South Dakota Top Blogs

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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

It was rocket science and Cold War politics

The Juno 1 rocket blasting off 31 January 1958

Battery A had been at the little base on the Rhine River in West Germany less than two months 50 years ago today. It was a dank and dark place. We were there six weeks before a ray of sun managed to penetrate the gloom that hangs over the Rhine. In the eastern U.S., it was just before 11 p.m. on a Friday. On the Rhine it was just before 5 on Saturday morning. A Juno 1 rocket was blasting off at Cape Canaveral to put Explorer 1 satellite into orbit.

Battery A was a U.S. Army guided missile unit. We were aware that an attempt was going to be made to catch up with Soviets by putting a research satellite up. We were rooting for this one. The rocket that would carry Explorer 1 into orbit was an Army vehicle. There was a factor of inter-service rivalry involved.

In 1958, the military services had their own programs for the development of rockets. Just weeks prior to the launching of Explorer 1, a Navy rocket, the Vanguard, had been designated by Pres. Eisenhower to carry the first American satellite into orbit. He chose the Vanguard because it was designed for the purpose of injecting research satellites into orbit and did not have the warlike associations that other rockets had.

The Vanguard failed. It lifted off about four feet above the launch pad, lost power, and crashed in flames on the pad. Pres. Eisenhower then issued the order for the Army Jupiter-C rocket to carry a satellite into space. The Jupiter-C was a military rocket designed to carry war heads. It had a long genealogy as a military weapon. It was renamed Juno 1 as an attempt to disassociate it from its military function as an intermediate range ballistic missile. The Jupiter-C was basically a Redstone missile, which was designed by the German scientists who created the V-2 rocket during World War II. Pres. Eisenhower feared that using an IRBM to launch a satellite would be seen as a military threat by the Soviets. However, he thought it was more important to establish the U.S. as a contender in space exploration, so he finally chose the Redstone to do the job.

Battery A was familiar with the Redstone. While it worked with its ground-to-air missiles at White Sands and Red Canyon missile ranges, Redstone crews were busy developing and testing their missile.

By mid-morning on Saturday, as we manned our missile system, word came over our headsets that Explorer 1 was in orbit and that it was an Army vehicle that put it there. The dark skies on the Rhine seemed to lighten. We were proud to be Army missile men.

That Juno 1 carried another object of pride. The satellite was designed in part in Iowa City by Prof. Van Allen, who used it to probe the radiation belts that circle the earth. And that is quite a story in itself.

The day the space age began can be reviewed here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A lot of Aberdeen people are getting TIFed off

The Argus Leader today carries a story about recent developments in Aberdeen that promise new industries and new jobs. The prospects, however, are not as bright and glossy as media accounts paint them. Below is an insider’s perspective from Aberdeen City Councilman Clint Rux who joined fellow council members in voting down an application for a tax increment financing (TIF) district that would have subsidized a housing development.

TIF districts have been at the center of economic development projects in Aberdeen. So has workforce development, which requires a supply of labor and adequate housing for the labor force. Therein is a problem. The Governor's Office of Economic Development has issued a profile of Brown County which details the characteristics of the workforce. The profile emphasizes the low wages and absence of labor unions, and that has been the factor on which the area has tried to market itself to potential businesses.

The developments now in progress include:

  • Northern Beef Packers, a locally financed packing plant which says it will employ 200 initially with a potential of reaching 600 employees. Voters approved a TIF district for $8.6 in bonds. While construction is underway, the project has had problems sticking to its announced plans and schedule. It has vacillated on project managers, marketing contracts, and arrangements for disposing of its wastewater. Many community leaders who have supported the project express concern about whether the plant will become operational.

  • Molded Fiberglass Companies, an Ohio-based firm, will manufacture the huge blades that drive wind turbines. It was approved a TIF district at $3.5 million. When it became apparent that the developers miscalculated some infrastructure costs, they asked the city council for an additional $1 million, and were granted TIF bonds for $4.5 million. The plant can employ up to 650 workers.

  • Coventry Health Care came to Aberdeen when Mutual of Omaha sold its employer group insurance branch to Coventry. No TIF is involved. Coventry retained about 70 claim processing jobs and plans to increase its workforce up to 200 jobs.

  • Homes Are Possible,Inc., (HAPI) is a local non-profit organization that puts up low-cost Governor’s Homes, built by penitentiary inmates, and sells them to qualified low-income buyers. It was granted a TIF district for $1.25 million.

  • B&B Contractors has a housing development on the north side of Aberdeen. It applied for a $1.2 million TIF bonding authority but was rejected by a 4-3 vote of the city council. Its homes are in he $140,000 range with no income restrictions. The firm says the TIF rejection will add about $10,000 to the price of its homes.

TIF districts were created by federal law for the purpose of providing incentives to renew blighted areas. A community realizes no real estate tax revenues from TIF district above what the unimproved land was taxed. The taxes on the value of the improved real estate go, instead, to paying off the bonds sold for the TIF district.

Clint Rux was among the four Aberdeen Council members who rejected B&B Contractors application for a TIF district. Some people involved in the development projects were not happy and had snark fits.

Here is Clint Rux’s perspective on the issue:

Aberdeen Needs To Be Progressive, And That Is the Problem.

This TIF thing has seen to make people a little crazy. You have people against it, and people for it. The problem is that at many times there are many different circumstances that result in voting. At least in my case. I will not speak for other council members. The funny thing is that in voting against the TIF I have been labeled as non-progressive. And that actually got me thinking, as well as a little shocked. I have usually thought of myself as progressive. I have worked for more open and representative government, accountability, and more importantly change. In working for all these things I have gone from good blood pressure to pre-hypertension, and my wife swears she saw a gray hair. I am not even 33 years old. I have always taken pride in the fact that I am the poorest council member. That of course was made clear when it was printed in the paper that I could not afford a $140,000 home (I wished they would have left that one out). Lesson learned.

Of course, progressive in the dictionary means: moving forward, proceeding in steps, promoting or favoring political and social reform. Because I voted "NO" on the last TIF someone suggested that if I was not progressive enough, I should remove myself from the council. In reflection I realized that maybe I am too progressive. The current TIF issue probably reflects that more than any other issue. We are talking about what needs to happen in securing a future of growth. The problem is that many in Aberdeen have not had to tackle this issue, and are ill prepared to lead. They are putting past ways of doing things into the current scenarios we now face. They are protecting the interests of individuals, and not the future of this community. Sometimes a vote against something can make people ask, "What the hell do we do now."

The whole problem stems from the need for workforce housing. The problem with that is that many of the people in leadership roles attribute workforce housing to anyone who has a job. Unfortunately the accurate representation of "workforce" is anyone who works for an hourly wage. The people who work on salary, or own a business can be lumped into different groups, usually professional. And that is the big difference, a huge difference. People who work for an hourly wage have different housing needs than a professional. A person who works for an hourly wage wants an affordable, decent place to live. They do not care if they own it, they just want to live in it. A professional is more apt to want to own a home, invest in a financial future. There are different housing needs between these two groups, unique to themselves. The problem is that people in leadership roles are only focusing on housing geared to professionals, and not the every day worker. This is what has been done for years, and needs to change.

A growing community needs to have good places for people of all walks of life to live (that is the progressive philosophy coming out). A dramatic shift in thinking needs to occur in this community, or our growth will stall and fail. We need young people to come to this community, and that raises different issues. This community has not had to face this prospect, we have been an aging community. If we want true success we need to attract young adults. These individuals are more likely to have student loans that reduce their ability to pay for housing. They tend to be more of a credit risk. They have not proved financial stability. They want to be able to have the material things in life, and still enjoy life. More importantly, they have not yet settled down. They are not looking for homes, they are looking for places to rent. That is the shift in thinking that needs to occur, we need to think younger.

