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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mexican Universal Health Coverage Working?

I love it when commenters get me thinking and reading. My suggestion yesterday that universal health coverage is a reasonable preventive response to future pandemics drew its own rash of responses, pro and con. Among them, the Palin/Rand fan Alexa drops in from D.C. for a quick round of fallacia, saying that Mexico has a universal health program, so all of my arguments are invalid.

Really? Thank you, Alexa, for getting me reading. First some logic, then some links, copied and expanded from my earlier comment:
  1. What Alexa says invalidates nothing in this post. I never claimed universal health care means no pandemics. I claim universal health care can mitigate the impact. To invalidate anything in the original post, you need to get rid of swine flu, dismantle the Mexican public health coverage system, reintroduce swine flu, and see how many people die.
  2. Mexico, with less than a third of our population and a third of our per capita GDP, passed its "Seguro Popular" program to provide public health insurance to cover catastrophic illness for 50 million citizens who lacked coverage. Citizens pay an income-based premium, with the lowest 20% of earners exempt. The program has been a smashing success at reducing catastrophic health care costs for poor families. Boy, talk about ¡Sí se puede!
  3. (New!) By the way, Mexico's universal coverage isn't universal yet: President Vicente Fox signed it into law in 2003, and it's still being expanded. Then Minister of Health Julio Frenk projected a completion date of 2010.
  4. Interestingly, Seguro Popular has not caused an increase in utilization. That might invalidate my original argument... but it also invalidates Anon's hearsay about those darn Indians (that's what Anon is thinking) and government health care causing overutilization. However, this source gives links saying Mexico has seen an increase in mammography tests and pap smears, an immense decline in tuberculosis, and an overall improvement in the quality of rural health care.
  5. Mexico's health care system has been drawing all sorts of "medical tourism" from Americans who can't afford care here. U.S. hospital chains are building facilities in Mexico to cash in on medical tourism. Not that anyone's going to fly south for an appendectomy this week... but I hope you take the point.
This point from Alexa does get me thinking: The only folks who seem interested in keeping America's patchwork private ration-by-wealth system are the rich people who don't have to worry about it, insurance companies making money off it, and folks trying to protect their ideology by ignoring evidence about it.

But what about Canada, the U.K., France, and all the other industrialized countries (remember, that's all of them except the U.S.) that have universal health coverage: If all the commenters' claims here were true (they're not, but entertain me for a moment), what would be motivating those countries to keep such atrociously ineffective systems? Whose interest in Canada is served by keeping a system that doesn't work? Who would be the nexus of political pressure that keeps such bad policy in place?

And what about Mexico? With the opposing models of the U.S. and Canada to choose from, why would Mexico move toward something more like Canada than the U.S.? Whose interest does universal health care serve?

Update 10:00 CDT: Seguro Popular has improved treatment for high blood pressure.

Let's See a Real Tea Party: Run Sibby Against Dike-Pork-Loving Thune

O.K., tea-bag memers: time to stop getting your history wrong and make some real change. Let's see a real Tea Party, a formal political machine to placce candidates on the ballot to run against Dems and the GOP.

Target #1: Senator John Thune. Robbinsdale Radical, Northern Valley Beacon, and South Dakota Watch are having merciless fun highlighting Senator John Thune's flip-flop on stimulus. First Thune seeks political points by calling it pork; then he seeks political points by criticizing the President for not sending that pork to Sioux Falls for dikes. Republican Thune is singing from exactly the same big-government hymnal as Democrats Tim Johnson and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

So, teabaggers, let's see you put your money where your tricorners and wigs are. Drop the RINO rhetoric; let the Republicans have the name. You don't want it. Organize a third party. Put someone on the ballot to run against Senator Thune and whomever the Dems field. Pick Steve Sibson to take your principles to Washington. I say this with all sincerity: Seeing Steve Sibson go toe-to-toe with John Thune on stage at DakotaFest, the State Fair, and SDPB would be a fascinating and instructive exercise in political philosophy. It would prove to me what the teabaggers have so frequently, desperately and unsuccessfully tried to prove: that the Tea Parties are something more than mostly cranky Republicans blowing smoke.

Run against the Dem incumbents as well. Run Allen Unruh to unseat SHS in the House. Or run Leslee—she's boning up on leadership; have her put those words into practice on the campaign trail. (She's always been campaigning for herself anyway: might as well give her the chance to do it for real for once.)

If the teabaggers have a coherent message and a vision for the country, let's see them put those views into real action. Neither the Dems nor the GOP will sing your tune. So form a party. Run candidates. Win elections. That's the game that matters. Let's see if you're ready to play.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Right Response to Pandemic Swine Flu: Universal Health Care

When I talk health care, some commenters complain that paying for health care through the government is really theft, forcing them to pay for other people's health problems and getting nothing in return.

So what do you get from universal health coverage? How about not dead from swine flu?

The Marketplace Morning Report just ran a commentary from Robert Reich that provoked this realization. The Berkeley prof and former Labor Secretary was simply complaining that the folks who view a possible swine flu pandemic as an economic problem are missing the point, that taking care of people always trumps concern over this abstract thing called "the economy." We simply cannot afford to have 44 million of our fellow Americans uninsured and millions more just one diagnosis or layoff away from losing their coverage, says Reich.

That triggered the connection in my head: right now we have millions of people who won't go to see a doctor because they can't afford it. Even a lot of folks with insurance are carrying high deductibles and thus are more likely to delay or skip doctor visits.

So suppose a thousand uninsured/underinsured people around the country feel under the weather. Without universal coverage, there are that many more of those folks who will look at their thin wallets and say, "Ah, it's just stress or something I ate. I'll be fine." They wait a day, or two, or three, until they're so under the weather they decide they can't wait any longer.

And during that wait, their swine flu has spread to that many more people and created that much bigger of a public health problem. Public health problem, as in impacting the entire public, every taxpayer.

I suggest that universal health coverage and the increased preventive care it would bring could be a first line of defense against pandemics. There will still be outbreaks. There will still be cranky people like me who don't like to go to the doctor even my taxes have already paid for the visit. But a health system where anyone, rich or poor, can walk into a hospital for a check-up and a prescription without incurring a sudden, unexpected expense would strengthen our ability to fight swine flu and other public health crises.

Consumer Spending Up, Everything Else Down

6.1%: That's the amount by which the U.S. GDP shrank and China's GDP grew in Q1 2009. Economists consider neither number good (remember, China scored double-digit growth for much of this decade, and they need high GDP growth to keep their burgeoning population employed and content enough to not remember Tiananmen Square).

There's an odd twist in the numbers. I keep seeing a silver lining in the recession as a healthy retreat from excessive consumption. But consumer spending actually rose 2.2% during Q1: We evidently all went out and bought more stuff this winter, but exports dropped even more (30%!), as did business spending and (check this out, tea partiers) government spending.

Come on: if the recession is going to last, I'd like to at least see the benefits of folks buying less and saving more.

Conservatives Trembling in Fear: It's in Their Genes?

Think conservatism is based on fear? Here's some science that says you might be right.

On a semi-random online research safari, I found an MIT prof who points toward a study published last Septmeber by several profs (including Douglas Oxley of UNL, Kevin Smith and John Alford of Rice, and others) who found that conservatives may be physiologically wired for fear, or at least jumpiness. A random sample of folks in Lincoln, Nebraska (maybe they got my in-laws!) found that stronger reactions to scary pictures and sudden noises correlated with "support for military spending, warrantless searches, the death penalty, the Patriot Act, obedience, patriotism, the Iraq War, school prayer and Biblical truth, and opposition to pacifism, immigration, gun control, foreign aid, compromise, premarital sex, gay marriage, abortion rights and pornography."

