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Monday, May 31, 2010

To Err Is Human, To Be Is Divine

I went to church this weekend. A friend got her M. Div. The service/graduation included an address from one of her fellow fresh preachers. Toward the end of his speech, he removed his academic stole and robe ("these ridiculous sleeves") and stood before the crowd in his regular street clothes. Thus stripped of regalia, he closed with this thought-provoking line:

As Jesus showed us, being human might just be the most divine thing we can do.

—Andrew Behrendt, Luther Seminary commencement address, 2010.05.30

Sunday, May 30, 2010

City Sells Rosebud Lot to ICAP at 66% Loss

Roadmap for Saving the Masonic Temple?

After holding a twice extended option for a year and a half, Inter-Lakes Community Action Program is finally laying down the cash to buy the old Rosebud property and put up its own building. Saturday's MDL (not online yet) gives a cheer for this economic development. I'm happy for ICAP... but Madison is losing big.

Let's check the numbers:
  • On February 15, 2008, the Lake Area Imrpvoement Corporation bought Rosebud's downtown properties for $500,000 as part of its land shell game to lever Rosebud's undesirable manufacturing out of downtown and out to the edge of town to refill the shuttered Arctic Cat plant. (The LAIC has since sold a couple of the smaller Rosebud plots for $35,000 and $500.)
  • On February 15, 2008, the City of Madison bought the main half block of the Rosebud property, across the street from City Hall, for $400,000.
  • In December, 2008, the City of Madison approved a deal arranged by LAIC for ICAP to purchase the Rosebud half-block from the city for $350,000.
  • ICAP didn't buy right away. ICAP paid $5000 for a six-month exclusive purchase option. ICAP extended that option twice, $5000 each time. Total paid so far: $15,000.
  • The city commission will consider a purchase agreement Tuesday night that gives the land to ICAP for $135,000. Minus the option payments, the actual cash to change hands is $120,000.
  • ICAP will kick in up to $10,000 for remediation costs—i.e., removing lead-impacted soil. If I'm reading the agreement correctly, ICAP will also share up to $5000 of the cost of soil testing done since this year March 31.
  • The city will approve Tuesday a brownfields grant agreement with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources that should put another $50,000 of federal money toward removing and replacing about 400 cubic yards of lead-impacted soil.
  • The city still bears the cost of demolishing the Rosebud buildings. I don't see a cost estimate on that aspect of the project in the city agenda, but I image we could lower that cost with a Crazy Days sledgehammer contest....
Looking at just the property purchase costs, the LAIC and City of Madison thus appear to have arranged a $265,000 handout to ICAP, 66% of the original purchase price.

I thought LAIC exec Dwaine Chapel once told me that the LAIC doesn't believe in handouts. I am at least pleased that they have changed their tune to benefit an organization that does good work like ICAP.

But subsidizing the community work of ICAP is the only justification our city fathers can offer for this project. The land swap and sweet deal certainly aren't economic development: we've only moved players around, not added any new ones. We're not increasing the tax rolls: ICAP is a non-profit. The only stretch by which we might offer an economic justification for this fire sale is that maybe, just maybe, ICAP was saying they were going to leave town if they didn't get this property cheap, and the LAIC and city thus acted to keep Madison from losing jobs.

Given this math from the city, we have a proposal. There is another derelict property in downtown Madison, the Masonic Temple, just crying for development. My wife and I and some friends are prepared to form a non-profit organization to acquire, renovate, and preserve the Masonic temple as a non-profit community cultural center hosting a wide variety of education, entertainment, tourism, and economic development projects.

The last purchase price for this architectural landmark was $46,000. If the LAIC and City of Madison would buy out the owner for that amount, then sell it to our non-profit group at a 66% loss... well, that's less than $16,000. I could line up that funding by the end of the month.

Arrange this Masonic temple buyout and transfer, city leaders, and you don't just keep jobs: you add cultural and economic activity where there currently is none. Essentially, arranging a deal analogous to the Rosebud-ICAP deal for the Masonic temple is a $30,000 investment that creates new economic activity. What say you, commissioners?

Knudson Sound Bites Daugaard in Negative Attack

Coming off a poll showing he and Dennis Daugaard are the only Republican gubernatorial candidates beating Democrat Scott Heidepriem, Dave Knudson is stepping up the negative ads on Daugaard. Scott Munsterman campaign manager Pat Powers posts this new dinger from the Knudson camp, complete with wiseguy country music:

If you're interested in hearing Daugaard in context, here's the full video from the 2007 Homestake press conference clipped above, provided by the good old Hoghouse Blog:

I'll say this for now: were there telprompters? For a guy not too involved with the project, Daugaard sure seems to know a lot about the project and people involved. And that was three years ago.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Transparency, Context, and the Sex Offender Registry

A couple weeks ago, after receiving some court documents from an eager reader, I questioned the usefulness of the sex offender registry. The wise Dr. Newquist supported a point that guides North Dakota law, that the registry can do more harm than good and quite possibly turn some relatively harmless offenders into more desperate, dangerous criminals.

According to an August 2009 Economist article, the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board sampled its registry and concluded that 65% of folks on the list "posed little threat." 30% were "potentially threatening," and 5% were "clearly dangerous."

Social media researcher danah boyd speaks to the Gov 2.0 Expo about sex offender registries as an example of how government transparency is not enough: we can release lots of data, but we must include context and help people develop media literacy so they can properly interpret that data.

Boyd provides a draft of the presentation text. Among the important passages:

The problem with the registry is not its intention. Of course we want to give people the tools to protect their children. The problem is also not simply one of transparency. In fact, the transparency of these lists allows us to call into question how our laws are enforced. The problems that stem from the registry stem from the fact that people misinterpret what the data means. When the list of registered sex offenders is made available out of context, it's easy for people to misinterpret what they see. And boy do they ever. In most of your minds, a registered sex offender is automatically Evil Incarnate. So when someone has that Scarlett Letter attached to their chests, they are immediately judged without the circumstances and situation being understood. Transparency may allow us to see who's registered, but for this information to be used effectively, it needs to be communicated in context. In short, we need people to not just have access to the data, but have access to the context surrounding the data [danah boyd, "Transparency Is Not Enough," Gov 2.0 Expo, 2010.05.26].

Boyd also notes that she has done research that adds some important context to the statistics about the danger of sexual solicitations minors face on the Internet:

Consider the statistic from 2006 that 1 in 7 minors are sexually solicited online. This statistic flew around the press and was employed by Attorneys General across the U.S. to argue that the Internet is dangerous for children. This statistic was from a highly reputable source - the Crimes Against Children Research Center. The problem is not the statistic; it is accurate. It's what it implies without further clarification. Most people interpret this statistic as suggesting that 1 in 7 minors are sexually solicited by older sketchy adults seeking to meet minors offline for sex. Yet, over 90% of sexual solicitations are from other minors or young adults and 69% of solicitations involve no attempt at offline contact. Finally, the researchers used the term solicitation to refer to any communication of a sexual nature, including sexual harassment and flirtation [boyd, 2010].

When boyd publicized this research, a state attorney general called and told her to "go find different data." When she stuck by her research, that AG proceeded to trash her in the press.

The lesson here is not that we can't trust statistics or that we shouldn't look to data. Quite the opposite: the lesson here is that when we get statistics and data, we need to get even more information to put the data in proper context.

