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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Stimulus or Savings: Sounds Like a Win-Win to Me!

O.K., o.k., the stimulus isn't sending the economy roaring back into a frenzy of consumer spending. But it is fueling the highest savings rate in America since 1993. Last month, consumer spending went up just 0.3%, even though our incomes rose 1.4%. But we socked away 6.9%. Even that figure isn't spectacular: as this cool NYTimes graph shows, 6.9% only brings us back to the average for the last 50 years. Still, that beats the credit-drunkenness of the past few years. And after this year's mess, I think we could all use a nice, slow, boring economy where people act like Grandma and Grandpa told us to: save your money, spend wisely, and don't buy what you can't afford.

National Thrift Week? Heck, let's try National Thrift Decade.

Rutland, Oldham-Ramona Advertising on KJAM for Students

Choice and the free market are alive and well in Lake County education. Both Rutland and Oldham-Ramona appear to be cranking up their summer ad blitz with ads on KJAM's website:

(What? Advertising online? Carl, John, spread some ad love my way! And fellas, if you really want to boost open enrollment, add a debate program!)

Agriculture Exempt from Anti-Government, Anti-Bailout Sentiment?

Dr. Newquist sees growing discontent and resentment directed toward one of the biggest ongoing bailout recipients in the country: agriculture. He notes that the ag lobby's resistance to the climate-change bill (exemplified by Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's no vote last week). With Senator Thune pushing a bill to get the federal government out of corporate America, Newquist wonders how long Big Ag can maintain its special status as an industry where the free market does not rule.

Some related notes:
  • Pork for pork: With exports and prices dwindling, the ag lobby in Minnesota and Iowa (#1 and #3, respectively, in pork production) is USDA to buy $50 million more in pork products for government programs. Pork producers say swine flu has taken a bite out of their sales, though the entire pork industry has apparently seen losses for 21 straight months. (How can people not be buying bacon?) Will there be any backlash to this bailout? Somehow I don't see John Thune campaigning against this particular pork proposal.
  • A commenter at that Sioux Falls paper sees ag's continuing ability to deflect attention from the truth in South Dakota. Responding to Thom Gabrukiewicz's report on water conflicts at Lake Poinsett and Enemy Swim, the pseudonymous commenter notes that the article mostly ignores the fact that agriculture is "the biggest threat to water quality in most lakes in those areas." The commenter accuses the local press of failing to be "honest or direct" about agriculture.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Regents Say Closing Campus Would Drive Students out of State

Last winter, when State Representative Mark Kirkeby (R–35/Rapid City) proposed requiring the Board of Regents to study closing one of its six university campuses, folks in the Regental system offered quiet assurances that campus consolidation was a non-starter. Just to make sure it stays a non-starter, the Regents did their own study of enrollment patterns to provide an economic argument for keeping campuses open in every part of the state.

The Regents studied where South Dakota students go for their university education. Outgoing Regents exec Tad Perry says they found confirmation of what seems pretty sensible: "students’ geographic placement significantly influences their postsecondary decision making.” In other words, students tend to go to college close to home. As Steve Young summarized it, "...half to two-thirds of those who attend one of the state's six public schools do so at a university near their home." Perry then draws this conclusion:

"Institutions serve regional parts of the state, and all six of our regental institutions are near our borders," Perry said Friday. "So based on these findings, it seems logical to assume that if you closed a school, rather than those students being redistributed elsewhere in the state, they would be redistributed to other states" [Steve Young, "Stick with 6 Campuses, Regents Say," that Sioux Falls paper, 2009.06.28].

Hang on a moment: does anyone see the problem in this reasoning? If there's more to this study, perhaps our new local Regent Randy Schaefer can fill us in (I keep telling Randy he needs to start a Regents blog!). But nowhere in the reporting on this study do I see any measurement of the percentage of students in university-less counties, like Perkins, Hughes, or Tripp, who attend in-state schools. Do those areas of the state see a higher rate of students going out of state for university? Nor is there any quantification of the number of students in university counties, like Lake, who choose to attend universities outside their county. How many Madison, Rutland, and Chester grads pick USD or BHSU over DSU?

There is no doubt that having a university in town is certainly an advantage for folks in that town seeking a university education. But the consolidation question needs to focus on the system, not specific regions. The Regents study does not tell us where students from Madison or Howard would go if DSU closed. It does not demonstrate that Spearfish or Sturgis grads would flock to Wyoming if BHSU closed.

Tell Senator Johnson America Can Do Health Coverage Right: Single-Payer!

My friend Jackie reminds me that Senator Johnson is spending the Congressional holiday recess touring the state to talk health care. She lists three events where we can tell the Senator what we want in person:
  1. Sioux Falls, Tuesday, June 30 – Ramkota, Roosevelt Room, 3200 West Maple Street, Panel Presentation from 2-3:30pm.
  2. Yankton, Wednesday, July 1 - Best Western Kelly Inn,1607 East Hwy 50, Panel Presentation from 11-12:30pm.
  3. Mitchell, Thursday, July 2 – James Valley Community Center, 300 West 1st Avenue, Panel Presentation from 2-3:30pm
If you can't make the meetings, Senator Johnson is also taking health care stories online. Need ideas on what to write? Here's what I dashed off to him this weekend:

When our daughter was born at Madison Community Hospital, she had a lung infection that required three nights in NICU in Sioux Falls. The total bill for prenatal, birth, and NICU came to $24,000, of which our high-deductible insurance policy (all we could afford on teacher pay) covered only $12,000 (insurers in pro-life South Dakota aren't required to cover prenatal and maternity). Every bill the insurer sent us after our daughters birth had at least one error that we had to take the time to track down and correct.

The federal government can't do worse than that. Actually, we're convinced the federal government can do better. We need a single-payer system. To pay for it, my family will gladly pay $3,600 more a year in taxes... which is exactly what we pay now for a $7,500-deductible private insurance plan that could disappear the moment one of us suffers cancer or a stroke or some other malady that would make us too unprofitable for our private insurer to continue to cover.

As I said, we are confident the government (all of us, working together, not for profit but for the common good) can do better. Single-payer, not-for-profit health coverage: if other countries can do it, we can do it even better (we are America, aren't we?).

I was hoping that when Senator Johnson came back from his stroke two years ago, he would be inspired to champion giving every American the same great government health coverage that helped him through his hard times. Government health care works for you, Senator Johnson. It can work for all of us. Stand and fight for single-payer, not-for-profit health coverage.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cosmic Hippie Convergence in Madison

Motongator Joe brings his "hillbilly testosterone outlaw" country music festival to town, and what do we get? More hippies.

Friday night, we go to town for dinner at the Second Street Diner (located about eight blocks south of Second Street on Washington Avenue). We pull in, spring the child from her crash seat, and mosey in for burgers. On the way, we notice... serendipity!
Here's the Heidelberger chariot of progressive fire...

...and next to us, by sheer coincidence, another local sustainability advocate!

Two "Buy Fresh Buy Local South Dakota" stickers in the same place in Lake County! What are the chances? Perhaps better than you think!