In their online supporting materials, the profs are careful to note they are making no normative judgment, not saying that being jumpy or conservative is good or bad. And if I'm putting a team together, I figure it's a good thing to have some folks who are sensitive to certain signals of danger.

But this is an interesting bit of psychology to understand what may motivate folks of a certain political persuasion. Perhaps it also explains my working hypothesis that conservatives need more reinforcement of their beliefs (via talk radio, blogs, etc.) than liberals. Think of it in terms of my three-year-old: when she's scared, I need to tell her things are o.k. When she's not scared, she doesn't need to hear my reassurances as much. Might the same be true of my neighbors who are predisposed toward jumpiness... and Rush Limbaugh?

So, I wonder what happens if I sneak up behind Arlen Specter and say "Boo"?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cool Numbers (and No 666 Jokes, Please)

I log on to check my RSS feed and notice the Sitemeter:

161616—that's just a cool number. Keep those cards and letters coming!

Wiken Covers TransCanada Keystone XL Winner Meeting

Winner's own Doug Wiken offers good coverage on Dakota Today of the Keystone XL pipeline meetings out West River. I highly recommend his firsthand report from the public meeting with the PUC.

TransCanada's second pipeline across our fair state will need a lot more power and a lot more land easements. If they're really as good for South Dakota and for America as their fancy TV ads claim, TransCanada will show more respect for landowner rights than they did here in East River. They'll also agree to be good neighbors, use thicker pipe, and maybe even pay their fair share to the general welfare through an enhanced pipeline tax. One can hope....

Obama: Swine Flu Shows Science Matters

President Obama's reassurances about the swine flu have been playing frequently on the news. Those comments came in an address to the National Academy of Sciences, where the President made a broader point about the importance of investing in science and education:

At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science, that support for research is somehow a luxury at moments defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before.

And if there was ever a day that reminded us of our shared stake in science and research, it's today. We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States. And this is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it's not a cause for alarm. The Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency as a precautionary tool to ensure that we have the resources we need at our disposal to respond quickly and effectively. And I'm getting regular updates on the situation from the responsible agencies. And the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control will be offering regular updates to the American people. And Secretary Napolitano will be offering regular updates to the American people, as well, so that they know what steps are being taken and what steps they may need to take.

But one thing is clear -- our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community. And this is one more example of why we can't allow our nation to fall behind.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what's happened.

Federal funding in the physical sciences as a portion of our gross domestic product has fallen by nearly half over the past quarter century. Time and again we've allowed the research and experimentation tax credit, which helps businesses grow and innovate, to lapse.

Our schools continue to trail other developed countries and, in some cases, developing countries. Our students are outperformed in math and science by their peers in Singapore, Japan, England, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and Korea, among others. Another assessment shows American 15-year-olds ranked 25th in math and 21st in science when compared to nations around the world. And we have watched as scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas [President Barack Obama, remarks at the National Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C., 2009.04.27].

Truth and flu shots both hurt. But now more than ever, we need science.

We could also use a Health and Human Services Secretary. But in the face of a public health alert, the Palin wing of the GOP is still trying to derail the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius. Priorities, anyone?

Fox Picks "Lie to Me" over President

Another reason the corporate media are inimical to democracy: the President of the United States calls a press conference in the midst of two wars, an economic recession, and a swine flu outbreak, and the broadcast networks grumble about losing ad revenue heading into sweeps month. Fox is actually bailing on this news conference, sticking with its scheduled broadcast of "Lie to Me," a show I've never heard of (but whose title will give my anti-Obama commenters fodder for amusing snarkification).

I ascribe no political motives here, nor do the analysts in the AP story. Fox will run the President's show on Fox News and Fox Business. Fox also bailed on a prime-time speech from President Bush in November 2001.

But I do note how the corporate media find themselves highly tempted to put profit over civic duty. Sometimes being a good corporate citizen—and a leader—means giving the people not what they want, but what they need. Civic affairs and politics need to be highlighted. We need to pay attention and have more conversations about the direction of our communities and our country.

Of course, one could argue that with the White House and our other elected officials able to reach us through YouTube and other wonderful Web widgets, and with 57 channels with nothing on that we can switch to, the broadcast networks are mostly irrelevant to real civic discourse. Still, for now, the TV networks command a significant portion of the public's attention with their use of our airwaves. They therefore have an obligation to focus our attention on important civic events. Sure, the economy's tough for everyone, but the networks can all afford an hour from the White House before returning to our regularly scheduled commercials.

vaguely related: Above this AP story, I see the following non-headline: "Elton John, Paul McCartney Hit Hard by Recession." Right.

Dems Acting Like Dems: Va. Gov. Candidate Pledges Work to Repeal Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Standing up for equality and inclusivity: Virginia's Brian Moran is my kind of Democrat. Of the three Democrats vying for Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial nomination in the June 9 primary, Moran is the only one who has pledged to work to repeal the state's 2006 constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage. The other Dem candidates are wetting their fingers to a conservative breeze: former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe says seeking a repeal would just be too hard; State Senator R. Creigh Deeds has said the amendment is discriminatory but made no argument against it in 2006 in the Virginia General Assembly.

So South Dakota Dems: which one of you is willing to run for office—governor, House, Senate—on a genuine Democratic platform? Which one of you will stand up against the yahoo-lery that we stuck in our state constitution in 2006 and call for a repeal of our same-sex marriage ban? Which of you will actively oppose whatever abortion nuttiness the Unruhs throw up on the ballot in 2010? Which of you will make an unapologetic pitch for a progressive tax system that ends the food tax and expands the ag land income tax to apply to the productive value of all commercial property? Your base eagerly awaits your response.

Lake County Unemployment Down from January, up from 2008

Is the unemployment line half full or half empty? Stats from the South Dakota Department of Labor indicate that Lake County had 5.3% unemployment in March. That's down from 5.5% in February and that alarming spike of 7.1% in January. Possible explanations:
Do two months a trend make? Let's hope so. We're just beating the statewide rate of 5.4%. We're hanging in pretty well compared to adjoining counties: Kingsbury, Miner, and Moody Counties are at or above 6%; McCook's at 5.6%; even well-heeled Minnehaha is at 5.1%. But note that Brookings County remains a stubborn bastion of relative prosperity at 3.3%. (John Hess's question still stands: what's university town Brookings doing right that university town Madison can't?)

But let's not get too comfy: consider that we had 355 unemployed workers in the county in March. That's 160 more workers doing without a paycheck than the March 2008 figure of 190 (2.9% unemployment). That's a 160 fewer eager shoppers pumping up the sales tax figures. That's the kind of unemployment that leads to a 60% increase in demand at the food pantry. Send those canned goods... and keep working!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Forget 34: Let's Ask Herseth Sandlin for Madison Commuter Rail!

The Madison City Commission reviews a request for transportation funding information for our Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin at tonight's meeting. The commissioners will likely focus on providing data that supports our begging and pleading for a big fat earmark to bring four lanes of freeway fun to Highway 34 between Madison and I-29.

But as I look at the Congresswoman's info request in the agenda packet (pp. 10–15), I notice the parts about rail service, both commuter rail and intercity passenger rail. Now I've heard the stimulus package puts some bucks behind catching the U.S. up with the rest of the civilized world in efficient long-distance mass transit. I've also heard some stories from old-timers around town about the good old days, as recently as the 1950s, when they could catch a train here in Madison every day to head down to Sioux Falls or other exotic locales. One gal we know said that she used to catch a train each week in Sinai (!) to go to school in Canton.