There are many other facts that would support the need for rental housing. It usually takes 30 to 60 days to close on a house. Where do those people that just move to town live in the mean time. This of course does not account for any construction. Workers in a beef processing facility on average only stay in a community for two years. These types of individual will never buy a home. Many communities that have seen growth built a large amount of rental units. People need time to get established in a community, having affordable rental housing gives them that time. You can accommodate the needs of a large influx of people buy building rentals. You build an 8-plex and you can house 8-24 people comfortably. You build a 200 unit apartment complex you can house 200-600 people. Unfortunately, we are focusing all our efforts on building houses.

Aberdeen is at a crossroads in a major shift of change. The problem is we need to be thinking differently, progressively. We need to change our thinking from what we have done, to what we need to do. This is proving increasingly difficult because some can not make that leap in thinking that is so desperately needed.

Clint Rux

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Bush War and Economy

FAIR refutes the Bush administration claim that W. has presided over an economy that would be the envy of any president, but he can't get credit for it because of the War on Iraq.

Here is the record of economic growth for each administration since 1960:

  • Kennedy-Johnson -- 5.2%
    Nixon-Ford -- 2.7%
    Carter -- 3.4%
    Reagan -- 3.4%
    Bush I --1.9%
    Clinton -- 3.6%
    Bush II --2.6%

If you can't handle facts, avoid these websites

Some people who comment on politics and public affairs are outright liars. Some are impaired by a puerile ego. The human ego can be the site of a very debilitating disease. Often, the human ego is the purveyor of false information and the motive for fraud.

Take the French stock trader who lost $7 billion in fraudulent trades. French police said there is no evidence that his fraudulent transactions were for personal financial gain. So why would he do it? Most likely to satisfy an ego by pulling off trades that would establish him as a brilliant and skillful trader. He began committing fraud to cover up some bad transactions.

I've been there before. Many years ago at an annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation, it came to light that one of their grain elevators in Indiana had lost $3 million. The reason was that the manager thought he was a brilliant manipulator of the futures market and in his zeal to prove himself a market hot dog made one incompetent transaction after another. He was ambitious, but incompetent. He, too, could realize no personal financial gain from his efforts, but his ego was driving him to what he thought were displays of trading prowess.

The same motivation is apparent in the presidential campaigns. In the zeal to claim eminence and shrewdness, candidates are driven by ego, not intelligence. And some factions are just downright malicious and dishonest.

Exposing falsehoods is not a very productive exercise. Much of the nonsense circulating in political campaigns is devoutly believed. Too many people are so cognitively incompetent that, in Jack Nicholson's words, they can't handle the truth. The fact remains that opinions are free, but facts are sacred.

If anyone actually gives a rat's ass about truth and accuracy, at least in the national political campaigns, there are three web sites that are fact checking what the candidates say:

  • The Annenberg project at the University of Pennsylvania maintains
These sites give deep insights into the political egos--and characters.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kill these bills before they kill you

Some legislation pending before the South Dakota legislature is merely silly. Some of it is deadly.

The deadly legislation concerns open government and the environment.

Three bills are pending on open government. All are faulty. One of the three might be an improvement. But not much. The problem is that we have government officials who do not believe that the public has a right to get information and monitor how its business is done. Consequently, South Dakotans have no way to know if criminal investigations, contract negotiations, sale of public properties (such as cement plants and rail lines), or regulatory business is being done honestly, efficiently, and in the best public interest.

Some records and proceedings, such as current criminal investigations and labor negotiations, need to be kept private until they are resolved. But at some point, the records of those proceedings need to be open to public scrutiny. And that means they should been subject to sunshine laws and freedom of information procedures.

South Dakota ranks absolute last among the states for open government. The proposed open government bills do nothing to improve that status. Two of the bills actually provide more pretexts for closing government that what exists now. Those bills are HB 1280 and SB 186. These bills are more fitting for a Third World dictatorship than an American democracy.

They represent the inane attitude displayed by state officials toward the question of open government.

SB 189 is less restrictive about what meetings and records should be open to the citizens. But it lacks the sunshine provisions and freedom of information that would give the public the right to examine just how its business has been conducted. However, it is probably better than nothing and a baby-step in the right direction.

A bill that would affect the environment, SB 1148, is an atrocity. As matters now stand, if a facility that produces wastewater wants to set a system for using that sewage for irrigation, it must apply for exceptions to environmental laws and be approved by a series of safety, health, and environmental agencies. The legislature has to approve and provide for any such applications. SB 1148 would exempt sewage from livestock slaughtering operations from this requirement.

The use of sewage for irrigation purposes, which is what is behind this bill, has been thoroughly studied. Its first danger is that it would spread bacteria and virus on the land and expose humans, livestock, and wildlife to concentrated biohazards. For humans, they include e coli, hepititus, listeria, salmonella, microbes and many parasites. Sewage also contains heavy metals which can drastically alter the soil, the growing conditions, and the environment in general.

South Dakota for some reason seems bound and determined to firmly establish itself as a Third World entity with dictatorial government and a deteriorating environment. That is exactly where the faulty open government and anti-environment bills are taking us.

Friday, January 25, 2008

You can't fix stupid, or do much about mean and petty

We allow comments on our blogs, but very few of them are allowed to stand. The reason is that if the comments do not show that the commenters have actually read the posts and mustered even the lowest grade of comprehension, they are deleted. In recent weeks every comment made on our blogs has been deleted because they did not reflect an understanding of what was said in the blog. We are beginning to conclude that the blogosphere is populated by the illiterate, if not the outright moronic.

We have also noted that our posts have been misrepresented or misunderstood in very basic ways by other bloggers who have chosen to comment on them.

One of the ways we could stimulate the economy would be for these hordes of illiterates to spend their tax rebate checks on remedial reading courses. The courses probably would do little good, but at least some money would flow to the literate part of the economy. And that would be something different.

Truth gets slaughtered in Republican "debate"

The biggest losers in this year's primary season are truth and honesty. Here is's analysis of Thursday's Republican "debate," more properly called a hyper-bull session.

Republican contenders fling falsehoods in Florida.

In last night's debate, held days before Tuesday's Republican primary in the Sunshine State, the remaining GOP candidates came up with a few new factual distortions and repeated several old ones. Among them:
  • McCain said he had won the Republican vote in both the South Carolina and New Hampshire primaries, where independent voters also participate. One exit poll showed him narrowly prevailing with Republicans in New Hampshire, while another didn’t. And the same poll that favored him in that state had him losing the GOP vote to Huckabee in South Carolina.

  • McCain all but denied that he had said he didn’t know much about economics. That's not true.

  • McCain also said he voted twice to make Bush's tax cuts permanent but doesn't mention that he initially opposed them.

  • Romney falsely portrayed Hillary Clinton's proposed health care plan as an all-government program. It's not.

  • Huckabee once again claimed the FairTax would benefit everyone. That's not possible.
Remaining GOP candidates Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Ron Paul climbed into the ring at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and had the truth on the ropes in short order.

Don't Block the Exits

mccain McCain dubiously claimed that he won the GOP vote in both New Hampshire and South Carolina. But in New Hampshire, the National Election Pool Exit Poll, whose members are ABC, the Associated Press, CBS, CNN, Fox News and NBC, showed Romney edging McCain 35 percent to 34 percent among Republican voters. McCain wouldn't have won if he hadn't collected 40 percent of the independent vote, an overwhelming plurality. McCain can point to an exit poll done separately by Fox News, which shows him beating Romney among Republicans in New Hampshire, 35 percent to 33 percent. The same poll, though, shows Romney received more of the self-identified "conservative" vote, 38 percent to McCain's 31 percent.

But if McCain wants to use Fox's exit polls as his standard, the one taken after the South Carolina primary disproves his point: Huckabee edged him among Republican voters, 32 percent to 31 percent, and it was only through the votes of independents, who swung for him 42 percent to 25 percent, that McCain prevailed.

