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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Screw Death Panels: Try Drunk Panels!

2009 ends with no response from Sarah Palin or anyone else to my challenge to show an example of an honest-to-God government death panel in any country with universal health care.

The British certainly haven't thrown Grandma under the bus. But a Tory British think tank recommends their National Health Service throw drunks under the bus... or at least charge them for being idiots:

Excessive drinking over New Year's Eve could cost Britain's National Health Service as much as 23 million pounds, according to a report on Thursday which recommends drunks be charged a hospital admission fee of 532 pounds ($845.9).

"Alcohol misuse in Britain is at a level where it constitutes a public health epidemic," said the report by the right-leaning Policy Exchange think-tank.

Direct costs to the state-funded NHS, which provides free health care for Britons, are nearly 3 billion a year, with hospital admissions for alcohol intoxication doubling in a decade, it added [Stephen Addison, "New Year Drunks Should Pay for Hospital Care," Reuters via Yahoo News, 2009.12.31].


Happy New Year! Pass the 7-Up.

Support Community Banks: George Bailey Lives!

Some teabaggers find Ayn Rand's John Galt a compelling literary figure. I say skip his dreary monologues and turn to Frank Capra's George Bailey for guidance on real, practical action to make America better.

Inspired by It's a Wonderful Life (the movie really is a cultural touchstone), Arianna Huffington picks up an idea I've pushed previously: she and her associates are urging people to move their money into community banks.



Huffington is sick of the Too-Big-to-Fail Wall Street fat cats getting bailouts while Uncle Sam leaves the George Baileys of Main Street to sink or swim on their own. She's not asking for a bailout: she's asking us to pull our money from Citi and Chase and do our banking with our neighbors:

The idea is simple: If enough people who have money in one of the big four banks move it into smaller, more local, more traditional community banks, then collectively we, the people, will have taken a big step toward re-rigging the financial system so it becomes again the productive, stable engine for growth it's meant to be. It's neither Left nor Right -- it's populism at its best. Consider it a withdrawal tax on the big banks for the negative service they provide by consistently ignoring the public interest. It's time for Americans to move their money out of these reckless behemoths. And you don't have to worry, there is zero risk: deposit insurance is just as good at small banks -- and unlike the big banks they don't provide the toxic dividend of derivatives trading in a heads-they-win, tails-we-lose fashion [Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson, "Move Your Money: A New Year's Resolution," Huffington Post, 2009.12.29].

As I like to say, be a yokel: bank local! Unfortunately, I'm not sure Madison has a real local bank left. Does Fishback Financial count? What about the credit unions?

Keep your money as local as possible. Learn more at MoveYourMoney.info on how you can take your money back from Potter and support your town's George Bailey.

Top 10 Stories of 2009 -- A Madville Times Portfolio

If someone asked what this blog is about, I'd offer the following Madville Times 2009 portfolio. Some are big news stories, some are just fun. Some are stories I followed over a series of posts, some are one-off gems. All are what I would point to as examples of my better blogging in 2009.

1
Pipeline Through the Heartland: TransCanada on the Farm: The best journalism I've ever done, and a side of the Keystone pipeline story that the professional media didn't touch in 2009.

2
Water Project District: The best coverage in Lake County of an interesting local environmental and political issue.

3
Prairie Village: No controversy, no affairs of state, just great weather and huge crowds for this year's Steam Threshing Jamboree.

4
Bicycles: I went from a serendipitous meeting with a new cross-country adventurer to proposing a plan for a trail around beautiful Lake Herman. I took apart some arguments against a pending proposal for extending the trail out to Lake Herman State Park. That provoked all sorts of conversation, some neighborly, some... not so much.

5
Netbooks: My story on Elkton's pioneering and money-saving tech trial led to more media coverage... and my decision to replace my ailing HP with an Acer Aspire One D250... bought right here in Madison.

6
The American Clean Energy and Security Act: Cap and trade will probably get compromised away like the public option on health care, but I had a great time researching and writing about this topic. My conversation with Matt McGovern from Repower America led to a seven-part series on the issue. And how much analysis, pro or con, did your local paper give you on climate change legislation?

7
Big Stone II: Conservatives whined that the project's collapse was a massive setback for wind power and proof that envirowhackos and President Obama would destroy America's energy security. Yet more and more companies announced plans for more wind power in South Dakota. Our own PUC predicts a doubling of wind capacity in 2010.

8
Movies: I'm not all politics. I had a blast writing about the new Star Trek in May, then was inspired to musings on manhood and blogging by Julie & Julia.

9
Rick Millner: In Dutch with the DENR, the EPA, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, not paying his bills, this Veblen dairy operator is a hazard to man and beast, not to mention the good earth. It's hard to tell which stinks more: Millner's business practices, or our state's eager support of such noxious businesses.

10
Madison City Commission: My coverage of local politics shows where blogs can perform a true service in a world of corporate media that plays to the masses. (Now if only Myron had won that recount: he'd have been a gas in formal discussion of the public urination ordinance!)

* * *
What were your favorite stories? What would you like to see me cover more? Let me know... and stay tuned for more local blogging from Lake Herman in 2010!

--------------------------------------
Update 2010.01.07 20:00 CST: A friend reminds me of a story deserving a place in the portfolio: "Sandbox. Cemetery. Thunderstorm. Dads." No politics, no ideology, just an old friend taking care of what's important.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SD Businesses Pay Higher Taxes Per GSP Than Minn. Competition

The Council on State Taxation (COST) has released its seventh annual report on state and local business taxes. The data, gathered by Ernst & Young, shows South Dakota isn't the business tax haven that various ideologues would have you believe. Among the findings (I'm working from Table 7, page 15):
  • South Dakota's state and local business taxes take 5.2% of our gross state product (i.e., the total economic activity generated by our businesses). That ties us for 18th highest with Louisiana and Florida.
  • Nationally, state and local business taxes take 4.9% of gross state products.
  • The People's Republic of Minnesota only hits its businesses up for 4.3% of its GSP. (Minnesota also does 7.7 times the business South Dakota does, with 6.5 times our population.)
  • The state taking the biggest chunk of GSP in business taxes: freedom-lovin', oil-slurpin' Alaska, 22.3%.
Also worth noting: as previously reported, Pierre slacks off on taxes, leaving South Dakota's local governments to make up the difference. The COST data show we South Dakotans pay 92 cents in local taxes for every buck we pay in state taxes. Nationally, folks pay an (unweighted) average of 57 cents in local taxes for every dollar in state taxes. In other words, South Dakota's state government chickens out and leaves it to locals to raise 48% of the taxes required to provide public goods (cops, schools, etc.) in our state. Forty-five other state governments pick up a greater share of the price tag of civil society—the national average is 65%.

