Northern Valley Beacon

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Sunday, September 27, 2015

South Dakota is a wonderful place to raise children for careers in organized crime ["God weeps."]

I keep hearing South Dakotans brag about the low crime rate in their state. This boasting is done despite the constant oozing of news of shady and nefarious activity that comes from state and local governments.  

The latest involves the murder of four children, their mother,  the alleged suicide of their father in Platte, and the arson of their million-dollar home.   The father and mother were the business manager and assistant business manager, respectively, for an educational  cooperative that had a contract to manage federal funds for a program to prepare native American young  people for college.  The murder, alleged suicide and arson happened within hours of the cooperative being informed that it would no longer administer the multi-million dollar contract.  

Reporter Bob Mercer and blogger Cory Heidelberger have covered the incident in detail, with Heidelberger's Dakota Free Press  posting documents showing how many people received hefty fees and salaries from the federal grant,  but no  evidence of how the money developed college talent and helped young people to succeed in college.  Cory's reporting produced the kind of inane, insane South Dakota-nice attitude that permits and encourages financial crime in the state.  A post on the Dakota Free Press site demonstrates the thinking and  level of literacy:

I knew Scott and his family. They were good people. I worked for Gear Up, the people were great. Gear Up helped a lot of college students with jobs for the summer and kids from the reservation somewhere fun and safe. What you write seems to be only about money and negativity. Scott came from a good background. Stacy was an awesome boss. I think the fact that all you people can do is put out negative news is a joke. You haven’t seen how Gear Up is during the summer. Know all your facts before assuming. This has to be a caspericy.

A guy is said by law enforcement that he blew away his four children, his wife, himself, and torched his house amid evidence of massive financial fraud and is deemed "good people" whose actions should not be reported?  And the author claims to have worked in educating children?  A "caspericy?"  

Then when someone reposts one of Cory's reports on Facebook,  it receives this response:

Not a cool article to share at this time. This is not a time to spread negativity. His family has not even been laid to rest yet and there are people including myself and my family grieving a tremendous loss.
This is the culture that permits and encourages the corruption that has come to define South Dakota.  People are so busy being nice and ignorant and morally bereft that they cannot face up to what they have created.  South Dakota has received a  reputation for corruption reported by a number of organizations, and, by god, it got it the old-fashioned way.  It earned it.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

One schmuck down

A schmuck at work

When Scott Walker "suspended" his campaign for president, the media attributed his precipitous drop in the polls to being overshadowed by the likes of Donald Trump and his own blundering responses on issues. One reporter from the Washington Post who accompanied him on the campaign lists nine things she noticed about him. The traits she noted can be summarized in a word. Schmuck.

Schmuck is derived from a Yiddish word for penis.  The closest English equivalent is prick.  A schmuck is someone who is mean, foolish, or inept.  Or all of those.  That's Scott Walker.   The Washington Post reporter says,  "Walker would often slip up, making comments that didn't quite make sense or taking stances he didn't mean to take — but then hesitating to take a different position or admit that he had misspoken, perhaps for fear of cementing an image of being a flip-flopper."

There is an aspect to Walker's decline that is mentioned as one of his achievements but only  a few have seen it as his major detraction.  It is his obsessive assault on working people.  In his campaigns for governor and president, he has emphasized his major accomplishment to be union-busting.  He wrote a campaign book about it with Washington Post wing nut voice Marc Thiessen, titled Unintimidated, in which he portrays himself as heroically standing up to the big, bad unions.  When a hundred thousand people protested his union busting legislation in Madison, he portrayed the event as a mass attack by thugs who he so bravely faced, when it was in fact a civil protest.  He said the  rampage would cost $7.5 million for repairs to the Capitol, when in  fact the clean-up cost was $270,000, and  law enforcement officials repeatedly stressed how civil and well-behaved the demonstrators were. 

Those thugs he referred to were, in fact, the teachers who taught and cared for the state's children, the workers who maintain the roads and provide the services in government offices.  The puzzling and depressing aspect was that the people voted to retain him as governor during a recall election and then a second term.  In interviews of working people who supported Walker, they often said they thought it was unfair that union workers were paid better than they.  

The significance of Walker was in the change he  reflected in the people of Wisconsin, who once put in place the laws that gave working families the right and ability to have a voice in their own financial destinies.  Walker said the quest for equality was greed.  Since his rapid failure in the GOP primary campaign,  many news commentators have noted that Walker's demise was the result of a lethal kind of stupidity and meanness.  During his  campaign, Walker proved to be an uninformed dolt whose lack of knowledge delivered with egotistical bravado disqualified him as a candidate for president.

However, Walker's downfall was largely a matter of him declaring himself an enemy of working people and of democracy itself.  His denunciation of working people and their unions had the same effect on them that the denunciations of western civilization by ISIS has on most of the world.  He branded himself as a dangerous enemy.  He saw collective bargaining as detrimental to his idea of an economy and shared governance in the universities as an impediment to running higher education, which he slashed in Wisconsin by $300 million.  The word collegial, which describes a basic characteristic of universities, means equal sharing of authority.  At a time when most people who have to work for a living recognize that the concentration of wealth in a few underlies America's burgeoning poverty rate and the decimation of the middle class, Walker has destroyed two means of making people equal--collective bargaining and collegiality.  