Econ 101

McCain cast doubt on moderator Tim Russert's assertion that the candidate had said he was no expert on economics.
Russert: Sen. McCain, You have said repeatedly, quote, "I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated." ...

McCain: Actually, I don't know where you got that quote from. I'm very well versed in economics. …

Russert’s quote comes from a 2005 interview with Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore:
Moore, WSJ, Nov. 26, 2005: He is refreshingly blunt when he tell [sic] me: "I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated."
We could not find through Nexis searches that McCain has said that quote "repeatedly," but he has made similar comments recently. The Chicago Tribune quoted McCain talking to reporters in December:
McCain (quoted by, Dec. 18, 2007): The issue of economics is something that I've really never understood as well as I should. I understand the basics, the fundamentals, the vision, all that kind of stuff. But I would like to have someone I'm close to that really is a good strong economist. As long as Alan Greenspan is around I would certainly use him for advice and counsel.
The Tribune story went on to say that "McCain said his staff hates it when he discusses his shortcomings on economics, even though he has read widely and studied the subject. 'I've never been involved in Wall Street, I've never been involved in the financial stuff, the financial workings of the country, so I'd like to have somebody intimately familiar with it,' he said of a potential vice president."

Tax Evasion

McCain spoke as though he had always supported Bush's tax cuts:
McCain: I think it's very important that we make the Bush tax cuts permanent. I voted to make them permanent twice already. If people and businesses and families in America are now planning their 2010 budget, there's a great deal of uncertainty. And if we don't make the tax cuts permanent, then they will experience what amounts to a tax increase.
It is true that McCain voted in 2006 to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. But he was against the cuts before he was for them, and his statements in the debate elide that fact. McCain voted against both sets of Bush tax cuts, in 2001 and in 2003. And on NBC's "Meet the Press" in 2004, McCain stated that he did not support extending all the cuts, though he did go on to say that he would make the so-called "middle class" tax cuts permanent:
McCain in 2004: I would have I voted against the tax cuts because of the disproportionate amount that went to the wealthiest Americans. I would clearly support not extending those tax cuts in order to help address the deficit. But the middle-income tax credits, the families, the child tax credits, the marriage tax credits, all of those I would keep.
McCain is entitled to change his mind. And in fact, his opinions are not necessarily contradictory; he may believe that the tax cuts he opposed should now be made permanent so that taxpayers know what to expect (although in '04 he only wanted middle-class taxpayers to have that assurance, and in the '05 Wall Street Journal interview cited above, he also said some of the Bush tax cuts were "too tilted to the wealthy"). But his statements last night could lead voters to believe that he has always supported the cuts, and that's simply not true.

Hillary's Health Plan, Misrepresented

Mitt Romney, once again, falsely said that Hillary Clinton’s health care plan would be complete government-provided insurance.
Romney: Her health care plan, quite simply, is one which says, look, we're going to give health insurance to everybody by the government. It's going to cost $110 billion more every single year trillion-plus dollars over 10 years.
Clinton's proposal, which aims to cover everyone in the country, allows people to keep their current health insurance. As stated on her Web site: "If you have a plan you like, you keep it."

romney Those who want to change insurance plans can choose one of the private plans offered to members of Congress or join a government-run program similar to Medicare. Employer-offered insurance would also continue to exist, and Clinton says she’ll give tax credits to small businesses to help them pay for health coverage for employees.

This is a familiar refrain from Romney, who has both
boasted of the universal health care plan he signed into law in Massachusetts and criticized Clinton's health plan, while trying to draw distinctions between the two. We’ve written about the similarities between his state's plan and Clinton's before.

As for the cost of Clinton's proposal, her campaign has said it will run about $110 billion a year, an amount she claims she’ll cover by ending Bush's tax cuts to households making more than $250,000 and reaping savings from improving electronic record-keeping, research, and preventive and chronic care; making changes to Medicare and Medicaid; and implementing measures to control prescription drug costs.

Math 101

McCain chose his comparisons unwisely when discussing government pork:
McCain: Look, the president of the United States signed into law, two years in a row, pork barrel-laden bills, $35 billion worth of pork, worth of earmarked projects which are outrageous. Now, we could have given a $1,000 tax credit for every child in America for that $35 billion. Instead we chose a bridge to nowhere.
It's not clear where McCain is getting the $35 billion figure (the campaign hasn't yet responded to our request for more information), or whether he means $35 billion in each of two consecutive years or a total of $35 billion in a two-year period. But that's more pork than the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste has diagnosed in the budget for any one year of the Bush presidency, and it's less than the total for any two years. The highest amount the group has calculated is $29 billion in 2006, and the smallest two-year sum was $38.6 billion in 2001 and 2002.

Even if we assume $35 billion in pork, however, McCain must be defining "child" rather narrowly. According to the 2000 Census, there are about 72.3 million people under the age of 18 in the United States. Dividing $35 billion among them would work out to about $484 each. Even if you counted only children under the age of 9, you'd be giving tax credits for 39.7 million individuals, for a total of about $882 per child
still short of $1,000. To apportion $35 million in thousand-dollar chunks, you'd have to leave out some elementary-schoolers. We think that's a pretty loose definition of "child."

FairTax Fairy Tales

In a lengthy exchange with McCain and moderator Russert, Huckabee promised that the FairTax would do everything short of taking out your trash. We decided to settle for examining a few of the highlights:
Huckabee: It actually untaxes the poor, untaxes the elderly. It makes sure that we don't end up paying taxes on groceries and medicine and the basic necessities of life. And for each third of the economy, there is a benefit, about a 14 percent benefit for those at the bottom; those in the middle, about a 7 percent; even those at the very top end of the economy end up with about a 5 percent benefit. …
Everybody gets in the economy
no more underground economy. Drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps, gamblers, non-Republicans (laughter) all of those people out there will be paying taxes. Nobody's working under the table.
huckabeeAs we wrote earlier, those earning less than about $25,000 per year will be better off under the FairTax. But it’s not necessarily true that the plan would untax the elderly. Retirees who are living on money they have saved – money that was taxed when they earned it – will still have to pay the consumption tax, meaning that, in effect, many seniors will be taxed twice.

Moreover, Huckabee's claim that everyone will pay less is a fantasy. The FairTax claims to be revenue neutral. That means that it has to collect the same $2.4 trillion that the current system collects. And remember that the FairTax replaces corporate income and payroll taxes. That means that individuals have to pony up to replace those in addition to replacing the sums collected via personal income and payroll taxes. So Huckabee is suggesting that the FairTax will generate exactly the same revenue while collecting nothing from corporations and still costing everyone less than they are currently paying. We certainly hope Huckabee has a barrel of magic pixie dust buried somewhere.

And Huckabee’s suggestion that the FairTax will end the underground economy is highly unlikely. It’s true that pimps and drug dealers will now be taxed when they spend their earnings. But will they really charge johns and junkies sales tax on their purchases? Moreover, those johns and junkies are no longer paying any income taxes on the money that they use to buy drugs or sex. Under the current system, pimps pay no income taxes but johns do. Under the FairTax, pimps pay a consumption tax but johns don’t. It’s a better deal for the person buying the sex, drugs or other illicit purchase, and a worse deal for the person selling it.

In fact, far from ending the underground economy, there is a real possibility that the FairTax will feed it growth hormones. Bruce Bartlett, who worked in both the Reagan and first Bush administrations, writes that "Under the FairTax, every time you purchase a service, you would probably get two prices — one you can pay with a check or credit card that includes the FairTax and one you can pay in cash and save 23 percent. Because there would no longer be any audits of income, since the IRS would have been abolished, tracing such tax evasion would be extremely difficult."

There were plenty of other tempting targets in this little exchange, but we’ve already bagged our quota.