So what if (ah, my favorite phrase, right after "I love you" and "Supper time!") our commission got creative and said, "Forget Highway 34; let's get some rails!" Draw up a quick plan to upgrade the BNSF line from Madison to Sioux Falls (with stops in beautiful Wentworth, Chester, Colton, Lyons, and Crooks!). Add a spur from Wentworth to create a Madison–Brookings connection. (See South Dakota rail map here). Think of the advantages:
  1. Regular rail service replaces hundreds of car trips a day, increasing safety and reducing wear and tear on Highway 34.
  2. Hundreds of commuters can talk on their cell phones on their way to work instead of yakking while driving (more safety!).
  3. More people can read books (or the Madville Times on their Blackberries!) on the way to and from work, increasing the general intelligence.
  4. Sioux Falls gets more rail commuters and fewer small-towners driving like honyockers on the big-city streets.
  5. Commuters get healthier as they walk and ride their bikes more from the train depot to their final destinations.
  6. The Dan Roemen selling point: Madison commuters buy less stuff in Sioux Falls and more here at home, since they go to their Sioux Falls jobs with briefcases and backpacks instead of cavernous SUVs just begging for a trip to Sam's Club.
City commissioners! Now's your chance to make a real 21st-century splash. Highways are so 1990s. Let's go back to the future: ask Herseth Sandlin for a Madison–Sioux Falls commuter rail!

SDSMT Grad Student Researches Ecological Harm of Cattle Antibiotics

I just heard the 8 a.m. SDPB news update. Interesting story of the morning: Erin Dreis, a graduate student at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, is researching the impact of livestock antibiotics on the environment. The basic science at work: big ag producers pump their livestock full of antibiotics. Those antibiotics eventually come back out in livestock waste. Livestock manure makes pretty good fertilizer, so we load up that waste and spread it on crops. Those antibiotics then get into plants, which we eat right alongside the antibiotic-charged meat. The antibiotics also get into the soil and destroy some of the natural bacteria the soil needs to, among other things, break down organic matter, fix nitrogen, and keep roots healthy. In the soil, in pants, in critters, in us—those antibiotics thus cycle through the entire ecosystem, fostering the evolution of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Of course, we wouldn't need to dope up our livestock nearly so much if we raised them in healthy conditions, like open pastures. But when you crowd cows, pigs, and chickens into factory farms, you create a haven for disease... and ag dependence on antibiotics.

Pass the steak... but hold the penicillin... and the superbugs.

Music to Pat Powers' Ears: Jerstad Can't Do Math

KELO has some fun administering the math portion of Minnesota's GRAD test to some locals. I have some fun putting on my Pat Powers costume and fingering the mainstream media's clear liberal bias: while KELO announces the exact scores of Lincoln HS math and physics teacher Dan Conrad (perfect!), Lincoln HS junior Matt Olson (one wrong! wunderkind!), and KELO meteorologist Scot Mundt (11 wrong, but still passing—and probably done while extrapolating five different precip models), it withholds the scores of artist Terri Schuver and Democratic State Senator Sandy Jerstad. KELO notes only that Schuver and Jerstad didn't complete the test.

Come on, KELO: don't shield a public official from scrutiny! Post the numbers!

Political kidding aside, Minnesota is requiring all of its high school juniors to pass this test to graduate. That two adult professionals, including Jerstad, a retired college professor, cannot complete the math portion suggests that such tests are a silly way to measure how prepared high school students are for real-world work and problem solving.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Proposed Christian Women's House Violates SD Rental Law?

Thursday's print MDL gives front-page coverage to what looks like obvious housing discrimination. Mary Hunter of Madison and Tom Christopherson of Sioux Falls bought the old Trinity Lutheran parsonage last September. They lived in the house while their dad, James Christopherson, was pastor at Trinity in the 1970's and '80's. Hunter and Christopherson tell MDL's cub reporter Danny Andrews they plan to rent the house out to college-aged Christian women:

"We want to keep its heritage of a family house," Hunter said, adding that she hopes the women who live there to be [sic] "a sisterhood of believers."

..."I hope this house will be able to... [m]aintain that sense of a Christian home, a Christian community," [Christopherson] said [Danny Andrews, "Family Home Finds New Life as College Student Housing," Madison Daily Leader, 2009.04.23, pp. 1–2].

Andrews fails to ask the landlords about SDCL 20-13-20, South Dakota's discriminatory housing statute (emphasis mine):

20-13-20. Unfair or discriminatory housing practices by owner or agent. It is an unfair or discriminatory practice for any owner of rights to housing or real property, or any person acting for an owner, with or without compensation, including any person licensed as a real estate broker or salesman, attorney, auctioneer, agent, or representative by power of attorney or appointment, or to any person acting under court order, deed of trust, or will:
  1. To refuse to sell, rent, lease, assign, sublease, or otherwise transfer any real property or housing accommodation or part, portion, or interest therein, to any person because of the race, color, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, disability, familial status, or national origin of the person or persons intending to reside there;
  2. To discriminate against any person because of that person's race, color, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, disability, familial status, or national origin, in the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale, rental, lease, assignment, sublease, or other transfer of any real property or housing accommodation or any part, portion, or interest therein;
  3. To directly or indirectly advertise, or to indicate or publicize in any other manner that the purchase, rental, lease, assignment, sublease, or other transfer of any real property or housing accommodation or any part, portion or interest therein, by persons of any particular race, color, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, disability, familial status, or national origin, is unwelcome, objectionable, not acceptable, or not solicited;
  4. To refuse to permit, at the expense of the disabled person, reasonable modifications of existing property that may be necessary to afford full enjoyment of property. The landlord may, where it is reasonable to do so, condition permission for a modification on the renter's agreeing to restore the premises to the condition that existed prior to the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted.
The provisions of subdivisions (1), (2), and (4) do not apply to rooms or units in dwellings that contain living quarters for no more than two families living independently of each other, if the owner maintains and occupies one of the living quarters as the owner's residence.

This section does not apply to dormitory residences maintained by public or private schools, colleges, and universities for the educational benefit and convenience of unmarried students or to dwellings occupied by fraternities or sororities officially recognized by such institutions. Nothing in this statute may be construed to displace federal, state, or local guidelines setting reasonable standards governing maximum numbers of occupants.

Welcome to the rental business, Tom and Mary. If you're renting this house, you can't even ask renters if they go to church (or even, in case of skinny applicants with short hair, whether they are female). The statements made by Hunter and Christopherson in Mary's husband's own newspaper might trigger this statute: a front-page news story with the subhead "Parsonage to be rented to Christian women from DSU" pretty clearly indicates and publicizes that rental by persons of one particular sex and most particular religions is not solicited.

Hunter and Christopherson refer to their positive experiences in themed housing at St. Olaf College. They're right: living in such intentional communities with folks of shared interests can be a great experience for college students. I certainly find living with a Christian woman to be a rewarding experience... although that might be a better argument for mixed housing.

Some dedicated Christian women's housing would be a nice way to carry on the spiritual tradition of the old Trinity parsonage. Maybe there is an arrangement by which Hunter and Christopherson can make their plan work. Maybe they can recruit some DSU ladies to start South Dakota's first Alpha Delta Chi chapter. But as it stands, unless I'm missing something (and if I am, I know you loyal readers will fill me in), you can't just up and rent your house exclusively to Christians, or women, any more than I could rent our Lake Herman guest cabin exclusively to atheists (not that I can find any around here).

Spearfish Subsidizes Downtown Movies

The Spearfish City Council made an interesting nod toward the importance of the arts and downtown development last week. At their April 20 meeting, the city approved the Spearfish Arts Center's request for $13,000 to purchase a film screen and projection system for the Matthews Opera House. SAC exec Debora Smoot tells RCJ that the equipment will allow the group to host film festivals as well as show old-time movies, documentaries, and other non-big-release productions for the community and visitors. The downtown moviehouse idea has been in the works for years, but got a kick in the pants from tour companies calling to ask what Spearfish was going to replacce the now-closed Passion Play with.