When Walker banished collective bargaining among public workers,   a number of other states led by GOP governors followed his lead.  In doing so, they expanded the declaration of war on the working families and the middle class.  Walker is now effectively removed from the national stage and the people of Wisconsin will have to deal with what he has wrought.  However, there are other candidates just as anti-worker and anti-equality.

Walker is down, but there is a herd of similar mentalities ready to take his place to  carry the message of racial and class hatred, the denial of equality, and to agitate for a continued war on the working and the middle class.  Walker's demise is a small victory for democracy, but democracy has by no means won.  

The schmucks and putzes still abound.  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Making America hate again

The media and other slovens insist upon calling the kind of playground brawls that CNN put on with the GOP presidential candidates "debates."  A bunch of malevolent juveniles shouting insults, abuse, and falsehoods at each other and the public is not a debate.  The Oxford English Dictionary specifies what comprises a debate:  

debate |diˈbātnouna formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.• an argument about a particular subject, especially one in which many people are involved: the national debate onabortion | there has been much debate about prices.verb [ with obj. ] argue about (a subject), especially in a formal manner: the board debated his proposal | the date when people first entered America is hotly debated.• with clause ] consider a possible course of action in one's mind before reaching a decision: he debated whether he should leave the matter alone or speak to her. 
There were no  arguments assembled and put forward.   Most of the session was dominated by the participants spouting vilifications and defamations at President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and each other.  There was nothing resembling a debate or an intelligible discussion of issues that actually concern the state of the nation or the concerns of its citizens.  Nearly all the accusations were aimed at discrediting somebody and most of the claims of achievement were false.  The affair did not stand up to much fact-checking.

A  New York Times editorial confronted the inane affair:

Peel back the boasting and insults, the lies and exaggerations common to any presidential campaign. What remains is a collection of assertions so untrue, so bizarre, that they form a vision as surreal as the Ronald Reagan jet looming behind the candidates’ lecterns....
Let loose by the CNN moderators, the candidates spun their visions freely. Despite an abundance of serious issues to talk about, nobody offered solutions to problems like child poverty, police and gun violence, racial segregation, educational gaps, competition in a global economy and crumbling infrastructure. On looming disasters (the changing climate) and more immediate ones (a possible government shutdown over, of all things, Planned Parenthood), the debate offered no reassurance that grown-ups were at the table, or even in the neighborhood.
America loses 
That editorial does not represent, however, the general response to the gross diversion from reality and truth.  Most of the coverage contributed to that diversion by engaging in a discussion over who won the debate.  In determining a winner,  the press does not examine who marshaled facts most adeptly and constructed the most convincing argument; it conferred the title of winner on whoever shouted the loudest, insulted the most, and spewed inanities and falsehoods with the most energy.  Carly Fiorina was most often proclaimed the winner because of her response to Donald Trump's misogyny, "I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” and the fluency and force with which she delivered an account of what she claimed occurred in a video of Planned Parenthood.  As the Washington Post fact checkers said,  "Fiorina might have trouble finding this video to show... No video has surfaced showing the scene Fiorina describes taking place inside a Planned Parenthood facility." 

A major theme in George Orwell's 1984 is the indoctrination and control of the people through the use of the media to assail them with a constant barrage of alarming disinformation.  That is what the debate and its hyping and responses were.  The alleged debate gave Americans their version of the five minutes of hate that the citizens of Orwell's fictional country were required to participate in each day.  

And, apparently, only a few writers at the New York Times noticed.  The rest of the nation celebrated the subjugation of the American mind.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Dr. Alonso provides a perspective on the Sanford Underground Research Facility

Jose Alonso 

Sep 5 (6 days ago)
to meLJ
A friend and co-worker from my days at the Sanford Lab forwarded your Sept 4 blog to me.  I compliment the writer on the very thorough research done on the early history of the Homestake mine conversion into the Sanford Lab, but would like to add some perspective to the narrative.

Most noteworthy is that the author failed to note the tremendous scientific and educational successes that have emerged already, as well as the huge growth that is about to take place.

-  The LUX experiment, currently the world’s leader in sensitivity for direct detection of dark matter, has been successfully deployed, and is right now in its main data-gathering period. In its initial “shake-down” run it already has established its world-record sensitivity. At the end of  this year the experiment will either have seen a signal for “WIMPs” (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles), or will have pushed the sensitivity limit down about another order of magnitude.  In addition, the follow-on experiment, called LZ is being developed with international collaborators, and will be deployed also in the Davis Campus, at a depth of 4850 feet.