I considered barging into the diner saloon-shootout style and calling out, "Which one of you dadburned pinkos is flying all that democratic-socialist greenie bushwa on the back o' yer truck?" and then walking up to say howdy and shake hands. That seemed a bit overly dramatic, so we just enjoyed a quiet dinner.

But to our fellow travelers from Clay County, thanks for dropping by town! Keep the faith!

And now if we can just convince Shari to try the 100-Mile Menu at the diner. The market is there, Shari!

Herseth Sandlin and Kucinich Vote Against Energy Security Bill

South Dakota's lone voice in the House of Representatives, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, joined 168 Republicans and 44 fellow Dems Friday night to vote against HR 2454, The American Clean Energy and Security Act. (The bill still passed, 219-212.) In a relative rarity, SHS found herself voting alongside my favorite Democrat's Democrat, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich. My man Dennis's reasoning is quite straightforward:

I oppose H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The reason is simple. It won’t address the problem. In fact, it might make the problem worse.

It sets targets that are too weak, especially in the short term, and sets about meeting those targets through Enron-style accounting methods. It gives new life to one of the primary sources of the problem that should be on its way out—coal—by giving it record subsidies. And it is rounded out with massive corporate giveaways at taxpayer expense. There is $60 billion for a single technology which may or may not work, but which enables coal power plants to keep warming the planet at least another 20 years.

Worse, the bill locks us into a framework that will fail. Science tells us that immediately is not soon enough to begin repairing the planet. Waiting another decade or more will virtually guarantee catastrophic levels of warming. But the bill does not require any greenhouse gas reductions beyond current levels until 2030 [Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), "Passing a Weak Bill Today Gives Us Weak Environmental Policy Tomorrow," press release, 2009.06.26].

Our Congresswoman's rationale is much less about principle and problem-solving and much more about denying her local GOP foes a brush with which to paint her Pelosi in 2010. She says we need to address the very complex issue of climate change, but she doesn't want South Dakota to have to pay for it... or more accurately, she doesn't want to have to do the difficult work of convincing South Dakotans that they need to pay for solutions. (South Dakota may elect Dems to Congress, but we still expect them to act like Republicans. Sigh.)

Kucinich voted against ACESA because it does too little. SHS voted against ACESA because it does too much, like cap and trade, that needs to separate herself from to win against whatever Republican challenges her for whatever office next year.

-----------------------
By the way, HR 2454 is not just climate change and cap and trade. Here's a sampling of other ACESA provisions that SHS voted against:
There's plenty in this bill to like, plenty SHS could highlight to sell it to her constituents. But even after four consecutive election victories, SHS doesn't feel she has the political capital in her home state to really lead the public debate. Darn.

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On the costs of cap and trade: How big a pocketbook bite would SHS have had to sell to us to justify a yes vote on ACESA? According to the Truth-o-Meter folks at Politifact.com, the Congressional Budget Office estimates this specific bill would cost $175 per household... a little more than one postage stamp a day. But your mileage would vary, based on income: low-income families (lots of South Dakotans) would actually save money. Higher-income families would pay $235–$340 more per year... still not quite a buck a day.

And one industry group, ACEEE, says the bill's energy-saving programs could building code improvements, appliance efficiency, and building retrofits could save $750 per hosuehold by 2020 and $3,900 per household by 2030.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Dakota" Voice All Apologies for Adulterous Sanford

Bob Ellis cuts-and-pastes an ultra-conservative blog called "Dakota" Voice. On this fundie blog, Ellis has cited adultery as a legitimate reason to...
But when Bob Ellis sees fit to open his mouth about adulterous AWOL South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, the first words out of his mouth are, "Who Says This Is the End for Mark Sanford?" Parroting Star Parker:

When I’ve been asked whom I thought could be the individual to lead the Republican Party out of the wilderness, my answer has always been Mark Sanford.

His vision for his party and his country — traditional values and limited government — has always been clear, consistent, and, in my view, correct. And he has always pursued that vision, as a congressman and as a governor, with a boldness and courage rare among politicians [Star Parker, reprinted by Bob Ellis, "Dakota"Voice.com, 2009.06.27].

The only words of criticism of Sanford's behavior from Parker/Ellis: "I watched with disappointment his confession about his clandestine adulterous affair." And then we're off to the races, blaming America's moral decline on the Kennedys, Roe v. Wade, and, with tone-deaf hilarity, same-sex marriage:

We move step by definitive step to legalizing same sex marriage. By so doing, we will render our most sacred social institution, marriage, meaningless in the official eyes of government and as a nation will formalize the acceptability of behavior our Bible clearly calls sinful and abominable [Parker/Ellis, 2009.06.27].

You know, you don't do much for the meaning of marriage by running off to Argentina for five days of nothing-left-to-lose sex with your mistress, either.

Dakota War College had the decency to call Governor Sanford's misconduct what it is: "a big whack out of your moral authority" and "a bad example for the GOP." DWC also didn't have to wait three days for its moral compass to find the right words; Mr. Powers knew what to say right away. "Dakota" Voice waits three days after Governor Sanford's public confession to bury its first Sanford commentary, filled with diversion and sugar-coating, on a low-readership Saturday. (But hardly an hour after the media announce Michael Jackson's death, Ellis opines that the King of Pop, with his "sissified manner," has probably gone to hell.)

So who says this is the end for Mark Sanford? How about the conservative (and Moonie-run!) Washington Times, which comes up with a much more apt, direct, no-bull assessment of Governor Sanford's political future... or lack thereof:

...[N]ow he has squandered much of his legacy on an act of pure folly.

His extramarital affair gave his enemies the political rope they needed to hang him finally. Whether or not Mr. Sanford resigns is irrelevant. He is spent as a national political force. His erratic and bizarre behavior - the weird claims that he was hiking on an undisclosed path along the Appalachian Trail; his rambling, confused news conference announcing his infidelity; and the steamy e-mails that have been published on the correspondence between him and his Argentine mistress - have doomed his chances as a Republican presidential contender in 2012. He has become a laughingstock [Jeffrey T. Kuhner, "Corrupt Conservatives: Sanctimonious Hypocrites on the Right Dishonor Faith, Family and Freedom," Washington Times, 2009.06.27].

Bob Ellis likes to accuse me of moral relativism and depravity. Bob Ellis doesn't know me at all. On Mark Sanford's adultery and dereliction of duty, I'm the pinko secular humanist talking moral absolutes: Sanford has demonstrated an emotional instability, immaturity, and inability to keep personal crises from affecting his execution of official duties. (And yes, I would entertain a similar argument about President Bill Clinton's adultery and deception in the White House.) Professed Christian and conservative Bob Ellis is the one making excuses and exemptions... and claiming Sanford could be a great American leader.

