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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Russell Olson Loses on GOP Health Care Nullification...

...but acknowledges right to health care?

District 8 Senator Russell Olson and a handful of Republicans in Pierre seem to think they can pass state laws that trump federal law. Russ joined a crushed minority of conservative posers who voted this week for SB 137, a silly and superfluous little bill that read as follows:

Pursuant to the ninth and tenth amendments to the United States Constitution, any law made by Congress which interferes with the right of any person or entity to choose their personal physician, private health care systems or private health care coverage, or which imposes any penalty, tax, fee, or fine, of any type, for declining to purchase health care coverage or participate in any particular health care system or plan, is null and void within the state of South Dakota.

Never mind that, if such federal laws were unconstitutional, we wouldn't need a state law to negate them. Never mind that South Dakota can choose to ignore a federal health care law any more than we can ignore the Voting Rights Act or not hire black people. Never mind that no flavor of the federal health insurance reforms proposed in the past year would restrict anyone's ability to choose doctor, hospital, or insurance plan (in fact, a public option would increase our choices). Never mind that these Republicans seem perfectly comfortable with forcing everyone to buy insurance for their cars but not for their bodies and their children.

I note with interest that in acknowledging a right to choose a doctor, a hospital, and health coverage, Russ and bill sponsors Sen. Gordon Howie and Rep. Thomas Brunner appear to be acknowledging that we have a right to health care.

Of course, Russ and his wealthy Republican friends believe no such thing. Private insurers interfere with my purported right to choose my doctor by locking me into provider networks and charging me more if I seek care outside that network. SB 137 doesn't stop that. private insurers penalize when I decline to buy health insurance: when I come back a year later looking to buy in again, they'll slap me with a huge premium for not having continuous coverage, or deny me outright. SB 137 doesn't stop that.

Private insurance companies do much more to practically limit my exercise of the health care rights SB 137 enumerates. But Russ and the boys keep telling me my own government, run by my neighbors and me, is the greatest threat to my liberty.

Assurant is jacking my health premium 23%. President Obama wants to lower my premium and require private insurers to spend more of our money on actual health care. I have met the enemy, and he is not us.

Senator Olson, if you and your conservative friends really believe your own rhetoric about our right to access health care and insurance, you'll knock off the nullification nincompoopery and get on board with real federal health care reform.

Hickey One-Week Campaign Result of Missed Voice Mail

Kevin Woster's article today on the GOP horserace for South Dakota's lone House seat is chock full of little goodies. Pastor Steve Hickey tells Woster R. Blake Curd's contributions to Tom Daschle should concern Repbulican voters. Hickey says he entered the race to give GOP voters a better choice.

But Hickey reveals he wouldn't have thrown in if he had just checked his voice mail:

Some looked to Hickey, and he entered the race. But within hours of his announcement, he learned of Noem’s. Hickey said he wouldn’t have run if he had known her plans.

“She left me a voice mail a couple of days earlier, and I just didn’t get it,” he said.

Less than a week after he entered the race, Hickey withdrew. He also endorsed Noem, saying he didn’t want to divide the vote that would go to her [Kevin Woster, "Long After Abortion Wars, Resentment Toward Chris Nelson Lingers," Rapid City Journal, 2010.02.28].

Note to candidates: before a big announcement, always check your voice mail (and your e-mail, and your Facebook, and your blog comments, and whatever the heck else you're connected with). And Kristi, maybe next time, if you call the guy Sunday, and you know he's announcing Tuesday, try calling again Monday!

I've told Pastor Hickey that I will do everything in my blogging powers to ensure he doesn't win whatever public office he runs for. But I'll still give him credit: the man can change his mind, and he's willing to admit a mistake. And to soothe my fundagelicophobia, Pastor Hickey shows he can defer to a woman seeking a leadership position.

Nelson Puts Principle Above Politics

I don't want Chris Nelson to win the GOP primary for South Dakota's U.S. House seat. I'd have more fun watching R. Blake Curd's fake Tea Party philosophy crumble before a few simple questions and a long campaign. Kristi Noem might just be more fun... and two women battling for South Dakota's lone House seat might generate more national media coverage (more reporters buy more sandwiches and contribute more sales tax revenue).

And, to be honest, Nelson is the GOP's best bet to beat Herseth Sandlin. The polls show he has the best chance of hauling in voters beyond the third of South Dakota voters who would vote for a pancake if the blueberries spelled "GOP."

Why is Nelson the heat? Because he's a nice guy... and because he's proven he can put the rule of law above political calculation. Kevin Woster covers the wariness some über-conservative abortion voters have over Nelson's pursuit of Roger Hunt's big anonymous donor:

“Everybody was confused. He kept appealing and appealing and appealing,” said Dr. Allen Unruh, a Sioux Falls chiropractor and long-time abortion foe. “All I can say is different people are questioning why Chris did that. And I think he’s got reservations about why he did it now, too.”

Nelson is aware of those reservations and their potential to cost him votes in June. But he doesn’t second-guess his decision to push the case, based his understanding of campaign finance law and advice from the state attorney general.

“There are still folks out there who believe I should not have pursued what both the attorney general and I felt the law was,” Nelson said. “Yeah, those folks are still out there. And they’re entitled to their opinion. But the attorney general and I both felt that the law required the reporting of that name” [Kevin Woster, "Long After Abortion Wars, Resentment Toward Chris Nelson Lingers," Rapid City Journal, 2010.02.28].

I can respect a candidate who can look the rabid political rabble (and potential donors) in the eye and say, "But the law's the law." So can a lot of the electorate, including the independents whose vote must be won to unseat Herseth Sandlin.

Brookings Bike Path to Serve Business, Commuting

My trip to judge debate in Brookings this weekend reminded me that our progressive neighbor to the northeast is expanding its bike trail this year. The city commission awarded local contractor Rounds Construction $608K of work extending the city bike path under I-29 to the Swiftel Center and business park on the eastern edge of Brookings.