-  The Majorana Demonstrator Experiment is now approaching the end of its assembly and commissioning stage; this experiment has pushed the frontier of development of ultra clean materials, including the world’s purest copper that has been electroformed at the 4850 to avoid activation present in all copper exposed to cosmic rays.  Not to be alarmed, this activation level is insignificant for humans, compared to the constant bombardment by cosmic ray muons that we are all exposed to on the surface, but for the ultra-sensitive neutrinoless double beta decay Majorana experiment this ultra-pure copper is the difference between a highly meaningful experiment or scientific irrelevance.  This very critical experiment also includes a wide list of US and international partners, and is proceeding extremely well.

- The CUBED program, spearheaded by the University of South Dakota (Vermillion), is focused on research in ultra-low background environments, including the development of ultra-pure materials, and developing instrumentation for detection of ultra low-levels of radioactivity.

-  The CASPAR facility, the first stage of a large underground accelerator complex for studying extremely rare nuclear reactions that are known to be critical in the evolution of stars.  The first accelerator, a 1 megavolt electrostatic accelerator shipped from Notre Dame is just being installed and commissioned. Other accelerators are also planned for this facility. There is only one other accelerator complex like this, called LUNA, located in the large Italian underground laboratory at Gran Sasso, not far from Rome.

-  The broadly-based program of rock-mechanics and seismology, spearheaded by the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology that is contributing to the understanding of our Earth.  I remember seeing traces from the deep underground seismometers of the Fukushima earthquake, and the ringing of the siesmic waves as the whole planet responded to this major seismic event.

-  The deep-underground biology programs, finding new life species that thrive in the hot, humid underground environment, among which were the bacterial species discovered by Homestake many years ago that metabolizes the cyanide used in gold-ore processing.  Many new species continue to be discovered, also spearheaded by SDSM&T and Black-Hills State faculty.

-  The highly-successful educational outreach programs, including the Davis-Bahcall Fellowships, a program that selects 30+ South Dakota students (primarily aimed at Reservation students) for a summer of intensive immersion in the sciences, including travel to Gran Sasso, and Princeton, as well as involvement with underground research at the Sanford Lab.

-   The now well-known “Neutrino Day” celebrations, an open-house for the broader community that has brought close to 1000 visitors to the Sanford Lab for lectures, tours and hands-on demonstrations.

But the doors are just barely opening!  Upcoming in the next few years will be DUNE (Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment), a billion-dollar-plus experiment with multi-national collaborators that will produce a new high-intensity neutrino beam produced at Fermilab outside of Chicago, that is directed to a 34 thousand ton liquid argon detector to be installed in a new cavern complex at the 4850 level of the Sanford Lab.  This experiment will be the premier undertaking of the largest high-energy laboratory in the United States, placing the Sanford Laboratory at the very peak of what is referred to in the Physics community as the “Intensity Frontier.”

I am very proud of the Laboratory that I helped found, and I continue to follow its progress as it matures into one of the country’s leading research facilities.  I should also like to point out that while lacking in broad scientific background and experience, the initial leaders of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, coupled with the enthusiastic support of Governors  Janklow, Rounds and now Daugaard, provided  the acumen to negotiate the donation of the Homestake mine, raise the funds that enabled the first stages of reopening the mine for science (thank YOU Denny Sanford!) and emplacing the sound management basis for the successful establishment of the new National Laboratory.   I should add too, praise for the enthusiastic response and support of the “Homestake family,” miners whose vast knowledge of the mine and its environment provided the expertise to safely reopen  the mine and establish safe and effective operations procedures.  I am very proud to have worked with these wonderful people, and as you can see, am very proud of our accomplishments.

I should also clarify that my giving up the post of Laboratory Director in 2009 was certainly not due to frustration with SDSTA leadership or lack of support for the science program. Considering the highly-complex political situation, my resignation was the correct move to make at that time.  As the author of the blog implies, there were very complicated relationships evolving between the federal agencies (National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy), and the State and universities involved. The primary university was the University of California, that had been managing the “downselect” process that led to the naming of Homestake as the preferred site.  Remember, too, the wording of the NSF announcement was, “IF a deep underground laboratory is to be built in the US, it will be at Homestake.”  These weasel words proved prophetic when, in the midst of the 2010 federal budget crises the NSF Director chose to renegue on his earlier promise to fund the development of the laboratory.  I really give Ron Wheeler a tremendous round of applause for his steady leadership in guiding the Lab though those tumultuous times.  Even without a science background, Ron’s astute understanding of the situation and his political savvy were key to laying the groundwork for the successes that followed.

Jose Alonso, Director Emeritus, Sanford Laboratory

New SD Public Radio morning program: lies with Kristi Noem

South Dakota Public Radio provides state news during National Public Radio's "Morning Edition."  They dutifully broadcast statements by the South Dakota congressional delegation in which John Thune, Mike Rounds, and Kristi Noem recite the scripts prepared by the GOP hack shop.

SDPR never fact checks.

Today it reported on how the delegation responds to the Iran nuclear deal.  It broadcast Kristi Noem saying:

We needed to have Iran show some positive movement toward fixing their behavior when it came towards their nuclear proliferation activities before the sanctions could be lifted. This agreement does not do that,” Noem says. “It immediately lifts the sanctions before their behavior even changes.”
That contention is refuted by news accounts.  The Washington Post states:

The first sanctions are to be lifted after Iran reduces the size of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and meets other requirements, a process many American experts say could take at least six months — although the Iranians insist they can do it much sooner.
And  a letter to the Post from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Francois Hollande states the conditions under which sanctions will be lifted:

Nevertheless, two years of tough, detailed negotiation have produced an agreement that closes off all possible routes to an Iranian nuclear weapon in return for phased relief from nuclear-related sanctions.