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Update 11:35 CDT: Who else says this should be the end for Sanford?
  • Randy Page, conservative Republican activist and president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government: "In order to best protect and Blogger: Madville Times - Edit Post ""Dakota" Voice All Apologies for Adulterous Sanfor..."preserve his family and the integrity of the Office of Governor, it is necessary for him to resign from office to allow his family, his staff and the people of the Palmetto State time to heal and move forward."
  • Conservative/libertarian-leaning Carolina blogger Bane Windlow, who has been an "ardent" Sanford supporter but now says Sanford "crossed the line by just up and leaving the state for six days. It’s almost akin to a soldier going AWOL while on active duty. That, plus the nature of his sabatical [sic] that has now revealed itself for all intents and purposes have crushed any remaining credibility the man may have left in Columbia." (Windlow's Carolina Politics Online has more than double "Dakota" Voice's readership, according to Quantcast.)
  • Arch-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer: "The governor of the state is chief executive, and if there is a disaster in the state, and this guy is incommunicado, he is nowhere to be seen and he doesn’t transfer authority to his lieutenant governor who calls out the National Guard, you cannot recover from that. I think he doesn’t last a week in the office of governor."
  • and the list goes on....
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Update 2009.07.03 11:13 CDT: John Gilgoff, US News's God and Country blogger, finds remarkable the total silence of other family values groups on Mark Sanford's "duplicitousness and breaches of character." Gilgoff quotes conservative faves Tony Perkins and Harry Jackson:

As long as we as Christians are willing to tolerate or overlook duplicity in our self-identified party, it will be clear to the world that our allegiance is to a party and not the truth, regardless of what we claim. . . .

Monsanto Loses Roundup Patent and Sales, Axes Employees

No wonder Monsanto picked South Dakota State University President David Chicoine for their corporate board: they need SDSU to whip some new patentable invention to replace Roundup. Monsanto is cutting 900 jobs—4% of its workforce—in response to a 47% drop in quarterly sales of Roundup and its other herbicides.

What happened? I'd like the headline to be "Organic Methods Take Bite out of Big Chemical Ag." But the drop in sales comes more directly from the expiration of Monsanto's patent on Roundup, which has forced the company to lower prices to compete. Cool wet weather has also delayed some application.

Monsanto probably won't be pushing Chicoine and SDSU too hard for new herbicides and pesticides: Monsanto is moving away from its proud tradition of manufacturing chemicals like Agent Orange and focusing on "seeds, traits, and biotechnology," like breeding more buff broccoli. That focus will also likely include further intimidation tactics against organic dairies, regular farmers, canola growers whose fields Monsanto contaminates, and its corporate competitors.

But surely Monsanto will make sure its genetic engineering produces safe food for consumers, right?

Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food.... Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the F.D.A.'s job [Phil Angell, Monsanto director of corporate communications, quoted by Michael Pollan, "Playing God in the Garden," New York Times Magazine, 1998.10.25].

Hmmm... so any chance we'll see SDSU doing major research on organic food?

Be careful, Dr. Chicoine: that's not the nicest crowd you're running with. I'm not sure they could pay me enough to associate myself and my public university with a corporate partner like Monsanto.

Brookings County Wants to Knock Down Houses in One of Best Midwest Neighborhoods

Mr. Powers highlights some special media recognition for his lovely town: This Old House Magazine has named the Central Residential Historic District in Brookings one of the best places to buy an old house in the Midwest. What makes the center of Brookings such a peachy place to perch?
  • Lots of trees and greenery
  • Proximity to parks and schools
  • Downtown restaurants, book store, and antique shops just a five-minute walk away
  • Safe place to raise kids
  • Children's museum coming in old Central Elementary
TOHM also notes the healthy real estate values in this neighborhood: folks stick around and keep up their properties, and the neighborhood's placement on the National Register of Historic Places prevents "unattractive updates and alterations."

So who would want to reduce the housing stock available in such a great neighborhood? Why, the Brookings County Commision. They think the community will be better served by demolishing a couple of these choice tax-generating houses and replacing them with parking lots.

I don't see parking lots anywhere among the criteria that won Brookings this national recognitions in TOHM.

The National Register of Historic Places can't stop all dumb ideas. Fortunately, we have a public vote as a back-up. Let's hope voters reject the notion of parking über alles and preserve the integrity of a healthy, tight-knit neighborhood.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Stockholm SD Gets Downtown Hotel and Café

Speaking of downtown development, Bernie Hunhoff over at South Dakota Magazine notes the restoration of the Stockholm Hotel and Café. Alex Thomspon and son Chris have apparently "come home from the city" to bring food and lodging to Main Street Stockholm, population 105.

Now if Stockholm—Stockholm!—can take a swing at a downtown hotel, so can Madison. The next thing on Madison's economic development agenda needs to be the resurrection of the Lake Park/General Beadle Hotel, not out in the industrial park, not out with the cows and tech center on the edge of town, but right smack dab in the heart of the city.

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An amusing postscript: According to Wikipedia, men in Stockholm, South Dakota, have a median income of $22,143. Stockholm women have a median income of $31,250. And apparently, there is no poverty in Stockholm. Go figure!

Brant Lake Flush with Earmark Cash: Johnson Tags $400K for Sewer

More cheers for earmarks in Lake County! Wednesday's Madison Daily Leader (what, print edition only, for big news like this?) reports that Senator Tim Johnson shoehorned $400K into the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill to help build a sewer system around Brant Lake. The money, approved this week by the Senate Appropriations Committee, is just part of $6.7 million Senator Johnson managed to work into the bill for South Dakota.

Brant Lake Sanitary District board member Jan Nicolay tells MDL's Elisa Sand that the board is grateful for the money, though they won't be counting chickens until they hatch out of a full vote of the Congress. We should also note that the $400K is just a tenth of the $4 million Brant Lake will need to build its sewer (ah, so that's why no one runs for the Lake Herman Sanitary District board—we'll never have $4 million!).

But wowza wowza: $400K for Brant Lake, $190K for the LAIC, $1.1 million for Highway 34—what would we do without big federal spending? I guess the Tea Parties will never get traction in Lake County....

Neverendum Referendum: South Dakota, Brookings, Howard Vote!

My neighbors on Lake Herman may have no desire for an election, but the rest of South Dakota is vote-happy.
  1. All of us South Dakotans will get to vote next year on the bar-restaurant smoking ban. Secretary Nelson's 5% random sample indicates that 18,320 of the 25,000 signatures gathered are probably valid, and that's plenty for a vote. Lobbyist and petition drive coordinator Larry Mann says he's [Steve Young's words] "disappointed that the number of valid signatures wasn't higher." 73% is a surprisingly low success rate, but Larry, you had bar and casino owners gathering signatures: should we be surprised that one out of four signers were too drunk to scribble the right address or recall that they aren't registered to vote?
  2. Brookings County residents will have the pleasure of voting on August 11 on the county's plan to buy and demolish a couple houses in the Brookings Historic District.
  3. Our neighbors in Howard have rustled up a vote for themselves on August 18. The matter at hand: two city resolutions vacating portions of Farmers Avenue and an alley. Back on June 8, 50 people attended a Howard City Commission meeting to discuss the actions, which would allow the Rural Learning Center to move forward with its plans for the big downtown learning and demonstration center. Howard's elected leaders approved the vacations. 33 signatures would have been enough to refer the matter; 75 Howardians signed to say, "Hold on, let's vote!" Obviously I hope Howard will vote a big yes for the vacations (wait, do the petitioners want a staycation?) and let this visionary project go forward. But whichever way the vote goes, I'm pleased to see the community have the chance to buy in or boot it out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lake County Unemployment for May Rises to 6.9%

New South Dakota Department of Labor stats show Lake County's unemployment rising again, to 6.9% in May. Still not as high as our January peak of 7.1%, but nothing to brag about, considering we're still above the statewide average of 4.9%.

