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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Congress rewriting education law to make graft easier for places like South Dakota

Congress is rewriting the No Child Left Behind law to remove oversight from the federal government and make the states the determiners of where and how the $14 billion 
is spent.

This is great news for the South Dakota Education Department which has presided over the syphoning of federal money in the GEAR UP and College Access programs into corporations set up to steer the funds into the pockets of department operatives and their cronies.  

Those few people in South Dakota who do not think that graft is merely free enterprise at work have little recourse.  They might want to write to a senator or congress person from a neighboring state to see if a little honesty, competence, and responsibility can be brought to bear on educational funds.  Legislators in other states might be interested to learn what happened with the GEAR UP and College Access funds.  Click on the state listed for members and their contact information:

                               North Dakota



Sometimes the corruption is the people

There are people, some of them native South Dakotans, who detest the state.  They do not think that the state is a place of nice, benign  people who unwittingly elected predatory and devious people into state government.  They think the people responsible for the EB-5, GEAR UP, Secretary of State shambles, and other instances such as the abject cronyism of the current Brown County Commission, are elected into office because they represent the values and attitudes of a majority of the voters. 

A hypocrisy particularly galling to the South Dakota detesters is the state's reliance on federal money while it constantly berates and denigrates programs that help the needy and build the infrastructure.  Leaders of the state garner voter support by flaunting the dishonesty.  They think the EB-5 and GEAR UP schemes are smart and clever, even though some participants  who got caught in the scheming seem to have resorted to suicide and murder to remove themselves from the schemes.  

Federal aid to state budgets, 2012
StateTotal federal aid ($ in thousands)Federal aid as a % of general revenueRanking
South Dakota$1,630,22040.84%4
North Dakota$1,750,13424.76%45
SourceUnited States Census Bureau, "State Government Finances: 2012," accessed February 24, 2014
Staff for Congressional members from other states have reported that the people they work for have been getting calls and letters from South Dakotans who ask if something cannot be done about the mishandling and misuse of money coming into South Dakota through federal programs.  People in nearby states who are aware of the news of the financial scandals have also registered with their  representatives that they resent taxpayer money being put to   dishonest and wasteful use, and they ask if the state cannot be excluded from getting such money and if the federal government does not have the authority to take action when fraud and incompetence are discovered.  

When the state declined to make a thorough investigation and report on the EB-5 scandal, people assumed that the investigation conducted by the FBI would  eventually produce a comprehensive explanation of who was all involved and what they did.  The people were stunned when the Department of Justice dismissed the case saying there was no evidence for any charges.  Requests under the Freedom of Information Act for documents produced by the FBI investigation have not, as yet, been responded to.  However, the absence of any information from the U.S. Attorney's office when there is so much prima facie evidence of wrong doing has cast deep shadows of doubt that extend over party lines.  Congressional sources have said there is a desperation on the part of some South Dakotans who are looking for some accounting from officials who are supposed to be looking out for their interests as citizens.  

The state hides behind the exemptions in state records laws and the absence of a freedom of information law.  In a 2008 ranking, the Better Government Association Integrity Index put South Dakota at the absolute bottom at number 50 among the states.  A 2013 review moved it up to 47, but noted its laws as impediments to any public access to information.  The control and suppression of any information about how the fleecing operations with EB-5 and the Mid-Central Education Coop-GEAR UP grant clearly is designed to deflect any responsibility of government agencies and officials under whose auspices they were run. 

When people resort to appealing to elected officials in other states to rein in the tax money poured into South Dakota and to get control of the graft it spawns,  they indicate that their only hope for a voice in a responsible government is to find an honest politician in another state.  