Brookings has a nice recreational bike trail crossing the south half of town. This new extension serves business as much as pleasure. A bike trail isn't just a luxury: it can be a way for people to get to work. Ask Kevin Brady: even on cold days, biking workers are happy workers!

Right now, the only way to pedal to the Swiftel Center or Daktronics is to brave the multi-lane madness of Sixth Street past Wal-Mart and across the I-29 overpass, perhaps the least bike-friendly pavement in Brookings. Providing a dedicated bike route under the Interstate will make traveling safer for cyclists and drivers alike.

Discussing Madison's proposed bike trail extension to Lake Herman, landowner David Pitts has argued industry and recreation shouldn't mix. Brookings's bike plans suggest otherwise. Brookings is laying bike paths to the doorstep of its convention center and big industrial employers. Brookings recognizes that a bike path is essential infrastructure just like a street.

* * *
Madison should connect with Brookings's more progressive thinking. Heck, maybe Madison should just connect with Brookings! Imagine if we made a deal with Brookings to lay a bike trail kittywampus from Brookings down to the Brookings Country Club, around Lake Campbell, slant to Nunda or Rutland (preference, anyone?), and right on to Main Street Madison. Maybe we could even make a big triangle with Dell Rapids. A nice prairie loop like that could be a bike tourist's dream!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Jesus Doesn't Save the Polis: Colorado Springs Falling Apart

Colorado Springs shows what you get if buy theocracy and anti-government conservatism: collapse of basic public services. Blessings to Pandagon for discussing this Denver Post article on the capital of Western piety:

This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric.

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero [Michael Booth, "Colorado Springs Cuts into Services Considered Basic by Many," Denver Post, 2010.02.01].

Think government is expensive? Try anarchy.

CNN updates with a Feb. 26 story. Note local businessman Chuck Fowler's article of faith that governments just don't work. So do you get rid of it, or do you fix it?

Janklow Speaks at DSU Today

Watch out at the intersections: former governor, congressman, and inmate William Janklow is coming to Madison today. He'll be speaking with DSU students and faculty about government, politics, management, business law, and technology policy.

Janklow's visit is part of a series of open fora being held on university campuses around the state thanks to a statewide grant from the Great Plains Education Foundation, Inc., but I'm told Janklow is not taking any pay for his appearances around the state. Janklow will also be the featured speaker at tonight's faculty awards banquet at DSU.

Usurers Prefer Federal Credit Card Rules over Bible

...if they know what's good for them!

We're a week in on the implementation of the new federal credit card rules, and I haven't heard the press release from Premier Bankcard or Citi laying off thousands of South Dakotans... or the press release from Governor Rounds or Senator Thune, Senator Johnson, and Rep. Herseth Sandlin explaining why they were wrong.

Our neighborhood usurers are grumbling that we're shifting too much responsibility away from borrowers and onto banks. But they (and you!) should take a look at Father Tim Fountain's reminder that, according to Scripture, lenders really should bear a lot of responsibility.

You shall not take interest...lend, expecting nothing in return...
Boy, the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce would drive those Bible dudes right out of town, wouldn't they?

Stimulus Working, Saving State Budgets

I keep telling you the stimulus is working. But if you won't believe a Lake Herman Democrat, how about a Vermont Republican:

The federal government has provided states with invaluable assistance.... The stimulus helped stabilize the economy and minimize job losses [Vermont Governor Jim Douglas].

... or a Florida Republican:

It was the right thing to do. We needed the money. And it saved 87,000 jobs in my state,” Crist said. “I was raised to respect the presidency of the United States and the man who occupies the office. Now I don’t agree with him on everything. By golly if we agree on something and that means helping the people in the state that I was elected to govern, then I’m going to be there. I’m going to thank him [Florida Governor Charlie Crist].

...or a California Republican:

Anyone that says it hasn't created a job, they should talk to the 150,000 people that have been getting jobs in California [California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; all quoted in Stephen C. Fehr, "Spinning the Stimulus," Stateline.org, 2010.02.26].

There's more work to be done. One in twenty South Dakotans who want to work need jobs, and no one in or out of Pierre has offered a plan as to how we're going to balance our state budget under the next governor. But even Republican governors understand that President Obama's year-old stimulus package has put lots of people to work who otherwise would be breaking our unemployment insurance and other social services. They also understand that federal assistance has staved off fiscal catastrophe in South Dakota and most other states.

SDSU Prof Studies Climate Change Impact on Prairie Wetlands

So the scholars in the South Dakota Legislature want more "balanced" instruction in our schools about climate change? Perhaps they can turn to our own Dr. W. Carter Johnson. The South Dakota native and SDSU Professor of Ecology is doing important work studying the effects of climate change right in our backyard. His latest work on the Prairie Pothole Region just made the pages of Bioscience. Johnson and his fellow researchers find we will likely lose water, grasses, waterfowl, and other species.

In other words, we'll have fewer of the critters from the shooting of which we derive so much pleasure and revenue.

Dr. Johnson explained some of his findings on the Feb. 11 Dakota Midday on SDPB. Perhaps we can plat that tape for the kids in class to balance out the uninformed raving they here on the news from their astrologically inclined legislators.

Johnson, W., B. Werner, G. Guntenspergen, R. Voldseth, B. Millett, D. Naugle, M. Tulbure, R. Carroll, J. Tracy, and C. Olawsky. "Prairie Wetland Complexes as Landscape Functional Units in a Changing Climate. " Bioscience 60.2 (2010): 128-140. Research Library, ProQuest. Web. 26 Feb. 2010. See PDFs of this paper and other work on wetlands and climate change here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Online Liability and the End of the Web as We Know It

I'd like to believe further commentary on House Bills 1277 and 1278 is now just postscript... but as Mr. Powers warns us, the fight for free speech online in South Dakota has only just begun.

So as we brace for whatever controls the South Dakota Legislature tries to impose on the blogosphere next, let's see what Google says about an alarming judicial ruling in Italy [cross-posted from my DSU blog].

