroo-ism, distracting legislation that increases the risk of gun violence and boosts the NRA rating of our legislators. The next day, a quote from Senator Gene Abdallah in that Sioux Falls paper led me to believe that the bill was about bookkeeping, not buckaroo-ism:

All that we're doing now is creating a lot of paper for the sheriff's offices that isn't necessary, because the Brady Bill is instant and that covers everything [State Senator Gene Abdallah, quoted by Sheri Levisay, "What's with That Law? Legislation Will Repeal Waiting Period to Buy Pistol," that Sioux Falls paper, 2009.01.22].

But I was wrong: federal legislation provides for a usually instant computer background check, but the Brady Bill five-day waiting period expired when that system went online in 1998. Therefore, right now, the only thing making you wait a couple days to buy that pistol is the law that Senators Olson, Abdallah, et al. want to eliminate.

Maybe the jury is still out on whether instant pistol buys lead to more violence (readers, I welcome your links!). However, we're talking about handguns, a tool that makes it possible for one upset individual to kill himself or others with the flick of a finger. I don't think it's unreasonable to deem the purchase of such a device something worth waiting for.

Alas, the State Senate Judiciary committee, including Senators Heidepriem and Turbak Berry, appears to disagree. Judiciary voted yesterday to pass the bill on to the full Senate yesterday.

Come on, kids! Don't let the NRA push you around. Let's keep that 48-hour waiting period. People who think they absolutely have to have a pistol right now! are the last people to whom we should hand a pistol.

Dedication... or Hunger?

The clock says 6:08 a.m. The thermometer says –10°F. The dark sky says, "Go back to bed."

And out my window, out on the frozen lake, I see a pair of headlights beaming toward an ice shack.

Either the recession has hit that guy's grocery budget hard, or he really, really loves ice-fishing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fargen Vs. Olson: Dollars vs. Donuts for Education

At the beginning of the 2008 school year, candidate Russell Olson paid a visit to the Madison Central School District. He received a free plug from Superintendent Vince Schaefer, who told all the district's teachers that Olson was a friend of education and deserved their consideration. Olson himself backed up that encouragement by bringing the teachers coffee and donuts.

But now that Olson has his Senate seat, will Olson back more than donuts for education? If you compare legislator comments on KJAM, it's freshman legislator Mitch Fargen who sounds like the real defender of education. Fargen tells KJAM straight up that Governor Rounds's proposed cuts are an attack on education. Fargen says he won't vote for any cuts to education.

And Senator Donut? Well, for some reason, Olson needs more time to study and review his old boss's budget proposal to figure out what to do.

Olson does like to brag about his low ACT scores; I guess he never was a quick study. Perhaps he'll be able to catch up with Fargen in time for this weekend's crackerbarrels in Flandreau and Madison.

But it shouldn't take much study and review to figure out that Governor Rounds continues to look at kids and education as an expense, while legislators young and old (Gerry Lange's been on this message from Day One of his public career) recognize that education is our best investment.

Teachers, next time Senator Olson drops by, tell him keep the donuts: education needs real dollars and defenders.

South Dakota Schools: Save 80% on Computers!

The New York Times runs an interesting article on the changing computer economy. If South Dakota's high schools are going to continue moving toward assigning every student a laptop computer, they should read this article. In an era where a proposed 0.7% increase in the state budget feels like fiscal Armageddon, our schools could achieve an 80% decrease in their tech spending. Here's how:
  1. Throw out those Tablet PCs. Yes, spinning the screen and touching it to move the cursor is really cool. It also costs over $1300 per machine.
  2. Replace them with $200 netbooks.
  3. Instead of loading each machine with Office and other expensive software, take advantage of cloud computing, free services like Google Docs, where students can access all the word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation power they need for high school. Businesses are using cloud computing and online software services: Arista Networks chief Jayshree Ullal says innovation like this is saving 80% on her tech budget. (Ullal is all about cloud computing: read more on her blog!)
So let me break out the back of the envelope: assume Madison High School needs 400 laptops. Buy $200 netbooks instead of $1300 tablets, and you've got $440,000 in savings at Madison alone. If every school in the state's classroom laptop program made this switch, we would save millions, enough to restore funding for Birth to 3, the South Dakota Arts Council, the Cooperative Extension Service, and a few other projects Governor Rounds has put on the chopping block.

So we can keep doodling on our screens with $55 pens, or we can save millions of dollars. Hmm....

Information technology and economics are changing. Our public school tech budgets should change to take advantage of the newest, cheapest technology.

Monday, January 26, 2009

LAIC, Openness, and Making Money off Gifts from Citibank.

Our local economic development organization, the Lake Area Improvement Corporation, seems to have discovered public relations lately. Two big front-page spin sessions in the Madison Daily Leader, a big press release on their own usually static website... boy! the LAIC can certainly be open when they want to be. Now if they would only pay attention to the research and President Obama and recognize that openness is not just pronouncements from the Politburo but two-way communication coupled with transparency and participation (not just for the folks who bring money to the table, but for all of the public you serve).

I am pleased to read that the LAIC's land speculation and picking of winners in the marketplace has been such a rousing team effort. Whether this effort is really warranted remains open to debate. The LAIC might put that debate to an end if it released for public viewing the vaunted LAIC housing study. Alas, the asking price for that study is still $250, and I still haven't been able to justify within my household budget an expenditure of that magnitude for data that really ought to be free to the public.

But wait a minute: as I read the press release, I am reminded that the LAIC received donations to cover the housing study. Citibank gave the LAIC a $2500 grant to help cover housing study costs.

The LAIC is charging us for a study that they paid for with handouts from others.