As long as the vote of  the people chooses the government,  the people are utimatey responsible for what kind of government they have.  Corruption has deep sources in South Dakota. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

That bill to subject Syrian refugees to more scrutiny is really needed

1. Registration with the United Nations.
2. Interview with the United Nations.
3. Refugee status granted by the United Nations.
4. Referral for resettlement in the United States.
The United Nations decides if the person fits the definition of a refugee and whether to refer the person to a country for resettlement. Only the most vulnerable are referred, accounting for fewer than 1 percent of refugees worldwide. Some people spend years waiting in refugee camps.
5. Interview with State Department contractors.
6. First background check.
7. Higher-level background check for some.
8. Another background check.
The refugee’s name is run through law enforcement and intelligence databases for terrorist or criminal history. Some go through a higher-level clearance before they can continue. A third background check was introduced in 2008 for Iraqis but has since been expanded to all refugees ages 14 to 65.
9. First fingerprint screening; photo taken.
10. Second fingerprint screening.
11. Third fingerprint screening.
The refugee’s fingerprints are screened against F.B.I. and Homeland Security databases, which contain watch list information and past immigration encounters, including if the refugee previously applied for a visa at a United States embassy. Fingerprints are also checked against those collected by the Defense Department during operations in Iraq.
12. Case reviewed at United States immigration headquarters.
13. Some cases referred for additional review.
Syrian applicants must undergo these two additional steps. Each is reviewed by a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services refugee specialist. Cases with “national security indicators” are given to the Homeland Security Department’s fraud detection unit.
14. Extensive, in-person interview with Homeland Security officer.
Most of the interviews with Syrians have been done in Jordan and Turkey.
15. Homeland Security approval is required.
If the House bill becomes law, the director of the F.B.I., the Homeland Security secretary and the director of national intelligence would be required to confirm that the applicant poses no threat.
16. Screening for contagious diseases.
17. Cultural orientation class.
18. Matched with an American resettlement agency.
19. Multi-agency security check before leaving for the United States.
Because of the long amount of time between the initial screening and departure, officials conduct a final check before the refugee leaves for the United States.
20. Final security check at an American airport.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Regents: the coyotes watching the foxes raid the henhouse

When the state Department of Education canceled Its contract with the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative to administer the multi-million dollar federal grant for the Gear Up program, it proposed turning the administration of that grant over to the Board of Regents.  Which it did.  There were murmurs of approval in the press and the internet posts, as if the problem with the wasteful and apparently greed-syphoned dispersal of those funds was solved. 

A number of stories and letters bloomed forth extolling the virtue of the program and  the people who delivered it.  When it comes to the people who actually deliver programs to students that benefit them and help them advance to a more accomplished status of education,  those people are for the most part diligent and effective.  But trying to redeem a program on the basis of their honest, productive  work misses the point.  The  Mid-Central administrators set up a layer of incorporated sub-administrators to insure that the trickle-down theory was in operation.  Instead of seeing that a healthy, clear and steady stream of finances flow down to the delivery points of the Gear Up program, it set up an apparatus of diversion that directed the money to  executive basins, which allowed only a measly trickle through to the intended recipients of the program.  It fully committed the program to being run like a business, which meant that the CEOs, or those who think of themselves as such, would capture a  large portion of the cash for themselves and their sycophants who assisted them in the capture.  

This is not to say that all of those who oversee educational programs connive ways to serve their greed.  Many are after power and the prestige of having a bevy of underlings to fuck over, to put the motive most precisely.  They are the ones who deeply resent the idea of being equal to those over whom they rule.  

When people say that educational enterprises need to be run like a business, they are setting up the justifications which lead to the exercise of power and the raiding of treasuries.  Their rationales are listed on an internet site which purports to list those values and philosophies which distinguish capitalism from communism.  Those distinctions are:

  • Driven by free enterprise 
  • Wealth distributed unevenly 
  • Class distinctions: upper class, middle class and working class 
  • When people compete against one another, they achieve greater things 
  • Some people have more than others because they make better use of their abilities 
  • Governments should not interfere with the rights of individuals to make their own living 
  • The government should interfere in the economy as little as possible 
And that leads to the reasons why putting the Regents in charge of administering the Gear Up grant is absurd.  Perhaps, duplicitous.  The Regents are the ones who set up the mechanisms for the EB-5 scandal.  In 1991, they established the Center for Excellence in International Business at NSU, which puzzled the state's faculty and most of the administrators on sister campuses.  Then in 1994, the Regents incorporated the South Dakota International Business Institute, which became the facility for raising the EB-5 funds and the schemes those funds were to finance.  A university had become an arm in the activities which, according to the preachers of predatory, anti-demoractic capitalism, serve their ideology and their motive.  