Mark St. Pierre Seeks Signatures to Challenge Thune

My neighbor Rod Goeman cites a Rasmussen poll on strong anti-incumbent sentiment, but notes that John Thune is "safe". Earlier this spring I had an online conversation with a Tea Party type who said "We should vote out all of the incumbents!" but hemmed and hawed when I reminded her that John Thune is an incumbent.

Care to test whether the people shouting "Throw the bums out!" really mean it? Mark St. Pierre is willing to conduct that experiment. Last night he sent to various Dems this call for signatures... and the attached petition images. In St. Pierre's words:

...as you know the party did not put forward a candidate to challenge John Thune. Johns record as a simple minded obstructionist is know to all of us. If the Democrats put forward, "Keeping Breathing Air Free" he would vote to kill it. He is against bank regulation, consumer protection, consumer education, health care and virtually everything. I am sure he is still singing "drill baby drill" at bed time, even as millions of comon folk like us lose their income and culture in the Gulf Region. I could not in good conscience let this man, of all men, run unopposed as if people of good conscience in our state approved in some way what he has been doing, or more realistically, not been doing. If it were up to Johhny, the Iraq War would be offcially enacted as never ending as it creates profits for big business, his real constituency. We have a chance, a slim chance I will grant, to stop him and send a Progressive to Washington. I am a new-commer to politics. I live on the Pine Ridge Reservation. I have not spent years getting to know all of you, but I have recieved the endorsement of many long time Democrats including, Paul Jenson, 5th generation Democrat, Jay Davis, Curt Pochardt, Deb McIntyre, Twila Merril, and many many more. I have the help of dedicated and progressive Independents like Kim Ames Wright, Chairwoman SD Ind. Movment 81000 strong, (out pounding the pavement). I have been a Democrat or a Democrat leaning Independent all of my life and been a business man, educator, writer, community development professional, and film maker, father of 3 and grandfather to 7. This is certainly the grass roots effort stories evolve from and I ask you to join us, who are out collecting signatures, to at least give us a chance to organize around a candidate who is on the ballot. We are at 1400 signatures with a little over a week to go. We need 4000. If everyone on this email list got one sheet completed we would have the number we need. All of us will be out everyday until the 7th to make this happen. Do not let this opportunity to send a clear messaage to the U.S. slip away. Join us! [Mark St. Pierre, e-mail, 2010.05.29].

Given that everyone is out fishing and waterskiing and not checking their e-mail, this message may go unnoticed for a couple days. Come Tuesday, we'll see if St. Pierre gets a fire started.

If that's what you want, click the above petition scans, print them front-to-back on the same sheet, and go get signatures. St. Pierre's running as an independent, so an registered voter, Dem, GOP, or otherwise, can sign. Practically, you have until Friday to fill it up and get the notary to stamp it. Then, since it's a facsimile and not the original document, you have to mail the document to St. Pierre so he can submit it himself to the Secretary of State.

But people, we really need to stop waiting until the last minute on these things.

Update 2010.05.30: A St. Pierre operative updates the push, noting that mail take stwo days to get from Rapid City to Kyle: "People can also mail notarized petitions to Jim Petersen, in Rapid City, 1203 11th St., Rapid City, SD 57701, (petersen100@cs.com- 342-6245)) so as received by 7th - if it's last minute, the weekend of June 5th-6th this might result is speedier delivery than mailed to Kyle."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Madison Puts People to Work: Unemployment Down Full Percentage Point

Thank goodness for planting season: the latest data from the South Dakota Department of Labor shows unemployment in Lake County dropped a full percentage point in April, from 5.7% to 4.7%. That outpaces the statewide drop of 0.8 percentage points. 50 more people jumped in the labor pool, but we added 110 jobs. Do that eight more months in a row, and the LAIC will meet its Forward Madison job creation goals.

Shameless rumormongering: Could more jobs be coming to downtown Madison? Before our water quality meeting last night, Mayor Hexom told some folks that our alley renovation project would be coupled with some significant Main Street development to be announced next week. Did I mis-hear? Are we finally restoring the Masonic Temple? Are we joining the national Main Street Program? Did the alley crew strike oil and invite Hyperion to start a new Gorilla project? Someone in the know, chime in!
The job picture brightened in Brookings, too, where countywide unemployment dropped from March's 4.3% to April's 3.5. 190 more people started looking for work, and 335 new jobs appeared.

The rest of our neighbors saw good jobs news, too:
  • Kingsbury: unemployment down 1.3 percentage points to 5.2%
  • McCook: down 1.6 to 4.6%
  • Miner: down 1.4 to 4.4%
  • Minnehaha: down 0.9 to 4.6%
  • Moody: down 1.7 to 5.4%
Every major South Dakota city saw improvement, with Watertown posting the biggest unemployment drop of 1.2 percentage points, down to 5.0% in April.

Now remember, April had spectacular weather, so we were able to get a lot of construction and farm work done. Let's hope May is keeping workers busy as well.

But watch out: if people keep getting jobs and the economy starts humming along again, what will happen to all that anti-incumbent sentiment Rod mentioned earlier today?

Campaign Finance: Curd Arrogant, Kirby and Kurtenbach Conflicted, Noem Broke

Dr. R. Blake Curd is pouring $42,000 of his own money into his U.S. House campaign fund. Of course, it's not just any old money; it's his "hard-earned money," says campaign mouthpiece Joshua Shields. Really, do we really have to engage in this "I worked harder than you for my money" contest? Doesn't everyone work hard?

Curd is also cloaking his big self-donation in noble language about children (hey, I thought that was only a liberal Dem tactic!):

It's important that people understand that I'm serious about this election.... I can't think of any better thing to invest your money in than my children and the children of South Dakota, and that's exactly why I've invested some of my own personal money in our children's future [R. Blake Curd, in Ledyard King, "In Money Race, Curd Piles up Lead," that Sioux Falls paper, 2010.05.28].

Give me a break, R. Blake. You're not investing in our children. You're buying more dorky bowling ads and billboards and paying consultants to craft propaganda so you can win a political job, just like the other candidates. And I find it a little offensive (as I suspect does Chris Nelson, whom you are not-so-subtly poking here for his campaign-on-the-cheap) that you believe people are only serious about issues if they spend money. That's the free-market fundamentalist mindset run rampant. The fact that you are richer than Chris Nelson doesn't make you more serious about policy or about helping South Dakota.

Curd's cash-in gets me reviewing the campaign finance records. Some notes of interest:
  • Among R. Blake's backers are a whole bunch of doctors... and fellow wealthy South Dakota Republican Steve Kirby. Kirby and his wife Suzie maxed out for Curd right around Christmas. Ho ho ho.
  • Kristi Noem has Wall Drug power: Ted Hustead is her treasurer.
  • The Kirbys also kicked in $1500 each for Noem when she announced in February.
  • Daktronics mastermind Al Kurtenbach gave both Nelson and Curd $250.
  • Also conflicted: South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley. Jackley PAC has given $500 to Curd and $500 to Nelson. Marty apparently can't figure out which candidate he backs any more clearly than he can figure out which argument to run in court.
  • As of last week, the Noem campaign was broke: $43,152 cash on hand, but $48,537 in debt. Maybe next time she'll hire Team Munsterman to shoot her ads locally instead of jetting to Texas.