We do make out a little better on the individual side. Non-business taxes (what we workers pay) amount to just 3.5% of GSP, the fifth-lowest rate in the nation. But that individual advantage comes on the backs of businesses. South Dakota lays 61.7% of its state and local tax burden on businesses. That's the fourth-highest business burden in the nation. Nationally, businesses bear 44.1% of the state and local tax burden.

Overall, we pay just 8.7% of our GSP in state and local taxes, tied with Texas for the third-lowest rate in the nation. But when you break the numbers down by who pays and by percentage of the economic pie, you see that South Dakota isn't necessarily the business tax haven it claims to be.

--------------
p.s.: Stan! Wyoming's business tax collections equal 9.2% of WY-GSP. I hope that all comes from oil and coal, not independent authors. :-)

State Taxes Don't Matter Much to Entrepreneurship

The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council made news this month by ranking South Dakota tops again on its Small Business Survival Index. As I have noted previously, the SBEC's index is more of an ideological wishlist than an analysis of actual small business performance.

The SBEC report also faces disagreement from one of the very experts it cites. To support his index's assumption that small businesses will thrive in states with low taxes, SBEC chief economist Raymond J. Keating (not a Ph.D.) cited work co-authored by Donald Bruce (a Ph.D.) that found decreases in marginal tax rates "might lead to increases in entrepreneurial entry and better chances of survival" (Bruce and Gurley, 2005, p. 24). Ignored by Mr. Keating is Dr. Bruce's finding in the same paper that "higher average tax rates on entrepreneurship income might actually increase the probability of entry" (p. 24).

Keating also ignores a November 2006 paper co-authored by Dr. Bruce with John Deskins for the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy ("State Tax Policy and Entrepreneurial Activity"). To the good for Keating and the SBEC, Bruce and Deskins conclude that "Higher top tax rates on individual income, higher sales tax rates, and the existence of state-level inheritance or gift taxes all tend to slightly reduce a state’s share of the national entrepreneurial stock" (p. 2). They also find an apparent negative correlation between larger state and local governments and entrepreneurial activity (p. 22).

But Bruce and Deskins also knock at least a couple legs out from under the assumptions of Keating's index:
  • "...top marginal state tax rates on corporate and individual income do not have statistically significant effects on state entrepreneurship rates..." (p. 2).
  • "...states with higher sales tax rates tend to have higher entrepreneurship rates" (p. 2).
  • "The composition of state tax portfolios is generally not a significant determinant of state
    entrepreneurship rates" (p. 2).
  • "States with more progressive personal income taxes have slightly higher entrepreneurship rates" (p. 4).
  • "...taxes have statistically significant but very small and scattered effects on entrepreneurship rates. Consequently, they are likely to be ineffective in generating desired changes in entrepreneurial activity" (pp. 5–6).
Interestingly, over the period of the Bruce and Deskins study, 1989 to 2001, South Dakota was one of only five states that saw the self-employed percentage of its workforce decrease (Bruce and Deskins, 2006, Table 1, p. 34). Even with our low-tax-no-tax policies and the 1990s boom, South Dakota saw the percentage of workers doing their own thing go down.

Bruce and Deskins's work shows the fatal flaw in Keating's report. The "Small Business Survival Index" does not measure the actual survival of small businesses; it advocates a specific anti-tax agenda which research shows does not have a big impact on small business activity.

In other words, Keating and the SBEC are more concerned with ideology than with what really works.

Hey, Dan Richardt: If You're Going to Plagiarize, at Least Plagiarize Good Material

The "red" half of the Aberdeen newspaper's Red Blue & Purple is generally uninformed and uninformative, lacking links to actual news or evidence supporting any analysis. This morning, "red" author Dan Richardt also demonstrates unoriginality by plagiarizing—i.e. copying and claiming authorship, without attribution,—a dull and predictable chain e-mail claiming "My Dog Is a Democrat." See previous publication here, here, and here.

Now I suppose we can't throw the full plagiarism flag on folk wisdom or meme barfs like this that don't appear to have an identifiable originating author. But geez, Dan—at least give us something original... or save the electrons and just post a link to the site where you found it.

See also: "My Dog Is a Republican."

Curd Denigrates Nelson's Public Service

I'm not voting for Chris Nelson, but I'm happy to defend his record as a man who has made a career as an honest and effective public servant. As South Dakota's Secretary of State (yes! the state web still has the mustache picture! Grow it back, Chris!), Nelson has protected the electoral process and promoted government openness (not to mention really cool Web gizmos!)

But Dr. R. Blake Curd is ready to make Chris Nelson's career of public service a campaign issue. From yesterday's Mount Blogmore live chat with Kevin Woster:

Woster: What do you feel are the main differences between you and Chris Nelson?

Curd: We are two very different people. We share some similar beliefs, but I bring a very different perspective to the problems that face SD and our Nation. I have served in the Air Force and defended the USA overseas. I have run businesses in the private sector. I have helped create jobs and opportunities for people. I have nearly 20 years experience in health care as a physician and have seen how governmental policies effect [sic] the delivery of health care. People in South Dakota have told me there are ready for a Congressman who doesn't see political office as a career, but as a service. I am that kind of person [emphasis mine].

Gee, R. Blake, some people could say the same thing about medicine: isn't helping people supposed to be a service, not a money-making opportunity?

Chris Nelson has chosen to make his living as a servant of the people. His work is valuable and vital to democracy, as vital as anything Dr. R. Blake Curd has done to make his money, and certainly more honorable and unselfish than R. Blake's political opportunism and Washington lobbying. Nelson has earned every penny we taxpayers have paid him.

If the doctor thinks the route to Washington includes trashing Chris Nelson's record of public service, he's in for a rude awakening among the GOP faithful and the voters of South Dakota whom Nelson has served so well.

R. Blake Curd: Tea Party Faker

To my friends at the Tea parties: Dr. R. Blake Curd is using you. He does not truly believe in your cause. He is using your rallies and slogans to win votes and power and protect his medical profits.