So, now the designers and advocates of that scheme are the overseers of the federal Gear Up funds.  

First of all, there exists a philosophy of honest capitalism in which businesses compete to create the best goods and services for the consumer.  But according to the canons of predatory capitalism, as listed above, businesses should be allowed to compete without government interference in the  generation of wealth by any means it devises,  even when the money it is after comes from the government .  Predatory capitalism's primary need is to refute the principles of democracy.  

In the 1980s when Gov. Janklow purged the Board of Regents of anyone who represented education at its delivery point,  he stacked the board with people who saw professors and other teachers as the working class that needed to be ruled by the overclass.  

After this coups,  I was on the negotiating team for the faculty with the Board of Regent.  Their side had a member from the business office of the Regents who constantly complained that the faculty thought it had a mission and place in society different from the rest of workers.  Explanations that all professions have rules of ethics and procedure and specially defined relationships with their clients that guide their responsibilities were dismissed by him as pretenses.  He represented the Regent's philosophy and attitude toward their professors and their institutions,  which was that the essential goal of education was to prepare docile, obedient workers to make the job of ruling by the overclass easier.  The underlying notion was that higher education was to further the schemes of capitalism, making no distinction between democratic enterprises and those of predatory and parasitic classes.

So, the body which created an entity within the higher education system for the function of advancing predation and parasitism of educational funds is now in charge of  the Gear Up grant.  

At one time,  I thought that South Dakota higher education could be improved if the Regents were elected rather than appointed.  But a plurality of the electorate clearly believes in running education like a business.  If students have no other opportunity,  I point out that there are people of competence and integrity at the delivery points of education.   But if they want the knowledge and experience of an education committed to the democratic principles in our nation's founding documents,  they should look elsewhere than the institutions under the direction of the state's educational bureaucracy. In South Dakota where  they are likely to to get caught up in one of its fraudulent schemes.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A tale of corruption still in the telling

In trying to suppress information that explains why South Dakota is  ranked as one of the most corrupt states in the nation, the state tries to portray matters such as the EB-5 fraud and the MCEC bunco as matters of a few people who have gone rogue.  In the EB-5 affair, it first put the blame on Richard Benda,  largely because he was dead and beyond being able to show and tell who was all involved in the scheme.  Now that the scandal will not go away and the federal government is excluding the state from any more EB-5 activity,  it is taking civil actions against a principal player in the affair, Joop Bollen.  

Bollen has been documented in numerous violations of law and policy,  but he has been exempted from any accounting that, as many university faculty have pointed out, would be required of any other person.  The question, of course, is why?

The story goes back to when Bill Janklow eliminated anyone with professional education experience from the Board of Regents.  His appointees were largely lawyer cronies, and when he had one woman on the board who was a former teacher and not a member of Janklow's clique, he and his cronies drove her off the board.  They did not include her in any board communications and did not notify her of meetings.  They got rid of her and thereby eliminated any perspective on the board that addressed issues of learning and scholarship.  It is in that context that the focus on EB-5 finances had its origin.  

In 1991,  Northern State University was declared by the Board of Regents a Center for Excellence in International Business.  There was confusion on the NSU campus and much criticism from its sister campuses about this designation.  It was assumed that, following the patterns of other institutions for such programs,  that students would pursue a course of study that entailed  rigorous education in foreign cultures and languages and the way other countries do business.  Northern had developed a history with Saudi Arabian and Chinese students, and initially there was some effort to expand the course offerings. In 1994, the Board of Regents incorporated the South Dakota Institute of International Business at Northern and named Joop Bollen its director. 

NSU had on staff a former Peace Corps volunteer who knew Mandarin and a linguistics professor who was Chinese and offered a course in Mandarin and specialized teaching of English as a Second Language.  However, the College of Business, or whoever was presiding over the international program,  divorced itself from any cooperation and coordination with other academic departments and established its own programs.  It set up its own English department.  There was a noticeable diminishing of the role of the College of Arts and Sciences on the campus as changes were made to accommodate the new international program.