Yesterday a Milan judge convicted three of four Google executives charged with violations of Italy's privacy code. In 2006, some punks posted a video of themselves bullying an autistic kid. Google removed the video when notified by Italian police, but the court still pressed charges against the Google employees. The Google guys got out of defamation charges, but Google says the convictions establish a criminal liability for Internet providers that could destroy the Web:

Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming. European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy. If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear [Matt Sucherman, "Serious Threat to the Web in Italy," Google Blog, 2010.02.24].

Google is appealing the convictions.

Knudson and Howie Almost as Dumb as Curd and Noem on Climate Science

Badlands Blue notes with due mockery and disgust the fact that South Dakota's legislators are willing to pass a resolution that declares "astrological dynamics" can affect the climate.

But wait! Gubernatorial candidates Dave Knudson and Gordon Howie aren't quite as dumb as U.S. House candidates Dr. R. Blake Curd and Kristi Noem. Last week the House voted 36–30 for HCR 1009 to teach our kids astrology. (My neighbor Gerry Lange voted for this meathead resolution as well: he and I need to have a chat.)

But before the Senate vote yesterday, Senate sponsor Corey Brown moved to amend. The Senate hoghoused the resolution, stripping out the hogwash about astrology and the gas of life and all the other hot-button argumentation the science deniers wanted and replacing it with more mealy-mouthed language about how "the debate on global warming has subsumed political and philosophical viewpoints, which has complicated and prejudiced the scientific investigation of global climatic change phenomena."

Knudson and Howie and 16 other senators thus voted for a resolution that says everything and nothing. A majority of the House at least had the moxie to spell out the idiocy they wanted preached in the schools.

Alas, our Senator Russell Olson agreed with Gerry Lange that the legislators know more about science than science teachers... a position Russ's high school science teacher could probably take issue with.

Legislature Approves Insurance Protection for Domestic Abuse Victims

HB 1189, which bans insurers from treating domestic abuse as a pre-existing condition, passed the South Dakota Senate yesterday on a unanimous vote. Out of the entire Legislature, only one representative, Charlie Hoffman, could conjure up an argument to vote against this bill... and I think he was just trying to keep Pat Powers from feeling bad.

Of course, if anyone can come up with a reason to reject this bill, it would be an insurance agent... and HB 1189 now goes to the Governor's desk for insurance agent Mike Rounds's signature.

Selling Insurance Across State Lines Bad for Everyone (Except South Dakota?)

One of the few ideas Republicans have bothered to float amidst their health care obstructionism is allowing people to buy insurance across state lines. Ezra Klein explains why that idea would lead to worse health insurance... by comparing it to South Dakota's Faustian embrace of the credit card industry:

Conservatives... want insurers to be able to cluster in one state, follow that state's regulations and sell the product to everyone in the country. In practice, that means we will have a single national insurance standard. But that standard will be decided by South Dakota. Or, if South Dakota doesn't give the insurers the freedom they want, it'll be decided by Wyoming. Or whoever.

This is exactly what happened in the credit card industry, which is regulated in accordance with conservative wishes. In 1980, Bill Janklow, the governor of South Dakota, made a deal with Citibank: If Citibank would move its credit card business to South Dakota, the governor would literally let Citibank write South Dakota's credit card regulations. You can read Janklow's recollections of the pact here.

Citibank wrote an absurdly pro-credit card law, the legislature passed it, and soon all the credit card companies were heading to South Dakota. And that's exactly what would happen with health-care insurance. The industry would put its money into buying the legislature of a small, conservative, economically depressed state. The deal would be simple: Let us write the regulations and we'll bring thousands of jobs and lots of tax dollars to you. Someone will take it. The result will be an uncommonly tiny legislature in an uncommonly small state that answers to an uncommonly conservative electorate that will decide what insurance will look like for the rest of the nation [Ezra Klein, "Selling Insurance Across State Lines: A Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Health Care Idea," Washington Post, 2010.02.17].

So I guess if we would like to bring a few thousand new health insurance jobs to South Dakota at the low, low price of weakening our insurance laws even further and screwing policyholders across the country, we South Dakotans should be all over this idea. But if we really want to live by our vaunted Midwestern ethos and take care of people... well, I hope the Republicans bring something better than interstate insurance purchase to the table at their Blair House meeting today.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Madison School Board Expenditures Supporting Opt-Out Campaign?

I've been reading and re-reading the headline article in Monday's print Madison Daily Leader. "School to Recruit Opt-Out Committee," reports Chuck Clement:

The members of the Madison School Board and other school officials met on Saturday morning to organize a campaign for passing a new property-tax opt-out with a public vote.

...The supporters of the ballot measure will depend on a group of volunteers who will make up an opt-out committee and campaign for its approval, according to school board member Tom Farrell.

Farrell said officials would try to recruit as many volunteers as possible, tapping many of the same persons who helped pass the opt-out measure four years ago.

Farrell said the school district was limited to spending public money on the legally-required [sic] advertising that announces the election.

"The district can't spend money on making flyers and sending them home with students or spend money on other campaigning," Farrell said. You can't use school dollars to support the 'yes' vote because that's illegal" [Chuck Clement, "School to Recruit Opt-Out Committee," Madison Daily Leader, 2010.02.22, p. 1].

Farrell knows his SDCL 12-27-20. But I wonder: the board's Saturday meeting was an official meeting, with a quorum and minutes and everything. I would assume board members were paid their usual per-meeting fee of $35. Superintendent Schaefer and other staff were present, so I assume they were on the clock. The participants in this meeting, all drawing public salaries, drew up a list of possible committee members to work for the approval of the opt-out.

The school board's purpose in this meeting certainly seems to have been to work toward influencing the outcome of the opt-out vote. And if we followed the local rules, we paid our board members (and arguably our school staff) to have this meeting.

So someone parse this out for me: did our school board just expend funds to influence an election or not?