Johnson Right on Gays in Military; SHS Casts Correct Vote

David Montgomery works late to give a good breakdown of where our Congressional delegation stands on allowing gays to serve in the United States Armed Forces. Senator Tim Johnson, who didn't actually get to vote on the defense appropriations amendment that would repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, made the clearest statement of why we should support that repeal:

As things stand now, any repeal would go into effect only after the study is completed and military leaders and the President give the go ahead. Once that happens, I support ending Don't Ask Don't Tell because any individual who is willing and able to defend our country should be able to do so, regardless of their sexual orientation. My view is shared not only by the administration, but top military leaders as well [Senator Tim Johnson, quoted in David Montgomery, "South Dakota's delegation weighs in on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Behind Government Lines, 2010.05.27].

Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin joined 233 House colleagues in voting for the repeal. She fails to address the issue of justice and opportunity for all, talking instead about the importance of leaving it to military leaders to "determine what's best for the military." I would prefer SHS add, "...and what's best for the military is to take every willing and able soldier it can get, regardless of whom they love. Forcing gays to stay in the closet and kicking them out when they don't (or when the Rapid City police rat them out) is wrong." Even if SHS manages not to let the gay-word cross her lips, her GOP opponent will still hoot and holler that her vote shows she's beholden to Speaker Pelosi and the "gay agenda." Why play word games, Steph? Call a discriminatory spade a spade and say "Gays have rights like everyone else."

Senator Thune plays a similar game of dodging the real issue. As Montgomery points out, Thune mischaracterizes the repeal amendment as a "White House ultimatum" rather than a compromise. (And don't tell me Thune doesn't have in mind some ultimata he'd issue if he got to be President.) Thune calls repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell a "last-ditch effort by the White House to deliver on a campaign promise"... as if delivering on campaign promises is a bad thing.

On Don't Ask Don't Tell itself, Senator Thune drops this turd in the rhetorical crapper:

"It just seems to me that moving forward [with repeal] would be a mistake.... There are very serious misgivings about changing a policy that has worked pretty effectively" [Thune, quoted in Montgomery, 2010].

..which translates as "Our soldiers are such wimps they couldn't shoot straight if we forced them to serve alongside queers. So kicking out over 13,000 skilled but annoyingly gay soldiers is a great idea. Besides, homosexuals aren't real Americans, anyway. Our Founding Fathers didn't mention them in the Constitution, so screw 'em."

Thank you, Senator Johnson, for the straight talk on this issue. Thank you, Rep. Herseth Sandlin, for at least voting the right way. And thank you, Senator Thune, for exposing the continued bigotry and ignorance of your party.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Heidepriem Challenges GOP to Debates; Daugaard and Knudson Accept

Both of Scott Heidepriem's sons competed in Lincoln HS speech activities... and hey! Heidepriem wrote a biography of NFL founder Karl E. Mundt—how could he not appreciate the value of debate?

Credit Heidepriem with calling on his GOP challengers in the South Dakota governor's race to debate... and credit Dennis Daugaard and David Knudson for already accepting. The Heidepriem folks have issued a press release saying that Knudson has accepted at least three debates in September and October and possibly a total of eight debates around the state. Daugaard sounds ready to go balls to the wall, accepting Heidepriem's challenge to a debate on June 15, just one week after the GOP primary. Daugaard also plans at least three debates in the fall, plus the State Fair and DakotaFest. Rock on!

Daugaard's acceptance is particularly intriguing. Like Knudson, he gives the easy answer of "Sure, I'll debate," and avoids giving Heidepriem an easy political hammer. (Darn—guess I'll have to send my chicken suit back.) But Daugaard shows even more moxie and takes Heidepriem's full offer, including the early debate.

What, no dickering? What does this move say? Here are my five reads, in descending order of importance and credibility:
  1. Daugaard knows he's got the primary in the bag and is ready to pivot to hammering on Heidepriem.
  2. Daugaard knows he doesn't have the general in the bag and needs to start hammering on Heidepriem. Someone 30 points ahead could afford to play haughty and decline to dignify Heidepriem with more than a minimum of side-by-side stage/camera time. Even if the Daugaard people think they have the general in the bag, they are too thorough (or superstitious) to play the frontrunner.
  3. Daugaard wants to shift attention from any lingering animosity from the five-way primary to unite the party, including any sour-grapes Sioux Falls Republicans who might slide from Knudson to Heidepriem. Holding a debate right after the primary says to party wafflers, "So you voted for Knudson, and Knudson lost. Get over it. Time for the main event—let's beat some Dems!"
  4. Daugaard is looking across ticket (Dennis is a nice guy; he does think of others) and setting a precedent for the GOP challengers to draw Herseth Sandlin out. GOPers have already made some hay criticizing SHS for not coming out to health care meetings and other public forums last year. Correct or not, it sure sounds good. Team Daugaard may be saying to Teams Nelson, Noem, and Curd, "Get ready, challenge SHS to debates, get all the stage time you can with her!" All three GOP challengers get a boost in ethos from appearing on the same stage as the sitting Congresswoman.
  5. Absolute skullduggery: Daugaard secretly supports SHS, knowing we need a Dem in Congress to get the Speaker's and President's ears and bring home the bacon. Daugaard knows SHS will eat anti-pork posers Noem and Curd alive in head-to-head policy debates... and he wants to set an example that they will foolishly follow. (Nelson might hold his own on policy... but Daugaard knows that when Nelson gets done pandering to the hardcore wingnut primary voters, he'll settle down and be a pragmatist again, so Daugaard isn't worried about him.)
GOP friends, there's one more reason to vote for Daugaard: more debates sooner! Bring it on!

Jayhawks' Olson and Louris Sing of Chamberlain

Why do I have to listen to a Canadian radio station to hear music about South Dakota? I'm listening to CKUA online, and I just heard for the first time "Chamberlain, South Dakota," a song from Ready for the Flood released last year by Jayhawks founders Mark Olson & Gary Louris.

Here are Olson and Louris in a Chicago 2009 performance:

Thune on BP Oil Spill: I Want Bigger Government!

Ah, sweet hypocrisy...

Political grandstanding is so fun that Republican Senators tend not to realize what they are saying. South Dakota's Republican Senator John Thune is "blasting" and "slamming" President Barack Obama for not doing more to cap BP's Deepwater Horizon oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The president ought to be pulling together the very best minds out there," the South Dakota Republican said. "He could be bringing people together and figuring out which are the best technologies, bringing in all the oil companies in to discuss this, all the scientists, all the people who have expertise in this area" [Ledyard King, "Thune Blasts Obama Response to Gulf Oil Leak," that Sioux Falls paper, 2010.05.27].

Compare the above comments to the pablum Senator Thune threw to the National Rifle Association a fortnight ago:

Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, told the crowd there are two competing visions about the future of the country.

"One consists of more government and less freedom, and one consists of less government and more freedom," he said. "And right now, unfortunately, the prevailing vision in Washington D.C. is that of government. More and more government" ["Speakers at NRA convention target Washington, midterms," CNN.com, 2010.05.14]

Does Senator Thune really want President Obama to nationalize the BP cleanup effort? Should Uncle Sam simply dissolve BP and take possession of all of its equipment? We'd have to: we can't exactly load a bunch of Army Corps of Engineers bulldozers and Madison's 211th National Guard company on a barge, ship them out of New Orleans, and toss them in the ocean to fix the problem. The President and his advisors have already assessed the expertise and equipment needed to fix this problem... and they've recognized that BP has it.

Even if we took the Russians' advice and nuked the broken wellhead, we'd probably still have to use equipment from BP or other industry players to drill into the sea floor and properly place the warhead.