My support for this hypothesis: Dr. R. Blake Curd's vacuous and contradictory responses in yesterday's online chat with Kevin Woster at Mount Blogmore. Examples:

  1. Dr. R. Blake Curd says "We don't believe government is the answer to our problems." Yet when I pointed to several examples of government solving our problems (federal grants for broadband mapping and development, rural hospitals, and research at SDSU) and asked which he'd cut, he replied with careful vagueries on par with the finest Herseth rhetoric about helping South Dakota "effectively compete for federal programs." The only specific he gave was to say federally funded broadband access is a good thing.
  2. Dr. R. Blake Curd said the stimulus isn't working, but he blatantly dodged saying what cuts he would have made in the state budget (or will propose in the coming legislative session) to avoid using federal stimulus dollars.

It also seemed to take R. Blake Curd a long time to come up with these answers. Perhaps that was just a function of the "Cover It Live" interface Mount Blogmore uses for these live chats... in which case I'd say upgrade to some software that feels a bit more live. Pending that excuse, to viewers, it felt like Dr. R. Blake Curd was spending an awful lot of time checking his talking points and cutting and pasting the proper stock slogans from his prepared notes.

If I were a teabagger (and debate over that term is over, thanks to Gordon Howie), I could have dashed off answers more faithful to the cause in no time:

  1. Federal grants? Send them back. Shrinking government starts at home. If we want to pay down the debt and spare our grandkids' financial future, we have to make the sacrifice. Sure, broadband is great, but we just don't have the money. I'd defund every one of those programs and force Washington and the whole country to live within its means.
  2. Stimulus? Send it back. Dependence on Washington is bad. The cuts we'd have to make will be painful, but only because we've become addicted to federal money. It's like kicking drugs: withdrawal hurts, but addiction kills. Yes, Kevin, I'd cut education, the arts, Birth to 3, the works, because smaller government and independence from Uncle Sam really are my core values.

Those are the logical conclusions I draw from the rhetoric I hear from my teabagger friends. But no serious politician is willing to campaign on those conclusions. I could respect a teabagger who would. But Dr. R. Blake Curd is a teabagger in name only. His record proves he doesn't really believe in smaller government. He is a fake, just another politician, carefully choosing his words to get elected.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gehl in Technical Default; Manitou Negotiating with Bankers

The recession is still beating up local manufacturer Gehl. The company is in technical default, meaning they're making their payments but are out of compliance with some aspect of their debt contracts. Parent company Manitou, still shaking its head over its really bad timing in acquiring Gehl just in time for the recession, is negotiating with Gehl's banking syndicate. (More details here.)

Minnesota 9th, South Dakota 39th in Small Business Performance

Small businesses do best in D.C.; Minnesota ranks 9th

South Dakota lags behind much of the nation in small business performance. According to the Lake Herman Institute's Small Business Success Index, South Dakota ranks 39th on concrete measures of small business success.

While the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council's Small Business Survival Index ranks states by an ideological wish list, LHI's Small Business Success Index ranks states by the actual economic performance of their small businesses.

The U.S. Census Survey of Business Owners released this year finds that in 2002, there were 5.5 million small firms (i.e., employing fewer than 500 people). Table 1 compares the receipts and payrolls of those firms in South Dakota and surrounding states with the national figures:

Area Number of employer firms Rcpts for employers ($1,000) Number of employees Annual payroll ($1,000)
United States 5,508,048 8,311,958,607 54,236,327 1,686,205,038
Minnesota 111,378 178,789,074 1,150,026 35,689,776
Iowa 60,748 85,982,227 606,033 15,532,711
Nebraska 38,942 51,164,695 362,170 9,386,137
North Dakota 16,060 21,127,904 152,112 3,502,804
South Dakota 19,506 24,941,973 177,223 4,086,122
Wyoming 15,591 14,908,651 117,122 2,844,255
Montana 27,623 25,278,791 203,212 4,503,774

Table 1: Small Employer Firms, Rececipts, Employees, and Payrolls
Source: U.S. Census, 2002 Survey of Small Business Owners

To rank the states, the Small Business Success Index asks the following questions:
  1. How much in receipts does each firm generate? More receipts mean more economic activity, a main goal of each state in fostering entrepreneurship.
  2. How many jobs does each firm create? More jobs is an obvious measure of economic development success.
  3. How much in receipts does each employee generate? The more economic activity produced per employee, the more successful the firm.
  4. How much is each firm's payroll? More payroll means more money to support consumer spending in the local/state economy, another key goal of state economic development policy.
  5. How much does each employee make? Higher wages increase the ability of the firm to attract and retain top workers who will sustain the success of the firm and contribute to community growth overall.
  6. What is the ratio of receipts to payroll? The Lake Herman Institute takes the ideological position that a low receipts-to-payroll ratio represents a wider distribution of wealth among the employees. Sharing more of the firm's wealth with the workers who produce that wealth improves firm and community morale and empowers more citizens economically and politically.
By these metrics, South Dakota ranks well below national averages in small business performance. South Dakota's receipts per small firm in 2002, $1.28 million, are 85% of the national average of $1.51 million, but annual payroll per employee, $23,100, was 74% of the national average of $31,100.

Regionally, Minnesota offers the strongest small business performance, ranking 9th. Iowa barely makes the top half at 25th. Nebraska and North Dakota rank 31st and 36th, respectively. Wyoming (50th) and Montana (51st) are at the bottom of the Small Business Success Index.


Rcpts/Firm Emp/Firm Rcpts/Emp
United States $1,509,057 9.847 $153,254
Minnesota $1,605,246 10.33 $155,465
Iowa $1,415,392 9.976 $141,877
Nebraska $1,313,869 9.3 $141,273
North Dakota $1,315,561 9.471 $138,897
South Dakota $1,278,682 9.086 $140,738
Wyoming $956,234 7.512 $127,292
Montana $915,136 7.357 $124,396



Annual Payroll per Firm Annual Payroll per employee Rcpts/Payroll SBSI rank
United States $306,135 $31,090 4.93
Minnesota $320,438 $31,034 5.01 9
Iowa $255,691 $25,630 5.54 25
Nebraska $241,029 $25,916 5.45 31
North Dakota $218,107 $23,028 6.03 36
South Dakota $209,480 $23,056 6.10 39
Wyoming $182,429 $24,285 5.24 50
Montana $163,044 $22,163 5.61 51

Table 2: Small Business Success Index Metrics and Rankings
South Dakota and Surrounding States

By these metrics, the place where entrepreneurs produce the best economic results is Washington, DC, with small firms producing the highest receipts per firm, the highest employment per firm, the highest pay per firm, and the highest pay per employee in the nation. Following the District of Columbia on the Small Business Success Index are Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Illinois, New York, Texas, Minnesota, and Michigan.