Funny: the LAIC tells me they don't believe in handouts. I guess that's another LAIC principle, like communication, that applies only in one direction.

Obama Supports Environment and States Rights

Want states rights? Obama's your man!

Let's see, checklist for President Barack Obama...
What? States' rights? I thought states' rights was a Republican issue, like personal responsibility.

Nope: President Obama has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to revisit a Bush-era regulation that forbade states from setting their own environmental standards. From the East Room...

"For the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change," Obama said in his first formal event in the ornate East Room of the White House.

"It will be the policy of my administration," he said, "to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs."

California and at least a dozen other states have tried to come up with tougher emission standards than those imposed by the federal government, but Obama said that "Washington stood in their way." The president wants the EPA to take a second look at a decision denying California — and the other states that want to follow its model — permission to set tougher tailpipe emission standards [Ben Feller, "Obama Targets Greenhouse Gases," AP via Yahoo News, 2009.01.26].

In other words, our new Democratic President is signing an order to get Washington out of the way.

I pause in my hearty laughter to ask: Republicans, what platform do you have left? Don't answer yet; no rush. I can wait until 2012 for the response. President Obama certainly can wait: he's too busy right now solving problems.

Update 17:15: And how do the states feel?

Obama's announcement on his seventh day in office delighted California officials who have criticized his predecessor for ignoring the state's long tradition of setting its own air standards.

"For too long, Washington has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to the environment," Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said a news conference at the state capitol. "Now California finally has a partner and an ally in Washington, in the White House" [emphasis mine; Samantha Young and Erica Werner, "Calif. Scores Vindication, Environmental Win," San Francisco Chronicle, 2009.01.26].

Governor Schwarzenegger recognizes some things are more important than party... like breathing.

Kirkeby's HB 1105: Patching Budget with Child Labor?

Keen readers of the South Dakota blogosphere will note that it was this Obama-lovin' left-wing Marxist secular humanist who first cried foul on HB 1105, while it took the Right reverend Mr. Powers all weekend to figure out that his own party was instituting the draft. (Dang—I guess it's up to President Obama and me to take the lead in defending personal responsibility and other Republican values... from Republicans.)

But reading PP's concerns about the Kirkeby draft as an unfunded mandate (it is) makes me wonder if HB 1105 might have a role in fixing our budget. After all, the bill would create a child labor force 37,000 strong. Those kids could do a lot of work for free that we have to pay good tax dollars for now. And that would fit with Governor Rounds's approach to balancing the budget on the backs of children.

Hmm... I hear the Highway 34 for the Future committee was busy last week slapping stickers on all of the "Madison Hosts the Legislature" attendees in Pierre, essentially dragooning citizens into their marketing campaign. Imagine what they could do with a few hundred high school students from Madison and Colman at their disposal. Hand 'em all shovels: "You want to graduate? Start digging." We could have four lanes to I-29 in no time!

South Dakota Budget: Step One Is Open Government

Kevin Woster has blogged it. David Newquist has mentioned it in an e-mail, as has Sam Kephart. And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense: open government may be the root of our state budget problem.

Lots of us South Dakotans are getting our dander up over the state budget and the cuts proposed by Governor Rounds (well detailed by Dr. Newquist, who identifies the governor's targeting of "culture, education, workers, and the disadvantaged"). The volume and number of voices is rising, and that's good: the more people speaking up and making clear their budget priorities, the better chance we have of seeing a budget that attends to the popular will.

But how can we make a budget if we don't have all the information about the budget? We have a need and a right to see the public records of our own state government's activities, yet Governor Michael Rounds maintains the position that records are private until proven public. He blows a little smoke about protecting individual rights, but really, his position boils down to an arrogant elitism. He's really saying, "I get to look at the information, and you don't."

We also need more open contracts. Sam Kephart writes that the governor has issued 3,400 no-bid contracts in the last twelve months. The Board of Regents has similar power to offer "no-bid contracts and exclusive supplier arrangements" [Kephart, e-mail, 2009.01.25].

If our budget really requires serious fixing, everyone involved in the budget—legislators, workers, vendors, taxpayers, the whole bunch of us—need the most complete picture possible of how that budget works. We need to know we are spending our money as efficiently as possible. Toward that end, every transaction of our money must be open to bid and review to every citizen of this state, not just the handful privileged to go to work on the second floor of the Capitol.

Everybody from President Obama to Governor Rounds's pal Sarah Palin, from Senate Majority Leader Dave Knudson to Sibby, says good government is open government. Governor Rounds should boot his old "It's good to be king!" thinking and accept that all those papers he signs really belong to us.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

South Dakota Budget: Who Wants a Tax Increase?

Sunday fun quiz! Who said the following:

South Dakota has been prudent in its handling of money. That's why it can now give a slight tax increase without it hurting the people. Would that those in Pierre have greater courage to say so.
  1. MSM columnist David Kranz
  2. Liberal blogger Todd Epp
  3. Representative Gerald Lange (D-8/Madison)
  4. NSU professor Jon Schaff
Answer after this random super slo-mo video break:

And the answer is... #4, Professor Jon Schaff! The prodigal blogger—and prodigal conservative?—throws some sausage in the stew by suggesting South Dakota can afford modest tax increases without harm.

If the fiscal ship is sinking, you grab whatever floats. Lots of ideas are floating around right now: cut services, cut jobs, spend reserves, nix sales tax exemptions. Raising taxes also deserves consideration. Interesting that it takes an arch-conservative blogger to bring that up.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

South Dakota Budget: Why Cut Anything?