My conservative friends tend to criticize the Obama Administration for Rahm Emanuel's oft-cited First Rule of Politics, "Never let a crisis go to waste." Those critics forget to read the rest of the quote: "They are opportunities to do big things."

Senator Thune is operating by the first half of Rahm's Rule, but I don't think trying to use this crisis as an opportunity to score political points against the man he might try to beat in 2012 counts as a "big thing." President Obama is willing to use this crisis as part of the argument to make big things like energy security legislation happen. The President is also moving ahead with preventive measures like extending a moratorium on deepwater exploration, a sensible, cautious step Thune explicitly rejects in the King article.

Government has its proper roles. What I find amusing is that Senator Thune is unwilling or unable to coherently explain those roles. He can apparently only lurch from shouting base-pleasing anti-government platitudes to crying for government actions when it suits his political agenda. Ugh.

Tea Party Candidate Howie Takes $278K in Farm Subsidies

Oh, the humiliation. South Dakota gubernatorial candidate Gordon Howie has discredited the Tea Party movement better than this blog ever could. Yesterday he admits he has failed to pay $58K in property taxes after getting in too deep on land speculation. Now I learn from the Dakota War College comment section that Howie has accepted $278K in federal farm subsidies over the last 15 years. $22K of that is disaster payments.

Update 07:05: Mrs. Howie is also pulling her weight. Over the last couple years, Connie L. Howie has raked in another $33,579 in farm subsidies. These subsidies appear not to be connected with Connie's puppy-ranching operation.

Now Gordon's take is only a ninth of the welfare haul claimed by another Tea Party fave, U.S. House candidate Kristi Noem. Where, oh, where are the true conservatives? Where are the politicians so principled in their opposition to the soul-sapping power of federal handouts that they have refused to take advantage of the status quo?

The only other gubernatorial candidate who appears to have cashed in on farm subsidies is rancher Ken Knuppe from Buffalo Gap. His take since 1995: $43,046, all disaster payments disbursed in four years. Of course, his dad Ray and some other Knuppes around New Underwood have hauled in more of those federal dollars.

I might try to be charitable and say that the prevalence of farm welfare payments even among notable conservatives simply demonstrates how much the current agribusiness system relies on government support, from which you may argue that we need either to radically restructure the Farm Bill or to acknowledge that Tea Party talk of getting rid of government is empty, impractical windbaggery.

But Howie deserves no charity. Consider: in the last two years alone, Howie has taken over $113K in farm subsidies. That's almost twice the amount that he has declined to pay on his property taxes over the same period. Wow. This behavior shows he is no principled politician. He is a shyster, an opportunist, a land-grabbing, tax-dodging, welfare-slurping salesman willing to do anything to make a buck, including cheating the taxpayers.

But hey, welcome to the real face of the Tea Party. It's not about the common man. It's not about the Constitution or God or fighting communism. It's about big business putting on a puppet show to distract you from their casino capitalism.

Gordon Howie is a personable guy who also happens to be so far off between Saturn and Pluto that we, as South Dakota voters, would be irresponsible to allow him to hold office again. And, Republicans would be foolish to advance his candidacy. Gordon's primary issue is bringing God to government. His God [Michael Sanborn, "Governor? Part Deux," Decorum Forum, 2010.05.26].

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

North Dakota Chats up South Dakota; Minnesota Ignores Us

Rebecca Blood turns my attention to Lexicalist.com, which analyzes online text and demographics to figure out who's talking about what where. You type in a word, Lexcialist calculates the prevalence of that word in online conversations by state, sex, and age.

So I type in South Dakota. The results:

Lexicalist.com ties most of the conversation about South Dakota, 81.2%, to speakers/bloggers/tweeters in South Dakota. Among outsiders, we figure most prominently in the consciousness of our northern neighbors: North Dakotan online sources contribute 6.2% of mentions of "South Dakota (certainly 5.2% are prefaced with the phrase, "Gee, why can't we be more like..."). Wyoming produces 4.0% of South Dakota mentions; Iowa 2.5%. Our Minnesota neighbors provide only 0.7% of South Dakota mentions, a tick fewer than even Montanas make... and Montanans have Yellowstone and the Rockies to distract them. Minnesotans talk about North Dakota twice as much. What gives?

Plug "Minnesota" into the Lexicalist search query, and you find that Minnesotans provide only 35.3% of their own mentions. 13.0% come from North Dakota, and 10.2% come from South Dakota. (I leave it to the Minnesota Department of Tourism to speculate as to what words precede our mentions of our easterly neighbor.) Hmmm... are South Dakotans more self-absorbed than Minnesotans? Mentions of Minnesota are more spread out among other states, suggesting their marketing and top-of-mind-awareness are better than ours... or that they just get more online press thanks to the Twins.

One more random note for the watercooler: The three states that talk about New York the most are New York (12.6% of mentions), New Jersey (5.7%), and North Dakota (4.3%). South Dakota ties with Alaska for talking about New York the least, not even registering on Lexicalist's count. Hmmm....

Gordon Howie: Tea Party Tax Cheat

I'd give credit where credit is due, but the creator(s) of the "Stop Gordon Howie" website still haven't cowboyed up with real names. So credit goes to Jonathan Ellis, who verifies their claim that South Dakota Tea Party gubernatorial candidate Gordon Howie really hates texes... so much that he doesn't pay them.

Ellis checks the Pennington County records and finds the singing real estate agent is over $58,000 behind on 32 properties. Gee, Gordon, are ordinary taxpayers supposed to feel sorry for you for buying more property than you could sell? Are voters supposed to trust you to balance the state budget when you can't rein in your own spending and meet your legal obligations?

$58,000... hmmmm... that would pay for a couple of teachers.

Let's see... Tom Daschle turned out to be $128,000 behind on his taxes due his accountant's mistake. Daschle lost his chance to be HHS secretary. Howie owes us taxpayers $58,000 by choice, by willful resistance to paying his fair share. Anyone who gloated over Daschle's downfall had better cross Howie off his ballot. (I know, most of you Republicans already have.)

According to Ellis's article, not only does Howie have the gall not to pay his taxes, but he also had the gall last year to propose a bill to raise our sales tax to take the tax burden off his real estate business. Gordon Howie. Raising Taxes. Nice. Of course, as the anonymi point out, the Howie family tries evading the sales taxd, too, by taking food from the food pantry.

Gee, Gordon, my family expenses went up this past year. My family income went down. I still paid every penny of my property tax.

I can't wait to see the campaign finance report to see how much money Howie has spent on his own campaign that he could have used to pay his legal debt to us.

Do Howie a favor: vote him down hard on June 8 so he can knock off his silly campaign, sell his extravagant RV, and get back to real work so he can pay his taxes like the rest of us.

Note that Daugaard, Knudson, and Munsterman avoid comment in the Ellis article, clearly obeying the principle that you never look back at the guy trailing you. Ken Knuppe takes a swing, though, saying quite simply, "I pay my property taxes" and noting that paying your taxes is part of being a landowner. Knuppe's "Code of the West" includes paying your debts. Republican readers, if you're still toying with the idea of "sending a message" to the party establishment with a Howie vote, why not switch to Knuppe instead? Vote for a real rancher who pays his bills.

Google Generates $33M Yearly in South Dakota

Google provides what they call a conservative estimate of the economic activity they generate in each state of the Union. Google says $54 billion a year moves around thanks to its search and advertising tools. Now that's not including the economic activity that occurs when I Google "rain barrel downspout diverter," find one that fits the tank I liberated last fall, and order it from Home Depot. That $54 billion is just the money that changes hands when we click on the sponsored links on searches or the Google ads on various webpages.