Spearfish recognizes as well as any town in South Dakota that public investment in the arts brings a good return, culturally and often financially. Perhaps Madison and the LAIC should take note: what better way to start a lasting downtown renovation than converting the vacant Masons' building into a downtown movie theater?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

James "Doc" Miller Retires from MHS Theater

originally posted at RealMadison.org!

I rolled a car once. Green 1964 VW Bug—well-shaped for rolling. Took a curve fast, caught a patch of gravel, spun, ditched, rolled. The car landed on its side. Seeing sparks as the battery tumbled out of the back seat, I leapt out the broken driver's side window and ran across the road, expecting a Hollywood explosion. When nothing went boom, the very next thought in my head was, "Doc's gonna be mad."

Doc? Doc Miller. James R. Miller, retiring director of Madison High School Theater. It was December, 1986, and Doc had just cast me, a volatile sophomore, in a significant role in the one-act contest play. His exhortation to the lucky ten on the cast list: "Stay healthy!" Getting in a car wreck did not constitute staying healthy.

I crash my worthy Bug, and my first thought is about putting the show at risk and letting down my director and my fellow actors. That demonstrates the extent to which Doc Miller inspired us to take theater seriously.

I was in seven plays with Doc. For three winters and four springs, my sense of time was defined by play rehearsals. One-act meant 6:30 a.m. rehearsal in the dead of winter. Spring play meant 7:00 p.m. rehearsal, usually for three hours, sometimes longer. No one came late (or they paid a nickel a minute if they did). In those wonderful days before cell phones and texting and obsessive connectivity, we immersed ourselves in the show. Doc drilled professionalism into us so much that, during our senior year show, Snoopy, my girlfriend Tricia wanted to come backstage and say hi during intermission, and I told the assistant director to send her away. I was in character and couldn't be distracted, even by the cutest Madison girl I ever dated.

Doc drove us hard. We learned our lines, our notes, our blocking. We learned you never, ever, ever break character. We learned that everyone in the audience, especially the little granny with her failing hearing aids in the back row, deserves to hear every word in the show.

We learned that the show is bigger than any one of us: the show exists for the audience and the community, not the players. One moment when Doc helped us understand that came in April 1988, when we were rehearsing Godspell. We come to the Last Supper, where the show makes its final turn from lightness and fun to real drama. There I am, Jesus, handing out the bread and wine and saying goodbye to the disciples. Nancy Edwards is leading Chris Beyer and the pit band in "On the Willows." After a month of read-throughs, blocking, and struggling, one of those magical theater moments happens: everyone of us—Denise, Meredith, Michell, Amie, Chris, the whole crew—realizes the profundity of the moment we are enacting. To the extent teenagers can understand that historical and spiritual moment, we understand it. We live it. And our only audience is Doc and our tech people.

The tears flow, we get lost in the emotion. As teenagers are wont to do, there was no small amount of "Oh, look at us! We're all emotional, so we must be real actors now" going through our heads. When Doc spoke to us (and I can't recall for sure whether he waited until notes at the end or if he had to speak to us right after that scene, if we needed a minute or two to collect ourselves), he channeled that emotion in the right direction. He told us that real emotion was great, but that we couldn't let it control us; we had to control the eomtion, make it do what we wanted. Feeling that emotion ourselves wasn't the sign of good acting; our job as actors was to make the audience feel it, fresh and new every time, even though we would have felt it over and over in rehearsal. Real actors do the work to serve the audience, to give the audience the tears and the joy that theater can create. That's what we learned from Doc.

When he directed me, Doc Miller was in the first half of his career, working wonders in a poorly designed auditorium with a sound and light system that has delivered more jolts than South Dakota's electric chair. He was surrounded by a cluster of dedicated artists on the MHS staff. Nancy Edwards directed two big choirs helped Doc with three musicals in four years. Eric Haenfler was leading the Madison HS band. Jill Frederick was teaching six art classes. Gail Means led her teams to every interp and debate tournament on the calendar. They were all intense, passionate about what they were doing, and their intensity drove students, including a number of kids from whom you might not have expected it, to create real art worthy of something a little better than polite applause from our parents.

Now Doc has directed over 70 shows, 70 different groups of kids who have earned something more than polite applause. 21 of those casts have earned State Superior One-Act awards. And perhaps the most important thing Doc taught all of those casts was that the show is their baby. When showtime comes, Doc can do nothing but stand in the back of the house and pray. There's no calling a timeout, changing the defense, or substituting the second string. The director steps aside, and the show belongs to the kids, who have one shot to make two months of rehearsals pay off. Doc's directing has always given students an incomparable lesson in personal responsibility.

Even in Doc's relatively early days when I was in MHS Theater, Doc would often say he was done doing big shows. He would vow that his next show would be The Creation of the World, featuring two actors, a ladder, and a snake. But he kept coming back with big shows, finding room for every student who was willing to do the work on stage, in the chorus, and on the tech crew. He wanted every student to have the chance to experience theater, learn that awesome responsibility, and serve the community through art.

And now that directing is done. Doc's kids have served the community one more time, with two presentations of The Trial of the Big Bad Wolf, a fine finale for the children of the community. Doc oversaw one last set strike last night and turned the kids loose. It's not a sad moment. Doc leaves the director's seat by choice, knowing he has another dedicated director, Ms. Anne Elisa Brown, to whom to pass the clipboard. He leaves knowing he has done great work for much longer than most people stick with any single job. And he'll still be in the classroom, teaching the most challenging English courses at MHS. He'll just have a little more time outside the classroom to enjoy his family, friends, and great books.

When I asked Doc about his retirement when it hit the school board agenda a couple weeks ago, he said he didn't want any hoopla. I can respect that. When you're directing a show, you have all the drama you need up on the stage. You don't need any foolishness to distract from the show.

But now, with the set struck, the stage swept, and the kids all sleeping in from the cast party, I'm happy to pay my respects in writing (a risky thing to do when praising a great English teacher).

Doc, you made an impression on me. When I directed plays at Montrose, every direction I gave could be traced back to guidance you gave me on the Madison stage. When I think about good pedagogy (recall the Greek etymology, leadership of children), I think about your directing, as well as your classroom. You held your actors to high standards. You drove them hard, though never harder than you were willing to drive yourself. You laughed enthusiastically, critiqued vigorously, occasionally blew your stack. You got emotional with us... and that's o.k., because emotion shows that what you're doing matters. You showed us theater was worth getting emotional about, and you showed us how to control that emotion and turn it into pretty good art.

Thank you, Doc, for not blowing your stack after I rolled the Bug... and for scaring me enough to think you would. Thank you for teaching us well, and for serving the community.

Powers: Sec. Nelson Makes Congressional Noise

The well-connected South Dakota War College scoops everybody but the folks at dinner in Lawrence County last night, where Secretary of State Chris Nelson told Lincoln Day diners (and donors) that he's exploring a run for South Dakota's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

My first impression is that a lot of Republicans just said, "Hallelujah!" and "Pass the hat!" (Chris! Better reactivate that "Donate" link on your webpage!)

If our current Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin chooses to run for reëlection, there are two kinds of Republicans who can beat her: a big Bill Janklow brawler, or someone who can go toe-to-toe with SHS on nice. Secretary Nelson is the latter. He's a darn good public official who has interacted with probably every local party official in the state (that's where some of that name recognition Pat Powers mentions comes from). By every appearance, he's run a tight and honest ship in Pierre.