Giuliani's Fables

Giuliani continued a pattern of exaggerating his accomplishments as mayor of New York:
Giuliani: I'm the only one who's actually turned around a government economy. I mean, the reality is when I became mayor of New York the economy of New York was in very, very bad shape tremendous deficits, ten-and-a-half percent unemployment, 300,000 jobs gone. We turned that around, cut unemployment by more than half, brought in 450,000 new jobs, and we cut taxes by 17 percent.
giulianiLet's start with unemployment. In January 1994 when Giuliani took office, the rate was 9.9 percent, not 10.5, a figure that was last seen the previous April. And he didn’t cut unemployment in half. By January 2002, with Giuliani just having left office, it was 7.6 percent. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt and go back to the month prior to Sept. 11, 2001, the rate was still 6.2 percent. At no point during his term did it drop to 5.0, the rate that would lend truth to his "more than half" claim.

As for deficits, we've said this before: When he took office, Giuliani faced a $2.3 billion deficit for the next fiscal year. His last budget, issued in May 2001, projected a nearly $2.8 billion deficit in fiscal 2003, the first budget year the incoming mayor would face. Because of 9/11, the gap grew to about $5 billion.

We’ve dealt with the former mayor’s 17 percent tax cut claim before, too. It’s actually the tax burden that declined that much, not the tax rate, as one might think from listening to his words.

–by Viveca Novak, with Brooks Jackson, Jess Henig, Joe Miller and Lori Robertson

We'll be out of oil in seven years?

The CEO of Shell oil, Jeroen Van der Veer, has told his company's employees that demand for oil will outstrip the supply in seven years.

His dire forecast reflects a change in attitude in the oil industry. The corporate line up to this time has been to deny that there is any end in sight for our supply of petroleum

The CEO stressed the need to develop alternative forms of energy. We have challenges. Science and engineering has greatly improved the design of nuclear plants except for one thing. We haven't found a safe way to dispose of the nuclear waste. Growing grains and biomass crops for conversion to ethanol poses a looming threat to the cost and supply of food. And as yet solar and wind energy systems have not been developed in ways that can deliver 0n-demand energy.

After Enron, our subsidization of war profiteering in Iraq, and the mortgage fiasco, we are going to China and the Middle East to borrow billions to stimulate our economy. Our economy has become based on consumption, not production. Avarice of corporations and stupidity of our officials are a much bigger threat to the U.S. than Al Qaeda. The war and our failing economy are irrevocably linked.

Developing the security and integrity of our economy is the moral equivalent of war. As yet, no presidential candidates have addressed the matter directly. Maybe one of them will listen to the CEO of Shell.

The news about Gaza from Havana

A bit of an insomniac, I usually have on earphones in bed so that my wakeful diversions do not disturb family members. I recently acquired one of those shirt-pocket sized radios that has AM, FM, and shortwave bands. It also acquires any static interference that happens to be on the airways, so there are really very few stations that come in clearly. After Jazz Nightly on SDPR ends at midnight, I end up surfing the airwaves for something that might induce drowsiness.

On occasion, however, I hear something that will make me sit straight up in bed. It happened a few nights ago as I wandered among the shortwave bands.

Radio Havana is a station that usually comes in strong and clear. It has world news roundups delivered by people with pleasing voices in impeccable English, and the stories are interspersed with musical selections. I wait for the music because the selections are often Afro-Cuban jazz, which transports me to visions of the Caribbean and memories of Papa Hemingway and some pre-Castro dark rum and cigars of my youth.

Generally, I pay little attention to the propagandic newscasts while I wait for the music, but a few nights ago I heard one that raised me out of bed and made me reach for my laptop. What spurred me was not the content of the news roundup, but the format.

Among the tasks I have worked at over the years was the analysis of news directed at the west by foreign governments that were not allies or friends of our kind of democracy. Our job was to fact check the content and analyze the predication of the reports. Our job was also to write news stories to be broadcast and printed for consumption by other countries and to make those stories as challenge-proof as possible. During the Cold War the Armed Forces Radio Network broadcast news and music for our troops, but we also knew that it had many loyal listeners in Europe and behind the Iron Curtain. Those broadcasts had much to do with the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. So, the news casts were written with meticulous attention to an accurate presentation of the facts so that anyone who checked on them would find the stories reliable.

One of the most effective formats is to focus on an event and do a roundup of official responses to it from various countries. It was such a roundup of international responses to the closing of the Gaza strip by Israel from Radio Havana that raised me up in the middle of the night to check on what I heard. The broadcast included commentary, of course, from Middle Eastern countries, but it also included responses from China, Japan, Canada and all our allies. The criticism against he closing of Gaza was relentless and much of it was directed at the U.S.

So, I fired up the laptop to verify that our allies--and others--had actually said what Radio Havana reported. They had.

What is so alarming is that our media--including blogs--are not giving us a full perspective on what is taking place in the world. We get 24 hours of the verbal dust ups between the Clinton and Obama camps, but not a word about what is going on in the larger world.

When Radio Havana broadcasts more credible and complete news casts than any we can obtain from our own media, we have a problem. The world, in fact, has a problem.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Required for class: text books, notebooks, and an AK-47

Some good ol' boys in South Dakota are taking issue with the Board of Regents. Not because the Board has bumbled around so much with research and scholarship on its campuses that it wants to bust the state budget to catch up. No, the plaint is that the regents want to strip students of a basic American freedom by banning guns from the university campuses. But it is not only in South Dakota. A few nights ago, that all-night-radio show that caters to America's fruitcake faction, Coast-to-Coast AM., had a guy on who advocated that everyone should have the right to pack a rod, but especially college students because going to class is like riding around Baghdad in a Humvee

The state legislature is now considering HB 1261 which gives students the right to pack heat, as long as it is done in accordance with state law, whatever that means.

As a soldier, when I was not on maneuvers during which time our weapons were super-glued to our persons, our weapons had to be locked up in the armory, and they were not allowed in the barracks rooms. When on guard duty, we had to sign out our weapons and ammunition, which had to be checked in after each tour. (We were generally issued three rounds for guard duty.)

I have nothing against guns. There is a rack on my study wall in which are locked some shotguns and rifles and in the corner are two Springfield black powder muskets. In my family's history, guns have been tools--sort of on par with egg-beaters. I do admit that I seldom hunt anymore because there are so many Dick Cheneys out there who can't tell an old man's face or a road sign from a coot or a cock. But I have no problem with guns that aren't pointed at me.

However, in all my years as a student and professor, I have never considered the need or use for a gun on campus. I think all the campuses I was associated with prohibited guns and alcoholic beverages and pets, with the exception of goldfish, from the campuses. But that was because those things were so totally irrelevant to the reason people were on the campus to begin with. And if I were to provide a list for a prospective student of things that might be useful on campus, I would place a douche bag much higher on the list than a gun.

Yeah, I know that the rash of school shootings such as the one at Virginia Tech has caused the good old boys to opine that if people were packing heat in the classrooms, they would have taken out the shooter before he killed so many people. One can imagine all the unarmed students diving for cover while the lead flies over head and the self-appointed swat teams save lives, restore order, and make their intellectual contributions to higher education. One has as much chance to nullify such a shooter as the one at Virginia Tech by squirting him in the eye with a douche bag. One with a scope sight, of course.

With all the issues we have to face in education, it is reassuring to know that our legislators are so involved with improving the campus environments so that students can focus and concentrate onl their academic work. And with the state education officials concerned with things like regional higher education centers, research labs, laptops (computers, not dancers), and substance abuse, it will be good to have kids parading around with fire arms to elevate the intellectual dialogue and maintain the purpose of the higher education institutions.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Swiftboating Obama

Bill and Hillary Clinton, as Tom Daschle points out, have adopted the Republican playbook in campaigning. They subrept and misrepresent comments. The technique is also a favorite of bloggers of certain regressive persuasions.