Kristi gets the highest rating for her performance.  

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sanford Lab taking the nuclear option. Perhaps.

When some scientists first proposed that the Homestake Goldmine be converted into an underground science and engineering laboratory, almost every small-particle physicist in the nation signed on in support.  So did a number of people who were involved in the scientific community, as their interest and support was invited by scientists.  As a former writer for a research and development company, who later covered science and technology as a newspaper editor, then taught some technical writing in college, professional organizations I belonged to urgently encouraged me to sign on in support.  After becoming acquainted with the potential that scientists saw for the country and the scientific community and hearing my colleagues in science enthuse over the prospects, I added my name to the list of supporters.

The potential of the former goldmine to provide a unique facility for scientific research was and is enormous.  From the viewpoint of environmental scientists, the conversion would turn a deep scar in the earth into an intellectual beauty mark.  And for the higher  learning community in South Dakota, it would give the state an opportunity to contribute in some way to advanced knowledge.  The state's higher education system has been most notable for its lack of support for scholarly research.

But as discussions about what was needed to make a research laboratory out of a mine proceeded, the proposal hit a barrier familiar to people who have dealt with mining companies.  The owner of Homestake, Barrick Gold, stipulated that it wanted to be relieved of any liability for environmental damage caused by the mine.  Although the Homestake Mine in Lead was scheduled for closing in 2001,  Barrick Gold bought the company that year for a $2.3 billion stock deal.  Homestake, with headquarters in Walnut Creek, Ca., was an international company with operations in Canada, Australia, Chile, and the U.S.  The goldmine in Lead did not figure in its operations.  When the proposition to turn the mine into an underground research facility became widely supported, Barrick Gold made the offer to donate it to the state.

However, it made that offer with the stipulation that it not be held liable for any environmental or public safety issues caused by the mine.  As with all mines, there were concerns about the pollution and toxicity of mine wastes and how the expenses for clean up would become the responsibility of the state and federal governments.  Led by Tom Daschle, legislators from South Dakota, proposed and passed federal legislation to relieve the company of liability, although there was strong opposition to it.  Barrick Gold did not find the legislation adequate. The company had indicated that it planned to shut off the water pumps that kept the mine dry if some resolution was not reached, and it did so.

When the pumps were shut off and the mine began to flood, the support for the conversion of Homestake disintegrated. Scientists who had experiments for which the mine would be ideal looked for other places to do their research.  Eventually, after the state came up with a $10 million fund and insurance to cover liability, it received the mine from Barrick Gold.  The South Dakota Science and Technology Authority was created to oversee the conversion to a laboratory.   The conversion into an underground laboratory had the full support and involvement of the National Science Foundation.  However, as scientists looked for other sites to conduct experiments, support for Homestake quickly dwindled and the researchers began to promote other sites to avoid the disruptive involvement of corporations such as Barrick Gold.  In response, the NSF invited proposals for other sites as the place to build a national underground laboratory.  It would review all sites, designate the best choices, and eventually select the one site for a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL).

Eventually, the NSF received eight nominations for the DUSEL site.  Homestake was then a contender with seven other places.  The selection committee narrowed down its list to two finalists in the selection process:  Homestake mine in Lead, South Dakota, and Henderson mine near Empire, Colorado.  The Henderson site is a working molybdenum mine.

The NSF chose the Homestake site for its final selection.  The  features of the mine that attracted the interest and support of the scientific community originally won out in the end.  But after the NSF had sponsored the proposal for the mine conversion and designated Homestake as the best site, it suddenly, in 2010, divorced itself from the project and withdrew funding for its further development.  In the meantime, the project was partially saved by the influx of $70 million from T. Denny Sanford, for whom the lab is now named.
"How can you have a functional lab run by a bunch of dummies who don't know the difference between a science laboratory and a fucking hamburger stand franchise?"

The sudden reversal of NSF support is demonstrated by the fact that in October 2009,  it authorized $29 million to continue development of the laboratory.  In December 2010, it withdrew from its role as the sponsor and funding source for the lab.  The reasons for this sudden reversal were never openly explained.  The NSF made only  two statements hinting at the reason for its decision.  It said that its function was not to support projects in infrastructure but to sponsor scientific experiments.  It also indicated it was not satisfied with the management arrangement for the lab.  

Members of the scientific community did not know the precise reasons for the NSF withdrawal, but they knew the reasons so many scientists were wary, skeptical, and discontented with the direction the lab project was taking.  They understood how the discontent influenced the board of the NSF.  It boiled down to the inherent conflict between science and business. 