As the EB-5 scandal broke and officials at Northern were questioned about Joop Bollen's activities, comments by the School of Business dean made clear that he understood Bollen was not accountable to him through any line of authority.  By this time the SDIBI was associated with the Governor's Office of Economic Development and the assumption was that  that Bollen was accountable to that office.   But the Governor's office also denied knowledge of or responsibility for Bollen's activities.  Among faculty and other informed people who understood the mission of the universities,  his role was a puzzle.  In a story in the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank newsletter, he  was quoted:  
"We're closing the gap between academia and business," says Joop Bollen, SDIBI director. "Business people say, 'What do they know, they haven't done it.' But we have shipped cars to Romania and tea to Switzerland," Bollen adds.
To professors throughout the state, the quote was met with the questions of what that had to do with the mission of a university in teaching and research and just who in the hell was sponsoring this person?  When President James Smith took charge at Northern,  he apparently asked the same question.  In dealing with budget matters,  he saw that the University was contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the SDIBI whose activities by then were devoted to economic schemes which were irrelevant to education or research as defined by university mission.   He closed down the SDIBI and evicted Bollen's operation,  which found refuge in the offices of the Aberdeen Development Corporation, which was a major supporter of the Northern Beef Packers plant for which Bollen was raising EB-5 money   When Bollen left the Northern campus,  he took all the records of his activities with him.

Cory Heidelberger noted in South Dakota Magazine that Bollen committed a number of legal violations in his activities.  There was never an attempt by anyone in authority to use the law to rein him in.  Although a civil suit was recently brought against him by the Attorney General's office, it appears more as a ploy to defend the Attorney General from accusations of misfeasance while protecting Bollen from answering to criminal charges.  The Attorney General's office has demonstrated how ferocious it can exercise its law enforcement authority in the case it supported against Brandon Taliaferro, a Brown County deputy state's attorney and Shirley Schwab, a child advocate, who were working on a child abuse case.   When Taliaferro found that the Department of Social Services was not properly discharging its responsibilities to some Indian children in a faster home,  he also found that Brown County State's Attorney Kim Dorsett had a contract to act as counsel for the department.  This among other things enraged her and she, with the full support of Attorney General Marty Jackley filed charges of witness tampering and suborning perjury against Taliaferro and Schwab.  The Division of Criminal Investigation, which is under the command of the attorney general came into the offices and homes of Taliaferro and Schwab and, under subpoena, confiscated their records, including their persona computers.  It was not a problem at all to get a search warrant.  

So, now Bollen is served with a civil suit which asks for some indemnification and the surrender of any records produced by Bollen's work for the state.  The question is why dither around with a civil suit when the state has the right to subpoena the records under state law.   It did not hesitate to execute search warrants on Taliaferro and Schwab, although the case involved was dismissed for lack of evidence by the judge.  

1-27-10. Records as property of state--Damage or disposal only as authorized by law.  All records of public officials of this state required to be kept or maintained by law are the property of the state and may not be mutilated, destroyed, transferred, removed, or otherwise damaged or disposed of, in whole or in part, except as provided by law. 
 22-11-25 Unlawful retention of public record--Misdemeanor. Any person who, lacking the authority to retain a public record in his or her possession, knowingly refuses to deliver it up upon proper request of any person lawfully entitled to receive such record, is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. However, if the knowing refusal to deliver is committed by a public officer or employee having custody of the record, the offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Under those terms,  the state has the right and means to execute a search warrant and obtain its records.  Instead, it takes civil action which can permit a lot of negotiation and deal-making and produce a "settlement" agreeable to the parties.  

How does Bollen get such deferential treatment when the state can take such decisive action and file criminal charges as it did against Taliaferro and Schwab?  Bollen had a special status while he worked at NSU, as he was clearly designated an untouchable.  The Board of Regents created his job and established the South Dakota International Business Institute under its own incorporation.  Since the early 1980s,  NSU had a number of presidents who held their jobs not because they had the credentials and experience to be chief academic officers, but because they gave obsequious service to the Board of Regents.  