Download the complete spreadsheet and check the numbers yourself!

SD Best for Small Business? No: Media Trumpets Right-Wing Propaganda

South Dakota's paid media are happily touting the 2009 Small Business Survival Index, which ranks South Dakota as the best state for entrepreneurship, as actual news. In reality, the report from the DC-based Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council is right-wing propaganda. Report author and SBEC chief economist Raymond J. Keating performs no analysis of small business survival rates or or economic output. Instead, writes Keating,

...The Index ranks the states according to their public policy climates for entrepreneurship.

This fourteenth annual “Small Business Survival Index” ties together 36 major government-imposed or government-related costs impacting small businesses and entrepreneurs across a broad spectrum of industries and types of businesses..." [Raymond J. Keating, "Small Business Survival Index 2009: Ranking the Policy Environment for Entrepreneurship Across the Nation," Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, December 2009].

In other words, Keating starts with a Grover Norquist wishlist of anti-government positions and doles out top rankings to states that most resemble 1990s-style Russian anarcho-capitalism.

In Keating's scoring scheme, taxes are, of course, an unalloyed evil. The ideal score would go to a state with no taxes and thus no method of funding roads, police, schools, or parks (would such a utopia really be the best place to start a business?). Even taxing Internet sales, an idea Governor Rounds has floated for years, lowers your state's standing the SBEC's eyes. States also lose points for imposing any mandates on health insurers, including requiring them to cover the self-employed. Keating further brands pro-family states bad for business when they mandate paid family leave.

Evidently when Keating says a state is good for "entrepreneurs," he means for Henry F. Potter, not George Bailey.

Not one of Keating's 36 metrics measures actual economic performance. Not one gauges whether you'll find a welcoming business environment or whether small-town politics will block you at every turn from competing with the existing business powers of the community.

And not one of the local news stories trumpeting the SBEC report tells you that the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, neé the Small Business Survival Committee, is an industry-funded lobbying group associated with Grover Norquist's drown-government-in-the-bathtub Americans for Tax Reform. The local news ignores that SBEC chief economist Raymond J. Keating (MA, not Ph.D) attacks open-source software (a critical component in making the Internet work) and likens it to the Borg (subtext: open source is bad because it cuts into his corporate backers' profit margins). Our paid journalists ignore that SBEC president and CEO Karen Kerrigan is "a seasoned player in the conservative movement."

The SBEC's propaganda (and the paid press's parroting thereof) reminds me of the reporting on the "freedom index" last March. Some political advocates cook some formulas to suit their agenda, and local reporters chirp, "Oh, look! Pretty numbers!"

I'll have some real numbers coming up to show the flimsy case Keating and the SBEC make. But for now, remember to always look for the people and the agenda behind the conservative curtain.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Blizzard Boosts Nanny State

Mr. Epp raises an issue that our conservative friends haven't touched yet. He notes that Pierre's five-alarm response to our Christmas snowstorm was nanny-statism par excellence.

Fellow members of Gov. Rounds own party–the Republican Party–often complain about all the restrictions and safety consciousness that the Nanny Staters place or wish to place on the rest of us right thinking citizens.

Here, Gov. Rounds took away every citizens’ right to go out in to the teeth of a blizzard, get stuck, and freeze to death like people did in Nebraska and other states where far wiser governors allowed their Interstates to be open before and during the recent blizzard. Nanny Stater Mike had no one die on his watch in South Dakota because he wouldn’t let them go out and exercise their right to be stupid [Todd Epp, "Dang That Nanny Stater Gov. Rounds! He Saved Lives in the Blizzard!" Middle Border Sun via KELO, 2009.12.27].

As the storm hardly raged over Lake Herman, I had to wonder how Republicans remained so unperturbed at what felt like an over-reaction. Closing the Interstates for three days? Some friends made a trip to Brookings during the closure and found old Highway 77 up to Medary packed with motorists. Close the safest roads in the state, drive folks to the skinny backroads—not the best outcome.

Dad and I have cleared the driveway and shoveled some walks in town. Sure, it snowed a lot, but it didn't strike us as "historic" snowfall. We've moved more snow than this. We've driven to town through bigger drifts.

Travel restrictions are about as Stalinist a government restriction as you get, yet I haven't heard one conservative protest. Fascinating.

I've heard an interesting conspiracy theory: Maybe the extended Interstate closing was really a calculated budget move: work to keep the Interstate open over Christmas day, and we'd have to pay triple overtime. Why not just tell everyone to stay home?

I'll admit, if that was the real thinking behind closing the Interstates, it wasn't a bad idea. And if the Governor had just made that case—"Come on, folks: the state's short on cash, it's Christmas, businesses aren't going to be open anyway... just stay home and save money"—a lot of folks might have bought that line.

Instead, the Governor went for full-tilt fear-mongering (how many live press-conferences do we need about the weather?). Sound that alarm too often, and folks stop listening.

Last week's blizzard was half snow, half hype. At the very least, Republicans need to get honest about their views on government protecting us from our own bad decisions.

Trobec: "Crotch Bomber" Means More Futile Airport Security

We have spent eight years constantly tightening airport security, and one loon can still manage to sneak exploding pants onto a plane. Now we take away blankets, don't let passengers move, and increase body searches. Can you say diminishing returns?

Frequent flyer Jay Trobec can: he agrees that more layers of airport security are futile "knee-jerk reactions" to the "crotch bomber":

The TSA announced the irritating, meaningless measures because it feels it has to do something - even when it is powerless to do anything meaningful. There will now be calls for those full-body scanners, the same ones that were criticized by civil rights and women’s groups because they allow screeners to see beneath clothing. A better idea would be to do what other countries do: profile. Take everyone whose passport isn’t attached to a documented, long-time history of law abiding behavior, and run them through additional screening including highly-invasive pat-downs. After all, 80 grams of explosive hidden in underpants is pretty hard to detect.

As I see it, we have three choices: full-body scanning that violates people’s privacy, profiling that violates people’s rights, or new TSA regulations that irritate everyone without providing one bit of actual protection [Jay Trobec, "Crotch Bomber Ignites TSA Lunacy," Jaystream, 2009.12.27].

If I were a terrrorist, I would view Friday's botched bombing as a smashing success. Instead of just killing a couple hundred people, I've used 80 grams of chemicals and one bumbling patsy to create ongoing daily inconvenience and invasion of privacy for over a million people, not to mention one more drag on the American economy. The terrorists are getting us to do their work for them. That's a real return on investment.