South Dakota hears the jingle of "just" $33 million—0.06%—of that Google economic activity. We have 0.26% of the national population, so we seem to be lagging in bidding for search terms and buying Google ads to make a buck. Compare the two states that claim the biggest chunk of the Google pie, California and New York. California has 12% of the nation's population but rakes in 26% of the Google bucks. New York has 6.4% of the nation's population but claims 11.7% of that economic activity.

There are twelve states total whose percentage of Google's economic activity exceeds their percentage of the U.S. population. In other words, 11 states and D.C. ring up more Google cash per capita than the national average:

Google econ. activity per capita
Dist. Columbia $423.58
Washington $420.16
California $381.48
Massachusetts $333.66
New York $322.39
Illinois $247.86
Utah $231.63
Connecticut $211.18
Nebraska $192.58
Nevada $192.58
Arizona $181.93
Delaware $180.77

South Dakota's annual per capita Google cash is just $40.62, which ranks us 41st nationally. Being a rural state doesn't mean you can't make money with Google ads—consider that Utah and Nebraska have landed spots in the top ten for per capita activity. It may be that South Dakota businesses are more dependent on local markets and don't see as much advantage in casting the wide 'Net for online business as they do in advertising in traditional local media to reach their mostly nearby customers.

Google says some 2200 South Dakota advertisers and website publishers engage Google's advertising services. Google spotlights Aberdeen's KitchenTuneup.com as an example. With franchises across the country and in Canada, Kitchen Tune-up is in a good position to take advantage of such broad Web exposure.

Still, the South Dakota businesses that are taking advantage of Google advertising are generating less economic activity per business than the national average. Each participating South Dakota business generated $16,500 in Google cash (the Madville Times is dragging that average way down). That amount ranks us 36th nationally on that score, so our Google-inclined businesses are making more of Google than counterparts in some other states. But compare our take to the national average of $35,431 in Google cash per participating business. The highest per-business performance is in Nebraska, whose 5000 Googly businesses generate $69,200 each in direct Google economic activity.

$69,200 per business: for you big operators, I suppose that's peanuts, but wowza! if I could generate even half that with ads here on the blog, I'd quit my day job. Must blog harder!

Check the complete state-by-state data and my calculations yourself on my homemade spreadsheet (you're welcome!).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

IgniteSD #2 Lights up Madison Main Street

This one's for you, Officer.... I hope it was another quiet night shift.

Hey, what was all that traffic on Main Street...

...on a sunny Tuesday night...

...making it hard to get to the counter at the coffee house?

Oh, just a bunch of people coming out to hear some visual aid speeches...

...at the best darn semi-self-organizing intellectual entertainment in the state!

IgniteSD #2 packed Mochavino here in Madison last night. Fifty-some people squeezed in, folks ranging in age from my own Divine Miss K (still in the single-digits) to my octogenarian neighbor and comrade Gerry Lange. People came from at least five counties (and some new friends, by more complicated life journeys, from Minnesota and New Hampshire!) for coffee, wine, conversation, and enlightenment.

IgniteSD's second program was filled with the Unexpected™:
  1. Jon Hunter spoke of his passion for sailing (ah ha! that Madison logo does speak to us!). I learned that sails work by Bernoulli's principle: it's not push, but sideways lift!
  2. Megan Nelson explained why she likes running marathons better than selling insurance.
  3. Heather Mangan told us how whittling your life down to two suitcases helps you see what matters (I prefer one frame pack myself—right, Toby?—but the idea stands).
  4. Chris Francis touted the upcoming first-in-the-nation White Night arts event, happening right here in Madison July 1.
  5. Joe Bartmann discussed the joys of worm ranching and compost tea... and offered free livestock!
  6. Kent Thompson shared bits of his experiences from eleven years of medical mission trips to Tanzania. He got back from his latest trip hardly 24 hours before speaking at IgniteSD #2.
  7. Jael Thorpe extolled the virtue of being one's own boss, running for office, and not wasting time waiting for things to happen.
I'd have snapped pix of the speakers, but I was busy emcee-ing... and enjoying every presentation!

I rhapsodized about the community-building value of Ignite events after the first IgniteSD in Brookings last month. I feel the same way tonight. At Ignite, anybody who wants to speak can speak. People want to come and listen, not because the speakers are famous or rich or powerful, but because they are us. Ignite brings South Dakotans together to say things that matter. We need more of that...

...and we'll get more! Organizer John Meyer says we can expect IgniteSD #3 to take place in Sioux Falls in June! He said he was thinking holding it at an outside venue... but last night's 40-mile-per-hour gusts reminded him that keeping this event indoors is just fine. Stay tuned to IgniteSD.com (and this very blog) for updates!

Update: IgniteSD #2 gets mention on KJAM as well.

Brookings Misses Economic Development Point, Buys into Branding

When it comes to economic and cultural development, Brookings makes Madison look like pikers. Sometimes I wonder if Brookings sends its Dwaine Chapel to work at our economic development corporation as a spy just to keep us from catching up.

Alas, Brookings's pre-eminence may be crashing to an end, as our neighbors to the northeast drink the same marketing Kool-Aid that makes Madison look so silly. The city is trotting out a new logo and "branding" campaign, despite clear evidence that they don't need one:

The new logo and strapline are important, but there’s so much more to branding, says Victoria Blatchford, chair of the city’s Visitor Promotions Committee and member of the branding task force.

“A brand is something that can stand the test of time. It continues to be an experience. It’s a unified voice, and we just didn’t have that unified voice to promote Brookings" [Jill Fier, "New City Brand Tells Visitors, Residents to 'Bring Your Dreams,'" Brookings Register, 2010.05.22].

To preserve their sanity, marketing people must have to not listen to themselves. Blatchford says Brookings hasn't had a unified "branding" voice. Yet the absence of that unified voice hasn't stopped Brookings from kicking butt on the economic development front. SDSU, Innovation Campus, downtown Brookings, commercial development by the I-29 exit... all trucking right along with momentum built in those awful dark years when there was no unified branding.

More marketing-speak:

“When we looked at all the avenues of how Brookings is seen,” Blatchford said, “our looks and our sounds and how people look at us were just so different. … We have to define who we are, and we have so many different assets that are wonderful in Brookings, how do you culminate that into one feel, one statement, one look?" [Fier, 2010]

Maybe you don't. Maybe Brookings's success lies precisely in being many different things to many different people (or target markets). Maybe the effort to cram your entire city's character into one silly, focus-grouped, expensive ($84,000!!!) slogan disguises your successful diversity. Look at Madison: we go slapping our cute sailboat logo on everything. But how many sailboat owners are there in Madison? How many sailboat regattas take place here? Most importantly, what does that sailboat say about 99.9% of the businesses and events taking place in Madison? Zip.

The Brookings marketers also buy into contradictory thinking on the nature of a town slogan. Fier notes at the top of her article past slogans that have come and gone. Blatchford seems to think the new slogan is somehow different, that the new branding will "stand the test of time." Yet City Manager Jeff Weldon says in the same article, "Every organization, public or private, needs to refresh its image, update how it wants to market and sell itself to the public." In a few years, this new slogan and branding campaign will go stale and need refreshing as well.

And the marketing firms will be back to score another $84,000 contract.