The longtime regent from Aberdeen is Harvey Jewett, IV, who until recently has been listed as a partner in the law firm of Siegal, Barnett, and Schutz.  Jewett has been chair of the Board of Regents and in addition to being an executive in the Super 8 hotel business has been much involved in the business of Hutterite colonies.  A member of the law firm, Jeff Sveen, has organized the incorporation of a number of Hutterite colonies and acted as their registered agent.  A number of the colonies are owners of Dakota Turnkey Growers, LLC, which operates the Dakota Provisions turkey processing plant in Huron,  which was established with EB-5 funds.  Sveen is the registered agent for the corporation and chairman of the board.  He is Joop Bollen's attorney.

Bollen seems safe from any applications of  law.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Why business crooks strut around free in South Dakota

The EB-5 scandal in South Dakota illustrates an attitude toward business that is dominant in the state.  People like to brag about the state's work ethic, but there is little ethical in the work that people who have lead the state have done.  All communities want to develop economically.  Businesses that supply good products and services at competitive prices and provide decent livings for their employees are a major asset.  But they are increasingly hard to find.  South Dakota has adopted the attitude that any enterprise which makes money for someone is to be revered and the people have been conditioned to overlook the quality and integrity of enterprises.  And so, we have the credit card industry which comes in, exploits the usury laws and the employees, and then as with Capital One, leaves when it so chooses.  The explanation is that it is a business decisions, and it is accepted, because in South Dakota business decisions are considered acts of God.  And that is one of the reasons there has been no acts of justice regarding the EB-5 business.  To those who are so conditioned to believe that predatory capitalism is sacred,  punishing dishonesty and wrongful exploitation in a business dealing is sacrilege.

The punishment for committing such a sacrilege is written into state law.   It has specific provisions protecting the secrecy of how businesses conduct themselves:

1-27-1.6. Certain financial, commercial, and proprietary information exempt from disclosure. 
And if a business conducts itself in such a way that state officials are compelled to investigate it,  those  officials can be punished for disclosing that such an investigation is going on
1-27-29.   Disclosure of information concerning private entity restricted. No state agency may disclose that it is conducting a financial investigation, examination, or audit of a private entity while the financial investigation, examination, or audit is ongoing, except as provided by § 1-27-31.
Violation of those laws is listed as a Class 1 Misdemeanor:
(1) Class 1 misdemeanor: one year imprisonment in a county jail or two thousand dollars fine, or both; 
Those laws are the inspired word of St. Janklow.  When he was conspiring with banks to create the usury industry in South Dakota,  the banks provided funds to the state.  Janklow wanted those funds secret.  The problem was that he had a Democratic state treasurer, Dick Butler,  who believed that any money coming in to the state belonged to the people and they had the right to know about it.  Janklow, however, wanted the money his collusion with the banks produced kept secret and he wouldn't even tell Dick Butler what bank it was kept in.  When Butler initiated investigations Janklow had the above law written and  pushed through the state legislatureo by his head water carrier, Mike Rounds, who was the state Senate Majority Leader at the time.  As he did not want to go to jail, Dick Butler gave up his inquiry and any mention that it had been going on.

That piece of legislation established the Divine Right of Shysters in South Dakota.  And it is the reason that the state has not done anything until recently about the EB-5 scandal.  South Dakota has the usual laws that provide for investigation and commensurate punishment for thievery and robbery committed with force or with weapons.  However, state laws specially exempt robbery by business from investigation or any public knowledge of investigation.

The EB-5 scandal was also investigated by the U.S. Justice Department through its F.B.I. division.  Many people thought that if the state would not pursue an investigation and bring the miscreants to justice, the federal government would.  During the course of the investigation, the U.S. Attorney's office maintained an ominous silence,  and when the F.B.I finished its investigation, it announced that no charges would be filed.  It did not disclose what its investigation revealed, and Cory Heidelberger, among others, has made a Freedom of Information Act request which has not been responded to yet.  However, there has been action on the part of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Dept. of Homeland Security, which oversees the EB-5 program, when it notified South Dakota that it was making the state ineligible to run the program any longer.  This seems to have inspired the state to try to get some of purloined money  back with a lawsuit.