And as far as I know, Nelson has never engaged in the partisan yahoo-lery that has made previous GOP Congressional contenders like Joel Dykstra and Bruce Whalen such easy targets. Nelson hasn't even triggered my Chamber of Commerce crony-capitalism alarm. He's even been on top of moving campaign finance and election records online. How am I supposed to find good blog tomatoes to throw at a guy who gives us those awesome election night online maps?

Again, there's plenty of time. Secretary Nelson, have fun exploring. Let's hope he can energize the base without turning into Sibby or Allen Unruh.

Friday, April 24, 2009

New Fortune 500: North Dakota 1, South Dakota 0

In response to the argument that South Dakota's low-tax environment is great for business, I often ask why we don't have any Fortune 500 companies headquartered here.

Well, the new 2009 Fortune 500 list is out, and MDU Resources has joined the list at #479.

MDU Resources of Bismarck, North Dakota... where they have corporate and individual income tax. Grrr... socialists have all the luck.

South Dakota did make the Fortune 1000 with one company at #701: VeraSun... which is now bankrupt and bought by Texans.

Hey, SD Dems: Show Your Leadership; Don't Wait for Herseth Sandlin

Hog House Blog gives us the straight dope from Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin on her political intentions for 2010. Short form: she's got better things to worry about right now (like fighting for South Dakota in Congress, taking care of a new baby, and getting some new-mom sleep!) than deciding what campaign if any she will wage in 2010.

On the angst state Democrats may feel over not being able to start their own campaigns until they know which way Herseth Sandlin will run, our Congresswoman says, essentially, nuts to that:

There’s plenty of time for me or anyone else to make a decision. … Those individuals who’ve expessed interest are already taking steps in the event I decide not to run for governor, to put operations in place, to let their work and ideas be known among South Dakota voters. The fact that I haven’t made a decision isn’t holding anyone else from taking those initial steps [Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, press conference call, 2009.04.23].

Sounds like something I said last month over in Todd Epp's neighborhood:

I know, I know, pragmatics like fundraising matter. But the idealist in me still wishes SHS could do nothing but her current job for a whole nother year, then announce next March what, if anything, she wants to run for next.

And in the meantime, fellow Dems, if you really want to run, saddle up! There is no one Democrat who gets to tell the rest of us what seats to run for. Show your moxie, start that fundraising! [CAH, comment to Todd Epp, "Stephanie Does What's Best for Stephanie," South Dakota Watch, 2009.03.27]

Pony up, Dems. Our party should not be dominated by any one political figure. Perhaps the first real test of leadership among the possible Democratic candidates for high South Dakota office in 2010 will be jumping in the ring without waiting to see what Herseth Sandlin does. If all the Dems in the chute (we have some, don't we?) are so timid that they won't dip a toe in the water until SHS dives in, well, then maybe we'll deserve another whoopin'.

But let's not fret too much. SHS is still signaling a decision by the end of the summer. That still strikes me as absurdly early; next March would be fine with me. But this coming September should still be plenty of time for other Dems to look up from their day jobs and pick something to run for.

Rural Broadband + Education = Jobs

Thursday's Washington Post poses the "Rural Riddle: Do Jobs Follow Broadband Access?" Cecilia Kang's article offers a reasonable comparison of two small towns, Lebanon and Rose Hill, both in southwest Virginia. Both towns have recently gotten high-speed Internet. Politicians helped Lebanon land $2.3 million in grants three years ago to lay super-fast fiber-optic cable to homes and businesses. 92 miles away, Rose Hill got $700K of government money two years ago for similar broadband infrastructure.

The results: Lebanon hit the employer jackpot, with Northrup Grumman and CGI creating 700 new jobs averaging $50K annual salaries. (Think Eagle Creek and then some.) Rose Hill has seen a "handful" of new jobs but no big influx of employers.

The difference: population and education. Both towns are "hamlets" from the Washington Post perspective, but from the South Dakota urban development perspective, Lebanon has a whopping 3272 residents (that's like Howard and Flandreau put together), while Rose Hill is less than a fourth that size at 714 (that's Colman and lots of company). A bigger workforce means bigger recruiting potential.

But more crucial, I'd argue, are the education levels of those workforces. Kang notes that 71% of Lebanon's residents have high school diplomas. Only 29% of Rose Hill's residents have that august piece of paper. Plus, when the broadband lines came to town, Lebanon set up a training center to help people get their GEDs and some IT skills that employers would look for.

Rose Hill is still seeing some benefits: one grant-writer can work from home; the NAPA guy uses online shopping to get better prices on parts for his customers. But if you want to supercharge your local economy, you've got to couple high-tech with high-quality education.

Downs Requests Recount in Madison Commission Vote

Myron, Myron, Myron. I was almost positive Myron Downs would take his seven-vote loss to Nick Abraham and let things be. But yesterday Myron exercised his democratic prerogative and requested a recount, which will take place at City Hall next Friday, May 1, 9 a.m.

Don't expect the city to break out the deck of cards this time. Last year, in an election with twice the turnout, a recount dredged up just one more (questionable) ballot for Scott Delzer. For Downs to stand a chance, City Finance Officer Jeff Heinemeyer will have to find at least seven uncounted ballots or flip four ballots from Abraham's column to Downs's. It doesn't seem likely.

I do not begrudge Myron his legal rights. But a recount reminds us of the statistical error inherent in all of our democratic processes. A recount is just another spin of the wheel, as subject to error as the first count. A more reliable method would be to count the ballots a hundred times and take the average result. But that would be impractically expensive, so we accept our election officials' best effort and get back to work.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

TIF District at Work: Duff's New House on KELO

Your tax dollars at work: Rita Duff's new house in the TIF district gets some KELO coverage:

But wait a minute: Forward Madison is using this project to grow the population? I know Rita; she's a Madison girl. We're keeping population, which is great... but growing? Is Dwaine giving us more LAIC-speak?

Oh well, I guess if it ain't negative, it's positive. Now, how about those sidewalks?

New South Dakota Local Foods Directory Hits Shelves

Get yourself some home-cooking... or at least some neighborhood cooking! Dakota Rural Action has just put out the mighty second edition of its South Dakota Local Foods Directory. Toss out that salsa from New York City; get some real South Dakota chow in your system.

Pickings are still slim in Lake County, with only two local producers listed:
...but don't forget the farmers market starting in July. We anticipate some more vendors this year, as the recession may inspire more folks to plant the back 40 (40 square feet, that is) to tomatoes, cukes, and other goodies to supplement the income or at least cut the grocery bill.

And my random yummy pick: if you pay the Flying Tomato Farms a visit, you might also want to swing by Vermillion's R-Pizza: dough and sauce made from scratch, local produce used as often as the season allows... that sounds good!

Public Health Care: It's Civilization, Not Socialism

That headline comes from a European commenter to this NYTimes story about Jake Walker, 21-year-old testicular cancer survivor, who can't get good health insurance. The treatment that has kept him alive has cost $2 million. The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center that saved his life is telling his family that if they can't pay up front, they'd better take their business elsewhere. His mom got laid off in October. His folks skipped a house payment and begged the power company for an extension to scrape together the money for a short-term policy through Oklahoma State U.

We Americans have the resources to treat each other better. Do we have the decency? Or do we really believe that it's more important to prove Europe and Dennis Kucinich wrong than to save a life?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Local Stimulus: Citywide TIF for Sidewalks!

Your tax dollars at work: the first completed garage in Madison's TIF district at South Grant Avenue and soon-to-be-named Silver Street. Includes attached house out back.
Stick with me on this one; it all leads to a darn good idea!