For towns, slogans and branding just don't matter... at least not nearly as much as actual performance. Brookings is proof of that. Brookings could have had "Liver and Onions!" on its Chamber flyers and billboards for the last ten years, and people still would have come to Brookings for work and school and culture and groceries.

What makes economic development happen is more than any clever advertiser can slap on a banner. Madison hasn't learned that lesson... and now Brookings is unlearning it.

Naked and Nuked: Airport Scanners May Increase Cancer Risk

Conservative friends, Gordon Howie followers, and other wingnuts, if you want to foment anti-government paranoia, then froth up over this one: the Transportation Security Administration may be giving you cancer. It's bad enough the federal government wants to electronically strip you naked at the airport; now scientists at university of California San Francisco say full-body scanners may hit travelers with enough X-rays to "increase the risk of cancer and other health problems, particularly among older travelers, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems."

But why worry? Homeland Security's chief medical officer Alexander Garza says he feels perfectly comfortable nuking his family in the scanners, so so should you, right?

Of course, TSA and other experts will tell you that you get the same dose of radiation from a full-body scanner as you do from two minutes up in the air. (And what do you think that phone in your pocket is doing to your groinal region all day?) But you choose to nuke yourself by flying. The full-body scanners are the government choosing to nuke you against your will, and that's not right, right?

Come on, Tea Party, this could be your next big issue, one that could really get traction, like fears of vaccines causing autism. Latch on, fight the scanners!

Buhl for Senate -- Not Just Blogging!

In the hasty generalization of the morning, South DaCola questions Angie Buhl's chances of winning the District 15 State Senate seat, saying that bloggers just can't win political office. South DaCola cites failed bids for office by Pat Powers and Todd Epp. Feel free to throw on the pile my inability to win a school board seat.

But to characterize Angie Buhl as nothing more than a blogger misses the point. Her blogging for Dakota Women was an extension of a much deeper commitment to community issues and political action. She's a big mover in the South Dakota Young Democrats. She's worked hard in previous campaigns, made all sorts of connections, and knows her stuff. She also has the guts to lead a conversation about the need for changing South Dakota's politics.

If anything hamstrings Buhl's chances of winning, it won't be her blogging. It will be her willingness to call a dog a dog... and in this case, the dog is South Dakota's regressive status quo.

Hunter, Heidelberger on Same Page, in Same Room... at IgniteSD #2 Tonight!

Jon Hunter gives tonight's IgniteSD #2 some good press in his editorial corner of the world. (Thanks, Jon!) He compares the event to the "speaker's corner" at London's Hyde Park. I wonder who will be our Marx, Lenin, or Orwell!

Jon's excited (he's on tonight's program!) and so am I (I'm the MC... yo!). Also presenting:IgniteSD #2, tonight, 7:30 p.m., Mochavino, downtown Madison. Come be part of the show!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Climate Change (and Climate Science) Real, Action Necessary

My day job keeps me from arguing climate science as much as I ought. Fortunately, there are lots of scientists smarter than I who are on top of that debate (via Facebook pals and NYT):

Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems....

A carbon-pricing system is the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions. Either cap-and-trade, a system of taxing emissions, or a combination of the two could provide the needed incentives. While the report does not specifically recommend a cap-and-trade system, it notes that cap-and-trade is generally more compatible with the concept of an emissions budget.

Carbon pricing alone, however, is not enough to sufficiently reduce domestic emissions, the report warns. Strategically chosen, complementary policies are necessary to assure rapid progress in key areas such as: increasing energy efficiency; accelerating the development of renewable energy sources; advancing full-scale development of new-generation nuclear power and carbon capture and storage systems; and retrofitting, retiring, or replacing existing emissions-intensive energy infrastructure. Research and development of new technologies that could help reduce emissions more cost effectively than current options also should be strongly supported [links mine, "Strong Evidence on Climate Change Underscores Need for Actions to Reduce Emissions and Begin Adapting to Impacts," News from the National Academies, 2010.05.19].
Read the full reports on climate change from the National Research Council of the National Academies here:
  1. Advancing the Science
  2. Limiting the Magintude
  3. Adapting to the Impacts
I must confess to a little uneasiness at seeing the third title. The scientists appear to be acknowledging that we've made a mess, trouble's coming, and there's no way to avoid it all. Those darn scientists—always such realists.

Update 2010.05.26: Meanwhile, Rep. Don Kopp (R-35/Rapid City) continues to embarrass the state he was elected to serve. He takes to the pages of "Dakota" Voice to perpetuate the pernicious lie of his anti-science climate change resolution.

Hickey Poll Asks Different Question, Gets Different Answer

Pastor Steve Hickey runs a poll related to pastors' politicizing their pulpits and gets results the opposite of mine.

I could add his poll results and mine and conclude that if you throw South Dakota blog readers together, you'll still find people opposing pastors endorsing candidates from the pulpit by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.. But I can't do that, since Pastor Hickey and I asked entirely different questions. My poll asked, "Do you want your pastor (rabbi, etc.) to endorse political candidates from the pulpit?" Hickey's poll asked "Should clergy (from their pulpits) be able to set forth the Biblical teaching on issues and show how candidates measure up to that standard?"

We also offered different answer options. I simply offered options for "Yes" and "No." Hickey's loaded options elaborated: "YES, the First Amendment/ Constitution trumps IRS code (i.e. 1954 Johnson Amendment)" versus "NO, the IRS is right to extend a benefit (tax exemption) to silence a certain kind of speech." He also included options where respondents could indicate whether they "faithfully" attend church. After some grumbling from me, Hickey added this option: "I'm not a church goer but believe Separation/Church& State means gov't must help pastors write their sermons."

Pastor Hickey acknowledges the weaknesses in his poll, as I try to do with mine. He also notes that Gordon Howie's risible effort to portray himself as the candidate of God in the GOP primary isn't flying with most pastors, who see no Scriptural justification to pick one GOP candidate over another (well, not counting Dave Knudson, according to some fundegelical interpretations).

I'm still waiting to hear any spiritual justification for any pastor to use the pulpit to endorse any fallible human candidate over another. The church should challenge political powers, not praise and promote them.

Madison Names Price for Bike Trail Land Acquisition

On the agenda for tonight's Madison City Commission meeting: discussion of the how much the city will pay landowners for allowing construction of the Lake Herman Recreation Trail on their land.

You have page through nineteen liquor license applications to get to it, but on page 45 of the agenda packet, you can find out how much the city plans to offer David Pitts and other landowners for the privilege of taking the right of way permanently out of their use.

If I'm understanding what's written in the city's "acquisition formulas," each landowner gets $500 up front. Then the city goes to Shirley Ebsen's office at the courthouse, gets the highest per-acre assessed value of the land in question, and multiplies by 2.

For temporary easements (the land the city will need to run the equipment up and down along the construction route), the city multiplies that land value by 20%. The city will add another 10% for crop damage.

For permanent easements, the city multiplies the land value by 140%.

Now I haven't taken the tape measure out to David Pitts's land, but I'm guessing the rec trail would slice about three acres off the east edge of his land. Let's wild-guess the value at $3000 an acre. By the above formula, the permanent easement for that strip of land would be the following:
  • $3000 x 2 x 1.4 x 3 = $25,200.
What do you say, David (and fellow farmers): is that price enough to seal the deal?

And if it isn't, is the city willing to go higher? Is this bike trail worth paying the price the market will demand? And if not, will the city risk the political fallout of eminent domain?