The history of directors of the lab and the science authority, which oversees the lab correlates with the NSF relationship.  It begins with the formation of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority by legislation in 2004.  The involvement and role of the science authority is confusing and messy.  When the NSF ended its sponsorship of the laboratory with the comment that it was dissatisfied with the management of the lab,  some accounts in professional journals were led to believe that it involved a dispute between the Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, which also was involved in funding.  But. scientists who were acquainted with the project said the situation was created by the way matter was handled politically by the governor's office.  

Law gives the governor the responsibility to appoint the members of the Science Authority.  When Gov. Mike Rounds did so, he appointed all business people and not one scientist.  His initial appointments were:  

  • David "Dave" Snyder, Lead, a businessman involved in hog operations.
  • Tom Adam, a Pierre attorney with state board experience. 
  • David Bozied, a Sioux Falls businessman with experience on state boards, including the former State Cement Plant commission and the state economic development commission.
  • Pat LeBrun, Rapid City financial adviser and longtime member of the South Dakota Board of Regents, which oversees the state's six public universities.
  • Casey Peterson, longtime Rapid City accountant and owner of Casey Peterson & Associates  
The Science Authority is run by an executive director.  Holding that position includes:

  • Richard Gowen, former president of the School of Mines and Technology, who retired for health reasons Nov. 15, 2004.
  • Dave Snyder from SDSTA board, Nov. 15, 2004 to June 30, 2008.
  • Ron Wheeler, a businessman in Watertown and Huron, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, and Commissioner of Economic Development, July 2008 to July 2013.
  • Mike Headley, a deputy director at SDSTA who previously developed technology at the EROS data center and for the Air Force, July 1.2013 to the present.  

In 2007 when the NSF designated Homestake to be the site of the national laboratory, Dr. Jose Alonso, a physicist from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was appointed director by the Science Authority.  On October 15, 2009, two years later, he resigned.  That was the same day that the NSF announced its $29 million grant to the lab.  Between the time that he resigned and July 1, 2013, when Mike Headley was appointed executive director, the lab was run by Ron Wheeler, the executive director of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority.  It was during the year following Dr Alonso's resignation that the NSF changed from an aggressively enthusiastic sponsor of the lab to a disgruntled divorcee.  

It was very difficult to get any kind of official information on what was going on between the NSF, the Sanford Lab, and those who were running it.   University faculty in South Dakota were clueless,  largely because scientists from the state's higher education system were not included as advisors or participants in the efforts to develop the lab. A professor or two from South Dakota institutions had their names mentioned, but did not have any role in the development proceedings. There was quite a different situation between science faculty and lab proponents in Colorado who worked on the Henderson proposal.  At the time that the competition for national lab designation was between the Homestake mine in South Dakota and the Henderson mine in Colorado, members of the Colorado higher education community were vocal about why they thought the designation of the Homestake mine would be a disaster for scientific research.  At this time, I was involved in some work in Colorado and had discussions with Colorado professors.  South Dakotans have little understanding of why some people hold such disdain for their state.  One Colorado professor who had been associated with the national underground laboratory proposal and was an early proponent for Homestake, stated the attitude bluntly:  "How can you have a functional lab run by a bunch of dummies who don't know the difference between a science laboratory and a fucking hamburger stand franchise?"

The statement came in the context of Gov. Mike Rounds' efforts to generate funds and interest in the Homestake conversion as an economic development project.  As the directorship of the lab passed from nuclear physicist Alonso to economic development executive Wheeler, scientists reacted with consternation.   However, it was the dismayed scientists who were the source of any information about what was actually going on with the management of the lab.  The press published news releases from the Science Authority and other agencies written to create the impression that everyone involved worked hard to get the  lab up and running and that they played well together.   But no one in the South Dakota press, except for a few bloggers, ask the question of what qualifications people on the Science Authority had for overseeing a complicated small-particle lab or what kind of decisions they were making about it.  The message coming from the scientific community is that the management of the lab was a mess mired down in crony GOP politics and irrelevant economic development platitudes.  That is why the replacement of a highly respected physicist, Dr. Jose Alonso, as lab director with economic development specialist Ron Wheeler sent the scientific community reeling.

The only clue reported by the press came from a Rapid City Journal interview with Dave Snyder when he passed the executive directorship of the Science Authority to Ron Wheeler.  About his resignation, he said, "It's like a private business, there's time to sell."  But he also alluded to his own qualifications, when he said he was put in the role of executive "by default" and his position was only to be for six months.  He commented, "I'm increasingly out of my comfort zone.  It's not something for someone with an agricultural background to lead."

The scientific potential of the Sanford Lab has prevailed, most probably, through the efforts of Dr. Kevin Lesko, a senior physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  Lesko was the chief investigator for the underground laboratory project and has been an advocate for the old Homestake mine since it was first suggested for conversion to a laboratory.  Through all the confusing turmoil among the lab's overseers, Lesko kept the scientific potential and advantages of the site before the science community.  When Barrick Gold shut off the water pumps in 2003, physicist Wick Haxton, who was leading the study of the DUSEL proposal, resigned to work on a competing proposal for his home state of Washington.  Many other scientists who felt the strong need for a deep underground lab to carry forward the research on neutrinos and other matter followed suite. Lesko saw the unique advantages of Homestake and continued to advocate for the site despite the obstacles that came up.
Dr. Ani Aprahamian, Notre Dame

Science got its foot in the door in 2009 when Gov. Mike Rounds went out of state and departed from business people in choosing a scientist for a member of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority.  He chose Dr. Ani Aprahamian of Notre Dame  who was acquainted with the Sanford Laboratory and had visited it when she was the program director for Nuclear Physics and Nuclear Astrophysics at the National Science Foundation.  Her term of office expires in December of this year.  