When the Clintons contend that Barack Obama expressed admiration for Ronald Reagan and Republican ideas, they are absolutely falsifying what was said. Obama said that Reagan set the country on a new trajectory and the Republicans were raising different ideas. That by no means expresses endorsement of the new trajectory or the ideas that launched it. It is clear from the videos of Obama's comments that he was merely stating a historical fact about the impact Ronald Reagan had on the country, an impact that was damaging to many of us who were members of the American workforce.

The contention that any acknowledgment of another person's influence and successes is an endorsement is a particularly cheap kind of dishonesty. But Americans have become so slovenly in their listening and reading that they do let others interpret the words they hear for them. This is the ultimate result of a populace that has undergone intensive operant conditioning by a media designed to elicit responses, not induce thought. A good portion of the populace responds to media messages like Pavlov's dog salivating at the sound of a bell..

On the other side, we have more malevolent and vicious attacks like those on John McCain's record as a POW in the vein of the Swiftboating of John Kerry.

While working on a policy research project for a political committee when the news came out about Bill Clinton's assignations with Monica Lewinsky, I can remember being asked to compose a letter to Clinton and important congress people asking for his resignation. We felt it was time for Al Gore to take over the Oval Office. However, a senior member of the Senate staff quickly discouraged our sending the letter. Key legislation important to South Dakota was on the legislative floor and would have been jeopardized by the furor of a resignation or the request for one by members of the President's own party. Instead, Congress worked through the legislation so it could get on with the impeachment against Clinton.

Bill Clinton did strain the cohesion of his own party at times. He is at it again, and his campaign against Obama reminds us of how hard it was to keep him on track in the past.

John Edwards is right. What good does the squabbling do anybody? But apparently the American people do let it decide their votes. And all the country ends up with is legacy of petty rancor and deadlock.

I guess in a democracy people do get what they want and what they deserve.

Ain't no franchise on racism

Only in in the grips of complete absurdity can one be in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and contemplate Martin Luther King, Jr., Day in terms of how much progress we have made toward social justice. No question, we have made some progress, but that progress reveals deeper, chronic social pathologies in the human psyche which are institutionalized in new forms, in new expressions.

Aberdeen had a racist fest this spring. When plans for a beef packing plant were announced for the town, an outcry rose over the "kind" of people it would attract as workers. Groups organized to oppose rezoning and financial assistance for the plant on environmental and public nuisance grounds, but the arguments also included a disclaimer of racial motives, and invariably concluded with the observation that certain ethnic groups have a propensity for criminality. The local newspaper discussion board was widely cited among civil rights groiups for its virulent and demented expressions of racist propaganda.

The debate on the national level between the Clinton and Obama camps exposes another facet of racism. In the zeal to claim an identity with civil rights, the contenders bicker over who made them most possible. Part of primary rhetoric is for the contenders to claim the most achievement and success, but the juvenile boasting matches have little relevance in understanding the intricate panoply of cooperative human endeavor involved in the civil rights movement. Its successes remain largely symbolic rather than systemic.

The intellectual motives of the civil rights movement as advanced by Martin Luther King were forged from the existential theology of African-American churches as they evolved during slavery. The social context was established by World War II. Men returning from military service found that they were denied the equality, freedom, and justice they had fought for. A seldom-recognized aspect of the civil rights movement is that it gained much of its impetus in the military during the Cold War era. A series of commissions was created after World War II to examine segregation in the military and they produced numerous plans and recommendations. Some desegregation was taking place, but the real impetus came during the Korean War when American troops were besieged by Chinese Communist troops. Black units did not perform well in some instances. While some attributed the poor showings to innate racial characteristics, more astute officers and observers pointed out that the units suffered from incompetent leadership of the white officers commanding them and from a lack of morale and motivation because freedom, equality, and justice were denied them.

Desegregation took a quick leap into reality in 1951 when Gen. Ridgway, commander of U.N. forces in Korea at the time, requested permission for the immediate desegregation of the forces under his command. It happened, but it took a couple of decades for the military to adjust.

When I was drafted in the mid-50s, the training units were fully segregated. At least half of my basic training cadre were black. However, some career servicemen practiced racist discrimination to the point of violence. Social life off military bases was characterized by enforced segregation. While I was on temporary duty at at air base, the enlisted personnel bragged about throwing black men down the stairs when they tried to use them at the same time as the white personnel. My bunk mate at a missile base in Germany was black. One night after coming off duty I stopped at the EM Club for a quick beer, and a group of regulars started in on the nigger-lover routine. They got so exercised that the bartender would not let me leave and asked for the guard mount to patrol the area until all personnel were in the billets. The fight against racist attitudes involved daily battles and the constant work of people who never did--and probably never will--receive due credit for their contributions.

The real status of civil rights is better gauged by current rhetoric than than by the ceremonial replaying of Martin Luther King's I-have-a-dream speech. His dream is still unrealized, a raisin in the sun, to use Langston Hughes' words. The rhetoric of race is about exclusion. As people take credit for their own efforts and attitudes, they contrive to exclude others from acknowledgment for their efforts to resist racism and extend civil rights. The schemes to push the agenda of freedom and equality ahead is assailed by some as defects of liberalism. Their proponents are "defined" as mentally defective, morally defunct, and --at best-- wrong-headed. The rhetoric of the age is directed at defining other people in ways that justify their exclusion from the respect and serious consideration as equal human beings. It is rhetoric that endorses the idea of integration, but condemns the measures for accomplishing it. It is the rhetoric of that human malaise that sees other people who might be different as objectives of vilification and oppression.

But those who point out the illnesses of our country are labeled as unpatriotic and anti-American and, certainly, are lesser citizens. Big Brother has spoken.

As long as we are mired in our rhetoric of demeaning and discrediting others, dreams of equality and justice will have to remain dreams, and a mean and petty culture will prevail.

And Aberdeen will remain free from "those people."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Brown County legislators promoting biohazards

Good friends of mine have their names on House Bill 1148. I hope they investigate the implications of this bill, hold extensive hearings, invite analysis from environmental scientists, and investigate the professional qualifications and work history of the people who are promoting this suspension of environmental processes and controls. This bill would allow for the massive biological contamination of the land and water.

This bill's origins have a specific reference in Aberdeen. Here is the background:

Northern Beef Packers is building a $40 million meat processing plant in Aberdeen right next to the city's waste water treatment plant. While some people opposed the plant and forced a referendum on the basis that it would attract "undesirable" people as workers and create environmental problems, the plan had effective backing. It was promoted on the basis of creating jobs, value-added agriculture, and a change to activate the town's stagnating economy. City officials and leaders gave strong support to the plant and cleared the way for zoning and getting financial help by designating the plant site a tax increment finance district. City voters passed the TIF referendum by 66 percent.

A big hurdle for the plant is the matter of obtaining water and disposing of it. The WEB rural water system and the City of Aberdeen have taken measures to assure that there would be enough water to operate the plant. The City also had to assure citizens that there would be proper disposal of the prodigious amounts of waste water produced by the plant. That is why the site next to the waste water plant was approved. After being treated, Aberdeen's waste water is emptied into Moccasin Creek, which carries it down to the James River and then into the Missouri. In approving the zoning for the plant, the City assured that the water would be effectively treated and would not cause pollution and environmental contamination.

But in October, some men appeared before the Brown County Commission and asked for endorsement of another plan for disposing of the wastewater. Their scheme would involve not running the sewage through waste water treatment. Instead the sewage would be pumped to a series of holding ponds specially built for the purpose, and then pumped through pipelines to farms where it would be used to irrigate farm crops. The farmers would pay for the waste water.

This scheme has serious problems from the standpoint of economic viability and environmental pollution. Building the ponds and pipelines would require easements on private and public lands. Its construction would also have to face a series of environmental exceptions and approvals. Circumventing that process is what HB 1148 is designed to do.