Neighboring Brookings County also saw a rise, from 2.8% in April to 3.4% in May. Brookings's peak rate this year was March's 3.5%. Among all of our neighboring counties, only Miner is worse off at 7.3%.

The Measure of a Man: What He Says to Us... and to His Mistress

What'd you say, Bob?

[I]t is my personal view that the largest proclamation of one’s faith ought to be in how one lives one’s life.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, quoted by Aaron Leichman of the Christian Post, faithfully regurgitated by Bob Ellis of DakotaVoice.com, 2008.06.06.

One month later...

You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night's light - but hey, that would be going into sexual details ...

—South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, e-mail to someone other than his wife, 2008.07.10, published by South Carolina's The State, reprinted by Fox News, 2009.06.25.

For more on hypocrisy, read Steve Hemmingsen's forthright commentary at KELOLand.com. As he says, "the bunch that prays the loudest... often has the most to pray about."

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p.s.: Fox News says the woman for whom Mark Sanford violated the sanctity of his marriage supposedly works for Bunge Limited, an agribusiness conglomerate that competes with Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (says Wikipedia). Oh well: another Republican in bed with Big Ag....

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Update 2009.06.27 09:15 CDT: Predictably, Bob Ellis trots out tripe about Mark Sanford's bold, courageous leadership and "clear, consistent... and correct" vision of "traditional values and limited government." Well, South Carolina certainly got limited government while Sanford was AWOL, but where again is the leadership in abandoning your post for a final fling after your wife throws you out?

Sounds like Dakota Voice is pandering to adulterers.

Jay Trobec: Weatherman, Conservative Crusader!

Liberal media my foot: KELO weatherman Jay Trobec is a card-carrying conservative. On his blog Jaystream, Trobec offers a thorough sampling of contemporary right-wing rhetoric:
  1. He decries the lapdog media who hardly question the "all-powerful president" on his planted question at Tuesday's press conference.
  2. He portrays the Obama administration as a lawless bunch of radical environmentalists ("No one can stop them"—again, the rhetoric of fear before an "all-powerful" enemy).
  3. He brands the stimulus plan "outrageous" and suggests the President needs to "convince us he is not out to destroy the economic fabric of this country through overspending."
  4. Trobec's frettings about "mob mentality" read like a page out of Sibby Online (though no mention yet from Trobec of "secular humanists").
  5. Proposals for a carbon tax are just the "seeds... being sown for a green attack on the American economy" (again, the conservative fear-language).
  6. He flogs the Obama-savior meme.
  7. He criticizes Obama's deviation from the royal "we" as a sign that the president has "the biggest ego of them all" (and flogs the teleprompter meme to boot!).
Now if we could just get him to do the weather live from next week's Tea Parties....

So get your weather updates and conservative bush-waaah all from the same source: Jay Trobec, Doppler expert, conservative crusader!

SDPB Features Ehrisman, Powers, and Heidelberger on Journalism's Future

Whoo-hoo! More press for South Dakota bloggers! South Dakota Public Broadcasting includes Scott Ehrisman, Pat Powers, and me in their weeklong Dakota Digest series on the future of journalism. After interesting features on corporate media (including a reminder that our own Larry Pressler helped kill local radio), newspapers (hear Randall Beck's wishful thinking), and the small-town weeklies, SDPB offers observations from three of South Dakota's noisiest bloggers about the role of online journalism. Among the highlights:
  • Mr. Ehrisman prognosticates that within a decade, we'll see the daily paper disappear as most media goes Net-centric.
  • Mr. Powers suggests a lot of small-town newspapers have reporters who wear many hats and may not have much more special training or expertise than bloggers.
  • I contend that hyperlinks are one of the greatest inventions of the last hundred years (give at least a little love to Paul Otlet, Belgium, 1934!).
Hear us three bloggers in amazing full-color audio again this afternoon on SDPB at 5:30 Central, 4:30 Mountain, or stay tuned to the SDPB website, where the audio should be posted shortly!

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Update 11:15 CDT; Whoo-hoo! SDPB audio link is up!

Obama Duly Wary on Iran: Ahmadinejad and Mousavi Not Too Different

Before we get all excited about expressing our forceful support for democratic uprisings in Iran (and believe me, I want to), let's remind ourselves why this fight between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi is more complicated than a nice Hollywood good-vs.-evil script. As Mr. Woodring appropriately reminds us, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the main opposition candidate around whom Tehran's street protesters are rallying, is connected with terrorist attacks on American soldiers. He was Iran's prime minister in the 1980s, when Iran orchestrated the terror campaign that included the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 241 American soldiers and 58 French soldiers.

Former CIA Middle East field officer Bob Baer explains Mousavi's politics:

"When Mousavi was Prime Minister, he oversaw an office that ran operatives abroad, from Lebanon to Kuwait to Iraq," Baer continued.

"This was the heyday of [Ayatollah] Khomeini's theocratic vision, when Iran thought it really could export its revolution across the Middle East, providing money and arms to anyone who claimed he could upend the old order."

Baer added: "Mousavi was not only swept up into this delusion but also actively pursued it" [Jeff Stein, "Mousavi, Celebrated in Iranian Protests, Was the Butcher of Beirut," CQPolitics, 2009.06.22].

President Obama recognizes that there is not much difference on policy between the current regime and Mousavi. As ABC's Jake Tapper notes, Iran's nuclear program was restarted under Mousavi in 1987. He doesn't recognize Israel, and his response to a question about Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial feels slippery at best.

Supporting democracy is good, but we must also look at the practical results of that democracy. Hamas won the 2006 elections in Palestine, and we felt a little egg on our faces for having pushed for elections that produced results inimical to our interests. Sometimes I can't help wondering if some conservatives are pushing for a "more forceful" response from our president to the Iranian turmoil just so they can blame Obama for whichever pro-nuclear, anti-Israel candidate is in charge of Iran.

No Election for Lake Herman Sanitary District

While Iranians fight for fair and honest democracy, Lake Herman residents prefer not to raise any electoral hubbub. For lack of interest, the Lake Herman Sanitary District will not be holding an eleection this July. Two seats are open on the board, but only one candidate, incumbent Lawrence Dirks, submitted a petition by last weeks deadline. We will thus swear Dirks in at our next meeting and go on as we always have, two guys making decisions about tax dollars with no mandate other than the indifference of our neighbors. —sigh—.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bob Ellis Spreads Misogyny and Racism in Obama Sissification

Obama hangs curtains at a teen shelter, January 19, 2009. Reuters
Bob Ellis posts one of the stupidest things I've heard from him all month. He recycles old e-mail forward fodder that I can trace back to some rag called the Oregon Catalyst, which juxtaposes photos of Ronald Reagan running a chain saw, George W. Bush clearing brush, and Barack Obama hanging curtains. Bob's clear intent: to perpetuate the "Obama is a sissy" meme (which didn't exactly win over the electorate last year).