EB-5 investments fall under the definition of a security which puts them under the scrutiny  of the federal Securities Exchange Commission.  The Commission has a long set of rules and court precedents dealing with business fraud.  A professor at the Wharton School of Business at the U. of Pennsylvania explains that few cases of securities fraud are pushed through the criminal courts:  
“Only a small fraction of all securities fraud cases are handled as criminal cases,” notes Wharton legal studies professor William S. Laufer. One reason for this, Laufer says, is that even when criminal convictions are obtained, prison sentences for these non-violent, white-collar crimes are not common. At the same time, studies have shown that civil fines often match or exceed those levied in criminal cases. Hence, prosecutors find there is little to gain in exchange for the extra effort it takes to bring criminal cases.
In a criminal case, prosecutors must prove the defendant intended to commit a crime, Laufer says, while this isn’t required in a civil case. A criminal case requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, while proof in a civil case requires only a preponderance of the evidence. Moreover, he adds, many well-heeled defendants in securities cases can afford teams of lawyers, many of whom are former prosecutors or regulators adept at finding the holes in the prosecutors’ cases.
“U.S. Attorneys don’t like to indict [on criminal charges] unless they are 95% sure of getting convictions,” adds John C. Coffee Jr., a law professor at Columbia University who studies securities cases. “They have to pick and choose which cases to prosecute, and typically they give priority to cases involving organized crime or violence.”

As for the EB-5 investors obtaining some justice, a Florida law firm which specializes in EB-5 matters explains the difficulty there:
One major form of investor protection is to sue for a return of the investment, but this recourse does not help the EB-5 investor achieve permanent resident status.  
The lesson in all this is that for those who have criminal inclinations but do not want to do time for any crime,  the can choose business in collusion with state government in South Dakota for their vocation.  They can strut free on the streets and bilk and steal without any fear of retribution.  Except for what some bloggers and a few journalists might dig up.  

Friday, October 23, 2015

Where did all the cattle go?

The family farm is a thing of the past.  Actually, the farm itself is a thing of the past.  It is no longer part of an agriculture.  It is now a production unit in a vast food factory that covers the land.  There are a few lingering family farms, but even they have had to adapt to a farm economy that has shifted from the science and art of growing things to mining the soil.  I have witnessed the transformation in terms of the way it has changed the landscape I travel through on an 18-mile commute I make often, sometimes daily, from Aberdeen to a work studio in Tacoma Park on the James River.  

There are a number of routes I can take and I take them all.  I like wandering the countryside.  Once as a farm editor for a newspaper, I got paid to do it as I covered agricultural meetings, interviewed people for stories, and observed first-hand what was taking place in rural America.  With my commutes to and from Tacoma Park, there Is the aspect of getting acquainted with the neighborhood, learning the people and the animals who populate land I travel through.  

In recent years, I hardly ever see people or farm animals.  The industrial rural landscape does not include them.  And I see much less wildlife,  except for deer dashing across the road between bean and corn fields.  The wetlands are plowed over and filled in so I see no water fowl where there once were ponds.  The rural landscape has changed.  The pasture land on which cattle, sheep, and horses grazed has been converted to cropland for corn and beans, and a little hay.  The only hogs near Tacoma Park are in an incorporated complex of confinement buildings that shield the animals from observation. Their presence is evident only in the powerful smell that emanates from the place on muggy days.  (Once one of my Tacoma Park neighbors who invited some foreign exchange students for a Fourth-of-July wiener roast had to cancel and move the event to their home in town because the  odor was so repulsive and overpowering.)  

I got to observe and know animals who were denizens of the farms I passed.  There were some herds of sheep, with lambs frisking about in the springtime.  A number of farms had horses grazing in the fields when their human owners weren't taking them for rides.  And there were many herds of cattle, that I got to know.  On one farm, a huge herd was trucked into fields that grew corn and soybeans after the crops were harvested.  They browsed the stubble all winter, when they weren't munching away on hay bales or feed supplements dispensed in old tractor tires hauled in with them.  Then in the spring as planting time approached, they were hauled away to some pasture to calve and eat grass.  Then a few years ago, the cattle did not show up for their winter occupation of those fields.