Meanwhile, prepare to fly naked... or in airport-issued spandex.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Marketing 101 from Bulldog Media: Go Mac, Go Gay...

Madison's Bulldog Media Group is sharing a small online portfolio of its video work on YouTube. Bulldog Media Group, neé Credit Soup, brought us the dreamy creamy "Madison—Season of Hope" holiday ad. They also share this four-minute string of promos for their new online shopping rewards program, The Rewards Runner Network:



What lessons can we derive from this showcase of our Madison marketers' work?
  1. Co-opt other brands: note how Bulldog Media Group twice shamelessly borrows the Apple brand—I type slowly on a Mac, I must be sophisticated!—to boost its own. (Kind of like how they borrow the local sports team name for their company brand.)
  2. Short shorts sell.
  3. Homoeroticism sells: at 3:15, when Rewards Runner dude takes those flowers, I'm pretty sure he thrusts his pelvis at Stocking Cap dude (not that there's anything wrong with that...).
  4. People won't notice a giant Photoshopped banner, even if you center it on the screen for three seconds.
  5. Image over substance: don't tell the customer exactly what your service is or how to get it. Just be cool: people love to spend money on things that make them say "It's a mystery to me!"

Republican Hypocrisy: Deficit Spending Great for 2003 Medicare Drug Benefit

One of the main arguments the Republican obstructionists (and their Blue Dog Democrat helpers) offer against health care reform is that the trillion-dollar program would increase the deficit. You can argue the numbers, but the Democrats have clearly tried to cobble together spending cuts and tax increases to offset the costs.

Compare this to 2003, when the Republican majority in Congress passed the half-trillion-dollar Medicare prescription drug benefit and funded it 100% with deficit spending. 24 current GOP Senators voted for that massive increase in the deficit.

One of those erstwhile big spenders, Senator Olympia Snowe from Maine, now says, "Dredging up history is not the way to move forward." Funny—I thought dredging up history was the way to move forward without repeating past mistakes (even if Santayana didn't say it).

Well, at least it took just six years for Republicans to get religion on deficit spending. It's too bad they couldn't have learned it during eight years of Bush rule. (Debt when George W. Bush took office: $5.7 trillion. Debt when he left: $10.6 trillion.) I just wish I could believe their newfound deficit-hawkishness is more than a smokescreen for a lack of ideas and a convenient anti-Obama political posture, which they will shed the moment they are back in the position of actually governing and making hard fiscal choices.

At least Senator Thune can claim immunity from this hypocrisy: in 2003, he was busy working as a lobbyist.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hyperion Won't Happen, Now or After Recession

AP offers yet another story about American oil refineries scaling back and closing. Does anyone still believe Hyperion's bluff that they're going to build an expensive new refinery here in South Dakota?

But wait: maybe it's just the recession causing a temporary dip in petro-demand. Once President Obama fixes the economy, we'll need more gasoline than ever, right?

Just a few years ago, gas was $4 a gallon and there were worries the nation did not have enough refining capacity. But the recession, coupled with more emphasis on fuel efficiency, has driven down demand as refineries were built and were expanded in China, India and the Middle East.

[Caris & Co. analyst Anne] Kohler said gasoline demand isn't likely to return to its 2007 peak and even if the economy turns around, refineries that are shuttered will probably stay closed, partly because it's so hard to reopen one once it's closed entirely [Geoff Mulvihill, "Refinery Struggles Bruise NJ Communities," AP via ABCNews.com, 2009.12.25].

No return to the 2007 peak. Sounds to me like the experts in the industry are saying oil refining is a dead-end investment.

Now those refineries have been offering great wages—$33 to $37 an hour, according to Mulvihill's report. I'd love to see Hyperion bring wages like that to Elk Point, but the oil industry sees wages like that as liabilities. Hyperion might bring a refinery here to take advantage of relatively cheaper labor—their own press promises average wages of $20 to $30 an hour, and you should always round company propaganda down. But the industry in general sees they can get even cheaper labor overseas and then ship the final product back to America.

Hm... can't export wind power jobs, can you?

Even the Sioux City Journal blog acknowledges that Hyperion would have to prove itself an exception to the market rules to make the Elk Point refinery a reality. I know folks in Elk Point need jobs, but Union County would do better to invest in achievable local industry rather than the pipe dreams of a company with no proven record and all the market fundamentals stacked against it.

Wind Notes: More Local Power, More Green Jobs... and No More Coal

Watching the wind whip across the prairie, how can you not think about using some of that power for good? Here are some weekend readings on wind power:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Ho Ho Hope! Christmas Gift-Giving Slipping

There may be hope in the fight against Christmas consumerism:

...there are indicators that Christmas revelry in general may be slipping among the population at large. The Christmas Spirit Foundation, a charity that provides holiday assistance to needy children and sends Christmas trees to military families, has been examining people’s plans for the holidays for the last five years. This year’s survey, conducted by the polling firm Harris Interactive, found that while 95 percent of households plan to celebrate Christmas (about the same as every year), the percentage of families who plan to exchange gifts is dropping: 77 percent this year, down from 85 percent in 2005. Slightly fewer people said they were going to attend parties or listen to Christmas music, too [Hilary Stout, "Saying No, No, No to the Ho-Ho-Ho," New York Times, 2009.12.23].

Now I'm all for some winter revelry. But buying less and saving more could be a great gift for ourselves and future generations. Keep the faith, Reverend Billy!

Vegans Can't Win: Everything Wants to Live!

Figured I'd beat Advocates for Agriculture to the vegetarian punch on this one! ;-)

SDSU philosophy prof liked to tease us undergrads away from pious vegetarianism by telling the story of an experiment where researchers hooked a head of lettuce up to some electrodes and something like a heart monitor. When they approached the lettuce with a knife, the needle started to quiver, signaling the lettuce didn't want to to die.

Natalie Angier throws more water on any Pharisaical vegan fire with this NYT article noting our green friends can also call in reinforcements:

“I’m amazed at how fast some of these things happen,” said Consuelo M. De Moraes of Pennsylvania State University. Dr. De Moraes and her colleagues did labeling experiments to clock a plant’s systemic response time and found that, in less than 20 minutes from the moment the caterpillar had begun feeding on its leaves, the plant had plucked carbon from the air and forged defensive compounds from scratch.