Dr. Robert Wilson, Colorado State

Another scientist was appointed to the Science Authority board this month  by Gov. Daugaard.  He is Dr. Robert Wilson of Colorado State University in Fort Collins.   He succeeds Pierre attorney Tom Adams on the authority.  During the time that the Henderson Mine in Colorado was in  contention for underground laboratory site,  Dr. Wilson was the project manager and deputy spokesperson for the project.  

Prior to Dr. Aprahamian's appointment the Science and Technology Authority had  no one on the board outside of business or business-related persons.  For a few months, at least, the authority will have two prominent scientists in physics research and experiment design as members of the board.  

The Authority's first executive director, Richard Gowen, held a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.  As noted previously, the next two persons to hold that position were businessmen.   The current director, Mike Headley, has a B.S. in computer science and an M.S. in business administration.  

Over the years since the DUSEL was proposed for the Homestake mine and it became the Sanford Underground Research Facility,  there has been a struggle, bitter at times, between those political appointees who saw it as an economic development project and those who saw its potential for science.  Science is the business of generating, verifying, and refining knowledge.  At one time business was regarded as supplying needs to  the human community, of which it tried to be a member, and receiving compensation for doing so.  American  capitalism has focused on the compensation part, and exploiting the human community in any means possible to obtain profits is the sole objective.  When companies close or move their operations, throwing masses of people out of work, the explanation is always that it's a business decision.  Sometimes companies have to close or move, and survival requires firing employees.  But those business never consider the damage done to communities and workers.  

The business of creating and acting as stewards of knowledge, whether science or the humanities or the arts, cannot operate on the principle that business does.  Knowledge is created to sustain the human community and provide for its progress, not to exploit humanity to satisfy the greed of a few.  

Gov. Rounds initial appointments to the Science and Technology Authority were all people steeped in the conventions of business.  His devotion to economic development characterized his decisions and actions on the Homestake conversion, just as they did with the EB-5 scandal,  which did not have the counterparts of  those scientists who worked with such diligence and integrity to realize the Sanford Lab as benefit to science and the human community.  

The Science and Technology Authority has taken the options of including two nuclear scientists who actually know and practice the processes the lab is created to carry out.  That is encouraging.  But there are still those in the political realm who conceive of it as just another hamburger stand that could make them some money.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

South Dakota Democrats gear up to extend record of losses

South Dakota Democrats are in a great position to extend and deepen their political losses.  They know the secret of discouraging likely supporters.   After the loss in 2010,  Sam Hurst  summarized the party's position:

Let Democrats worry about the fate of the party. It is at rock bottom. It stands for nothing. It has virtually no ability to raise money or mobilize its base to action on behalf of its candidates. It has no influence over politicians elected in its name. It cannot compete. Not forever, not for always, but right now, South Dakota Democrats need leaders who will yell, “Charge!” And it needs soldiers willing to aim their sabers into the fire.
The base in action
The part about mobilizing  the party base is complicated.  I am well acquainted, I guess, with what is termed the base.  I have been a county party officer, a delegate to state conventions, and active in many campaigns for the last couple of decades.  As a county secretary and treasurer,  I watched the list of active members dwindle away as people died and moved elsewhere with hardly any people replacing them.  I have been involved in trying to recruit candidates and in the campaigns and attempts at party support.  I have a perspective on mobilizing the base.  The party may need soldiers willing to aim their sabers,  but the base is clogged with know-it-alls who kibbutz, criticize, and complain, but never engage in any action.   Rather than aim sabers, they tend to whip out their throbbing little egos and give them furious frictional succor while others watch with distaste   A song dedicated to them is, "Your mind is on vacation, but your mouth is working overtime."*

Political campaigns in South Dakota are like fantasy football.  People spend inordinate time and energy exercising what they  presume to be political acumen, but they never engage in the game on the field.  Most of those who pronounce what campaigns need to do have never done the grunt work of retail campaigning.  The problem facing Democrats is not how to convince Republicans and Independents to throw some votes their way; the problem is providing Democrats good reasons not to leave the party. 