Andrew Munson offers a good response:

I like this.

Reagan - sawing wood at his expensive ranch.
Bush - hauling wood at his expensive ranch.
Obama - hanging curtains at a homeless shelter, while doing work for charity.

Goodness, Barack. What a girl! Helping out the homeless... [Andrew Munson, comment, Oregon Catalyst, 2009.05.19]

Barack Obama paints a wall at a teen shelter, January 19, 2009. CBS
So does Erin Heidelberger:

Seriously? Why isn't serving at a homeless shelter for teenagers considered real work? He painted, too--is that manly enough for you? I think it says a lot about a man whether he's willing to work in actual service to someone else or merely clean up a little around his own ranch [Erin Heidelberger, comment, "The Measure of a Man," Dakota Voice, 2009.06.24].

I was going to say, Bob, that if you need to portray a powerful and articulate black man as a sissy just to affirm your own manhood, then fine, knock yourself out. But no. Bob, your insults are misogynist. They are sexist. They contradict your professed Christianity. And they don't contribute in the least to intelligent political debate. So knock it off.

I welcome criticism and disagreement. But when you have to stoop to calling the President or anyone else a weenie, you've got nothing.

---------------------------
Update 2009.06.25 08:35 CDT: Predictably, Ellis responds with the usual mishmash of red herrings and challenges to the manhood of any man who disagrees with him. He suggests my argument is nothing more than pandering to feminists (like Anna at DakotaWomen, who concurs with my critique).

My friends, forgive me my response:

"pander to feminists": oh Bob. I take the feminist line because it is against my principles to try proving my point by getting into a silly macho showdown. I also take the feminist line because (darn, I am about to violate my principles) beating you in a silly macho showdown (what, clearing brush? hauling railroad ties? building a deck? biking 50 miles?) would be far too easy.

For penance, say it with me, Red Green fans: "I'm a man, but I can change, if I have to, I guess."

-----------------
Update 13:00 CDT: A few commenters have had some criticism, but only Tim has had the courtesy to attach his name to said criticism. Thank you, Tim. Everyone else must be trolling the blogs from their work computers....

SnarkVid: Madison Violates Own Six-Inch Grass Rule

...cross-posted at RealMadison.org!

Maybe Commissioner Abraham should lend Dwaine Chapel his mower:

Thune Divestiture Bill: Ideology over Pragmatism

...which is how the GOP lost in 2008...

Senator John Thune's federal corporate ownership exit strategy continues to be heaped with continuing laudatory praise... or at least that's the impression you'd get from reading his campaign blog or its paid subsidiary, Dakota War College, which has taken to slavish repetition and amplification of every dribble posted by the "Friends of John Thune." (Thune does have a track record of paying bloggers.)

So let me join Powers in flogging the issue his advertisers are paying him for (something Doug Wiken says the FTC is going to start monitoring). I would like to buy into Senator Thune's Government Ownership Exit Plan Act (S. 1242). It sets a deadline of July 1, 2010, for the federal government to sell off its ownership interest in all of the businesses that have gotten bailouts. I am worried that this arbitrary deadline might lead to a fire-sale divestiture: it wouldn't take a financial whiz to figure out that the remnants of GM or AIG could be had for a song by simply waiting until next June 30 and submitting a lowball bid to a federal government bound by law to sell. Thune's bill does include a provision for extensions: it looks like the Secretary of the Treasury can request a six-month extension and one renewal if we taxpayers stand to get screwed by low bidders.

So if I'm reading this right, all the bailout companies that we taxpayers currently own would get two years max to turn themselves back into lean mean money-making machines so we can sell them off at a decent price and pay down the federal debt (sorry, no dividend checks: Thune's bill sends any divestiture proceeds straight to paying down the public debt... which is as good a place for the money as anywhere else). I assume Thune's subpremise to his business friends is, "Look, if you need more than two years of government ownership to get your act together, you don't deserve to survive."

S. 1242 also bans members of the Executive Branch from influencing any "significant management decisions" of federal bailout money. Here our corporate welfare queens seem to be getting a break that regular welfare recipients and publicly held corporations never do. The government gets to impose all sorts of influence on the "significant management decisions" of indivudals receiving government support. The federal government has used its welfare dollars to require recipients to take jobs and get training and even to influence them to get married. Stockholders get to communicate and vote at stockholder meetings to influence the corporations they own all the time. When our President reviews the books at GM and Chrysler and makes recommendations for fixing their broken business practices, is that really undue influence that should be criminalized, or is that simply our President acting as a good steward of our public investment?

The final question we should ask about this legislation is whether we even need it. Heaven knows Republicans hate to clutter up the books with unnecessary laws. On the GM bailout, President Obama has described us as "reluctant shareholders" who intend "to get out quickly." And as for that influence Thune seeks to ban, Obama sounds like he's already on the same page, at least 90% of the way:

"GM will be run by a private board of directors and management team," Obama said. "They — and not the government — will call the shots and make the decisions about how to turn this company around. The federal government will refrain from exercising its rights as a shareholder in all but the most fundamental corporate decisions" [Tom Raum, "Obama: Nationalization of GM to Be Short-Term," AP via Yahoo News, 2009.06.01].

If you buy the propaganda that Obama and the rest of us Dems are socialists, then sure, Thune's law sounds like a vital protection of the free market. Actually, if you're a real free-marketeer, Thune's law doesn't go far enough: you should demand an amendment requiring the immediate divestiture of all government holdings in private businesses, with no extensions allowed at all.

But if you turn off Rush and look at what's actually going on, you see a government (under Bush and Obama alike) that executed these bailouts not as a re-enactment of Marxist revolution but as a last-resort alternative to economic free-fall.

Thune's bill may be a honest defense of capitalist ideals... but that may be its fatal flaw. The Government Ownership Exit Plan appears to be motivated entirely by ideology and not by any cogent analysis of actual economic conditions. It's a lot easier to just shout "Socialism!" than it is to come up with actual plans to solve problems. If Senator Thune and the GOP continue to pursue the easy route, they will find themselves increasingly irrelevant to the vast center of the elctorate that wants solutions, not slogans.

Howard Rural Learning Center Building Bustling Downtown

KJAM has been giving good press to the Rural Learning Center's plan to expand its Howard facility. The new main street facility, slated to open next year, will include a hotel, restaurant, and conference center and will add 18 employees to Howard's job rolls. They'll also do some cool green stuff, which means conservative retro-snobs like Fastidious will never visit.

Hey, wait a minute: hotel and conference center, downtown... where have I heard that idea before? And why is Howard able to capitalize on it while Madison's economic development are content with flowers for Main Street?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Keep the RV: We'll Take the Smart Car!

My wife and I first saw the Smart car on the streets of Vancouver BC in 2005. Cute, tiny, and available as a convertible, it represents the direction GM ought to go if it wants to sell cars to the world: smaller, cheaper, more fuel-efficient, using less resources and less space. I know, it's no good for hauling your ice shack in a blizzard, but for 90% of the trips that 90% of us Americans make, it's all the car we need.