As I review the various cuts Governor Rounds has proposed, I am reminded that, for all the anti-government rhetoric we like to engage in, the state of South Dakota runs a pretty tight ship. When we come up $58.7 million (this year) or $$83.8 million (next year) short, we don't have a lot of fat in the budget to cut. The state does a lot of good on a lean tax structure (and a lean tax base from our low wages).

So I'm wondering: why cut at all? Instead of all the doom and gloom from Pierre, why not take the fiscal stimulus route that Washington plans and plow right through this recession at full strength?

But we don't have the money, says Governor Rounds.

Yes we do. $698 million in the state trust funds [see November 2008 report]. Crack those funds open, and we could cover every cut the governor has proposed, this year and next, put no state employee out of work or increase taxes on any South Dakotan during a recession.

I think I've heard Governor Rounds say this year's state revenue situation is the worst he's ever seen. Doesn't that mean we have just the rainy day our trust funds have been waiting for?

Don't play Herbert Hoover, South Dakota. Face the recession boldly. Stand out among other states by saying "Yes We Can!" preserve state services.

Birth to 3 Connections: Worth the Expense

PP and I agree here: cutting the Birth to 3 Connections program is a bad idea. If helping 1000 kids a year receive intervention services for developmental delays or disabilities isn't worth cracking open some more of the reserves until the economy recovers, then I don't know what is. Helping kids overcome such difficulties when they are this young is certainly less expensive than waiting until they reach the school system and have to struggle to catch up with classmates. It certainly beats leaving them at their disadvantage and incurring the later costs of lower productivity and higher social remediation costs.

Note that the Governor has spared Tourism and Economic Development from any cuts, saying "We want to try to continue with programs that actually build our economy... and help us get through hard times." Hmmm... I would think the same rationale would justify sparing Birth to 3.

Reverend Joseph Lowery said something Tuesday about breaking away from exploitation of the least among us and favoritism toward the elite among us. Instead of yanking a useful service from a thousand toddlers and their parents, I suspect we could find a similar thousand or so at the top of South Dakota's power structure (high state officials, administrators, corporations getting by with paying no income tax) who could each cough up another $2000 to provide the $2 million in savings Governor Rounds seeks in cutting Birth to 3.

Can You Survive a 40% Budget Cut? State Fair Can

Does no one in state government know how to put on his budget war face?

So imagine you're in charge of the South Dakota State Fair. You've just been told the governor wants to axe all of the Fair's state support, 40% of your budget. Just a few months ago, you were making the case that your event requires permanent legislative funding. As the head of this specific program, what's your proper response?

Fight like hell, right? Tell the Legislature the Fair will die without state support, right?

Evidently not if you are Agriculture Secretary Bill Even. Instead of staking out a negotiating position from which he might be able to win back some portion of the $800K the governor wanted to give him last December, Secretary Even has said the Fair will go on, even without a penny of state subsidy.

Bill Even just acted like a novice debate team that hears the Affirmative plan, takes the podium, and says, "O.K. We've got nothing. Do the plan, nothing bad will happen."

Life is not a debate round, but I see nothing wrong with the man in charge of the State Fair taking a bit more aggressive role in being the chief defender of his program. Even though I'd vote to cut the subsidy (remember: other state fairs get along fine without taxpayer support), I still want to hear someone make the opposing case so everyone can weigh the pros and cons in full and make an informed decision.

But if even Secretary Even agrees that the subsidy isn't necessary, well, he's saved us some work. The state just saved $800K. Next issue.

Update: Oops! Looks like not everyone in the Ag Department is on the same page. Deputy Ag Secretary George Williams tells that Sioux Falls paper, "If the full amount of the funding that was proposed was removed from the fair, the operational dollars would not be there to host a fair - at least similar to anything we've seen.... It would be pretty difficult to host any kind of fair." And don't get Ron Volesky started!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Rep. Kirkeby Proposes Mandatory Community Service for Graduation

That's interesting: Rep. Mark Kirkeby (R-35/Rapid City) brings forward House Bill 1105, which would add community service as a statewide high school graduation requirement. It's a pretty thin requirement: three hours of documented volunteer work for any community project or non-profit charitable or religious organization.

Now there are lots of good things our kids should do growing up, activities that will make them better citizens and scholars. There is, however, a limit to how many hours we can demand of them (and of the staff who will have one more bit of paperwork to process).

Consider also this line from the bill:

In order to meet the requirements of this Act, a public high school student shall offer the student's time, energy, and talent without seeking financial or material gain to provide assistance to the student's community, to any individual or group in need within the student's community, or to any nonprofit charitable or religious organization.

Who says a student's "time, energy, and talent" are the property of the school to offer in the first place? We might want to be cautious about a bill that, in a small way, turns our high school students into a captive labor force.

But what do you think? Mandatory public service for high school graduation: would you do it? Would you require your kids to do it? The comments section is open!

SD Budget Cuts: Yeas and Nays

A common theme in the commentary from legislators and others about the do-over state budget proposal yesterday was that everyone can find something Governor Rounds proposes to cut that we'd rather not cut. Whatever your pet project, you will not hear me say that you should be quiet and be good team player. Even in a budget crisis (are we using that word yet?), in politics, the way to be a team player is to engage in passionate advocacy for your program. For instance, I support the governor's proposal to end the state subsidy for the State Fair. But I suspect Senator Tom Hansen will hear from a lot of his Huron neighbors urging him to fight to save that subsidy. That advocacy, that defense of Huron's interest in keeping that state money flowing into their economy, is perfectly justified. Politics works best when everybody comes to the table and makes their case. Unquestioning conformity and submission produce worse results than vigorous debate and hard-won compromise.