22% of Americans Lack Digital Literacy (98% in Pierre)

The FCC has released a new report titled "Broadband Use and Adoption in America." Among the findings:

The survey found that 35 percent of Americans do not use broadband at home, including 22 percent of adults who do not use the Internet at all. Of that 35 percent, 36 percent say it is too expensive, while 19 percent do not see the Internet as relevant to their lives. Another 22 percent lack what the FCC calls ''digital literacy'' skills. They fall into a category that includes people who are not comfortable with computers or who are scared of ''bad things'' on the Internet ["FCC Survey Shows Need to Teach Broadband Basics," AP via New York Times, 2010.02.23].

Lack of digital literacy? Scared of "bad things" on the Internet? Sounds like the South Dakota Legislature.

Also sounds like my local newspaper publisher, who not only can't work hyperlinks but also likes to manufacture false social crises:

But we still understand the problem of malicious, harmful writing on blogs or Facebook, Twitter and many other online venues. Worse yet, the intensity and meanness seems to be ratcheting up a level, making the likelihood of real damage even greater [Jon Hunter, "We Shouldn't Have to Try to Legislate Online Civility," Madison Daily Leader, 2010.02.23].

I agree that the Internet is filled with boorish speech, but "ratcheting up"? Where does hunter find any evidence that the Web is ruder today than it was in past years? Sounds like classic mainstream media sensationalism, trying to ratchet up fears of an escalating crisis where there is no evidence of escalation.

I do agree with Hunter's main point we shouldn't try legislating online speech with ill-conceived policies like the Blog Control Acts which were defeated in committee Monday. The proper path to helping people make better use of online speech is through education and natural cultural evolution.

SB 161: Russell Olson Kills Pipeline Tax

SB 161, the pipeline environmental tax, fell one vote short of passing yesterday. 23 Senators, a bipartisan group including everyone from Republicans Abdallah and Howie to Democrats Jerstad and Nesselhuf, voted aye. Unfortunately, as a new tax, this bill required a two-thirds majority, and in our 35-seat Senate, that's 24 votes. District 8's Republican Senator Russell Olson voted no, consistent with his lone committee nay the day before.

Would someone please tell me what is so wrong with imposing a two-cent-per-barrel tax on an oil pipeline to create an environmental fund to pay for cleaning up anything that goes wrong with the pipeline? Does Senator Olson really think environmental accountability (capped at $30 million) will put TransCanada or any other pipeline operator out of business?

Of course, We can perhaps place equal blame on Senator Dennis Schmidt, who was "excused" from the vote. Someone move to reconsider, drag Schmidt's keester back into the chamber, and take another swing at this bill!

Correlation from Ord, Nebraska: Openness and Economic Development

Mike Knutson draws my attention to Ord, Nebraska, and that town's avidly blogging economic development director, Caleb Pollard. Pollard runs both the economic development agency and the chamber of commerce in Ord, and he still finds time to blog. He runs the community's economic development blog, Ord Sunshine Pumpers, on a free Wordpress account—no fancy domain name or web hosting for these guys!* The blog puts up new posts a few times a week. Pollard uses the blog to feature positive local business stats like this: over the last nine years, Ord has seen 100 new business start... and 78 of them are still operating.

Ord sits in the middle of Nebraska, with 2200 people in town and 4500 people in the county. My hometown of Madison has 6500 people, with 11,000-some countywide. How many new business have we started?

Ord's economic development director seems totally engaged with his community and a broader Web audience, blogging regularly to tell Ord's story.

Madison's economic development director appears to find open communication with the community a tedious challenge. After years of vague, passive-voiced, and occasionally plagiarized monthly columns in the Chamber newsletter, our economic director appears to have given up even that rare writing and hired a freelance-writer to communicate the LAIC's message. So much for authenticity.

Oh yeah, and the Ord economic development blog is open to comments. In Madison, the only major website allowing direct user participation is the Madville Times. LAIC, Chamber, MadisonSD.com, city, county, Madison Daily Leader, KJAM,—not one of them thinks you have anything worth contributing.

Ord Sunshine Pumpers demonstrates that if you want to tell your community's story (or "market" it, as I'm sure our ad-obsessed LAIC board would say), it doesn't hurt to open the doors and let the community tell that story. Ord also shows you need to have a passionate advocate at the helm, a stakeholder, someone who lives in the community who is deeply invested in seeing it succeed, someone so invested that he will write honestly, passionately, and prolifically about what's actually happening in his community.

Hmmm... that sounds so familiar....

Update 2010.08.05: The free blog gets you started, but once you get your Web legs, you'll probably want to upgrade. After a year-plus (and 60K pageviews!) on Wordpress, the Ord Sunshine Pumpers moved up to a domain of their own, OrdNebraska.com. Pretty slick!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

HB 1160: Committee Requires Home Schoolers Score Four Points Higher on ACT than Regular Students

The South Dakota Legislature doesn't want to cough up the money to adequately fund K-12 education... but they balk even more at giving scholarships to kids who seek alternatives the public school system. The Senate Education Committee today approved HB 1160, to extend the state's Opportunity Scholarship to qualified home schoolers and other students in alternative settings. However, they increased the qualifying ACT score from 26 to 28.

Remember: students normally need only a 24 on the ACT to qualify for the Opportunity Scholarship. I think I heard Russ Olson brag once that he probably couldn't have qualified by that standard... but he voted to make home schoolers score 4 points higher than their public school counterparts to receive the same scholarship to keep their talents here in South Dakota. I think Russ may just be envious.

Or consider it this way: a public school student has to score in the top 25% of ACT test-takers to get this scholarship. Home school students would have to score in the top 8%.

Senator Olson and his colleagues are saying a homeschooler in the 90th percentile isn't worth trying to keep in South Dakota, but another student in the 75th percentile is... just because that lower-achieving student sat in a desk longer.

I'm starting to feel a little underappreciated for the effort we're going to put into homeschooling our little one. It sounds as if a lot of our legislators just don't believe their own rhetoric about supporting alternatives to public school or school choice in general.