Northern Beef Packers has backed away from this proposal for its plant, but raising the proposal has damaged the support the plant has had from some government officials and community leaders. The environmental impact of the plant was a major objection, and leaders had to assure that it would be minimal. Rezoning the land next to the waste water treatment plant to permit the construction was a major effort on the part of the City Council and County Commission to reassure citizens that the plant would not be a source of water pollution and environmental degradation and hazard.

I was working in the Court House and City Hall the day the request to circumvent the water treatment process was presented to the County Commission. After going to the effort to clear the way for the plant construction, officials felt betrayed by the proposal. Some elected officials think the proposal reflects an absence of competence and doubt that the backers of the plant have the planning and managerial ability to bring it to completion. County commissioners took the attitude of benign neglect and chose to "table" any endorsement, hoping the plan would quietly be forgotten.

Some City Council members indicated that they could no longer offer any overt support for the beef plant. Problems in retaining project managers and keeping marketing contracts and financing arrangements in place are the sources of serious doubts about the plants viability. The proposal to circumvent the waste water treatment,, however, has come to symbolize the thinking and planning going into the project.

One official called the alternative waste disposal scheme an e coli factory. And that gets to the point he made. With the recalls of food products for biological and chemical contamination, how could anyone even raise the question of holding raw sewage in ponds and irrigating crops with bacteria and chemical-laden sewage? He pointed out that a major concern in treating waste water is to see that e coli, salmonella, listera, and many other disease organisms are not injected into the environment.

HB 1148 is designed to nullify the process that protects the public against massive pollution of pathogens carried in waste water. The bill not only removes what protection there is, it effectively promotes a scheme that is based upon the selling of contamination by pumping it into the environment.

I cannot explain how this bill got written. I would hope that its sponsors would do some checking about the qualifications and the work histories of the people who are promoting it. And I hope they would ask professors from the SDSU College of Agriculture, state environmental authorities, and city and county officials about the implications of this proposal.

It is an astounding assault on public safety and all that we have learned about environmental contamination in the past half century or so.

732P0328 HOUSE BILL NO. 1148

Introduced by: Representatives Novstrup (Al), Brunner, DeVries, Elliott, Gassman, Gosch, Hargens, Howie, McLaughlin, Sigdestad, Street, and Turbiville and Senators Hundstad and Hoerth

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to exempt the land application of certain solid waste used for irrigation purposes from requirements related to large-scale solid waste facilities.
Section 1. That § 34A-6-53 be amended to read as follows:
34A-6-53. No large-scale solid waste facility may be sited, constructed, or operated in this state unless the Legislature enacts a bill approving the siting, construction, or operation of such the facility pursuant to a solid waste permit or permit renewals, issued by the Board of Minerals and Environment. The Legislature must find that the facility is environmentally safe and in the public interest. The requirements of this section do not apply to the land application for irrigation purposes of solid waste generated from a livestock processing facility if the application is done in accordance with a solid waste permit or permit renewal issued by the board.

250 copies of this document were printed by the South Dakota
Legislative Research Council at a cost of $.04 per page.
Insertions into existing statutes are indicated by underscores.
Deletions from existing statutes are indicated by overstrikes.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Like a bull snake making love to a slinky

That's what Legislative District 3 resembles. It has so many twists and
kinks that everybody who has tried to draw a map of it has ended up in the Redfield Developmental Center, aka the Funny Farm.

It makes me wonder why blog editors prohibit the use of the f-word and still let us write "gerrymander." Gerrymander contains all the possible obscenity of the f-word with none of the copulative virtues.Just look at District 3, but briefly, because it can kink your mind. It represents all those descriptive needs covered by the f-word in U.S Army Manual of Descriptive Nomenclature. It is a graphic demonstration of f-up, f-around, f-over, and f-ing the dog up a tree.

It is so kinked and crooked because it is generated by the intellectual DNA of the bull snake. The idea of the District 3 configuration is to squeeze all the Democrats out. This process is called making the district safe for Republicans. But the G.I. nomenclature applies.

Thils is a prime example of why Rep. Bill Thompson of Sioux Falls is submitting a bill which would require a bi-partisan commission established by the legislature to come up with the redistricting plans. The billl has inspired some mean comments from PP at South Dakota War College. He suggests that Bill Thompson has not read the state Constitution and states that the Legislature is required to do reapportionment. Bill Thompson had a career of teaching U.S government and he has probably not only read the Constitution, he has understood it. In the Thompson bill, the Legislature has full oversight in the composition of the redistricting commission and authoritiy to review the plans and make recommendations. It also has the authority to delegate its tasks. All the Thompson bill does is remove the process from the coils of any partisan bull snake.

PP says Thompson is joisting at windmills. Actually he is probing a snake den with a legislative stick. That predatory DNA is causing some writhing in District 3, but what can you expect from bull snakes and slinkies?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Tis the season for sending race cards

It took only a few days after Barack Obama formally announced his candidacy for president before racism began seeping through the Internet and puddling up on blogs and discussion boards. The first message I received was from one of those members of the Aberdeen intelligentsia for whom the word liberal and the n-word are synonyms. Race is not the only basis for prejudice, intolerance, and those pathologies of personality that stem from a need to hate. People can turn any aspect of human identity into an occasion for vilification and great out-pourings of malevolence. Humans are good at it. Some are better than others.

Obama's offense is not only that he is a black man. He is also an Ivy Leaguer. He graduated from Columbia and obtained his law degree from Harvard. That combination can make a red neck combust into Harvard-crimson flames. In our neck of the woods,an identification with the East Coast is sure to make hatred come bustin' out all over. The accusation of identifications with East Coast culture is a major trick in the South Dakota Republican bag of defamations. And it works.

I was made aware of Obama and his successes in Illinois by the late Sen. Paul Simon. Paul Simon, a real journalist and effective politician, generated interest and helped make
Obama a national figure. Like Simon, Obama was strongly supported in Illinois by the Lincoln Republicans, who were almost like a third party in Illinois. In a state where the Democratic machine and the corporate fascists dominated party politics, a line of Republicans that could be traced to the time of Lincoln comprised a significant faction of swing voters, particularly in the northern part of the state. Simon had their support, and when he retired from the Senate, he used his influence to transfer that support to Obama. That is a reason Obama was successful in Illinois, and the traits that Paul Simon lauded are the ones that have carried the young Senator into presidential politics.

His racial identity, then, is not the only factor for which Obama can be vilified by the regressives. He has that East Coast element in his background, but worst of all he evinces a superior intelligence. He is knowledgeable and articulate and personable, and what more evidence does a red neck provincial need for hating him? The quintessential, uppity you-know-what.

And so the race cards have been laid on the table. Or mailed out to greet the season of war on earth and ill will toward some people. One form is the racist accusations that need no decoding. One of the cards I received warns against Obama because he belongs to a black church whose clergy concern themselves with racial justice. By god, that is reason enough to send him right back to Kenya. Or Massachusetts, Or wherever his kind come from.

Another form that the race card takes is in accusing people of being racist. The press loves to foment these accusations. Regressive bloggers like making these accusations because it induces orgasm in them. It has emerged in this campaign as the Bradley effect. To the regressives, it is like opening up a centerfold of Penthouse. Ooooh, ooooh, ooooh, what a little racism can do for you.

The Bradley effect derives its name from when Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley drew very high poll numbers but lost in the voting booth.Analysts say that people supported him in the polls because thley didn't want to come off as racist when talking to poll takers, but they voted their true feelings in the voting booth MSNBC's Chris Matthews says that explains why Obama got such high poll numbers in New Hampshire but H8llary beat him in primary. .Pat Buchanan suggests the Bradley effect may have come into play, but in any event the primary was an occasion to play race cards. Or honkey-woman-whose-husband-got-blow-jobs-from-chubby-intern cards. The hate cards are all based upon the need to malign and feel superior to some one. Whatever, your brand of prejudice and hatred, just keep them cards a-coming. 'Tis the season.