For what it's worth, here's my quick take on some of the cuts proposed:
  • State Fair subsidy: Yes. It was a bad idea even when times were good.
  • School for the Deaf: Can we really serve the needs of these kids by closing the school and diverting resources to outreach? I'll need more numbers on that.
  • TCAP: This program give teachers extra pay for extra training and work over the summer. It's better than nothing, but it still enshrines the idea that we pay teachers plenty as it is, and that they don't deserve a penny more unless they jump through more hoops. I don't want to take away an opportunity for teachers to scrape together a few more dollars, but TCAP hasn't been the right approach to establishing better long-term teacher salaries.
  • State arts programs: I hear from my friends at the Brookings Arts Council that the Governor would eliminate the state arts council. But do this, and we lose our cut of federal arts money. Why hit ourselves with that double whammy? Make some cuts, but maintain enough of a program to qualify for that federal money and leave the infrastructure in place to expand the program again when the economy rebounds.
  • Mosquito control: Um, West Nile, anyone? Instead, let's reverse the increase the governor is proposing for snowmobile-trail grooming (come on: real men don't need a groomed trail).
There's a lot more to read. Stay tuned, and talk to your legislators!

SD Budget Cuts: Regents Quietly Acquiesce

All those who've been calling on Governor Rounds to include some real cuts in his do-over budget are getting their wish. Of course, for some anti-government fundamentalists, even yesterday's proposals will sound like small potatoes, but this is real practical government, not a Grover Norquist parlor game.

Among the cuts is a five-million-dollar whack out of the Board of Regents' pie. The cuts include these items (from a news release we BoR employees received from Regents exec Tad Perry right after the governor's speech yesterday):
  • Redefine the mission of [i.e., shut down] the South Dakota School for the Deaf to an outreach education and support role, closing the instructional site in Sioux Falls. General fund budget savings of $2 million.
  • Reduce state fund general support for the Cooperative Extension Service. General fund budget savings of $1 million.
  • Eliminate the state match for maintenance and repair funds used to maintain Board of Regents’ buildings. General fund budget savings of $1,632,999.
  • Cut institutional programs or activities across the regents’ system. General fund budget savings of $500,000.
My plum still appears to be in the pie (I hope keeping my assistantship is part of what Perry means when he says "Our commitment as a board was to do no long-term harm to the academic and research functions of our public universities, which are foundational to preparing and supporting South Dakota’s future workforce"), but I'm still watching.

One thing does stand out about the messages I've received this week from the Regents and our president at DSU, Doug Knowlton: Nowhere do their messages signal that we are going to stand and fight these cuts.

Now you know me: I'm always keen to identify situations where the powers that be aren't standing up for what is right. Even in the current budget situation, supporters of education, the arts, the State Fair, and other targeted programs have every right to make the case that the cuts to their favored programs will do more harm than good. The Regents have an obligation to speak up for their employees.

But I'm not so sure that Tad Perry's talk of standing "as a partner with Gov. Rounds and the Legislature" is an abdication of advocacy for the folks who work for them. Maybe the Regents' apparent acquiescence to the cuts as announced is a signal that they've already done their advocacy and have already won. Look again at those cuts. Out of $5 million, only $500K is coming from core university functions. We could cover that by consolidating three university presidentships into one. We're not talking about losing profs or cutting major programs. We're not even mentioning closing a campus.

I'm not prepared to go as far as Mr. Powers and declare that the Regents are getting off scot free. No raises next year isn't exactly painless, but that's still a big step away from no jobs... which is exactly the barrel over which the Regents and the governor know they have every recession-spooked worker.

For now, I'm reading the Regents' acquiescence this way: Tad Perry is going to keep his head down and talk team because he knows it could have been much worse. I'd still like to hear some ruckus for our side, but with the vast majority of Regental employees just happy to have dodged the bullet, no one on the university side is going to take any chances.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Means It: America Does Not Torture

The Change We Need is really just a return to the laws and principles we should've upheld in the war on terrorism in the first place. Quote of the day:

(a) Common Article 3 Standards as a Minimum Baseline. Consistent with the requirements of the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A, section 1003 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, 42 U.S.C. 2000dd, the Convention Against Torture, Common Article 3, and other laws regulating the treatment and interrogation of individuals detained in any armed conflict, such persons shall in all circumstances be treated humanely and shall not be subjected to violence to life and person (including murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture), nor to outrages upon personal dignity (including humiliating and degrading treatment), whenever such individuals are in the custody or under the effective control of an officer, employee, or other agent of the United States Government or detained within a facility owned, operated, or controlled by a department or agency of the United States ["Executive Order: Ensuring Lawful Interrogations," WhiteHouse.gov, 2009.01.22]

And in his own words:

We believe that the Army Field Manual reflects the best judgment of our military, that we can abide by a rule that says we don’t torture, but that we can still effectively obtain the intelligence that we need.

This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.

...the message that we are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism, and we are going to do so vigilantly, we are going to do so effectively, and we are going to do so in a matter that is consistent with our values and our ideals. And all of the individuals who are standing behind me, as well as, I think, the American people, understand that we are not, as I said in the inauguration, going to continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals.

We think that it is precisely our ideals that give us the strength and the moral high ground to be able to effectively deal with the unthinking violence that you see emanating from terrorist organizations around the world.

We intend to win this fight. We’re going to win it on our terms.

[President Barack Obama, "CQ Transcript: President Obama Orders Closing of Detention Facility at Guantanamo," CQPolitics.com, 2009.01.22]

Fly those flags a little higher, friends. Contrary to the confused machismo of certain Jack Bauer fans, The moral high ground is not for sissies, and it's not an obstacle to defeating terrorism. The moral high ground is where we win that war.