Just because we humans can’t hear them doesn’t mean plants don’t howl. Some of the compounds that plants generate in response to insect mastication — their feedback, you might say — are volatile chemicals that serve as cries for help. Such airborne alarm calls have been shown to attract both large predatory insects like dragon flies, which delight in caterpillar meat, and tiny parasitic insects, which can infect a caterpillar and destroy it from within [Natalie Angier, "Sorry, Vegans: Brussel Sprouts Like to Live, Too," New York Times, 2009.12.21].

I've got bigger fish to fry than the food debate. Everything eats, and everything, including us, is eventually eaten—maybe by coyote or grizzly bear, more likely by lowly bacteria.

And now, if you'll excuse me, monkey bread and egg bake (heavy on the sausage!) await. Ah, the circle of life is so tasty!

Operation Homefront SD Collects Christmas Cash by Text

Senator Thune may no longer support the troops, but Patricia Stricherz at Operation Homefront SD still does. She drops a note in my inbox to let readers know Operation Homefront is collecting money by text to provide assistance to military families and wounded vets. If the snow kept you from blowing the last of your Christmas cash at the mall yesterday, maybe you'd like to send a little Christmas jingle their way. To make a donation, says Stricherz, "Text PATRIOT to 90999 and donate $5.00 to Operation Homefront South Dakota to help us stay within our mission of supporting the troops and helping the families they leave behind."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Who Caused the Recession? How About Christians with Bad Theology?

In case a little snow keeps you home from your Christmas Eve service, contemplate this reading on religion and the economy.

Who caused the recession? The latest Hanna Rosin article in The Atlantic (recommended by my Episcopalian friend Mr. Price) suggests part of the blame may lie with the prosperity gospel, the warped theology of many American Christians who conflate Jesus with Santa Claus:

Demographically, the growth of the prosperity gospel tracks fairly closely to the pattern of foreclosure hot spots. Both spread in two particular kinds of communities—the exurban middle class and the urban poor. Many newer prosperity churches popped up around fringe suburban developments built in the 1990s and 2000s, says Walton. These are precisely the kinds of neighborhoods that have been decimated by foreclosures, according to Eric Halperin, of the Center for Responsible Lending.

Zooming out a bit, Kate Bowler found that most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along the Sun Belt, particularly in California, Florida, and Arizona—all areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis. Bowler, who, like Walton, was researching a book, spent a lot of time attending the “financial empowerment” seminars that are common at prosperity churches. Advisers would pay lip service to “sound financial practices,” she recalls, but overall they would send the opposite message: posters advertising the seminars featured big houses in the background, and the parking spots closest to the church were reserved for luxury cars [Hanna Rosin, "," The Atlantic, December 2009].

Read Rosin's full article for some insight on the God=Mammon mindset that pervades too many American churches. Only in the prosperity gospel could a pastor happily moonlight as a loan officer for subprime lender Countrywide. Only in the prosperity gospel could craving a really big house be seen by mega-preachers like Joel Osteen as God's calling to goodness.

Fortunately, not all of the faithful are fooled by filthy lucre. Rosin points to a 2006 Time interview with Rick Warren (no poor preacher himself), who rightly laughs at the prosperity gospel:

This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? There is a word for that: baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire? [Rick Warren, quoted in David Van Biema and Jeff Chu, "Does God Want You to Be Rich?" Time, 2006.09.10].

The next time you hear a preacher telling you that wealth is a sign of God's favor, remind him of Matthew 19:24—you know, the camel and the eye of the needle.

Here endeth the homily. Go forth and proclaim the good news... and hold the materialism.

Monsanto Monopoly Stifles Seed Innovation

Hey, Dr. Chicoine! Pass this on at the next Monsanto board meeting!

A couple weeks ago, I gave ag-industry propagandist Troy Hadrick grief for a blog post titled "Uniting Agriculture." The Daily Yonder suggests that the problem with agriculture is that the industry is far too united, behind a few corporate players who dominate every part of the market, including seed engineering. The Yonder crew share excerpts of "Out of Hand," a new report from the National Family Farm Coalition's Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering.

Why should you be alarmed? Simple economics—monopolies are bad:

The concentration of economic power in agriculture has led to grave consequences for American farmers and rural communities. Today, reduced competition in agricultural markets means farmers face increasingly high input prices and diminished choice and innovation....

For example, four firms control more than 80 percent of beef packing; three firms control about 70 percent of soybean crushing; and three firms handle 55 percent of flour milling. Farms themselves have quickly consolidated since the 1930s. The number of farms has decreased over the years, while the size of farms and the average age of farmers have steadily increased....

Input industries are included in the trend and in fact demonstrate even higher levels of concentration in some sectors. Six companies account for 75 percent of the agricultural chemical market worldwide.

The seed industry is one of the most concentrated in agriculture. The top four firms account for 43 percent of the global commercial seed market, which includes both public and proprietary varieties sold. They also account for 50 percent of the global proprietary seed market. (The term proprietary refers to branded seed subject to intellectual property protections.)

The prevailing leader, the Monsanto Company, accounts for about 60 percent of both the U.S. corn and soybean seed market through subsidiaries and technology (i.e., genetically engineered traits, such as Roundup Ready and Bt) licensing agreements with smaller companies. When looking specifically at genetically engineered traits in the U.S., more than 90 percent of the soybean and cotton acreage, and more than 80 percent of corn acreage, is planted with one or more of Monsanto’s traits.

Under the hegemony of Monsanto and the ag-industrial complex, life itself becomes a patentable commodity. The intellectual property purists will contend that patents on seed DNA allow biotech companies to protect investment and thus incentivize innovation. But the Farmer to Farmer Campaign finds this privatization of research and consolidation of the seed industry has actually reduced innovation:

Utility patents have not spurred innovation in plants. In fact, the opposite seems true, as evidenced by USDA reports that document a downward trend: “Calculations for corn, soybeans, and cotton indicate that as the seed industry became more concentrated during the late 1990s, private research intensity dropped or slowed.” As opposed to driving innovation, utility patents on plants have provided an incentive to expand control over genetic resources, limit access to them, and make access expensive.

The number of independent seed companies, especially small, family-operated businesses and research firms, has dramatically declined over the last few decades. As mentioned earlier, the Independent Professional Seed Association says there are only about 100 independent seed companies left, compared to more than 300 total (independent and consolidated) thirteen years ago.

But all that genetically engineered seed is feeding the world, right? Monsanto's glyphosate (a.k.a. Round-Up™) is the best thing to happen to farming in the last hundred years, isn't it?