Lsst year this field was grass pasture with cattle grazing on it.  This spring it
was plowed up and planted in soybeans.  The cattle are gone.

On another farm, there was a field of grass pastureland that had a few trees under which a herd of Red Angus lolled about during the summer.  The trees were cut down but last year the cattle were present.  This spring the grass was plowed up and the field was planted with soybeans.  

Now there are no sheep or cattle herds on the farms on my commuting routes.  If that 18-mile stretch is an indicator of the trends farming is following, and statistics indicate that it is, it seems as if cattle are no longer a major component of the farm business.  The beef plant in Aberdeen,  which is starting up under new owners after it failed, may have some difficulty in finding cattle to process.  A Tyson beef plant in Iowa was closed down because the managers said there was not an adequate supply  of cattle to keep it going.  

The cattle pens on this farmstead were always teeming with cattle on feed.
Early this year there  were only a few.  Now there are none.
There are many factors that work together in turning farmland into  factory land. One of  those factors asserted itself in the children of the homesteaders who broke the prairie soils.  Second generation pioneers found that farm life was arduous and confining.  The independence and self-sufficiency that their parents sought and built was a restrictive and confining shackle to young people anxious to explore other dimensions of opportunity.  Henry David Thoreau expressed their frustration:  "I am wont to think that men are not so much the keepers of herds as herds are the keepers of men, the former are so much the freer."

Jefferson initially conceived of the U.S. as an agrarian democracy in which yeoman farmers occupied and ruled over their own land, free from the intrusions and conflicts inherent in a contentious society.  The definitive work on the role of the farm in American democracy is Willa Cather's "Neighbor Rosicky"  which delineates the farm as a refuge from human strife:  "In the country, if you had a mean neighbour, you could keep off his land and make him keep off yours. But in the city, all the foulness and misery and brutality of your neighbours was part of your life. The worst things he [Rosicky] had come upon in his journey through the world were human, — depraved and poisonous specimens of man." 

The  pioneers, most of whom were immigrants, fled the political and social oppression of the  Old World that regarded them as serfs whose lives were dictated by the whims of the over class.  On their American homesteads they found freedom from that oppression through the rewards of their own labor and the independence of self-sufficiency in which they were beholden to no one else.  This quest for freedom and independence formed the basis for the general farm which provided all the  necessities for life through the variety of crops, produce, and livestock raised on it.  But that freedom and independence was paid for by constant, arduous work that involved the entire family.  The children of those farms felt confined and oppressed by that work.  An old quip expresses their perspective:  nothing sends young men off the farm like working in the hay mow on a 90-degree day.  

During the time electricity was brought to rural America, people who wanted the convenience were frustrated by those who didn't.  To many farmers, that electric line into their farm represented a thread that could bring a rope of dependency and indebtedness to the farm.  It was a threat to self-rule and self-sufficiency that to the pioneers was the purpose of the farms they built.  There are stories about the first electric lines being run only to the milking barn so that farmers could get light on their pre-dawn milking more efficiently, but kept their household free of that symbolic bond.  Lighting the house with lanterns and candles kept alive the self-suffiiciency and independence, and if the worst happened, that eelectric wire to the barn could be dispensed with and the family could rise a little earlier to fill and light the  lantern for milking.  

From the outset on the American farm, there was that inherent conflict between maintaining the freedom of independent self-suffiency and the quest for ways to ease the burden of constant labor and attendance to the animals.  The chores required to feed and care for the livestock were demanding and confining.  As a youth who spent summers on the farm of two bachelor uncles,  I knew the routine, as they milked twice a day,  tended to the steers on feed twice a day, fed pigs, fed chickens and gathered eggs, and did all those chores involved in keeping the farmstead running.   And there was a large garden with a small orchard to attend, as well as the rows of potatoes planted on the edge of a cornfield. The work was constant and unrelenting.  Other farm relatives had family members and hired hands with whom they could arrange for a little time off.  My bachelor uncles, who purchased their farm with World War I military  bonuses providing a down payment,  did it all themselves.  That is a major reason they were bachelors.  They had no time or opportunity to socialize.  