Rounds: Raises for State Employees "Not a Possibility"

More "No We Can't" from Pierre: This e-mail from my "Fellow State Employee" Governor Mike Rounds plinkos down through the system to my inbox. The short version: forget that raise.

Fellow State Employee,

As we all discuss the challenges we face in this budget year and next, I want you to know how much I appreciate the work you do each day for everyone in the state of South Dakota. Throughout this ongoing budget process, it is my goal to make choices that will be the least painful for all of state government and all our citizens.

I know there are many concerns about funding the ongoing operation of our state government. While I can tell you I would like to offer salary policy and enhancements for FY 2010, I do not see this as a possibility. At a time when our unemployment rate is rising and job losses are increasing on a weekly basis in the private sector, we must be sensitive to tax increases, as good as the intentions may be.

I appreciate your understanding as we work together during these difficult times. I will do my best to keep you informed as we move through the budget process.

Mike Rounds

Well, kids, cancel that Wal-Mart trip: looks like I'll be wearing the same pants to teach in next year. I guess I'll be happy if I still have my job!

Senate Bill 70: Bookkeeping, not Buckaroo-ism

I should have known Senator Olson wouldn't come up with any actually interesting legislation...

A well-read commenter points us toward an explanation in that Sioux Falls paper of Senate Bill 70, the elimination of the pistol-purchase waiting period. Turns out it's just another page in Olson's passion for legislative bookkeeping: Senate Bill 70. The bill strikes our state regulation because federal legislation, the Brady Bill, already supersedes and requires a waiting period.

(Permit me one moment of raving conspiracy-theorizing: Maybe it's just a plot to quietly eliminate all the state legislation first to set the stage for the NRA to focus their lobbying on the federal government when the GOP retakes Congress... in 2028! Ha ha ha!)

Will the bill requiring crinimal background checks for Realtors® turn out to be legislative bookkeeping as well? Will Senator Olson bring any substantive new ideas to the Senate floor? We wait with bated breath.

You know, it does occur to me that if the Legisature had an interactive website where legislators and citizens could add commentary and links to the bills, we could clear up confusion like this right away... ;-)

Debaters in High Places: McGowan Unchallenged as Minnehaha States Attorney

Lake County has one, now Minnehaha County follows suit: the chief prosecutors in both counties are now Madison HS graduates! Aaron McGowan (MHS 1992) went unchallenged in the race for Minnehaha County's states attorney. He joins Lake County's Ken Meyer (MHS 1985) in the ranks of South Dakota's chief prosecutors.

Another thing McGowan and Meyer have in common: as that Sioux Falls paper profiles McGowan, the big extracurricular activity it mentions is not basketball or even Greek fraternity, but McGowan's experience on the USD debate team. McGowan won national debate contests with his partner, Brendan Johnson (yeah, that Brendan Johnson—you want connections? join debate!). McGowan also made a speech or two as a Madison HS debater. Similarly, Meyer was a big Bulldog debater (and his freshman son Azmon hopes to carve a similar swath of debate destruction and extemp excellence).

Principal Sharon Knowlton is right when she writes in the December 2008 MHS Newsletter that all those tournaments our high schoolers attend are worth the occasional classes and home-cooked meals the kids may miss. Every debate tournament, every extemp round our kids compete in puts them another step ahead of the other kids with whom they'll be competing for scholarships and jobs.

Want to be a legal eagle? Join debate!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

House Bill 1094: Don't Trust Realtors?

So if I'm reading House Bill 1094 correctly, is Senator Russell Olson (R-8) saying his pal Pat Powers needs to submit to a criminal background check?

That appears to be the gist of HB 1094, legislation promoted by more than a few Republicans (Hunt, Krebs, Tom Hansen, Knudson...) to increase regulation of the real estate industry. Fingerprinting, state and federal background checks... wow, PP isn't getting much satisfaction from his Republican friends this week.

Now real estate agents and the other folks listed in HB 1094 do hold some degree of public trust, so perhaps we have an interest in investigating their backgrounds. But I wonder the sponsors of HB 1094 will also support an amendment extending criminal background checks to other important public figures, like, oh, say, state legislators?

But not to worry: even if Senator Olson wants PP to go through more red tape to carry out his chosen profession, he supports letting Pat buy a handgun without any delay.

Bad Moon Rising: Jerstad "Just Say No to Crack" Bill Up!

PP will be thrilled: Senate Bill 71, the Jerstad Plumber's Bum bill, is up!

O.K., as the estimable PP and that Sioux Falls paper explained at year's end, the bill isn't just discrimination against the suspenders-challenged among us. The proposed law may make it easier to prosecute sex offenders who commit their offenses in private homes.

Nonetheless, if this bill passes, expect to see a little economic stimulus, as plumbers, sheetrockers, and other noble toilers hurry to Campbell's Supply for belts and coveralls.

Hail to the Chief (and His Beautiful Wife)

President Barack Hussein Obama and his wife Michelle Obama dance at the Commander-in-Chief Ball at the National Building Museum, January 20, 2009.
[Photo: Saul Loeb, AFP]

Fred and Ginger—oops! sorry: that's our President and his lovely wife again, at the Biden Home State Ball
[Photo: Carlos Barria, Reuters]

Sioux Falls Neighbors Hide Anti-Islam Fear Behind Property Values

Don't be fooled by all the positive 'We are one country" sentiment of the Obama Inauguration: we still have a long way to go to accepting all colors and creeds and full partners in the American dream.