...Glyphosate-resistant weeds are now established in 19 states and deemed a serious economic problem, at times adding more than $20 per acre. Weed specialists refer to resistant weeds as a “train wreck” making their way across the country.

...Some of the worst resistance is found in pigweed (Palmer amaranth). Resistant pigweed now infests hundreds of thousands of acres in the Southeast. For example, 70 to 80 percent of Macon County, Georgia, dubbed the “epicenter” of glyphosate-resistant Pigweed, is infested with the weed, and farmers were forced to abandon 10,000 acres in 2007.

Purdue University weed scientist Bill Johnson explains that, “Farmers do not think resistance is a problem until they actually have it.” Johnson points out that new innovation and choice in herbicides has diminished over the years, so farmers have fewer chemical options. He says farmers “think the chemical companies can turn on the spigots and produce a new herbicide whenever they want.” But with Roundup’s success, money has not been invested in new herbicide research.

Troy Hadrick calls for "uniting agriculture," but you don't hear him uniting with his fellow farmers who issued this report on the dangers of seed consolidation. Hadrick's Farm Bureau party line has no room for real grassroots campaigns to protect independent farming. Hadrick only has blog ink for Ag Inc.

That's the "united agriculture" Troy Hadrick is fronting. That's the "united agriculture" that drives up costs, stifles innovation, and puts more independent family farms out of business.

Monsanto and its monopolists want serfdom. Where's Tsar Alexander II when you need him?

Defense Bill Extends Health Insurance Subsidy for Unemployed

I thought G.I. Joe and COBRA were enemies...

The Defense Appropriations Act that President Obama signed into law Saturday contained a healthy dose of socialized medicine. Tucked away in the Pentagon funding is a provision that extends the federal COBRA subsidy another six months. If you lose your job, you usually have the option of keeping your group health insurance by paying the full premium yourself... which is usually absurdly expensive for someone out of work. The stimulus act from February created a subsidy that covers two-thirds of that cost. The defense appropriations act gives unemployed folks two more months to sign up for that subsidy (deadline now Feb. 28, 2010—don't miss it!) and six more months to keep out of the cutthroat, profit-hungry individual market.

Imagine that: the defense appropriations act defending civilians in need from the recession. Senator Thune must just hate that. That, and the Franken Amendment to protect civilians from gang rape.

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p.s.: Oh yeah, and the Senate just passed some other piece of health care-related legislation this morning.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ho Ho Ho SDSU: Defense Bill Packs $8M in Pork

...or so the headline will read for my government- and education-hating Tea Party neighbors and GOP candidates... right?

Senator Thune had the guts to become my new favorite hippie last week, voting to block funding for the Pentagon. Now will his Republican friends have the guts to denounce $8 million of pork that defense appropriations bill will send to SDSU?

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S .D.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on Thursday announced funding levels for a number of South Dakota projects as part of the final version of the Defense Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2010....

The SDSU projects marked for funding include:
  • Alternative Power Technology (APT) for Missile Defense $3,200,000. SDSU works with Radiance Technologies to develop and demonstrate alternative power technology for missile defense.
  • Accelerated Materials Development for Army Cannon Systems $2,400,000. SDSU is working with the U.S. Army to help develop a fatigue testing system to test and predict the life and the reliability of cannon system parts.
  • Renewable Jet Fuel from Lignocellulosic Feedstocks $2,400,000. This project will develop affordable, alternative sources and production technologies that can achieve high conversion efficiency biofuel for military aviation applications [staff, "$8M for SDSU in Defense Bill," Brookings Register, 2009.12.22].

I can count on Sibby to denounce this money: it's his favorite mix of big government and big money for us evil secular America-haters in higher education.

But I want to hear it from people who might actually win votes in 2010. I eagerly await the press release from R. Blake Curd, Scott Munsterman, or any other Republican true believer in fiscal responsibility who will grinch out on SDSU and demand we send this filthy money back to Washington. Go ahead, Republicans. I double dog dare you.

Lake County Workforce Shrinks, Dropping November Unemployment to 5.9%

Unemployment in Lake County dropped to 5.9% in November, down a full percentage point from the revised 6.9% figure from October.

Unfortunately, that doesn't mean more of our neighbors are working. October is traditionally our best jobs month, but we shed more jobs than usual in November. 100 Lake County jobs went poof last month. Luckily for our stats, 180 people went poof from the workforce, producing a net decrease in unemployment from 480 to 400.

So, for those of you keeping score at home, Lake County is now down to 6360 jobs, down 325 from October 2006, when the Lake Area Improvement Corporation declared its goal of creating 400 new jobs in five years. We thus have 725 jobs to create in two years. Let's get to work!

Looking around the septa-county region, our neighbors in Moody and Miner are having a tougher time finding work, with respective jobless rates of 6.8% and 6.3%. But Miner County actually added five jobs in November and saw fifteen people join its workforce. Brookings County had the best unemployment rate in the neighborhood, creeping up just a tick in November to 3.5%. Last month Brookings managed to add 125 new jobs, only to have that number outpaced by 160 people joing the workforce (maybe that's where Lake County's workers went?).

Lake County's unemployment rate was the 14th-highest among all counties in the state. Buffalo, Shannon, Jackson, and Dewey counties are the only areas reporting official unemployment rates in double digits.

Yankton is back at the top of the heap of big towns where it's hard to find work, with November unemployment at 7.3% (which still beats the pants off the national rate of 10%). The cities with the lowest unemployment numbers: Pierre (2.9%), Aberdeen (3.2%), Vermillion (3.4%), and Brookings (3.5%).

Federal Oil & Gas Leases Undeveloped; Recession Cools Demand

Another campaign slogan popped by economic realities. All that faintly misogynist "Drill, baby, drill!" talk from the conservatives has gone poof in the face of decreased demand. Federal oil and gas leases for Bakken shale oil in the Dakotas and Montana brought in record revenues in the just-finished fiscal year (South Dakota brought in $163K, compared to North Dakota's $74.2M), but we're still far from a development rush.

As Interior Secretary Salazar looks at a comprehensive review of lease policy that may shift focus from Big Oil to sportsmen and conservationists, the recession may promote energy policy somewhat different from the crude-thirsty rantings of last year's Republicans:

[VP of The Wilderness Society's Public Lands Campaign Ann] Morgan says sportsmen and recreation groups want to see a slower pace of energy development, and more accountability for leaseholders to protect water, wildlife and public access.

Resource economist Thomas Power at the University of Montana says the recession turns out to be a good time for this review, when oil and gas production has been scaled back because of reduced demand.