So we got excited when we saw a Smart car in Sioux Falls yesterday:

Whoo-hoo! A fellow American taking the lead toward smaller, smarter transportation!

Oh. Oops. Still American.

But hey, it's better than those RVs towing Escalades.

By the way, the Smart car was marked with the logo of LiddleKidz.com, whose Tina Allen was in Sioux Falls over the weekend to conduct an infant massage certification course.

No Arguing with a Vulcan: Obama Explains Public Option

The only thing we have to fear is illogical capitalists.
[Image from Salon.com]
President Obama is thinking the same thing I said in March: if the government can't do anything right, why are you defenders of the status quo so afraid private insurers won't be able to compete with a public option for health care coverage? In this morning's press conference, the commander-in-chief tells us exactly what the public plan will do, then lays down the Vulcan strong hand and explains why public-option opponents are illogical:

MR. OBAMA: Now, the public plan, I think, is an important tool to discipline insurance companies. What we've said is, under our proposal, let's have a system, the same way that federal employees do, same way that members of Congress do, where we call it an exchange, but you can call it a marketplace, where, essentially, you've got a whole bunch of different plans.

If you like your plan and you like your doctor, you won't have to do a thing. You keep your plan; you keep your doctor. If your employer's providing you good health insurance, terrific. We're not going to mess with it.

But, if you're a small-business person; if the insurance that's being offered is something you can't afford; if you want to shop for a better price, then you can go to this exchange, this marketplace, and you can -- look, OK, this is how much this plan costs; this is how much that plan costs; this is what the coverage is like; this is what fits for my family.

As one of those options, for us to be able to say, here's a public option that's not profit-driven, that can keep down administrative costs, and that provides you good, quality care for a reasonable price as one of the options for you to choose, I think that makes sense.

QUESTION: Wouldn't that drive private insurance out of business?

MR. OBAMA: Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If -- if private -- if private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical [President Barack Hussein Obama, transcript, White House press conference, 2009.06.23].

Dang. Vulcans really do belong in the big chair.

-----------------
Update 16:55 CDT: "The Gloves Come Off..." says Forbes.com's Brian Wingfield of the above presidential comment. And Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who has roughed up the president on past occasions, says that here, Obama is making sense. (Krugman, along with Matthew Yglesias, also digs the Obama-Spock groove.)

Update 2009.06.24 08:30 CDT: The President may have the pulse of the electorate: this NYT/CBS poll has some complex results, but 72% of Americans support a public option. Even half of Republicans say they'll go for a public option.

Bad Grades for Grader: GF&P Wrecks Lake Herman Road

And now for some good old-fashioned complaining....

Cottonwood Cove Trail is about a thousand feet of gravel that leads to Lake Herman's free boat ramp and the Madville Times World Headquarters. The road belongs to the GF&P, so Lake County has no obligation to maintain it. In the winter, Dad and I have to fire up the skidsteer to clear drifts. GF&P contracts some minimal maintenance... but sometimes, we almost wish they wouldn't.

Consider yesterday's pass by the road grader.

Here we see the north side of Cottonwood Cove Trail. Nice smooth edge, allowing water to run down from the central crown of the road down into the ditch, as it should. The driver may have dropped the blade a little low, scraping away the gravel and exposing the dirt in patches, making it easier for grass and weeds to grow in the roadway, but overall, not too bad.

But where did that gravel go?

Ah, the south side. Usually, as I understand it from the county, when you pull that shoulder, you put the gravel back in the center to rebuild the crown. But yesterday the road grader left a berm all the way down the south edge of the road. Water flowing south from the crown won't reach the ditch; it will hit our new dirt curb and rush straight down the roadway, carving a channel, sweeping gravel away, and leaving more mud for drivers.

Leaving a ridge like this and creating a secondary ditch on the roadway is exactly how not to maintain a gravel road (at least according to my dad... and the engineers at U. Mass. Amherst... and the South Dakota Gravel Roads Maintenance and Design Manual [p. 13]). It also plays heck with my bike when I try to ride the shoulder and give room to boaters coming down the road.

Oh well. I guess my dad the volunteer self-trained civil engineer will just have to take the skidsteer out and fix the public road himself... again.

So, to whoever's running the road show here, next time, if you're going to send out the road grader, send someone who will take the time to do the job right... or just drop off the equipment and let us handle it.

Big Tobacco Fights in South Dakota, Loses in Washington

Might we call this a Pyrrhic victory?

On the same day that South Dakota bar and casino owners play stooges to Big Tobacco and submit petitions with 25,000 signatures to delay South Dakota's smoking ban and refer it to public vote in November 2010, President Barack Obama signs a federal anti-smoking law that could deprive Big Tobacco of the chance to brainwash millions of children into becoming addicts over the next couple decades. Among the highlights of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act:
  • The Food and Drug Administration finally gets to regulate smokes and chew like any other drug-delivery system.
  • The new law bans flavored cigarettes (the kinds that get kids hooked).
  • No one can post tobacco ads at sports or entertainment events or within a thousand feet of schools and playgrounds* (here in Madison, that would include One-Stop, MDL, and the Four Corners—no Marlboro banners).
If this toughest federal anti-smoking law ever is more nanny-statism, don't tell Senator John Thune: he voted for it, right along with the Dems in our Congressional delegation.

Big Tobacco and its flunkies here in South Dakota may think they won a victory yesterday with the submission of their referendum petitions. Secretary of State Chris Nelson still has to certify the petitions... and with much of the petition drive conducted around bars, it will be interesting to see what percentage of the 25K signatures are thrown out as illegible drunken scrawls. If the petitions have enough valid signatures, the profiteers can celebrate the ability to keep making money off smokes for another year and a half... although I'm still waiting for someone to show me how a smoking ban that affects all bars and restaurants equally would cut into any bar or restaurant owners profits.

But when the South Dakota tobacco lobby woke up this morning and read the paper, they had to be kicking themselves. Instead of piddling around with a smoking referendum in South Dakota, they should have been pushing great anti-nanny-stater Senator Thune for some filibuster juice to stop this new federal law that will hit Big Tobacco where it hurts, in its nefarious youth-marketing strategies.

*I'm having trouble finding this language in the bill text; clarification and/or correction from eager readers is welcome!

Bush:China::Obama:Iran? No One Said Foreign Policy Was Easy...

Twenty years ago when the Chinese Communist government slaughtered thousands of its own youth in Tiananmen Square, I wanted President George H.W. Bush to drop some serious hammer on China. Kick out their ambassador, cut off trade, maybe even stand a battleship or two off the coast.

What did Bush Sr. do?

First, the president and his administration rushed to perpetuate, in a new era, the notion that China's geopolitical importance should outweigh American concerns about political repression in the PRC. The perceptions of China's overriding significance had, of course, been based on the Soviet threat to the United States, and now this threaet was disappearing. Did that mean America would now condemn China's Leninst regime in the same fashion as the Soviet Union or the Communisat governments of Easertn Europ? The Bush administration's answer was no: Despite the end of the Cold War, China remained of great strategic importance to the United States....