Case in point: As Islam expands in Sioux Falls, the faithful see the need for a second place of worship in the big city. But one man in the Garfield Elementary neighborhood, a couple blocks east of Kiwanis Avenue and Sherman Park, doesn't want their kind saying their prayers near his house.

Of course, Mr. Clinton Stickle doesn't express any outright racism or religious discrimination. Oh no, it's not that, really. He's just an upstanding citizen concerned about all the increased traffic and parking those Muslims will bring every Friday afternoon. Even worse, says Stickle, a Muslim house of worship will "flatten property values around here just like that."

Property values. Didn't folks use to say the same thing about blacks moving into the neighborhood? (Oh, darn, some people still do say it.) Even if Mr. Stickle has an economic point, lower property values due to an Islamic prayer center or some other outcropping of ethnic diversity only demonstrates the vile discriminatory attitudes the neighborhood and the broader society still harbor. The only reason an Islamic house of worship would lower property values is that the land-buying yahoos among us would say, "Eeewww, Muslims. I won't pay to live near them."

You know, it never occurred to me that the extra traffic and parking at the St. Thomas Catholic recreation center a half mile down the road from me here on Lake Herman was lowering my property values. And those darn Catholics are taking up good land that the county should condemn and sell to some good secular materialists like me who would build big houses and raise all of our property values.

Now I have a separate beef with discrimination in the name of Allah (check out the main Sioux Falls Islamic Center's blueprints for a new worship center, complete with separate and unequal worship spaces for men and women). But as Sioux Falls city planner Jeff Schmitt points out in the KELO report, Muslims "have a right to worship here."

President Barack Hussein Obama reminded us yesterday that Muslims are Americans, too. Guess we need more reminding.

It may sound impractical, but I'll make this suggestion: Muslim friends, if your Sioux Falls neighbors won't welcome you, come pray out here at Lake Herman. Heck, buy the lot next to me and build a big old mosque. Drive my property value down all you want and keep those Sioux Falls people from buying land near me. I think hearing the muezzin's call echo across the prairie and looking east to Mecca across Lake Herman to pray would be rather inspiring.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Amen! Rev. Lowery Says the Good Word for Us All

I don't drink the Jesus juice much. But given good preaching like the benediction offered by Reverend Joseph E. Lowery from the Inaugural podium, I'll take an other swig.

I heard Lowery's prayer on the radio. At first, it seemed hard to understand, and I imagined an old man shivering in the cold, struggling to make the words clear. In a way, that strengthened the impact of the words, the sincere good wishes for the new President, the country, and the world.

Dr. Newquist offers the full transcript, as do I, courtesy of Beliefnet and the Federal News Service:

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand -- true to thee, O God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day. We pray now, O Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant, Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration. He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national and, indeed, the global fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hand, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations. Our faith does not shrink, though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

How often I hear "God Bless America" and wish I could speak up and add "...and God bless everyone else, too!" Reverend Lowery understands that.

For we know that, Lord, you're able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor or the least of these and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

Preach it, brother. Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable, just like Jesus did.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the seeds of greed -- the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

If I had any trouble understanding Reverend Lowery's words at the beginning, he was coming through loud and clear now. He found his rhythm and made the words sing.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Love. Inclusion. Reaching out to the margins. Wherever.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little, angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together, children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone, with your hands of power and your heart of love.

Help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around -- (laughter) -- when yellow will be mellow -- (laughter) -- when the red man can get ahead, man -- (laughter) -- and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.


REV. LOWERY: Say amen --


REV. LOWERY: -- and amen.

AUDIENCE: Amen! (Cheers, applause.)

And yes, even this non-believer (and Obama mentioned us non-believers in his speech! we must be Americans!) said Amen, right along with what a fella on the radio today described as "a couple million of my closest friends." Several million, 300 million friends, my fellow Americans.

Preaching like that could set this country right. Amen. Amen.

Yes We Can... Now, Time to Prove It

Let us celebrate Inauguration Day and this peaceful transition of power by recalling the greatest patriotic speech of 2008, a speech delivered in defeat but dedicated to undying hope: Barack Hussein Obama's New Hampshire primary concession speech.

...We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we've been told we're not ready or that we shouldn't try or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.

It was the call of workers who organized, women who reached for the ballot, a president who chose the moon as our new frontier, and a king who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the promised land: Yes, we can, to justice and equality.

Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity. Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can repair this world. Yes, we can.

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

—Barack Hussein Obama, New Hampshire primary concession speech, January 8, 2008

And for you multimedia kids, the video version, as crafted by will.i.am and several fellow Americans who helped spread that message of hope:

This Inauguration Day is a historic and hopeful moment. Enjoy it... and then let's get to work.

Roberts Sabotages Oath; Biden in Charge?

Do I have to do all the work for the Radical Right?

Sibby and Bob Ellis have missed the biggest story of the day. John Walker is still grading papers. Pastor Hickey came close, but still missed the point: Barack Hussein Obama still isn't the President of the United States. In the parting bumble of the Bush Administration, Chief Justice John Roberts muffed—nay, sabotaged—the Presidential oath, placing "faithfully" at the end of the clause rather than properly splitting the verb phrase. Fundagelicals like Pastor Hickey et al. who believe that salvation hinges on saying and obeying all the right formulas, should be all over this: Obama didn't say the exact words of the oath; therefore, Obama isn't President!