The press and blogs have been using the cards to fan the flames of racism and racist-accusation by turning some differences in perspective between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton into major comflicts. They use the exchanges as evidence of the racial disarray within the Democratic Party.
Obama and Clinton seem to resist getting drawn into the demented little card game, but others involved in the campaigns do not seem astute enough to avoid the pitfall being dug for them.

As long as we are playing hate cards, let us deal South Dakota's hand. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin graduated from Georgetown University. She actually talks to some of them Eastern Liberals in the House. She did not endorse Obama or Clinton, which must belie some combination of racist misogyny. And the joker in this deck is that she married a Texan. There are your cards, South Dakota Republicans. Play your game.

But deal me out.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Madville Times reviews "Dasche v. Thune"

The most comprehensive review of Jon Lauck's book on the 2004 Tom Daschle/John Thune election campaign [Daschle vs. Thune: Anatomy of a High-Plains Senate Race (University of Oklahoma Press, 2007)] that I have seen so far has been published by Cory Allen Heidelberger on his blog Madville Times. The review is detailed enough to provide some sense of the substance of the book and how well it succeeds at accomplishing what it claims to do.

Cory prefaces his review by quoting some comments I made about what should be expected of a review of this kind of book. Put baldly, I called for some intensive fact-checking of the substantive content of the book. Cory carefully states, however, that his review will focus on the literary performance of the book. He provides some substantial evidence and analysis in that regard.

I have not done more than browse the book. A copy that was supposed to be kept in a certain office so people could read it at odd moments disappeared. I am curious about the book because I was involved in the coordinated campaign that year and the tenor of the campaign had all the intellectual merit and constructive discourse of a bunch of sixth-grade bullies out by the playground swing set taunting a buck-toothed hump-backed third grader. In the campaign, John Thune intensified and escalated the kind of personal attack he had tried on Sen. Tim Johnson two years previously.

Jon Lauck's blog Daschle v. Thune was a daily compendium of defamations and allegations aimed at agitating provincial resentments into flaming hatred . At the time, however, blogs were not read by very few people, and we considered Lauck's blog to be a compendium of the talking points being contrived by the Thune campaign to take down Daschle. Lauck terms the book a work of particpatory history, and I have been curious to see how he, who was a professor of history during the campaign, accounted for his role in the campaign.

According to Cory Heidelberger's review, Lauck doesn't. Cory notes that after some introductory discussion of the virtues of participatory history, Lauck all but disappears from the narrative. So does John Thune.

The book, says Cory, appears to be an extension of Lauck's blog in its continued attack on Daschle, not an account of campaign issues and an actual attempt to portray the character of the people involved.

The review makes me want to see a rigorous examination and correlation of factual claims.

Blogs often make the claim that they present something that the traditional media do not. This is true of Madville Times in this instance. It brings blogging into the realm of true discussion, and if you want to read a real review of this book--the Argus Leader attempt was cursory and timid--read Cory's. So far, it is the best effort out there.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It's the voters, not the polls or pundits

The 24-hour news cycle of cable television has changed the coverage of primaries and elections from reporting the hard facts to interminable speculation, pseudo-analysis, and specious information. The news media and blogs treat the caucuses and primaries as if they are athletic contests, not the complicated process through which voters sift through policies, personalities, and try to determine which candidates most meet their needs and expectations. The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary have served that purpose. The coverage misses the point, and that is the main reason the polls were so inaccurate in assessing Hillary Clinton's prospects in New Hampshire. They were more involved with creating conflicts and rivalries than with reporting the news of what voters are truly concerned with.

The main factor that currently is driving the presidential campaigns among the voters is the Bush debacle. The Republican Party has been relegated to the role of a minor player on the issues that are driving the voters. That fact is revealed by which party members are taking active parts in the selection of prsidential candidates.

In the Iowa caucuses, 236,000 Democrats came out to register their preferences. The Republicans turned out less than half that number with 116,000. Democrats cast 67 percent of the votes in the Iowa caucuses.

Democrats cast 285,600 votes in the New Hampshire primary. Republicans cast 236,300. The Democrats cast 55 percent of the votes.

The salient fact represented by these numbers is that the Democrats are on the move to take back the country. Republican candidates studiously avoid any identification with the Bush administration.

The polls and speculators about the New Hampshire primary got Hillary Clinton's prospects wrong. To people familiar with statistics and polling the reasons are apparent. The poll organizations had their samples wrong. They did not pick up the fact that women were taking a very hard look at the Democratic candidates.

However, there is a more fundamental error in the business of polling. Polls cannot measure motivations and the reasoning process of respondents. They can only measure the attitudes and opinions within a sample at a given time. The procedures of statistical inference are always loaded with variables and doubt, and at best they can only indicate a trend toward a probability.
There is a dynamic going through the minds of voters that polls did not reflect. The one thing that numbers indicate is that a very large majority of the voters want something totally different from what we've had in the first years of the 21st century. Their opinions of who can best lead us i making the changes in our country will shift hour by hour.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Be a patriot: kill another soldier

The Washington Post has taken Democratic candidates for the presidency to task for not acknowledging that the surge in Iraq has had some effect in reducing the violence in the country. This has occasioned some orgasmic-level glee in regressive quarters.

The argument is that the Democrats cannot credit some success in a war that is such a huge failure of intellect, morality and competence and, after voting against the surge, still express the intention of pulling our troops out at first opportunity. The Post takes that position that as long as violence is being reduced, the candidates should be following up on the "success" and building on what gains have been made. The editorial does give grudging assent to the validity of Hillary Clinton's response that even though the deaths of our troops have decreased, the 23 that were killed in December is still unacceptable.

Our troops have done exactly what soldiers have to do. They have followed orders, they have carried out their missions with competence and diligence. And they have been killed. And both Republicans and Democrats have remarked on the valor and effectiveness of our troops and, in an obvious effort to avoid the kind of vilification heaped on the troops during the Viet Nam era, they have pledged their support and honor.

There comes a point where such patronizing honor and support is the ultimate insult. As a veteran, I deplore the notion that the wasteful death and maiming of our troops can be expiated by rote lip service and a few yellow decals on automobiles. Such thoughtless and unsubstantial expressions of support actually term the troops expendable. To think that the ritual and meaningless words of support is an honor is a fatuous absurdity.

The best way to honor our troops is not to kill them. Instead we dismiss them as expendable and then mouth empty words over their demise and expect them to be satisfied with a patronizing little pat on the back. When our wounded do return home, we have shown little interest in their recovery and welfare.

The surge has reduced violence. As long as we keep troops in Iraq, pour in billions of dollars of our resources, and find ways to appease those who were killing our troops a few months back, some will claim success.

When we invaded Iraq, we broke it. Just as we are sacrificing our troops and our resources to try to fix it now, we have no future but further sacrifice to the point that we are breaking our own country.

So, maybe we will kill only another 25 or so soldiers this month and celebrate our good fortune and progress.

Some of us believe our soldiers and our country deserve better than that.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Suspicious death of professor gets a new hearing

News agencies are reporting that the death of Prof. Morgan Lewis on the NSU campus will be re-examined before a state hearing officer in March.

Professor Lewis was found dead early the Monday morning before the general election of 2004 at an entrance door to the Seymour Hall faculty office building. He had a gunshot wound to the back of his neck. A trail of blood led to a dumpster near Seymour Hall where a gun was found.

In 2006, the Aberdeen Police termed the death a suicide. However, the case never received a satisfactory resolution or explanation in the minds of many faculty and Aberdeen residents. At the time of the death, the Aberdeen Police Department was in a state of turmoil with the suspension and firing of police officers and a resulting internal factional dispute. The police officer who was assigned to patrol the NSU campus and was on duty the night of the death resigned shortly after the incident.