The second element in Bush's response to the upheavals of 1989 was the policy of "engagement." Although Bush had announced in public a freeze on high-level contacts between American and Chinese officials, he secretly sent Scowcroft to Beijing for talks with Deng Xiaoping in July 1989 and again five months later. After the visits were criticized, Bush explained that he didn't want to isolate China. He wanted, instead, a "comprehensive policy of engagement" with China. The choice of words was surprising, because the Reagan administration had only a few years earlier used the term constructive engagement to describe its policy of dealing with South Africa's apartheid government [James Mann, The China Fantasy, Viking: 2007, pp. 79–80].

I was disappointed with the Bush policy.

I was 17.

Today President Barack Obama faces the question of how to respond to internal political upheaval in Iran. As Ken Blanchard points out in an exaggeratedly titled "Defense" of the president, Obama faces a no-win situation. If he plays it too aggressively, he becomes a foil for Ahmadinejad and the loyal ayatollahs, who can claim the protestors are just tools of the scheming Great Satan. If he plays it cool, he gives Republicans the opportunity to trot out the old meme of feminizing Obama, portraying him as "timid" and "passive."

Timid and passive? What do you want, air strikes?

Senator McCain suggests we need a tougher, more Cold-War-like response to the Iranian government's oppression of its people. But for political oppression no worse than that perpetrated by our good friend and loan shark China, here's where Iran stands currently in U.S. foreign policy:
I'd say the United States is in about as aggressive a posture toward Iran as it can be right now without ordering our Baghdad garrison to redeploy to Kabul... in an overland march. We're certainly already playing harder ball with Iran than we did with China in 1989 or even in 2001, when China forced down one of our surveillance planes, ransacked it for sensitive equipment, and held 24 of our military personnel captive. Bush Junior responded to the latter crisis with the following language: "I am troubled by the lack of a timely Chinese response to our request..."—a passive voice sentence with the timid word request.

Conservative columnist George Will expressed on ABC's latest This Week the frustrating but sensible reality of President Obama's response to Iran:

The president is being roundly criticized for insufficient, rhetorical support for what’s going on over there. It seems to me foolish criticism. The people on the streets know full well what the American attitude toward the regime is. And they don’t need that reinforced [George Will, quoted by Ben Armbruster, "Will calls right-wing attacks on Obama’s Iran response ‘foolish criticism.’", ThinkProgress.org, 2009.06.21]

U.S. News's John Aloysius Farrell reminds us of long-standing Iranian suspicion of American meddling, notes the absence of U.S. flags or mock-ups of the Statue of Liberty amid the green banners of Tehran's street protests, and calls criticism of Obama's current tack "self-indulgent and silly." And Henry Kissinger says Obama is doing the right thing.

My sentimental and dramatic heart still craves grand gestures and sweeping victories. Foreign policy, alas, has always been more complicated than that. But even if you think we can and should do more to show our solidarity with the young people demanding honest democracy in the streets of Tehran, you face a hard question: what should we do? We already isolate Iran. We are one misunderstanding at an Iraqi border post away from bullets flying.

To suggest that the President is being "timid" and "passive" is clear domestic political gamesmanship. it also ignore the political and historical realities of how you actually run foreign policy.

Monday, June 22, 2009

O'Gorman's Hartzell, Vermillion's Miller and Gutzman Score Big at Speech Nats

An eager reader sends an update on the National Speech Tournament, which took place last week in Birmingham, Alabama. Sponsored by the National Forensic League, Nationals brings together thousands of sharp-dressed, sharp-tongued young people for a full week of civil discourse and fine performances.

Some South Dakota highlights:
  • Sioux Falls O'Gorman senior Whitney Hartzell made finals (after 12 rounds of competition!) and placed 6th in Humor.
  • Vermillion juniors Sam Miller and Tyler Gutzman placed 10th in policy debate. They made it to Round 12 before being knocked out, on a 2-1 decision, by last year's champs from Colleyville Heritage HS, Texas. Miller also won the 7th place speaker award for policy debate. They'll be back. (But Sam, don't think I won't vote you down again if you bring me another whacky faux-oratory! ;-) )
  • All four of South Dakota's policy debate teams were among the 69 teams that broke out of prelims (out of 201 teams entered). Brookings debaters Matt Aadland and James Kerr made it to Round 10. Aberdeen debaters Michael Holkesvik and Colter Heirigs made Round 9. Yankton debaters Mallory Schulte and Emily Bosch made Round 8.
Full unofficial results are available from the NFL. Kudos to all South Dakota speakers!

Speech sidenote: NFL veteran and former O'Gorman interp standout Morgan Peck won the Miss South Dakota crown over the weekend! See? High school speech activities teach you to keep your poise, even at the sight of Shawn Cable dressed up as an elf (or a confused Vulcan?).

Refusing to Respond to Census Rarely Punished, Does More Harm Than Good

Sibby and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman (wouldn't you like to have those two on a panel?) are worried that the census is going to fine you $5,000 if you don't fill out your census form. The U.S. House's online federal law book shows Title 13 imposing only a $100 fine for refusal to respond and seems more concerned with protecting the confidentiality of your info. The U.S. Census Bureau does say your answers are required. The U.S. Census also says that an amendment increased the fine for non-participation to a maximum of $5,000 (a change that appears to have been made in 1987).

But notice also that Title 13, Chapter 7, Subchapter II, Section 221, clause (c) creates a religious exemption: if it's against your religion, you don't have to answer, no fine.

Plus, this Census blogger (yes, there apparently is such a person) can't find a single instance of the Census Bureau ever enforcing those fines. As Census spokesman Stephen Buckner tells MyTwoCensus.com, “The Census Bureau is not a law enforcement agency. We try to make Americans understand the importance of completing the census, but we don’t try to enforce those penalties.”

The only penalty you'll really receive for not responding to the census won't hit you but your whole community: you'll lower the headcount for your community, and you'll thus receive less federal funding. "Hooray!" shout the Tea Partiers, but remember, even if the Census doesn't know you exist, the IRS still has your number. Ditch the census, and you'll still pay taxes; you'll just get less in return.

Note that even Michele Bachman is smart enough to tell the Census how many people are in her household. If her followers went ape and refused to answer any Census questions, they might put Michele out of a job, as that part of Minnesota could lose a seat in the U.S. House. That doesn't affect South Dakota—we're already down to one at-large seat—but it could screw up our state legislative redistricting. If the Tea Partiers in Sioux Falls and Rapid City all put a big NO on their Census forms, liberal hotbeds like Lake Herman could end up with their own legislative district! Whoo-hoo!

I sympathize with those who prefer not to give the government information. I often leave questions about gender and race blank. But when the Census comes, I will tell them I'm here, along with my wife and daughter.

Refusing to fill out the Census form is an easy bit of civil disobedience. I suppose it might make you feel good, but it will likely be counter-productive. Fill it out, and fry some other fish!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

South Dakota's Small Dairies Collapsing

Remember now-Senator Russell Olson's (R-8/Madison) big color campaign ad last fall about how great our state's dairy industry is doing and how he'll keep the milk flowing?