An eager reader forwards an invitation from the Madison Chamber of Commerce to an open house Thursday (tomorrow!) from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the first completed home in Madison's tax increment finance (TIF) district. I would imagine developer Randy Schaefer will be there, along with the Lake Area Improvement Corporation officials who have been instrumental in moving the TIF project forward.

I don't know how open the open house is*, but I would think that Schaefer and the LAIC would be happy to have you all drop by, whether you are Chamber members or not, so they could thank you personally for making this successful project possible. After all, without Madison's willingness as a community to take on the debt burden to cover the infrastructure costs for this development, and without your collective willingness to forego the increased tax revenues from the development to pay off that debt rather than to fund other public projects, the Silver Creek Circle development would still be just a pile of dirt. Instead we have two nice garages (with houses out back) and more surely to come.

So with our first TIF district already showing signs of paying off, I got to wondering if another TIF might be good for the city. Should we wangle another TIF to reduce costs for another developer and boost more housing? Or is there some other critical public need that a TIF might serve?
SE 4th Street, south side: no continuous sidewalk!
And then it hit me: sidewalks. The TIF district doesn't have them yet (got to get all the other work done first). But neither does the south side of Southeast 4th Street, the main thoroughfare Silver Creek Circle residents will proudly stroll every day on their way to pick up a pizza at Casey's. Neither do a number of streets all over Madison.

The city commission has a timetable for getting sidewalks implemented one street and neighborhood at a time. They did a little along Division Avenue last year; I think some streets between campus and the high school are due this year.

But why dink around? Why not get every street in Madison sidewalked up right now, this summer, right when there are a lot of unemployed folks who could use some work?

Declare the whole darn town a Sidewalk Tax Increment Finance district—a STIF!

No, really, I'm serious. Have the city float the loan for building every inch of sidewalk that remains to be built in Madison. The city makes the funds available to homeowners, with STIF money covering the full cost if you hire locally or do it yourself and half the cost if you hire out-of-towners (those figures are negotiable). The construction guys in town go ape hiring workers to dig and pour and trowel all summer long. Unemployment drops to 1%, at least for a few months. We pay off the STIF loan with the increased property tax revenue that will come from those newly sidewalked and thus more valuable properties all over town.

Plus, everyone in Madison walks more, lives longer... and works up a bigger appetite for DQ Blizzards!

STIF Districts: local economic stimulus, long-term infrastructure, lower costs for homeowners... this is the best dang plan I've come up with this year! Someone call Commissioner-Elect Abraham! He'll eat this up!

Update 18:50 CDT: Sure enough, it's open to the public, or so I'd assume from Elisa Sand's article in tonight's MDL. 4:00–6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 23, 530 "Silver Creek Circle"—drop in, shake hands, and tell Jason and Corey good work on the building!

Secretary LaHood Gives Us the Bird (Data)

...sorry, couldn't resist!

Another small step for government transparency: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he'll overrrule the Federal Aviation Administration's plan to keep bird-plane collision data secret. The FAA tried to sneak this rule by, but public comments on the proposal ran 5 to 1 against.

This one's a no-brainer. The government has data on public safety hazards. Citizens have a right to know about such hazards. The data should be open, period. And if that data might discourage travelers from using some airports, perhaps that will simply motivate some airports to improve their bird-safety measures... or open up more special goose seasons. Either way, the public wins.

Government Is Not a Dirty Word

Professor Schaaf makes a welcome visit to the blogosphere with some reasonable comments about the value of local government as the incubators of citizenship.

Is it any wonder that as our government and economy have succumbed to ever increasing centralization, that the feelings of inefficacy and the inevitable apathy that follows have risen? The notion that our lives are governed by impersonal forces beyond our control has taken hold in many minds, and has done so with considerable justification. It is in these "inefficient" local governments, city councils, county boards, school boards, etc., that the habits of citizenship are cultivated. To eliminate them is to be penny wise and citizenship foolish [Jon Schaaf, "Brokaw, Consolidation, and the Decline of Citizenship," South Dakota Politics, 2009.04.21].

There might be a little chicken-and-egg here, or at least a feedback loop: centralization of power may indeed make folks feel disenfranchised and apathetic... but disenfranchisement and apathy also lead to weaker local governments and leave the door open for the few remaining passionate citizens to consolidate their power at the higher levels.

We do need more citizens to aspire to service in government, to see political participation as a noble and patriotic endeavor. But might the standard Republican line that government is the problem, not the solution, be part of the lack of enthusiasm for local politics?

I recall going door-to-door during last year's school board election and having one citizen respond to my pitch with one sentence: "I hate politicians." With an attitude like that, how do you get people to run for the school board or come to city commission meetings? If politics and government are made into dirty words, how can we even start the conversation necessary to find political solutions and make government work better?

I agree with Dr. Schaaf that local government is vital. Some problems are too big for one town or school board or sanitary district to solve, but when we can keep decisions local, we get results better tuned to unique local conditions. Local government is homemade government: not as fancy, but more meaningful, something we can take more pride in.

But to encourage that sense of local civic pride, we should challenge the notion that government is some evil, foreign entity and recognize that the government is what we make it... or what we let it be in our apathy. Like it or not, the government is us.

A new Gallup poll finds 55% of Americans see "big government" as the biggest threat to the country. 32% say "big business"; 10% say "big labor". Looks like I still have some work to do....

Tea Party Rouses "Silent Majority"? 61% Say Taxes Fair

Dakota Voice (where a surprising percentage of the articles are written by people not from either Dakota) toots a Rasmussen Reports survey that finds 51% of Americans ("most"!) view last week's anti-tax, anti-Obama, anti-evolution, anti-socialism, anti-practical-policy Tea Parties favorably (yes, I'm para-para-paraphrasing). The Tea Parties get the thumbs down from a meager 33% (socialists all, Dakota Voice assures himself and his nervous readers).

Now really, I'm surprised the favorable number was only 51%. Who can have a beef with a pleasant little tea party in the park? I'll bet half of the opposition came from brutish folks who think tea is for sissies. Expect rebranding to "Coffee Parties"—for all you hard-charging, caffeinated patriots!—for the next wave of protests. Or why not "Beer Parties"? They could cut into the Obama youth vote!

But I digress.

Here are some other numbers that really puzzle: a Gallup poll finds 61% (an even bigger most!) of Americans say the income taxes they pay are fair. Gallup attributes this to patriotism: when the country's at war (will we ever again not be?), Americans historically see paying taxes more as their red-white-and-blue duty than as an unfair burden.

Gallup also finds the number of Americans who say the federal income taxes they pay are "about right" surpassing the number who say their taxes are "too high," a statistical crossing that has happened only once before in the 53 years Gallup has asked this question. Bad news for the teabaggers here: their outrage isn't playing with the majority, either by income range or party affiliation. The number of low- and middle-income people who their federal income tax is "about right" grew to slim majorities from last year. The only folks who say their taxes are too high are wealthy folks (well, those making over $75K) and Republicans.

Read that again: the biggest complainers about taxes are those who can most afford taxes. The teabaggers claim a "Silent Majority," but these numbers suggest the real silent majority might be better characterized as working-class folks who think their taxes are fine (and notice the 6% of low-income folks who say their taxes are too low). At the very least, the teabaggers have a long re-education campaign ahead.

p.s.: Rasmussen also finds 86% of respondents paying at least some attention to the Tea Parties in the news; that's pretty good for a story Tea Party organizers, fueling their persecution narrative, say was ignored by the mainstream media.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Can't Afford Hawaii? Relax in South Dakota!

South Dakota Tourism has to jump on this one: according to a massive CDC study (2.4 million adults surveyed from 1993 to 2001 and 2003 to 2006), South Dakota has the second-lowest stress level in the country. Only 6.7% of South Dakotans report "frequent mental distress." Hawaii's residents are just a snudge less stressful, with 6.6% reporting such distress. Need to get away from it all? Skip the airfare to the Big Island; drive to South Dakota and relax at Lake Herman State Park!