Here's what really happened:
  1. Chief Justice Roberts, knowing full well Obama is a natural-born citizen, thought rewording the oath with give sufficient strict Constitutional grounds for him to uphold a court challenge to the Obama Presidency.
  2. President Obama, who probably said these words to himself more than a few times over the past few days, immediately caught Roberts's miswording.
  3. Obama's sharp Constitutional mind saw the glint in Roberts's eye and knew exactly what he was up to.
  4. In that split second, Obama foresaw the court challenge some fringe right-winger would file, formulated the arguments on both sides, and realized he would easily win on a "spirit of the law" argument.
  5. Realizing Obama had caught him, Roberts stammered out a corrected version.
  6. Completely confident, Obama recited the miswording Roberts had offered, as if to say, "Bring it on."
Well, that was fun.

Know what's more fun? Dropping "Elect" from my phrasing.

[Photo by Doug Mills, New York Times, 2009.01.20]

President Barack Hussein Obama. Nice.

For One Brief Shining Moment... Anarchy!

I'm listening to Yo-Yo Ma and friends play a stirring arrangement of Copeland on the Capitol steps... and I look at the clock and realize we don't have a President. Article 20 says the President's term ends at noon. It's 12:03 Eastern Time, and Barack Hussein Obama still hasn't sworn the oath. Imagine that—for one brief moment, America has no President.

Russ Olson: I Want My Pistol Now!

We have District 8 Senator Russell Olson's first meathead sponsorship of the session: our senator's name appears (along with GOP yahoos like Reps. Brunner and Howie and apparent sponsor Sen. Rhoden) on Senate Bill 70, a measure that would repeal the 48-hour waiting period to buy a pistol.

Bill text isn't up as of this posting, so I eagerly await the chance to read the bill. I even more eagerly await Senator Olson's explanation of how this bit of deregulation serves any greater purpose than keeping his NRA rating up.

So I already have crackerbarrel question #1: Is it really wise to facilitate buying pistols on impulse? If someone runs into Wal-Mart and says, "I've got to have a pistol RIGHT NOW!" that's exactly the kind of person I should direct toward law enforcement, either for their protection or for ours.

If you want to pack heat, I don't think it's too much to ask that you plan ahead a couple days.

Oh, and crackerbarrel question #2: what happened to the issues Olson actually campaigned on, like the wind energy or Chester superintendent Mark Greguson's capital-outlay-for-fuel plan? Olson has posted no bills on those issues yet. Is repealing the pistol purchase waiting period really a higher priority than energy and education?

Well, for some Republicans, the answer appears to be yes.

Fewer iPods on Inauguration Day: People Want to Connect

I'm listening to NPR's Morning Edition coverage of Inauguration Day. The reporters sound excited, not just because they're in the tank for Obama (they are, and so am I... and so should you be!), but because they get front-row seats for America's finest moment yet of the 21st century.

One reporter (a lady reporter, but I missed her name) makes an interesting techno-sociological observation. She says that usually when she walks down the street in Washington, D.C., she sees the little white cords running from folks' iPods to their earbuds. Usually folks on the Metro and on foot want to close out the world around them. This morning, says the reporter, no white cords. People's ears are open, their eyes are wide. People want to connect with each other and the moment.

Where Are Our Priorities -- Oh, There They Are, on Our Property Tax Statement!

We received our property tax statements from the Lake County treasurer last week. Here's where our money goes:

Entity $/1000 levy Taxable Value Tax Assessed
Opt-Out % of total
City/Township 0.73 125,590 $ 91.68
County 3.63 125,590 $ 455.89
Water Conservation 0.03 125,590 $ 3.77 2.51 0.2%
School (Owner-Occupied) 9.21 125,590 $ 1,156.68 51.47 66.9%
Sanitary District 0.17 125,590 $ 21.35
Total 13.77
$ 1,729.37 53.98

Now this statement doesn't give a complete picture of our contribution to local civilization: count the $1000 or so a month we spend each month in Madison, and you get another $360 or so that we kick into the local sales tax kitty. You might also want to count the unitemized portion of our activity fees that I and all the other 2000-some students on the DSU campus provide to make the Community Center more affordable for everyone else in Madison (gee, maybe I should actually use that building sometime).

Note that even if we include local sales tax and other payments claimed by our local governing entities, more than half of my family's local tax burden goes to support one government function: education. We put more of our money toward education than toward police protection, road repair, snow removal, septic tank inspection, and all other local functions combined.

City folks will come up with somewhat different percentages, as they pay the city for electricity, sewer, and trash removal.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Madison HS Passes Gateway Costs on to Families

One more Gateway hosing: among the items on the agenda for the Madison Central School Board tonight is an explanation of how Gateway/MPC's self-extinction affects who pays for repair costs. The poorly written explanation (occasional convenient admin-speak passive voice, not to mention at least one sentence fragment, misspelling, and bothersome repetition of use to instead of the correct used to) is a bit hard to follow, but here's what I take from it:
  • At the beginning of the school year, parents had three options: insure their kids' $1336 laptops through the school, through their own policies, or not at all.
    1. Those who bought insurance through the school get hosed: The school still covers "manufacture defects," but "what use [sic] to be covered under accidental damage will now be part of the fines students receive, and the fines will be passed on to the student."
    2. Those who bought private policies can try submitting their kids' damage fines as claims to their insurers (that one going to fly, Rod?).
    3. Those who bought no insurance lose nothing... at least until their kids leave the laptop in the car overnight when it's twenty below.
  • Kids aren't exactly learning to be careful with these spendy machines. Despite fines and "numerous messages," the author, indicated by the PDF document's properties to be Todd Beutler, reports kids bring him an average of one cracked screen a day.
Now maybe I'm just a lucky guy, but I've hauled my laptops with me all over kingdom come on my bike and in my backpack for over a decade, and I have yet to render one of my machines inoperable. Even so, I find textbooks last longer... and boot up faster.