Details of the case came out over time and contained many discrepancies. The Police Department never opened its records for any kind of official review or public eximanation.

Professor Lewis taught German at NSU and he also taught the German courses at Aberdeen Central High School. His colleagues and students found him to be an unusually energetic and upbeat professor, which factor caused doubt about the validity of the suicide determination. In closing the case as a suicide, the Police Department did not offer any explanation of what evidence and what line of reasoning led to its conclusion. Doubt about the validity of the ruling has lingered.

Initially, the coroner termed the death a homicide, but later changed the cause of death on the certificate. No evidence or reasoning was supplied in support of that change either.

The new hearing comes at the request of Morgan Lewis' partner in California, James Buck, who was listed as an insurance beneficiary. He hired Sioux Falls attorney Brendan Johnson of Johnson, Heidepriem, Janklow, Abdallah & Johnson, a prominent firm of litigation lawyers, to investigate the case. Brendan Johnson, a graduate of the University of Virginia law school, is the son of U.S Sen. Tim Johnson. The insurance was not paid because of the suicide ruling.

Brendan Johnson has gained access to the investigative records and says he has evidence which refutes the suicide ruling. The hearing will take place March 11-13 in Pierre or Aberdeen.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Impeachment sucks, but what doesn't these days?

Badlands Blue calls attention to George McGovern's call to impeach George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The web log asks, how in the hell did Bush get re-elected in 2004? The answer is one many of us prefer not to think about. It forces one to address the many levels of betrayal committed in the downward spiral of America into a mindless and shameful Orwellian totalitarianism.

In his call for impeachment, George McGovern gives a comprehensive review of those betrayals and identifies the climate of deception, fear, and intimidation that reduced the world's greatest superpower down to the level of North Korea, Iran, and Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. McGovern does not place total blame on the Republican Party, when he says, "The political scene is marked by narrow and sometimes superficial partisanship, especially among Republicans, and a lack of courage and statesmanship on the part of too many Democratic politicians."

The Republican Party must get full credit in the election of 2004 for the Swift-boating of John Kerry, the trophy-wifing of Tom Daschle, the moral blackmailing of the people into believing that a criticism of an immoral and dishonest war was a betrayal of our troops. The Republicans used the residual guilt from our treatment of Viet Nam veterans to cow the public into thinking that a criticism of the war was an unpatriotic aspersion cast on our front-line troops. But the Democrats, except for a distinguished few, were craven in their response to this strategy to enthrall the people under a regime of fear and intimidation. Just at the time the nation needed leaders to articulate the moral outrages of the war propaganda and hate rhetoric of the Republicans, the Democrats thought a confrontation on moral grounds would be too divisive.

To many of us, it would have been better to lose the election than to sacrifice the integrity of the American democracy to a regime devoted to obtaining power through military force, spying on its own citizens, and getting implicated in war-profiteering in behalf of its corporate sponsors. The John Kerry and Tom Daschle campaigns both calculated that a majority of voters would see through the Big Brother tactics of deception, intimidation, and fear and vote against the descent into the depths of unjustified, immoral war and its hate propaganda as the basis for national and international policy.

They were wrong.

The American electorate showed that it was as vulnerable to the machinations of the fascist quest for power as the cowering characters in Orwell's novels and the supporters of the regimes in Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. As a result a great nation has lost its moral authority and is quickly being reduced to a third world plutocracy.

The impeachment of Bill Clinton for being less-than-candid about taking blow-job breaks in the Oval Office has, similarly, reduced the idea of impeachment to a petty and nasty process motivated by personal resentments rather than issues of integrity affecting the democratic premise of our nation. To impeach Bush and Cheney would appear to be on the same level as the cheap, tawdry attempt to use the process to politically assassinate Billl Clinton. As George McGovern points out, the offenses against the state of Bush and Cheney far surpass anything that cited for the impeachment of Richard Nixon. And it would do little to rescue our nation from the morass of intellectual and moral failure in which it is currently mired.

The big question is whether the American people are up to the extraction process. Or will they flop on their backs and beg Big Brother to have his way with them as long he promises them security, as happened in 2004?

The Iowa caucuses provide a small glimmer of hope. We have 10 months to decide on whether we want to lift ourselves out of the morass and who is best fit to lead us out of it. Democratic principle and integrity have triumphed in the past and the people have rallied to save the nation from those who want power over the people, not freedom for them.

But we also have a history of Viet Nam, Iraq, and the election of 2004. Great nations do fail at times.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Iowa caucuses while the culture wars rage

The Iowa caucuses have kept viable, at least for a time, the participation of voters in the process of screening and vetting candidates for office. That process has been largely subsumed by the political parties and their need to raise huge amounts of money that is spent mostly on campaign advertising. Television changed the political process drastically, just as George Orwell and other critics of culture predicted it would.

Orwell recognized the power that a totalitarian force --whether a government or a corporation--could exert over people if it gained control of the media. His portrayals in 1984 show television as a tool to spy on the people as well as to condition them into accepting a party-line of thought and talk. Orwell's perspective on the matter grew out of his experience in the Spanish civil war when he joined the communist loyalist forces, and found that the leadership was no more interested in democracy than were the fascists, who eventually won the war. Ernest Hemingway covered the war as a correspondent and favored the communist loyalists, but he also saw that the war was not over democracy as much as which political faction would exercise totalitarian control over the people. That same battle is being fought in America.

The idea behind caucuses and primary elections is to provide forums for information and decision-making that result in the election of delegates to state and national conventions where the candidates for the office of president will be selected. The process used to involve a lot of caucusing, but that process is too disorganized and messy to make "good" television. So, our national conventions have been scripted to meet the prime-time and show-business demands of television. The electronic media have appropriated the process for their rating needs.

While some campaigns poured an immense amount of money into Iowa for advertising and telephonic campaigning, the focus was on the way the candidates traveled throughout the state meeting with people on their own ground--in school rooms, warehouses, ballrooms, convention centers. Television was present, but not in control.

Conservative commentator Bill Bennett remarked on the contrast of watching Iowans gathering in homes and school rooms in an amiable and respectful manner to express their preferences while the news shows broadcast clips of Kenyans hacking away at opponents with machetes to protest an election.

The caucus process held the anger-and-hate rhetoric in check. The media tried to inflate every difference of opinion and comment by the candidates into a fight. The candidates resisted being goaded into rhetorical excesses that are the stuff "good" sound bites are made of. The media was confounded when Mike Huckabee showed them a television ad that he ordered not to be broadcast. He used the media to show his resistance to the demands for personal attaacks. The incident elicited criticism from pundits but it delineated an issue of style and purpose amd character.

The restrained and controlled rhetoric preceding the Iowa caucuses contrasts sharply with the mean, angry, and incoherent comments on the blogs and discussion boards about them in South Dakota. Our legacy is the Thune campaign of 2004. It was an expression of essential character.

The Internet is an emerging factor in the way people assess candidates, but if one looks at blog aggregators, one finds that most of the effort is put into repeating and reinforcing the party lines. To find pertinent and incisive discussion on the Internet, one must be very selective and that takes more time than most people have.

Something else went on in Iowa. The word "caucus" comes from an Algonquian word and custom. When the Native American people needed to make decisions and negotiate treaties, they held caucuses in which spokespeople would gather in small groups to hash out matters and come up with a decision, if not a consensus, to be presented to a larger decision-making body. It is one of the many customs American democracy emulated from the indigenous people.

It is working in Iowa. At least until television producers find a way to script the caucuses. It is a way of communicating that is a terrible annoyance to those with totalitarian ambitions.

But the caucuses provide a contrast and, perhaps, a suggestion as to how the people may retain and regain control of politics.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States