"As a result, there's been less enthusiasm among companies for leasing more federal lands for oil and gas development, and vast amounts of existing federal oil and gas leases have gone undeveloped" [Deb Courson, "Experts: Time Is Right to Review BLM Oil and Gas Leasing," Public News Service, 2009.12.22].

Drill, baby, drill? Pfft. We've got leases available where the industry folks won't even bid, because the market isn't there.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Herseth Sandlin GOP Switch Next?

Those news guys got me reading Public Policy Polling's blog. PPP looks at Democratic dissension in the context of Alabama freshman Congressman Parker Griffith's switch from D to R today... and gives me reason to wonder if a Herseth Sandlin defection to the GOP might be more likely than I thought.

PPP's coverage suggests that Dems may suffer more from conservative dissatisfaction within their party than from liberal dissatisfaction. The problem is an interesting mirror image of the trouble the Republicans have experienced by driving moderates away... although I would contend that Dems have hardly turned as hard left, even with control of the White House and Congress, as the GOP has turned hard right.

PPP then suggests we'll see more Dems exit stage right for personal political survival... and that such defections might actually help the party:

That said, I don't think Griffith had any shot at reelection as a Democrat given the highly conservative nature of his district and it's probably better for the party to just lose his seat now instead of losing it after blowing a million dollars on it a year from now. I hate to be a defeatist but depending on initial numbers I'm not sure I'd spend a lot of money defending Bobby Bright, Walt Minnick, or Frank Kratovil either. The odds are very much stacked against them for reelection anyway and if they're not going to be reliable votes for core Democratic initiatives it might be better to spend that money elsewhere [Tom Jensen, "Democratic Dissension," Public Policy Polling, 2009.12.22]

I can imagine the national party taking the same view of SHS's re-election bid. If she's going to vote against health care and other Democratic priorities, only to face the same GOP attacks at home and some of her worst poll numbers yet against a couple of ill-known GOP challengers, what's the point in throwing lots of resources into a re-election bid that, even if successful, doesn't strengthen the party? The home crowd partisans aren't excited about her, the national party has little reason to back her... yeesh! That's a recipe for empty campaign coffers.

SHS might be looking across the border to Minnesota, where another Congresswoman who voted nay on health care and climate change legislation has much better polling numbers against her challengers. Rep Michelle Bachman gets to say much nuttier things (see also here and here) than anything SHS so craftfully recites, and she's still a safer bet for returning to Washington in 2011 than our gal Stephanie.

So if I'm a political animal, and I want to stay in office in South Dakota, what do I do? Do I stick with a party which I haven't backed very hard this year and which might return the favor next year? Or do I give up even the lukewarm fight, switch to the GOP, and gamble on becoming a new darling adopted daughter in a second Gingrich revolution?

Or do I say "Wait a minute—Heidelberger and Franken are right!" pin my Obama button back on, and fight like hell for South Dakota and the Democratic Party?

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Update 2009.12.23 07:40 CST: David Montgomery from the Pierre Capital Journal takes the sensible position that Herseth Sandlin will not hit the eject button. She's not the "apocalyptic partisan" attack dog the Republicans want right now. Montgomery even speculates that, in the unlikely event SHS did switch parties and the GOP establishment moved mild-mannered Chris Nelson aside to make way for her at the top of the ticket, she'd still lose to outsider R. Blake Curd in the GOP primary. (And now that Curd has learned to strain his face into a smile, he might have a chance.)

Senate Bill Favors South Dakota Frontier Counties; Will SHS Bite?

South Dakota Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandling defended her nay on the House health care bill saying it wasn't what was best for South Dakota. Among her issues was "undue financial pressure" on Medicare for South Dakotans.

As Seth Tupper points out, it looks like the Senate bill eases some of that pressure:

Another item in the package would increase Medicare payments to hospitals and doctors in any state where at least 50 percent of the counties are “frontier counties,” defined as those having a population density less than six people per square mile.

And which are the lucky states? The bill gives no clue. But the Congressional Budget Office has determined that Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming meet the criteria [Robert Pear, "Deep in Health Bill, Very Specific Beneficiaries," New York Times, 2009.12.20].

The health care bill is some serious legislative sausage. SHS, will you bite, or will you just keep up the Blue Dog bark? America—and South Dakota's Democrats—eagerly await your answer.

"Cursed with Money": Financial Freedom Can Fuel Failure

Deane Barker at Gadgetopia gets me thinking about capitalism and success. Barker points to a Wired feature on the death of Duke Nukem Forever, the sequel that never was to the groundbreaking 1996 shoot-'em-up video game Duke Nukem 3D. Game creator George Broussard and his 3D Realms team spent 12 years designing and redesigning the proposed sequel, only to call it quits last May and face a lawsuit for failure to deliver.

What went wrong? Poor management and unrealistic perfectionism appear to be the main problems. But woven into the fabric of this failure was too much money:

Normally, game developers don’t have much cash. Like rock bands seeking a label to help pay for the cost of recording an album, game developers usually find a publisher to give them an advance in exchange for a big slice of the profits. But Broussard and Miller didn’t need to do this. 3D Realms was flush with cash; on top of the massive Duke Nukem 3D sales, they had other products that were selling briskly....

So when Broussard and Miller began work on Duke Nukem Forever, they decided to fund its development themselves....

Other game developers envied the freedom that Broussard and Miller had, at least at first. Developers and their publishers, indeed, are often at war. It’s like many suits-versus-creatives relationships: Developers want to make their product superb, and the publishers just want it on the shelves as soon as possible. If the game starts getting delayed, it’s the publisher that cracks the whip. Broussard and Miller were free to thumb their noses at this entire system.... [Said Broussard] “It’s our time and our money we are spending on the game. So either we’re absolutely stupid and clueless, or we believe in what we are working on.”

Yet the truth is, Broussard’s financial freedom had cut him off from all discipline. He could delay making the tough calls, seemingly forever. “One day, Broussard came in and said, ‘We could go another five years without shipping a game’” because 3D Realms still had so much money in the bank, an employee told me. “He seemed really happy about that. The other people just groaned” [Clive Thompson, "Learn to Let Go: How Success Killed Duke Nukem," Wired, 2009.12.21].

Hmmm... so sometimes wealth kills successful entrepreneurship. Maybe that's South Dakota's stoic Lutheran labor secret: we don't dare pay teachers and other workers what they're worth. They'll feel too successful. If our wages grow too fast, South Dakotans will stop trying so hard!