Bob Mercer made his monthly report on voter registrations and it notes the trend that has become routine:
As of Aug. 3, Republicans had 243,714, up from 243,173 on July 1. Democrats lost ground, dropping to 175,287 from 175,335. And all others, primarily independents, climbed to 110,749 from 109,742 a month ago.
For each registered Democrat, there are two voters who are not.  And, of course, the big question is, why are Democratic rolls declining each month while others are increasing?  There are many factors.  A huge demographic shift  has been in progress for decades, although loyal South Dakotans don't like to admit it.  It is the brain drain, and it means that people of education, ambition, and a responsible attitude toward society aligned with Democratic policies  do not find South Dakota an economically or culturally viable place to live.  They get out as soon as they can, leaving the state to that brand of conservatism which is actually backwardness.  To see this trend in action, one merely has to ask where recent Democratic candidates for federal offices are now.  A majority found opportunities elsewhere and have become part of the  talent migration.  

But that does not account for why Democrats who stay in the state are leaving the party.  The 2010 election identified a major split in Democratic ranks.  The progressive base found that its stances on health care, the environment, marriage equality and other key issues were sacrificed by those in power in an attempt to appeal to conservative voters.  That's what Sam Hurst was referring to when he said the party stands for nothing.  Progressives felt that the party betrayed them, and many saw no issue-based reason to vote. 

The internal conflicts within the party have not been resolved because up to this time the conflicts have not been openly confronted.  The very nature of politics is to deal with differences and conflicts, but the South Dakota Democrats have shown an inability to engage in the most fundamental dialogue of democratic process.  Rather than engage in respectful and informed dialogue, the party splints into angry factions which tear away at the  party. 

Party leadership has not handled internal disputes and resentments well.  And the ill-feelings that arise from them do spread with lingering effect and drive people away.  An instance I tracked began  at a state convention during the approval of delegates to the national nominating convention.  Delegates from the Sioux Falls area displayed an imperious attitude toward other delegates and pulled some rather hostile, belligerent  maneuvers in the approval of delegates that was like an episode from "Mean Girls."  The Brown County delegates were disappointed, but the real effect showed up four years later. At the county meetings, we found no one really wanted to be a delegate to the state convention or to stand for election to the national delegation.   As a result, the elected delegate from Brown County was a person who never participated in party activities, never offered support, and just showed up to try to wangle her way to the national convention.  No one cared enough to oppose her.  The delegate certainly did not represent the perspective of Brown County Democrats and her performance at the convention was clearly an ego  trip, not an attempt to represent Brown County interests--of which she was apparently unaware.  That chain of events gives important clues as to the decline of the South Dakota Democratic Party.

Then when Rick Weiland ran against Mike Rounds for the U.S. Senate, the self-suckers came out like May flies in the spring.  The Democrats had failed to muster a candidate against John Thune (and I attest that it was not for a lack of trying) and some likely candidates declined to run against Rounds.  When Rick Weiland announced his candidacy, Harry Reid made some dismissive comments, but comments coming from inside the state did more to erode potential support.  This comment was posted on a Democratic blog:

Go ahead and have Rick run, he will get beat hands down. I am a Democrat but after what Rick's brother Kevin did to SHS in her last election I have no time of day for that type of candidate.
I repeat what I have said before, most voters are MODERATE and if liberals think that they can win this election with that type of candidate in this day and age they are living in a dream world!
And this comment:
[I refuse] to volunteer for a sure loser. The entire purpose of this campaign is to fire a shot at Stephanie inside the party. Anytime that emotion is stronger than defeating Republicans it's a sure sign of a bad start.
These comments are made in the midst of all the whining about not mounting a candidate against Thune.  It never seems to occur to these self-sucking twits that they are a large part of the reason it is difficult to find candidates.  Qualified, viable candidates make assessments of the kind of support they will get from the party.  Those comments provide a concrete basis for deeming a run for office a waste of time and effort.  You can't win elections when you run against stupid in your own party.  Sam Hurst said the party "cannot compete," and those comments provide evidence as to why.

Rick Weiland ran a model campaign.  Some of the Democrat fantasy game players think that Democrats need to take on the Republicans in kind through personal attacks and false accusations.  But most Democrats understand the difference between examining the political records of opponents and requiring that they account for what they do and don't do. Rick Weiland's campaign went to the people in an exhaustive tour of the state, made an open and honest statement of positions, and brought a level of energy and integrity to the campaign that stands in sharp contrast to the campaigns of Thune and Noem.  Rick lost to Mike Rounds by 20 points, but he established a standard of personal and political integrity that put the Democratic Party on the high road.  Still, within the party, he had to contend with those who  constantly send up a screed of petty, ignorant carping that throws a detrimental shadow over the party.

Another of Sam Hurst's observations is that the Democratic Party  has no influence over the politicians elected in its name.  We witnessed this on the national level when the Blue Dog faction ran counter to the Democratic planks and took positions which split the party and helped lose elections that it shouldn't have.  But the problem affects politics at the local level.  During the time I have held office in the Brown County Democrats, we have been approached by lawyers who run for the county office of State's Attorney. Usually, after we give an initial endorsement, we never hear from them again.  The lawyers as a group raise funds for individual candidates, but never associate or join in with Democratic Party activities.  In one case, the State's Attorney became a vocal opponent of the Democrats because of a disagreement on the women's choice issue.  In another case in which I personally contacted him in  regard to a state agency violating both the law and state policies in a due process matter, he cited a federal law that had no relevance.  But the biggest offense committed by a State's Attorney running on the Democratic Party name was the case that arose out of criminal proceedings involving a foster parent sexually abusing native American children put in his charge.  