The report's recommendation: buy insurance. My recommendation: seriously reconsider whether the school district wants to keep imposing on parents and taxpayers the costs (upfront and ongoing) of requiring kids to haul computers wherever they go.

Irish Housing Prices May Drop 80%

And you thought America's housing bubble was bad...

While Madison has to resort to quasi-socialism to get houses built in the Silver Creek development, at least we're building something. Over in Ireland, one economist predicts that house prices may drop 80%. Economist Morgan Kelly also contends that after a decade of financial risk-taking, Ireland will see more house demolition that construction.

Uff da—so much for the luck of the Irish.

Another housing note: The Mitchell Republic's Seth Tupper argues the mortgage meltdown may be hitting South Dakota harder than some popular yet incomplete data suggests. Is reality about to take another whack at the smiley "everything is fine" boosterism of the Mike Rounds/Russ Olson wing of the SDGOP?

Anything Is Possible In America... Including Idiotic Blog Posts

"Anything is possible in America," said a man who is supporting evidence of that himself, Barack Hussein Obama, at yesterday's free concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

As further proof that the radical right has no practical or coherent ideas left, Radioactive Chief's John Walker turns this pleasant platitude into a threat to the Constitution and probably Mom and apple pie.

How did I miss the cries of Constitutional calamity when President Bush, speaking of his judicial nominee Miguel Estrada, said in 2003, "He's a role model for young people all across this nation, living proof that in America anything is possible"?

The quibble hardly merits the quill, but with embarrasing material like this, it's no wonder SD Shovel died. John, if your rhetorical bucket is that empty, maybe your time is better spent polishing up your lesson plans for science and (gulp!) U.S. history at Rutland.

Bush Worst President? Not the Point...

What's worse: liver or beets? Judge Judy or infomercials? Warren G. Harding or George W. Bush?

Professor Blanchard's fair reading of the bad and the good from the Bush II years reminds me of the difficulty in arguing that George W. Bush is the worst President ever. How does one measure the good of fighting AIDS in Africa against the bad of pushing bad science? How does replacing Saddam Hussein with a democratic Iraqi government stack up against a six-year occupation, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, and two million Iraqi refugees who as of last month are still too scared to go home? How does preventing another 9/11 (if it wasn't just luck) make up for not preventing the first one, or for squandering the international political capital that disaster gave us? And how do we measure all of that against the feats and foibles of every preceding President?

Intelligence Squared hosted a debate in December on the resolution "Bush 43 is the worst President of the last 50 years." William Kristol and Karl Rove were able to sway more of the undecideds away from the resolution than Simon Jenkins and Jacob Weisberg could pull toward it, perhaps largely because of the difficulty in establishing that the net harm done by the Bush Administration outweighs the net harm of Vietnam and domestic unrest under Johnson and Iran and stagflation under Carter. (The final vote on the I2 December resolution was still 68% to 27% in favor).

Trying to determine whether President Bush performed worse than Carter, Hoover, or other Presidential bĂȘtes noires may provide entertainment akin to debating whether Lincoln was greater than Washington or either Roosevelt. Such parlor games also miss the immediately relevant point that President Bush leaves the country less secure, less wealthy, and less free than when he took office.

Forget the HuffPost-y hyperbole or even the 61% of historians who deemed Bush the worst President ever (and that was last April, before the economy really tanked). Let's measure Bush by the Reagan standard: are you better off than you were four (or eight) years ago? The numbers suggest you are making less and owing more now than you did eight years ago.

George W. Bush hasn't made things as bad as 1933 or 1981, but he leaves Americans and America in worse shape than when he started. That's failure in my patriotic book.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

U2 and Obama at Lincoln Memorial -- Let Freedom Ring

U2 performs at the Lincoln Memorial, 2009.01.18 [Doug Mills, New York Times]
By the way, I'm listening to the "We Are One" Inaugural Celebration on NPR and watching the video on HBO's website. There are a lot of smiling faces braving the cold in DC for this event, but I think the four happiest men in the crowd could be U2, four Irishmen who've hopped the pond to celebrate America and cry "Let Freedom Ring." Bono belts out "Pride (in the Name of Love)" on the spot where Martin Luther King, whom the song memorializes, spoke of his dream in 1963. Even The Edge breaks out in a big grin as he wails away on the guitar in front of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial. Wouldn't you?

Can't help wondering: what would Abe Lincoln think of these Irish rockers... not to mention that skinny fella from Chicago who'll be sitting in his office in two days?

But you know, Pete Seeger, who turns 90 this year, looks pretty happy too, as he leads thousands of Americans in singing "This Land Is Your Land." I think I hear Lincoln's boot tapping.

Obama Was Here: Student Photos at SF Lincoln

While judging debate at Sioux Falls Lincoln HS this weekend, I got to hear an interp round in Room 404, which appears to be home base of the LHS Statesman. I found this wall-size reminder of why last year's long primary season was so good for South Dakota and the country:

Lincoln HS journalists Lauren Thompson and Ellen Reinecke took these excellent photos at Barack Obama's campaign rally in Sioux Falls back in May. Great work, ladies!

Thanks to the primary season going the distance, kids all around the country, all the way to here in South Dakota, got to see history. They saw and heard and shook hands with historical figures like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton.

And now, as Barack Obama prepares to swear the oath, take the reins, and lead the free world, there are that many more kids and adults for whom the President of the United States is not just a character on TV or a name in the headlines. He is a real person, whose picture they've taken, whose eyes they have met, whose hand they have grasped.

That kind of broader contact, thanks to the long primary season, was nothing but good for South Dakota and for democracy. GOP, bring us a campaign like that in 2012.