But as we interpret the CDC study, remember, we're South Dakotans: all the Germans and Swedes and Lutherans among us wouldn't tell you if they were stressed.

Of course, South Dakota also has one of the highest rates of binge-drinking in the nation. Apparently the folks whose stress drives them to drink were too drunk or hungover to respond to the CDC survey.

Why I'm Glad I'm Not Black in Madison

The Madison Daily Leader reports a brazen, broad-daylight burglary and minor beating in our fair city. Saturday afternoon, a fella comes to someone's door, asks for help, gets let in, then shoves the resident to the floor and swipes money and jewelry.

The description offered by Chief Pulford: black male, 6'4", 150–200 pounds, dressed all in black.

Hm... skinny 6'4" black man in Madison. First thing I think: Shouldn't be hard to find him. My guess is that there might be two guys in town who fit that description. (But 150 pounds? I'm 5'10" and 150 pounds, and people think I'm skinny. Stretch that weight out across 6'4", and you have a guy who's probably not healthy enough to knock anyone to the floor.)

So now for the next few days, folks who've heard about Saturday's assault will look at every black male in town as a possible suspect...

...though I wonder: is that any different from how our African-American residents feel viewed around town any other time of the year?

Update 2009.04.22 08:05 CDT: Busted! KJAM reports Madison police have arrested 19-year-old Christian McMillian, formerly of Las Vegas. Evidently lots of neighbors called in with information. Now let's see the evidence....

Thank You, Sir, May I Please Have Another!

The inimitably irascible Dr. Newquist takes a photographic turn and points us toward a gallery of pix by White House photographer Pete Souza from President Obama's just-completed trip to Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago for the Organization of American States meeting. The best shot for Web fun:

Cricket legend Brian Lara instructs President Obama in how to give the GOP another whoopin' in 2012.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cybersecurity Act of 2009 Seeks Internet Shut-off Switch for President

U.S. Senate Bill 773, the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, offers several sensible responses to the real risks we face from foreign powers or terrorists who might attack us with hackers rather than nukes. Standards for cybersecurity professionals, regional cybersecurity centers to help small businesses (do I smell bacon for DSU?)... mostly sensible stuff. Mostly.

You can read the offical version of the bill at the U.S. Congress, but I recommend the OpenCongress.org version, where you can read and submit comments on specific portions of the bill with your fellow citizens. That capacity for interactivity and alternative voices is exactly why I don't like Section 18, Clause 2 of S. 773, which gives the President the following power:

...may declare a cybersecurity emergency and order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from any compromised Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network.

When planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the President grounded all U.S. air travel. I can imagine a similar emergency where the best way to stop a cyber attack from doing more damage would be to shut down big chunks of the Internet, if not the whole thing. But would a massive shutdown of the Internet be the right response to a serious cyber attack? Shutting down Internet access would be much more immediately damaging to the U.S. economy than shutting down air travel, and that's exactly the kind of damage cyberattackers likely want to inflict.

What makes me more uneasy is the lack of definition of "cybersecurity emergency" and the breadth of the definition of "critical infrastructure." Basically, the President would have broad discretion to declare any situation an emergency and shut down any "state, local, and nongovernmental information systems and networks." This vagueness and breadth gives the President the power to shut down the most effective communications medium available to the alternative press and dissenters who might seek to challenge the government's version of the facts about an emergency or even organize (via blog, Facebook, etc.) rallies, tea parties, or other reponses to improper government action.

Even with a President I trust, I want clearer language in the bill to protect civil liberties. The bill has some civil liberties language (here, too), but the emergency powers are still too Big Brother for my taste. Perhaps Senator Thune or Senator Johnson can do us the favor or introducing an appropriate amendment (at least a definition, if not a move to strike) to protect online alternative press and dissent, even in times of crisis.

Conscience or Crony? SDSU's Chicoine Joins Monsanto Board

As I catch up with a week's worth of local papers, I read that SDSU president Dr. David Chicoine has been appointed to the Monsanto board of directors. Dr. Chicoine joins executives from such august firms as McDonald's, Edward Jones, and Lockheed Martin.

Oddly missing from the bridge crew of this particular dreadnought of the vast ag-industrial complex: any directors with apparent background in public food policy, local sustainability, or environmental issues.

The Monsanto news release says that Dr. Chicoine will serve on two committees: Science & Technology, and Public Policy & Corporate Resposibility. I'd like to think that Dr. Chicoine could bring a healthy perspective as an academic and a South Dakotan on the importance of supporting small independent farms, organic farming techniques, and crop diversity. However, I suspect you don't get on the Monsanto board without being a believer the family-farm-killing, bigger-is-better corporate mindset. Dr. Chicoine, feel free to surprise me.

Sibby: Jerry Prostrollo a Fascist?

I think Steve Sibson just called Jerry Prostrollo a fascist:

The key element of the GOP’s fascist agenda is economic development programs that create public-private partnerships. The result is taxpayers’ money is used to pit community against community to attract business. The end result is higher profits to the business owners, and less money in the citizens pockets to buy what the business owners sell. The Governor is now honoring the movement... [Steve Sibson, "South Dakotans Honored for Supporting Fascist Agenda," SibbyOnline, 2009.04.17].

Sibson then quotes from the Madison Daily Leader's coverage of Governor Rounds's selection of Madison's Jerry Prostrollo for the Excellence in Economic Development Award.

I am at least heartened to see Mr. Sibson's equanimity in branding everyone he disagrees with fascists. I can even agree that there are some problems with the zero-sum game of pitting town against town for economic development. Consolidating wealth in the hands of owners while decreasing the puchasing power of labor... dang, Sibby! If I didn't know better, I'd say that's a Marxist critique.

Sibby and I both welcome your comments.

Getting What We Pay For: Failing More of Our Kids

A reader asks my opinion on the "bleak" future of High Plains Tech, the current incarnation of AIM High. Superintendent Vince Schaefer told the Madison Central school board last week that the state and federal funds are drying up, and we apparently can't sustain the program on our own, which means we'll be sending a number of cranky 17- and 18-year-olds back to the regular high school classroom to serve out their legislatively imposed sentence (which Russell Olson voted for, by the way).

I feel some ambivalence here. On the one hand, some kids just don't succeed in the traditional high school setting. Beating them over the head with the same approach every day is mostly futile. But if South Dakota doesn't have a constitutional obligation to maintain separate schools for Hutterites, what obligation does it have to maintain separate schools for other students are unable or unwilling to make progress in the standard educational setting offered by the taxpayers?

In response to a question about AIM High during last year's school board campaign, I said that we have to be open to all possibilities and look for the best solution for all students. The best thing for all students would be to provide one-on-one instruction in a comfortable, free-flowing setting, preferably with lots of windows, where each student has significant freedom to pursue her own interests at her own pace. Alas, we don't have the resources to ten-tuple our teaching staff (that's a conservative estimate) and demolish the current high school building to make room for building an open, modern learning center from scratch. We could disband the K-12 public education system, use the state education budget to build a statewide wireless Internet hotspot based on the existing K-12 network, and provide curriculum and tutors online to support statewide home school... but with both parents working in 70-plus percent of South Dakota households, we don't have the workforce for that, either.

We are thus stuck with the assembly-line, mass-production model of education: run all the kids through the same curriculum, the same graduation requirements, the same standardized tests, the same regimented daily and semesterly schedule. Legislators and voters apparently don't trust our teachers and administrators with the resources it would take to do any more. We get what we pay for: cookie-cutter education that fails to meet the needs of ever more students.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Am I Buggin' You? I Don't Mean to Bug Ya."