The case became alarming when the State's Attorney, Kim Dorsett, ended up firing the deputy state's attorney, Brandon Taliaferro, and filing criminal charges against him and child's advocate, Shirley Schwab, for witness tampering and perjury.  The case was so contrived that the judge threw it out of court, citing internal politics and a lack of evidence to support the charges.  Many of us in the Democratic Party were dismayed that someone who had used the party name would violate the essential principles the party stands for in such a malicious and sordid episode.  We still wonder why no discipline or censure was ever considered for such a violation of the justice system.  It demonstrates that the political party has little power and influence over how its name is used or over a crucial matter of justice and honesty which is an operating principle on which the party is based.  

The attitudes and actions of some of those presumptive "leaders" in the party have driven off  supporters in other ways.  Once when a staff member of a Democratic official chose to characterize a grievance by a labor union as whining, the county party lost the support of the union PAC which had donated in-kind services worth $18,000 in setting up telephone banks for campaigns.  The union decided that having a legitimate issue dismissed as whining indicated that the party was not interested in their issues.

Another incident I witnessed involved a loyal and generous party member who answered a call for help with a mailing.  He asked a question about sorting the letters, and the person who was attempting to organize the work answered with curt and insulting reply.  The man and his spouse soon walked out.  The next day I saw the man and asked if something was wrong,  He said if he wanted to be treated that way, he'd go hang out at the Republican headquarters.  And then he said he wasn't sure he wanted to be associated any longer with a party of assholes.  Shortly after, the  man decided to move to another community, although in previous conversations he had indicated he planned to live in Aberdeen because that is where his friends and associates were.

The Democratic Party promotes good will, fairness, and decency as the basis for its positions on human affairs  When people associated with the party demonstrate contrary qualities, they diminish the credibility of the party, and they drive people off.

The South Dakota Democratic Party, in the 2-to-1 deficit in voter registrations, has a daunting task in trying to regain viability.  It has new officials who need to deal with the paralyzing internal bickering, backbiting gridlock that party officers have had to deal with. The party needs to face that its most destructive  opponents are internal, and that business needs to be conducted in a matter that is open to the expression of viewpoints, but that they have to be dealt with respectfully and critically.  Political decisions based upon personality preferences are destroying the party.  

The party needs to shift its focus to the performance of the Republican  party, particularly in Pierre.  The corruption that has built up there during single-party rule needs to be under a constant challenge in ways that shine a strong, penetrating light on how South Dakota is governed.  The EB-5 affair has involved nefarious dealing, such as Joop Bollen's absconding with records from NSU, and the exact role of the governor's office with Bollen and Richard Benda.  Foreign investors lost tens of millions of dollars through a program conducted in the name of the people of South Dakota, and the people have the right to knowledge about just what happened to that money and who was responsible for it.  The Better Government Association in Chicago can provide examples of how secret activities can be exposed.  If the Democratic Party does not take aggressive and effective means for a full accounting of the EB-5 affair and similar ones conducted by state government, it will continue to be regarded as inconsequential in the state.

There is also a matter of the actual legislative records of John Thune and Kristin Noem.  While a representative, John Thune was remarkable for his ignorance of and opposition to issues important to the state's economy.  That ignorance re-emerged when he tweeted that Obamcare is bad, in effect, because six million people were in danger because of the law suit the Republicans had filed against it.  Thune has never been able to function without a script prepared for him by his party's operative.  His sterling piece of legislation was aimed at preventing the government from taxing cow farts, although the government had never proposed any such thing.  

Some people are promoting Sam Hurst as a candidate to run against John Thune.   He has a major demerit which will turn off the voters, including the know-it-alls in the Democratic Party, from the outset:  he is genuinely intelligent and talented.  As the Democratic Party flailed and thrashed about as it began its descent,  he was one of the few people who had the acumen and the courage to point out its problems.  While he would make a critically thoughtful and constructive candidate, the party would be better served to closely examine his diagnosis of its ills and formulate ways to actually help candidates rather than discourage and undermine them.  

South Dakota is in desperate need of people in government with intelligence and integrity.  And the Democratic Party needs people who can demonstrate that it actually stands for the principles it says it does. 

In the meantime, join me in singing the hymn of the day. 

**The South Dakota Democratic Anthem
**You're sitting there yakkin' right in my face
I guess I'm gonna have to put you in your place
Y'know if silence was golden
You couldn't raise a dime
Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is
Working overtime

You're quoting figures, you're dropping names
You're telling stories about the dames
You're always laughin' when things ain't funny
You try to sound like you're big money
If talk was criminal, you'd lead a life of crime
Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is
Working overtime

You know that life is short and talk is cheap
Don't be making promises that you can't keep
If you don't like the song I'm singing, just grin and
Bear it
All I can say is if the shoe fits wear it
If you must keep talking please try to make it rhyme
'Cause your mind is on vacation and your mouth is working
By Mose Allison

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States