Madison Daily Leader: News by Web Illiterates, for Web Illiterates

I note with amusement that the Madison Daily Leader's Chuck Clement devotes an entire article to the school district's posting of election information on its website. The full information posted by the district:

VOTE April 13th - Madison City Armory from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Voter Registration
Voter registration forms are to be sent to the Lake County Auditor, 200 E. Center St.

Absentee voting:
Absentee voting information and form
Absentee Ballot Form

Three external links and three lines of web content is a news story? I crank out more valuable Web content than that between spoonfuls of raisin bran! Dang, Chuck, where's my coverage?

The Leader management probably still finds it amazing that government and anyone else can publish its own content on the Intertubes. I am reminded of how last week, in his appearance as a political junkie on SDPB, MDL publisher Jon Hunter smoothly sidestepped a question about how he handles user comments on his news website. Why the sidestepping? The Leader has never allowed any user comments!

In further signs of its Web illiteracy, the Leader publishes this story about online information without providing a single functional hyperlink. It's a href, Chuck. Call me. I'll explain.

Legislative Notes: Curd vs. Noem on Small Schools

Of interest to small-town voters: The South Dakota House yesterday passed HB 1150 on a 40–29 vote. Compare the votes of two of our Republican candidates for U.S. House: big-city doctor R. Blake Curd votes aye, while small-town ranch gal Kristi Noem votes nay.

Dr. R. Blake Curd evidently feels it's perfectly acceptable to punish small schools for their success in attracting open enrollees. Evidently supporting school choice isn't a big issue for this conservative. Noem apparently feels we can find budget savings for the state somewhere other than on the backs of successful school districts.

Locally, District 8 Reps. Mitch Fargen and Gerry Lange joined Noem in voting against HB 1150. Let's see where our senator Russell Olson goes on this school-choice issue.

In other news from the Legislature yesterday:
  • HB 1222, the farmers market bill, got unanimous support from the House (yay!).
  • SB 21, a rather mushy bill that sort of bans social investing with the state investment funds and sort of doesn't, passed the State Senate unanimously. The more direct SB 134, stopping state investment in Iran, has passed the Senate and awaits attention from House State Affairs.
  • Even deferred to the 41st day does not mean dead! Senate Appropriations resurrected SB 193, the pro-life bill that would extend Medicaid to all pregnant women. Alas, they made that effort just to give the bill a formal "Do Not Pass" recommendation.
  • Oh yeah, and HB 1277 & HB 1278, those silly little anti-blogger bills, went nowhere in committee. Thank you, Mr. Powers, for your testimony. And thank you, members of the committee, for your rationality. Now, back to the counterplans....

Top Ten Reasons Steve Hickey Dropped out of House Race

Pastor Steve Hickey has ended his campaign to unseat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and has thrown his support behind State Rep. Kristi Noem. Hickey says he's going back to his "original goal" to run for a District 9 State House seat.

So why did Pastor Hickey bail after just a week? Here are my top ten wild speculations:

Campaign advisors insisted Hickey would have to shave, just like the other two men in the race. A man of principle, Pastor Hickey said it wasn't worth it. Update 09:33 CST: Hickey confirms (sort of)!

Hickey's only chance to get traction was to make a big media splash with his announcement. Noem sucked all of the air out of that balloon by announcing on the same day.

Hickey's only chance to get traction was with a snappy campaign slogan. "Give Congress a Hickey" had real promise... but then he heard Kristi would one-up him with, "Don't Just Say No; Say Noem!"

Pastor Hickey realized a U.S. House campaign would have him on the road and away from his congregation too much. He decided to stick with a District 9 campaign that will let him stick with his first calling.

Hickey realized his abortion agenda would get him nowhere. South Dakota has managed to get through a legislative session without floating a single abortion bill. More importantly, the CPAC straw poll showed that even the hardcore conservatives don't see the anti-abortion crusade as a priority.

The Republican Party establishment has an iron grip on its nomination process. It will not allow independents into an open primary, and it by no means will allow a party outsider like Hickey to challenge established politicians like Noem, Curd, and Nelson.

There's a Tea Party schism afoot. Hickey entered the race to challenge Tea Party faker Curd. When Noem entered the race, Hickey decided he could advance the conservative agenda better by running for state office himself and hitching his star to a more photogenic conservative.

Hickey was just trying to save Steve Sibson's soul by distracting Sibby from his obsession with me and giving him a faithful theocrat to rapturously endorse. When Sibby said nothing about Hickey and instead went to Pierre to reveal he's turned into a nanny-stater, Hickey was crushed.

Noem promised, if elected, to get Hickey on the roster to give the invocation at the U.S. House.

Hickey took the advice I've given to some of my Glenn Beck-lovin' neighbors to focus on making changes at the state and local levels rather than in a Congress controlled by huge moneyed interests that a bunch of folks in tri-cornered hats aren't sufficiently organized to fight. Change starts in your backyard.

Photos Show Veblen Dairy Manure Ponds Ringed with Bales

Last year concerned citizens up around Big Stone Lake traced a plume of pollution coming into their aquatic gem all the way back up the watershed to the massive feedlots near Veblen. Those feedlots have maintained illegally high manure levels that have drawn citation from South Dakota's Department of Environment and Natrual Resources.

Now you can see for yourself the illegal activity. Citizens for Big Stone Lake have posted the aerial reconnaissance they performed last year. In photo after photo, in different months, you can see hay bales lining the large manure lagoons, trying to keep the waste from spilling over into the surrounding farmland and the watercourses that run to Big Stone Lake.

Now the dairy folks may claim that they built the lagoons to specs but had to improvise with the hay bales because of high winds... but come on: you're building in South Dakota. You didn't factor wind into your design? If the lagoons aren't big enough to contain the manure the Veblen dairies are generating, owner Rick Millner evidently needs to reduce the amount of manure and the number of cattle he crowds into his facility. But some people have trouble playing by the rules.

Monday, February 22, 2010

SB 161: Pipeline Tax Passes Committee!

Holy cow! It must be Cory-Happy Day in Pierre!