Brother Bono gives the sermon this morning:

So much of the discussion today is about value, not values. Aid well spent can be an example of both, values and value for money. Providing AIDS medication to just under four million people, putting in place modest measures to improve maternal health, eradicating killer pests like malaria and rotoviruses — all these provide a leg up on the climb to self-sufficiency, all these can help us make friends in a world quick to enmity. It’s not alms, it’s investment. It’s not charity, it’s justice [Bono, "It's 2009. Do You Know Where Your Soul Is?" New York Times, 2009.04.19].

He also says something about the non-religious (I know one or two of them) and the capacity to fight for justice: "Not all soul music comes from the church."

O.K., Edge, play the blues.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Odens Shooting Shows Social Costs of Alcohol

When I first heard about the shooting of Bradley Odens up in Brookings, I thought, "Well, that's what you get for breaking into houses." Brookings County States Attorney Clyde Calhoon appears to agree, as he has declined to press charges for what he has deemed a justified killing.

As I read a little more about Odens, I'm inclined to see this incident less in terms of manly justice and more in terms of just plain sadness. Odens wasn't a thug; he was drunk. He was a typical college kid. He sang in the SDSU Concert Choir. He wanted to combine music somehow with his electronic engineering major. He looked like Abraham Lincoln, his friends say, and on a choir trip to D.C., he bought a top hat on a whim and did impromptu impersonations of the 16th President.

And he's dead now, because he went drinking, drank so much that he couldn't recognize his own house.

Grim irony: at a benefit scheduled for today to help the Odens family cover funeral costs, well-wishers can pay $10 for unlimited drinks from the beer kegs. We celebrate a life by saying, "Drink all you want!" which is exactly why we lost that life.

I can't help thinking that if Odens had just been on a bender with pot and come stumbling up to the wrong front step, he'd still be alive. The armed and trembling owner would have said, "This isn't your house!" and an herbal stoner would have said, "Whoa, dude, you're right. Thanks," and wandered hazily off to his own place.

We ban pot, but we build industry and tax revenue on alcohol, which gets South Dakotans killed, beaten, pregnant, and otherwise messed up on an all-too-regular basis. (Nationwide, alcohol is a factor in 40% of violent crimes.)

I have little tolerance for pot or beer. I'd just as soon ban both as legalize both. But what we really need to address is a culture that glorifies alcohol and mindlessness. Why do we as a society transmit the message to our youth that the proper and manly way to enjoy yourself socially is to surrender your reason and will to mind-altering substances? Is it really that hard to enjoy reality the way it is?

Had I been the trembling homeowner on the other side of the door, had I said, "Stop or I'll shoot!" and the tall stranger outside chosen to keep coming, my lack of faith in my judo as well as the keen awareness of the other people behind me in the house likely would have led me to pull the trigger, too. But I'm glad I don't have to live with the fact that I did... or that I did because of nothing more than the mindless consumption of alcohol.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Epp Scoops Press; Lincoln HS Out of Touch?

Kudos to Mr. Epp on scooping the paid reporters on the Sioux Falls tea party organizers' (and perhaps Senator Thune's staff's) misappropriation of public school resources for their partisan activities.

The line from Lincoln HS assistant principal is that they school was "misled." I have to ask: how out of touch do folks have to be to not have seen what the Tea Party was about? It was clear from February that the tea parties were partisan (and hypocritical) silliness. Do Sioux Falls school administrators not read the paper?

SDPB Guest Shoebat Claims to Be Christian

On Wednesday, Paul Guggenheimer interviewed Walid Shoebat on SDPB's Dakota Midday Wednesday. Mr. Shoebat claims to be a former Palestinian terrorist turned Christian convert. He claims to be using a false name because his former bosses have put a $10-million bounty on his head. He claims... well, a lot of things that various sources, including his uncle, find to be unbelievable and absurd.

My own B.S. alarm went off a few times during Wednesday's interview. Shoebat comes across as just a little too sure, a little too absolute, and just a little too neatly media-perfect a poster boy for the neoconservatives and xenophobes who would have have believe we are at war with Islamofascism. In Shoebat's world, we can't deal with any Islams, not even so-called moderates, because the Koran is also a constitution calling all Muslims to establish a worldwide government and enslave any non-believers. In Shoebat's world, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison is a dangerous extremist who is not a real American like the rest of us.

The most bothersome comment from Shoebat was one line in which Shoebat slipped in the old anti-Obama meme from the campaign that Obama is a Muslim. He said Obama claims to be a Christian.

I've addressed this before, but it makes me mad enough to address it again. Barack Obama has professed his Christian faith more often and more intelligently than most people I know. To say Mr. Obama only claims to be a Christian is like saying Governor Rounds only claims to be an insurance salesman, or that I only claim to be married to my wife. If we took such language seriously, it would lead to deconstructionist nihilism, where we take nothing as real. But Shoebat and the other "Obama is a Muslim" whisperers aren't engaging in philosophy; they are spreading malevolent facetiousness. If Barack Obama isn't a Christian, then nobody is a Christian.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hyperion and South Dakota Government: Maybe Not in Bed, But Having Dinner Together

Flying Tomato takes a break from the compost pile to get a strong whiff of horse manure from Hyperion and the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment. She's attending the public hearings on Hyperion's air pollution permit (continuing today in Elk Point, 9 a.m., high school gym). While lots of folks are speaking up to say the Hyperion deal stinks, our state officials are having dinner with the Hyperion lackeys (or wait—maybe the boys from Pierre are the lackeys). Keep an eye on Flying Tomato for more good firsthand coverage!

And Rebecca: Have fun storming the castle! :-)

South Dakota 5th in Economic Competitiveness? Show Me the Money

I'm always happy to hear South Dakota get good press. And I certainly can't complain if a study says we might get out this recession sooner rather than later.

Well, actually, yes I can.

The South Dakota press gave much attention yesterday to a new (well, sort of: the press release came out March 19) study, "Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index," which ranks South Dakota fifth in the nation for "economic competitiveness." We stand with Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Virginia as the states "best positioned to make a recovery" from the recession.

I hope so! I don't wish a lengthy recession on any other states, but if South Dakota can find its way out and up sooner, and if other states follow our lead for once, then boo-ya awesome!

Unfortunately, this "study" is not just a study. It's advocacy. Catch that subtitle again: "ALEC-Laffer." ALEC, as in American Legislative Exchange Council, conservative lobbying group and ghostwriter of business-friendly legislation. Laffer, as in Dr. Arthur B. Laffer, Mr. Trickle-Down from the Reagan Administration. This "Economic Competitiveness Index" is a lot like the much ballyhooed "Freedom Index" that came out last month praising South Dakota: it's an ideological argument, not a scientific study.

Let's submit this conservative advocacy to a reality test: We keep hearing from ideologues like ALEC and Laffer that our no-taxes, no-regulation legislative attitude is great for business and the economy. But where are the businesses voting with their capital to back these assertions? We're one of the best places to do business, but we still don't have a single Fortune 500 company headquartered here. (High-tax California, which ranks 43rd on the competitiveness index, has 52 F500 HQ's; the People's Democratic Republic of Minnesota ranks 40th and has 19.)

I want to celebrate good news as much as my neighbors. But the ALEC report is not news; it's wishful thinking that doesn't square with the facts. If low taxes and laissez-faire government were all it took to attract businesses, South Dakota would be kicking Minnesota's behind in economic development. South Dakota may be fifth by the metrics various ideologues can come up with, but by the metric that matters, the votes businesses cast with their dollars and their feet, South Dakota still has a lot of catching up to do.