Olson certainly enjoys the milk flowing from the corporate dairies, which he voted to exempt from the Family Farm Act* in 2008. But what will he do to keep the milk flowing from the small family dairies? RC Journal's Jeremy Fugleberg reports this morning that small dairies, especially in the Black Hills, are collapsing:

There used to be hundreds of small dairies in the Black Hills, but by 2007, that number had plummeted to a dozen or so. And when the Rapid City milk processing plant closed that year, it put even more pressure on the remaining, struggling dairies — hammered by the rising cost of doing business, declining revenues, and now the cruel logistics of transportation. With milk prices at almost 30-year lows and feed prices still high, the nearly 550-mile round trip to a cheese plant in north-central South Dakota is killing local dairies.

Today, only seven or eight Hills dairies remain (it’s hard to nail down an exact figure because some of the local dairy operators are deciding to close as you read this).

“Really here, I don’t know if there’s a lot of hope,” said Dan Dunn, who runs a dairy east of Vale, in Butte County [Jeremy Fugleberg, "Small Dairies Struggle to Survive," Rapid City Journal, 2009.06.21].

Small operators have tried to establish their own milk processing plant to serve small West River operations, but they find the state and local bankers unwilling to help. Meanwhile, the state pours big bucks into programs to promote big corporate dairies along the I-29 corridor, including support for the green-card-for-sale program that pours millions of dollars from irresponsible foreign investors into the pockets of mega-dairy stink-mongers like Veblen's Rick Millner. (Notice the state gives that immigration assistance to only 12 East River counties.)

The response from the state and Ag United? Don't let the door hit you on the way out:

[Belle Fourche dairy man John] Habeck expressed bitterness at how the dairies in the Black Hills area were stranded by their only nearby buyer.

“It’s one thing if the whole dairy industry is struggling, it’s another thing to isolate the dairies who have no option and have to go to another plant,” he said. “They don’t want to see us around anymore. That’s the bottom of it.”

[Jon] Farris, the state’s ag development director, sympathizes with those considering leaving the dairy business. But in the end, he said, producers such as Dunn will follow the lead of people like Lewis and do what they must.

“He’s making a business decision, at the end of the day, that many other people have made for generations,” he said.

It’s a tough call, but those decisions come with the times and the territory, said [ag-industrial complex mouthpiece Steve] Dick, of Ag United.

“If you want to be a dairy farmer, you have limited opportunities in Butte County,” he said. “It is a very hard thing when your livelihood changes. When you’re a dairy man, you’re a dairy man. It’s hard to walk away from” [Fugleberg, 2009.06.21].

Basically, the state says, if you're a big corporate dairy and want to move into the I-29 corridor, we'll give you a leg up in the market. But if you're a small operator out in West River, well, golly, there's just no fighting markte forces, so quit whining (and thanks for paying those taxes we've been using to promote East River dairies).

Make no mistake: the state of South Dakota and its Republican crony-legislators are no friends of the little man. If you've got big bucks, you're welcome to come stink up the joint. But if you're an independent farmer who has a small enough herd to actually get to know your animals, well, you're not worth our manipulation of the free market.

*South Dakota's Family Farm Act: see SDCL 49-7A-1 and 47-9A-3.

Kloucek Promises Legislative Discussion of Chicoine-Monsanto Deal

Sibby and the Mitchell Republic bring us this story first; that Sioux Falls paper and DWC come toodling after: State Senator Frank Kloucek (D-19/Scotland) is proposing legislation to put some serious limitations and oversight on the ability of our university presidents to serve as highly paid corporate board members. Senator Kloucek is responding specifically to SDSU president David Chicoine's appointment to the Monsanto corporate board and the mondo bucks he'll get for that gig ($400K in cash and stock options, $80K more than he makes as SDSU president).

Kloucek's concerns sound very much like criticism we've heard from the SDSU Collegian and from this very blog: Big Ag buying influence, threat to public perception of the quality and independence of SDSU research, etc.:

“It’s just totally inappropriate to give that money to an individual rather than to the university for research,” Kloucek said. “It appears pretty clear-cut that they’re trying to buy influence at the university by buying influence with the president.”

...“There will be at least one bill,” Kloucek said. “I just think it’s better … to make it clear the we’re not in that kind of game at South Dakota.”

The appointment of Chicoine to the Monsanto board negatively affects the credibility of the university, Kloucek said, since crop research reports from SDSU could easily be assumed as skewed.

“This research must not be tainted in any way, shape or form and this certainly taints that research,” Kloucek said. “It … jeopardizes the integrity because it makes it look like we’re in the hip pocket of Monsanto” [Austin Kaus, "Senator to Regents: Fix SDSU Conflict," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2009.06.19].

It doesn't take a Ph.D. in economics to reason that if a guy has two bosses, and Boss M pays more than Boss S, then when push comes to shove, Boss M will probably have more pull. (Remember the Golden Rule: he who has the gold makes the rules.) Of course, Dr. Chicoine, who has a Ph.D. in economics, doesn't see it that way:

"My value to them comes as an economist," [Chicoine] said. "It comes from independence.

"If you don't perform to the criteria that is required for your appointment as an independent member, your appointment is not maintained. If you're not fulfilling your independent director's business, you'd be lacking of integrity, and you're of no value either to the company or to your own profession."

..."I'm in compliance with regents policy," he said. "It is standard for the industry. There is a disclosure process and transparency process in place in this state and every other state for presidents serving in this regard. So I'm comfortable with it" [Steve Young, "College–Corporate Links Targeted," that Sioux Falls paper, 2009.06.21].

Kloucek's fellow Democratic Catholic farmer (and my neighbor!) Senator Gerald Lange (D-8/Madison) isn't comfortable with it:

"I see a conflict," Lange said. "So, yes, I think Frank's onto something. I would support any bill he brought on the issue" [Young, 2009.06.21].

Strangely, the main blog voice from the seat of Monsanto's purchased power in South Dakota finds it more important to hurl personal insults at Kloucek (and surely, shortly, at Lange) than to address the actual issue:

Frnak [sic] Kloucek is proposing legislation.

Good for Frank. He can propose. Too bad it’s likely misspelled, and written in crayon... [Pat Powers, "Monsanto Job... Legislation to Be Utterly Ignored, Considering the Source," Dakota War College, 2009.06.20].

(I wonder if the Munsterman campaign Powers manages will be relying on such playground rhetoric. Powers could take a lesson in class from Kloucek, who criticizes the Chicoine–Monsanto deal without any such demeaning and irrelevant personal attacks.)

Should a university president, as Kloucek tells Young, "be living, breathing and eating SDSU 24 hours a day, seven days a week"? I'll grant a guy a sabbath... but I'll also note that DSU expects me to put DSU first, and I'm just a lowly graduate assistant. My contract explicitly forbids me from taking other full-time employment. That doesn't restrict me from serving on a corporate board (and I'll certainly consider offers to attend a few meetings for $400K a year... or even $40K a year!), but it does set a threshold at which DSU would consider me not to be putting sufficient emphasis on my research and teaching.

Public discussion of a similar threshold for our state university presidents is a fine idea. Senator Kloucek is to be commended for his willingness to raise this issue in Pierre.