The South Dakota Legislature took a step toward getting TransCanada to put some money in the kitty for the privilege of running its big pipelines across our farm fields and wetlands. SB 161, a two-cent pipeline tax to create a $30M environmental cleanup fund, got a 7–1 Do Pass from the Senate State Affairs Committee today.

The only naysayer on the committee, the only member who seems to think TransCanada and other Big Oil shippers shouldn't be held accountable for their mishaps, was Madison's very own Republican senator Russell Olson.

Two cents a barrel: as I've noted previously, that's a tax of about three cents on every hundred dollars TransCanada can sell oil for. Of course, TransCanada execs are already griping and moaning about an even lower tax Nebraska is considering.

Some South Dakota officials are still "negotiating" with TransCanada to get them to fix the roads they wrecked last summer while constructing the Keystone I pipeline. Do we really want to have to go through similar "negotiations" to get them to clean up their oil when their pipe leaks?

The full Senate gets next swing at this bill. Senators, straighten Russ out, and then vote yes for charging TransCanada a fair price for the privilege of using our precious land.

Madison Backs Hwy 34 Request with Irony and Bull

On tap for the Madison City Commission tonight: an agenda drenched in irony, if not outright bunk.

Specifically, the City will approve yet another letter of support for the four-lane-ification of Highway 34 from Madison to I-29. "Of course our major concern is safety," writes Mayor Gene Hexom. Safety, indeed, because there are all those trucks that the rest of us just can't slow down for.

Mayor Hexom also embraces Obamanomics to make the case that the state should pour us some more concrete:

According to the Obama Administration, for every $1 million spent on capital improvements, approximately 30 jobs are created. We should feel the effect of 720 jobs created.

Once again, Madison's Republicans love the stimulus package... when it justifies their claims for pork.

And in the howler of the month, Mayor Hexom claims we've almost succeeded in our Forward Madison job creation goals:

In the past 36 months, Madison has created nearly 400 new jobs. Although the recession has slowed this rapid growth, the future looks extremely positive for Madison.

WHAT?!?! In the 36 months since the Forward Madison program announced its goal of creating 400 new jobs over five years, Madison has lost jobs. As of December 2009, there are 420 fewer jobs in Lake County than there were when Forward Madison started. Fewer.

Mayor Hexom, check the negative signs on the LAIC's spreadsheets.

Obama EPA Creates Jobs at Big Stone

O.K., all you coal whiners who thought President Obama and we enviro-whackos killed the Big Stone II power plant and hurt the economy, listen up: President Obama is making it up to you. The Environmental Protection Agency is supporting a $300 million project at Big Stone I that will employ 200 to 300 people for three years.

The project? EPA has ordered Otter Tail Power to update its emissions controls and reduce pollution at its big coal plant in Grant County.

How's that for green jobs?
Update 2010.02.23: A Grant County neighbor shares scans of the original article from the Grant County Review, Wednesday, February 10, 2010 (click to enlarge and read). In response to Mr. Mercer's question below, the article says that the upgrades to BS1's pollution controls were indeed part of the original BS2 plan, in which emissions from BS1 would simply have been routed to the new plant. So we're still getting the environmental benefits BS2 boosters used to sell BS2, just without all the extra coal usage.

Project manager Mark Rolfes says the project will cost $200 million to $300 million and will require increases in electric rates. "The costs of the upgrades will have to be looked at and justified," he tells GCR. "Although it is an expensive project, it is much cheaper than building a new plant."

Remember, BS2 was going to cost $1.6 billion.

Construction likely starts in 2012.

Madison Daily Leader Shuns Homosexuals, Even in Death

The Madison Daily Leader runs an obituary for MHS alumnus William Charles Elliot Clarke:

He was born on Feb. 23, 1962, at Lennox to Erhard and Lily Borchardt. He grew up in Madison and graduated from Madison High School. He attended the University of Arizona at Flagstaff and was a music and art major. In 2004, he received his nursing license.

He was preceded in death by his parents; a sister, Sharon Lampson; and a brother, Ray "Butch" Borchardt.

Hmm... no spouse or family to survive him? I have to turn to a paid obituary, lower left, page 2 of Friday's print edition, to learn about Mr. Clarke's significant other:

He was a true friend, caring brother, and loving partner to his life partner Bob Schmitz. Bill and Bob were together for 21 years and through all times their deep love and support for each other was apparent.

So Mr. Clarke had a partner of 21 years, and our local newspaper chooses not to mention him in the formal obit?

This is not the first time Madison's newspaper has chosen to omit mention of a gay partner from an obituary. Consider this 2003 obit for Douglas Richard Larson (emphasis mine):

He was a member of the Kiwanis, Elks, Lions Club, Toastmasters, Madison Chamber of Commerce and the Area Development Board.

Survivors include his wife Victoria of Brookings; two sons, Sean and Kenneth, both of Brookings; his father, Richard of Brookings; a brother, Brent of San Francisco, Calif.; a sister, Linnea (David) Bradbury of Plano, Texas; two nieces and a nephew.

He was preceded in death by a grandfather and a grandmother.

Now view the obit from Rude's Funeral Home:

He was a member of the Kiwanis, Elks, Lions Club, Toastmasters, Madison Chamber of Commerce and the Area Development Board. He enjoyed riding motorcycle, sailing, photography, computers, writing and philosophy. He was also an ordained minister. He especially enjoyed spending time with his family. Doug is survived by his wife Victoria of Brookings; two sons Sean and Kenneth both of Brookings; one brother Brent Larson and his partner Joseph Driste of San Francisco, CA; one sister Linnea Bradbury (David) of Plano, TX; his father Richard Larson of Brookings; nieces Andrea Lovoll and Stephanie Simons and nephew Nick Simons. He was preceded in death by his grandfather Ferman Feeney and grandmother Pearl Larson.

The MDL obit mentions the husband of a sister, but not the partner of a brother.

As I've said before, the Madison Daily Leader is a private business. Publisher Jon Hunter can choose to print or not print whatever he wants (and he usually does, regardless of any stated "policy").