To manage a life that included  something other than constant work, farmers gave up general farming and focused their efforts on specialties.  In order to have lives that provided time for family activities, especially as children became acitive in school events,  they gave up livestock.  Most of the farmers in my family quit milking, but kept a cow to provide milk for the family.  But soon it became a nuisance to  care for a cow twice a day when buying milk was more convenient and economical.  Farmers in my family continued to raise crops for feeding cattle and hogs.  They adjusted their herds according to the markets and made their decisions by a daily perusal of the Drovers' Journal,  a newspaper that tracked and analyzed the markets.  However, when the International Livestock Yards in Chicago closed and ended competitive bidding by packers,  farmers sold ttheir livestock to the packing plants nearest to them.  Soon they began selling by contract, which locked in a price they received for their animals.  This was a major step toward integrating farms into the corporate scheme of production.  

The contracts also made it convenient to specialize in the raising of cattle or hogs  or poultry and eliminated the task of studying maket trends.  The focus on a few crops and a livestock speciality freed up time, but at the same time relinquished self-sufficiency and integrated farms into the corporate economy.  Those farmers who continued more general operations with multiple crops and livestock found it necessary to gear their operations with food processors to market their products and receive a sufficient financial return.   As farming became more closely enmeshed with the corporations who bought and used its products and supplied planting and harvesting materials and machines,  farming became less and less operated for independence and self-sufficiency and more dependent on corporations to supply farming needs and sell farming output.  The term family farm names a concept of the sentimental past, not the actual agribusiness of the present.  

In looking for ways to ease the burden of labor required for full independence and self-sufficiency,  farmers over the years conceded  some independence for labor-saving convenience.  But just as those earlier farmers  feared that an electric line to their farmsteads would make them servants to the electric companies in paying for the service, the subservience of farmers to corporations who supplied their farming materials and were the market for their products became a fact.   The farm crisis of the 1980s was a matter of the debt that farmers owed to corporations.  

The South Dakota Dept. of Agriculture boasts on its website that 98% of South Dakota farms are family owned and South Dakota has approximately 5 beef cattle for every state resident.  Those slogan claims cover over the trends affecting agriculture in the state.  The integration of agricutture into factory cropping is evident in the decreasing number of farms in the state.  In 1974, the state had 45,000 farms which averaged 1,011 acres.  By 2014 the number was 31,700 farms averaging 1,366 acres.  During that time period the state lost its ranking as one of the two largest sheep producing states,  and a change in cropping from an emphasis on wheat to corn and soybean production gown largely for the making of bio-fuels.  That change is reflected in my commute from Aberdeen to Tacoma Park through a landscape covered with corn and soybeans, all Roundup ready, and only rare sightings of livestock.

South Dakota is the eighth largest producer of beef cattle with a current population of 3,700,000 head.  However, it participates in the overall trend for beef cattle.  Beef  prices are up, with cattle numbers dwindling.  Beef producers fear that the high prices is sending consumers to lower priced alternatives.    Agweb gives the prognosis:

America’s cow herd is the smallest (29 million) in 60 years, with a total cattle inventory of 87.7 million, which is also the lowest level since Harry Truman was president. Those short supplies produced roughly 24.4 billion pounds of beef in 2014, a 5.2 percent decline from 2013 and the smallest annual slaughter since 1994. Total steer and heifer slaughter in 2014 is projected to be the lowest since 1968.
As the beef packer in Aberdeen begins its second attempt to process cattle,  it faces a market that is pricey and a cattle supply that is dwindling.  General farmers could raise and lower their livestock inventories according to the markets, but the specialized cropping does not leave many  farers with that alternative.  The higher prices for cattle are not attracting producers to increase herds or get back into production because their land and facilities are committed to single purposes.  The cattle are  not on the land.  Those commutes through the farmland are lonely.  

The old farmstead

The new farmstead


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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States