A bike trail would be nice. It would draw tourists and boost economic development. But as I heard a wiser financial head than myself say this week, the bike trail is a want, not a need. The city tonight will make clear the price it wants to pay. If David Pitts doesn't want to accept that price, then so be it. Eminent domain should not follow.

By the way, I went for a couple of bike rides this weekend. Both days I rode the county road that parallels most of the proposed bike route, 234th Street, from Lake Herman State Park to Madison, just as I have for 21 years. Nice smooth road, traffic generally light and polite. Sure, I'd enjoy another path, but I can get where I want to go now just fine with the existing infrastructure. Of course, if the county would like to widen the shoulders, I wouldn't complain. David Pitts might not, either.

Bright Spots on Madison Main Street

Good news from Madison's Main Street:

Lue Poppen is new manager at Ace Hardware in Madison SDThink running a hardware store is man's work? Don't say that to Lue Poppen. As of last week Friday, Poppen is the new manager at Madison's Ace Hardware. She has thirty years of hardware retail experience, most of that at Rusty's Hardware in Howard. She's also a farm gal, so I have no doubt she knows more about hardware than I do. Congratulations on the promotion, Lue!

Mochavino puts out the summer sidewalk furniture in Madison SDIt must be summer: Mochavino has set out its new sidewalk furniture! They're obviously getting ready for the overflow crowd coming to Tuesday night's IgniteSD event. Stop in for coffee and conversation and watch the milling hordes downtown.

new yellow paint on Country Cafe and Dar's Hair Salon in Madison  SDI don't know if it was Sherry or Dar who picked the color, but it got my attention. The Country Café and Dar's Hair Salon on South Egan Ave. now share a nice new coat of yellow paint. Nice work! Now if we could get around to renovating the rest of Main Street....

Gordon Howie's Pastor Declines to Endorse

Mr. Kurtz points us toward Mary Garrigan's report on how Gordon Howie's political pulpit publicity stunt is working out. She finds one pastor who has joined the South Dakota Republican guberatorial candidate's lawbreaking crusade. She finds six local religious leaders who say they likely or definitely won't... including Howie's own pastor:

Even Howie's own pastor, Bishop Lorenzo Kelly at Faith Temple Church in Rapid City, said he has no plans to endorse his friend from the pulpit. "I have encouraged our people to be participants in the political arena and showed them the scriptures that back it up," Kelly said. "But I have not from the pulpit endorsed him. I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't put my church in jeopardy of anything" [Mary Garrigan, "Pastors Divided over Howie's Pulpit Challenge," Rapid City Journal, 2010.05.24].

Even coconut transplant and apparent Howie spokesman Pastor Scott Craig, who sends out the press releases on Howie's church-state stuntwork and urges pastors to let the Howie campaign co-opt sermons, has not yet said on the record that he has endorsed Gordon Howie on church time.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

AmpleHarvest.org Connects Gardeners and Food Pantries

Those of you gardening in today's summery sunshine surely have dancing in your heads visions of September, when you'll have more tomatoes and squash than you know what to do with.

Neighbor Rod Goeman tosses into my inbox a good idea for using your surplus garden bounty: feed your neighbors! CNN spotlights New Jersey gardener Gary Oppenheimer, who started the website AmpleHarvest.org, a national directory of food pantries. The idea is to make it easier for gardeners (Ample Harvest says there may be 40 million) to find community organizations that would be happy to supplement their usual offerings of canned and processed foods with real, fresh, honest-to-goodness food.

The Sioux Falls and Rapid City food pantries are registered on AmpleHarvest.org; Madison and Brookings still need to get their outfits online.

Come September, don't let that food rot on your vines. Pick it, click AmpleHarvest.org, and feed some hungry neighbors.

Extracurriculars 3.2% of Madison School Budget

Madison Central School District publishes its proposed budget in Thursday's paper. Extracurriculars take up 3.2% of $11.3 million in total appropriations:
  • Boys' Sports: $70,543
  • Girls' Sports: $60,324
  • Co-Ed Activities: $189,677
  • Transportation to Games, Tournaments, etc.: $36,730
  • Total Proposed Extracurricular Budget: $357,274
Debate note: if the MHS Debate team competed at every debate tournament during the season instead of staying home more weeekends during the season than it traveled, firing up two Suburbans to make the trip would add maybe another $630, less than 2%, to the total travel budget (your mileage may vary).

Opt-out note: You could eliminate the need for the $250,000 opt-out renewed this year by eliminating all co-ed activities, all transportation to games (play only home games? intramurals?), and maybe a third of the sports remaining sports. But does anyone think that's a good idea.

3.2% of the school budget buys arguably the most memorable, formative, community-building experiences our kids have in school. That's pretty good return on investment.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Brookings Unemployment Lower than Lake County's for 19 Years

Friend and neighbor Chris Francis responds to my criticism of the Madison's economic development corporation by saying things aren't better elsewhere.

The data says, no, actually, things are better in Brookings (click image to enlarge):

Chart comparing unemployment rates in Brookings and Lake Counties, South Dakota, 1990-2009Annual Average Unemployment, 1990-2009
Brookings vs. Lake County, South Dakota
Data from South Dakota Department of Labor

For 19 straight years, Brookings has kept its unemployment rate lower than Lake County's, even through three recessions, including the current one.

Finding out why, explaining that to us, and fixing that disparity are what our economic development director Dwaine Chapel is paid $101,333 a year (as of 2008) to do. Maybe Chapel has done the first (he lives in Brookings, so the research shouldn't be hard), but he certainly hasn't done the second or the third.

Note also the comparison between the Lake County unemployment rate and the statewide rate. In the 1990s, we beat the state's unemployment rate (i.e., it was lower here) seven out of ten years. In the 2000s, we've beaten the state unemployment rate four times, each time by just 0.1 percentage points.

English Teacher Comment on Sutton-Wiese Settlement

My English grammar students will recognize the glaring problem with Dan Sutton's lawsuit-closing written apology to Austin Wiese. As KELO reports it, the letter from Sutton to Wiese includes these twelve words:

I apologize for any problems, discomfort or embarrassment this has caused you.

This. What's this? Is it this groping of which Wiese accused Sutton? Is it this legal wrangling? This unpleasant publicity? This apology itself? This long wait for the apology? This color ink the apology is written in?

This in this apology is a pronoun with no clear antecedent. In writing, the word this should always be followed by a noun. A lawyer who paid attention in English class would have slid Sutton's letter back across the table and asked, "This what?"

This sloppy wording is a grammatical evasion of the issue... which is just what settlements where the defendant admits no wrongdoing are about.

Madison Main Street GOP Endorse Daugaard

Looks like Madison's chiropracty cheese stands alone. The Madison chiropractor Doug Caron has endorsed GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Munsterman with signs out front of his practice and home. Fellow backcracker Jason Evans is the Madison pick-up point for Munsterman signs. [Thanks, Rod, for the correction!]

But now the Madison GOP establishment is speaking, and the word is, Vote for Daugaard. Our own District 8 Senator Russell Olson signed on to the lengthy list of legislators liking Dennis issued published yesterday by Team Daugaard.

That list also includes former local legislator and Board of Regents member Richard Belatti. The man who replaced Belatti as Madison regent, Randy Schaefer, is also sporting a nice Dennis sign out front of his strip mall (as Rod points out below, right in front of Evans's office).

The Madison Main Street establishment are in the incumbent administration's pocket. They're also a relatively cautious bunch. These endorsements signal they are pretty confident that their guy Dennis is going to win the primary.