But the choices Hunter and his staff make tell us something about our local culture. The Leader will mention fiancées in obituaries. Compare also the coverage of the death last week of MHS alumnus Benjamin Bundy. Along with Bundy's formal obit, Hunter publishes a tribute article that, in Friday's print edition, features a color photo of Bundy "with his long-time girlfriend, Laura Niedert."

Long-time. Bundy was 20. Long-time means what, six years, tops? Clarke shared his life with a man for 21 years, and the Leader won't mention that unless it's paid.

I guess some meaningful relationships are acceptable for news coverage, but some remain unspeakable to our "free" press.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Obama Loosens Gun Laws Tomorrow

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act comes in with a bang tomorrow. But the bang won't be layoffs at Premier or Citi. An eager reader points out the bang comes in an odd amendment, Section 512 of P.L. 111-24, which allows firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges.

So even if Premier takes you to the cleaners with new annual fees and more 79.9% interest rates, you can still run to the wilderness, pin your credit cards to a tree, and do some target practice. Backpack with your Baretta! Camp with your Colt! Hike with heat!

And be sure to thank President Barack Obama for his continued defense of the Second Amendment.

Update 2010.02.24: Understanding Government further refutes the NRA propaganda that President Obama is anti-gun.

Blog Control Act: Is Five Counterplans Enough?

A few days ago, Blog Control Acts sponsor Rep. Noel Hamiel asked me how I would address the problem of anonymous libel. His question seemed to echo Mr. Epp's approach to the debate, suggesting that coming up with a plan, no matter how bad, is a sort of price of admission to the debate.

I reject the apparent premise. The point here is that House Bills 1277 and 1278 are bad legislation that should be killed in committee (tomorrow, Monday, 7:45 a.m.). The absence of a plan does not justify carrying out a destructive plan.

Nonetheless, I took up Rep. Hamiel's challenge. If you really think anonymous online libel is a problem (and I'm still waiting for examples of online speech of any sort that has done actual damage in South Dakota or libel cases in South Dakota that have been stymied by comment anonymity), here are five counterplans to challenge anonymous libel:
  1. Use current law to subpoena the service providers (Google, Midco, etc.) for identifying information in investigations of illegal activity. Those companies are the real experts in tracing online traffic, not the hobby bloggers who may not even know what an IP is. Those companies are also better equipped to check frivolous lawsuits and protect legitimate anonymous speech with their experienced legal departments.
  2. Let the Internet police itself. Bloggers are citizens and neighbors like everyone else. We can craft our own policies to prevent anonymous cowards from spreading rumors. Our readers can talk with us. If we see wrong has been done, we can try pointing aggrieved parties toward libellers, and they may be able to resolve their differences face to face, with no cops, no courts, no lasting harm done.
  3. Accept a cultural, not legislative solution. The Web is new. We've never had this much free speech power, especially not free speech so dissociated from our identity. People need time to develop the "media literacy" necessary to properly filter, interpret, and respond to all this online speech. They're doing that: they're already recognizing that anonymous claims aren't as substantive as claims with names. That's what I teach kids in my speech classes. That's what the high school debaters I judge every weekend practice with their evidence. People are already learning that there's a difference between the speech of people like Pat Powers, Todd Epp, and me who speak by name and the cowardly rabble who fling unsupported insults. Let the culture continue its evolution toward healthy, responsible speech.
  4. Support a media literacy campaign: make available funding and materials to encourage K-12 and university teachers to cover Internet etiquette, legal issues, and other relevant topics in their language arts and communications classes.
  5. Support an anti-anonymous defamation campaign: run ads telling people to be neighborly online and reminding them libel is libel, even online, with severe penalties. (Maybe even throw in Jesse Jackson, exhorting people to "Be Somebody!" and use their names online.)
I don't know if any of the above proposals would reduce online anonymous defamation. But each one of them is better than HB 1277 and 1278, since not one of them creates the unconstitutional chilling effect on named speech or the overly vague legal liability that those bills do.

Further counterplans are welcome. But doing nothing is still better than imposing the active harm of the Blog Control Acts.

Feel free to share the above with the members of the House State Affairs Committee, including U.S. House candidate Kristi Noem, who get the first chance to kill HB 1277 and 1278 tomorrow morning at the 7:45 a.m. hearing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Assurant Jacks My Health Premium 23%

I went to bed cussing and swearing inside. My health insurer, Assurant, keeps finding ways to suck up whatever little savings my wife and I manage to make in our household budget.

Last year we were able to save a little bit on our health insurance by moving Erin to the group policy Luther Seminary offers. The premium for our little one and me to remain on our individual policy thus came down to $565.05 per quarter.

Letter comes yesterday from the bastards (and I struggle to restrict myself to that one curse) at Assurant saying our quarterly premium is increasing to $695.01. That's a 23% increase. Not as bad as the 39% increase Anthem would like to foist on Robert Reich and other Californians... but still a hard hit to a family living on a single South Dakota income.

$520 more. That's the summer family trip. That's twenty relatively cheap dates with my wife (and she's already lucky if she gets that many a year from cheapskate me). That's a regular cell phone plan (which we don't have) or cable (which we don't have) or two repaired windshields (which we've put off for over a year).

That's a decent contribution to a real Democrat who would stand up to challenge John Thune this fall and fight for real health care reform.

But surely I'm getting something for this exorbitant rate hike?
  • Quality health care? No. We haven't made a claim on Assurant yet.
  • Financial peace of mind? No. Living on $35K/year, we can't afford much beyond this policy. It carries a $7500 family deductible. If we get really sick, we're still in a big financial hole.
  • Freedom of choice? No. I can't really choose a doctor, because I can't afford a regular visit in the first place. I can't really choose to shop around, because other insurers are jacking their rates the same. I can't really choose not to eat the rate hike, because I can't afford to let myself or daughter lose continuous coverage. The only choice I have is to change my family deductible to $10,000. That would make my premium rise only 8%. Yay: I can pay more to make my crappy policy even crappier.
The big things I'm supposed to get from my insurance, I don't. The only things I get from this premium are (1) keeping myself and my daughter insurable and (2) paying for my neighbors' health care costs. Of course, I'm also paying for the lawyers who fight to keep Assurant from paying for my neighbors' health care costs.

If I want to pay money just to help my neighbors, I'll do it through charity and taxes, not a for-profit gaggle of shysters whom I can't trust to provide the benefits I'm paying for. Give me that public option! (And holy cow—Harry Reid might get the Senate back on that horse!)

Stephanie, drop by some time and explain to me how a 23% rate hike for bupkis is really better than the bill you voted against?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Blog Control Acts Hearing Monday, Feb 22, 7:45 a.m.

House State Affairs is getting in gear on the Hamiel-Turbak Berry Blog Control Acts. HB 1277 and 1278 are on the committee agenda for first thing Monday morning, February 22, at 7:45 a.m. in room 414 of the State Capitol.

I have to teach here in Madison at 10 a.m., so I'm unable to make the road trip. But I have contacted bill sponsors Rep. Hamiel and Sen. Turbak Berry directly, as well as a number of House State Affairs reps. Bloggers, this weekend is the time to catch up with contacting the rest of the committee and telling them these bills do no good and much harm. If your legislators need further explanation, send them this list of readings (and more recent text from me here).

Contact your legislators, and let's see these bad bills voted down!

Brookings and Lincoln Healthiest SD Counties; Lake in Top 20

Salut! to PP and Epp: the healthiest counties in South Dakota are Lincoln and Brookings. So says the 2010 County Health Rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

My home, Lake County, comes in 14th on health outcomes and 18th on health factors. These rankings suggest that our actual health is a little better than the social and environmental factors influencing health might predict.

Some health details for Lake County:
  1. Compared to the state rate, we have less premature death, teen births, and even a little less income inequality.
  2. Alas, we also have significantly less access to healthy foods (Dan, listen up), slightly greater liquor store density (Dan), and slightly more binge drinking (Dan!).
  3. Our physical health is slightly better than the state average, but our mental health is slightly worse (let the jokes about Lake County bloggers skewing that average begin!).
Cartophiles delight: CHR maps the health factors and outcomes for every county in the country. The South Dakota maps:

Update: Cory Klumper applies his mad public radio skills to this study and notes that rural counties make up 20% of the healthiest places but 80% of the unhealthiest places. Hmm....

Legislative Notes: House Says Yes to Usury, Maybe to Education, No to Guns at Work

How's the Legislature doing?

Not so good in the eyes of the Lord... or at least of a faithful servant. Father Timothy Fountain Logan unloads Proverbs 28:8 on the Senate Commerce Committee and our usury-addicted state for once again declining to rein in predatory payday lenders. Whither South Dakota values....

Not so bad on education. Yesterday the House unanimously tabled HB 1050, the Governor's proposal to change the school funding formula and give our schools zero increase in state aid in FY 2011. I learned from Gary Ellenbolt on SDPB yesterday that, in our Legislature, tabling is actually a harsher sentence than deferral to the 41st day. Deferral at least allows supporters to speak their piece; tabling does not allow debate. After six days of kicking the can, the House evidently realized the Governor's proposal was so bad it didn't even warrant discussion. Ouch.

Of course, they still have to come up with a plan of their own. If they need to save money, perhaps they should look at shortening high school to two years (Yes! shout thousands of bored sophomores).

O.K. on Second Amendment sensibility. Half of the House plus one realized they didn't have to worry about their NRA ratings over public safety yesterday with the defeat of HB 1169. Rep. Lederman spoke of the right to keep a gun in your locked car. Rep. Engels won the day with his sensible argument that some employers—like hazardous chemical manufacturers, schools, mental health facilities—may have a countervailing right to keep guns a safe distance away. This bill was another lawsuit waiting to happen, as its application to public employers would have violated the federal gun-free zones around schools. District 8's reps split, with Fargen voting aye and Lange voting nay.

Improving, slowly but surely, on bicycles. They couldn't pass SB 70, but most of the drivers I deal with already have figured out they ought to leave three feet when they pass me on my bicycle (assuming they can pass me—zoom!). But the legislators are learning: check out the featured audio of Senator Mike Vehle on MinusCar! Senator Vehle pointed out that South Dakota state law entitles bicycles to the full lane and that SB 70 would actually have reduced the safety buffer for cyclists.

And whither the Blog Control Acts? House State Affairs has yet to set a hearing date for HB 1277 and 1278. According to the legislative calendar, these bills have to pass the full House by the end of business Tuesday to stay alive. Rep. Hamiel, you didn't forget these bills on your desk again, did you? I call one rule-suspension per bill!

Who's Got Chlamydia in South Dakota?

The counties offering the safest sex in South Dakota are Campbell, Douglas, Hand, Hyde, Jones, and Sully. At least that's the conclusion you might derive from the chlamydia rates reported in the new County Health Rankings compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. (Either that, or it's just tough to find anyone to have sex with in those counties, clean or otherwise.)

Lake County is in the middle of the chlamydia pack, tying with Yankton County for 27th out of 66 counties for infection rates. Parents, pay attention: we're actually the lowest of the college towns. Clay, Brown, and Brookings all have higher chlamydia rates; Lawrence and Pennington counties each more than double our rates. At 179 cases per 100,000 (practically, think just under 2 cases per thousand), we're above the statewide median of 129 but below the average of 335.

Pulling the average higher: Corson, Todd, and Dewey counties, which all break 1,000, and South Dakota chlamydia champ Shannon County, which has an infection rate of 2,076 out of 100K. That's a 2% infection rate, compared to state and national averages of about 0.3%.

Chlamydia Rates in South Dakota, by County, 2006




Rates per 100,000

rank per 100K


























Charles Mix



























































































































































Fall River























































Bon Homme



































































































Stay tuned for more analysis of these county health numbers!