That endorsement from the powers that be is almost enough to make me want to switch registration and join Caron and Evans in voting for Munsterman.
Worth noting : 32 of the 46 state House Republicans endorsed Daugaard. Eight out of the 22 GOP Senators were willing to stick their necks out for Daugaard over their own majority leader.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Gordon Howie Imploding, Claims Death Threats

Prepare for a primary meltdown: Gordon Howie is losing it. Pat Powers reports that the South Dakota GOP gubernatorial candidate and self-professed teabagger is claiming he's received death threats.

Wow. Failing to generate any real groundswell of support, failing to turn an unsuccessful petition blitzkrieg into an effective campaign organization, winning nothing but the highest negative polling numbers of the five GOP gubernatorial candidates, Howie has no strategy left other than to end each week saying whacky things in a desperate bid for headlines. (Mission accomplished there... at least on the blogs that find his desperation pitiful.)

Howie's "death threat" cry proves his immersion in the Christian persecution complex that is so prevalent among the right-wingnuts who support him. Everyone's against us, everyone hates us... we must be special!

So help Howie out. Reinforce his persecution complex. Help him finish last in the primary. If you want to protest the mainstream GOP, cast your protest vote for Ken Knuppe and the Code of the West. For Howie, crushing defeat will be resounding victory.

Fifth place for Howie would be a victory for the rest of us as well.

LAIC Celebrates Past, Fails to Build Future

The Lake Area Improvement Corporation publishes warm and fuzzy praise of Jerry Prostrollo. Yes, yes, he saved DSU, recruited Gehl, built Prairie Village, brought back the railroad... we should just rename the town Prostrolloville.

But that was yesterday. What's happening today in Madison?

A new group now is working on economic development and Prostrollo is satisfied with the direction economic development is moving in Madison [LAIC puff piece, May 2010].

The minor note: "A new group"? Really? You mean someone has replaced the old rich guys who gather 'round the traveling card table and make all the rules for Madison? The "new group" must not be the LAIC, since the LAIC wouldn't be so dense as to publish its own rah-rah propaganda and not name itself, would it? Good grief: can the LAIC never just say things directly?

The major note: "satisfied with the direction economic development is moving in Madison"—really? Let's see...
  1. Rapid Air, also mentioned as one of Prostrollo's successes, announced the closing of its Madison plant last fall.
  2. Another Prostrollo "success," the Mafia-run Guerdons, disappeared 30 years ago.
  3. We closed a competitive video store this winter and replaced it with another liquor store.
  4. The LAIC cancelled its much needed Main Street and More redevelopment program.
  5. The Forward Madison initiative dreamed of creating 400 new jobs but has actually overseen the loss of 500 jobs.
  6. The LAIC's homebuilding project has stalled, with, as far as I know, only one house occupied in the Silver Creek tax increment finance district the LAIC facilitated with its money.
That's an awful lot of either no direction or backward direction... and we're satisfied? Satisfied?!?!

It's no wonder the LAIC wants to write puff pieces about our wonderful people and our wonderful past. If I were an economic development corporation failing to produce lasting results for the future, I'd want to publish happy distractions as well.

Mundt on Movies: No Friend of Free Expression

SDSU historian John Miller called in to Dakota Midday's conversation with Chuck Raasch about the Dust Bowl yesterday with an interesting story about Karl E. Mundt. Miller recalled that Mundt devoted his first floor speech in the U.S. House of Representatives to decrying a movie, The Plow that Broke the Plains. Mundt felt the movie cast South Dakota in a bad light. He said in 1939 that the Dust Bowl was over, South Dakota was green again, and the film was an inaccurate insult to our state. He worked to get the film pulled from distribution and trumpeted his success in suppressing the film as a big reason to re-elect him in 1940. The public didn't see the film again until 1961.

Now the documentary did include some inaccuracies and apparent skullduggery (or is that skull-movery?). But to bury a film and celebrate that censorship as a victory makes me queasy. Combine denying history with Mundt's Red-hunting and "loyal support" of Joe McCarthy, and you get a picture of a South Dakota politician who'd have fit right into today's media climate... on Fox News.

Senator Mundt also went ape twenty years later over North by Northwest, perceiving some insult in the climactic chase scene on Mount Rushmore and argued the film should be "recalled and corrrected."

I’ve said good things about Madison icon Karl E. Mundt. He’s one of Madison High School’s most prominent alumni and an important part of South Dakota history. He was a good speech teacher and debate coach and helped start the National Forensic League, which is near and dear to my heart. But his support of censorship as a politician call into question his commitment to the First Amendment.

Of course, thank to the Internet, now we can all watch The Plow that Broke the Plains. Here's to you, Senator.

Deepwater Horizon Spill: Boost or Bane for Keystone XL?

Newly rechristened Great Plains Tar Sands Pipelines directs our attention to New York Times coverage on the Canadian tar sands and TransCanada's Keystone pipelines. The report notes that BP's Deepwater Horizon mess in the Gulf of Mexico could work both for and against TransCanada's plans.

On the pro side, Canadian officials are making the case that transporting their dirty oil across the Great Plains is safer than pumping oil out of the Gulf, since pipeline leaks would be "easier to detect and control." Now you might look at the 5,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil burbling out of the wrecked BP well each day, then look at the eventual 590,000 barrels of oil that will blast across East River each day in the Keystone pipeline each day, and think, "Holy crap!" But I can see the Canadians' point: if the Keystone pipeline were to explode near Britton or Carthage, TransCanada could probably shut down the flow at the last good pump station up-pipe. We wouldn't have oil pouring out for a whole month. We wouldn't end up with a ten-county oil slick like that depicted in Scott Meyer's nonetheless informative graphic in The Post yesterday.

On the con side, the BP explosion and spill highlight the need for stronger safety oversight over petroleum extraction and transport... and make TransCanada's requests for less safety and oversight look really, really bad. TransCanada wants to use thinner pipe on Keystone XL, just as it did on Keystone.

But Cesar de Leon, a former deputy administrator of the pipeline and safety administration who is now an independent pipeline safety engineer, said the thinner standard is appropriate only if pipelines are being aggressively monitored for deterioration. Although the safety administration required such monitoring in the Keystone permits, it “didn’t have the people to monitor compliance,” he said.

In a report in March on the agency’s broader permitting practices, the Transportation Department’s inspector general found that, in many cases, the agency had failed to check the safety records of permit applicants and had not checked to verify that permit terms were being followed.

Officials of the safety administration did not respond to interview requests. But in written testimony to a House committee in April, the agency’s new administrator, Cynthia L. Quarterman, acknowledged problems and promised to improve. “As you know,” she said, “we inherited a program that suffered from almost a decade of neglect and was seriously adrift.”

Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, said the whole situation was alarmingly reminiscent of the permit waivers that were routinely granted to offshore oil wells, including the BP well leaking in the gulf. “I think it is incumbent on myself as a policy maker to say ‘hold it,’ ” Mr. Tester said [Clifford Krauss and Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Reliance on Oil Sands Grows Despite Environmental Risks," New York Times, 2010.05.18].

Senator Jon Tester can connect the dots between Gulf oil rigs and the big pipeline that will run across his state. Why don't we hear that dot-connecting from South Dakota's Congressional delegation?

There are all sorts of reasons we should tell TransCanada to take a hike (bad business case, unneighborly behavior, genocide...). But if Keystone XL is inevitable and even preferable to oil from the sheiks and Chavez, we should at least learn our lessons about safety and regulation from the catastrophe off the Louisiana coast.