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, August 21, 2008

And what foreign power will sell us our wind?

One of T. Boone Pickens major arguments in promoting his plan to shift our energy production to natural gas and wind is that it will stop the massive dollars we send to foreign countries for oil. But in our area of South Dakota the two biggest wind farms are owned by foreign corporations who will reap the profits.

Last week, the 120-unit Tatanka Wind Farm went on line. It covers 14,000

acres that straddle the North and South Dakota border just north of Long Lake, S.D. Fifty-nine of the wind generators are in McPherson County, S.D., and sixty-one are in Dickey County, N.D. The $381 million farm will generate 180 megawatts, enough to power 60,000 homes. It is owned by Accione Energy, a Spanish Corporation. It will sell most of its electrical production to the Montana-Dakota power company.

Near Wessington Springs, S.D., a 34-wind turbine unit is under construction.
It will generate 51 megawatts, enough to supply power to 15,000 homes. It covers 6,000 leased acres, and will sell its power through the Western Area Power Administration, which has contracted to sell the power output to the Heartland Consumer Power District.

The Wessington Springs Wind Project is owned by the Australian firm of Babcock and Brown. The company has 75 energy projects in the U.S.

The development of windfarms has become largely a corporate enterprise. Another option for development is offered by Deere and Co. through its finance division. It has a plan that would help individual farmers build one or two wind turbines on their farms with which Deere helps with the financing. The units would be organized in a cooperative with neighboring farmers to provide megawatt production and negotiate transmission and sale of output. Deere promoted the idea as a means for individual farmers to get in on the production of energy as well as food.

However, huge corporations are dominating the building and production of wind-produced electricity at this time. This trend is glossed over in the Pickens plan.

Anthrax and unsolved suspicious deaths

The FBI has given a thorough accounting of its investigation into the anthrax attacks of 2001. It has not explained how it wrongfully accused one scientist and hounded him, and finally had to pay him $4 million for the damages it did to him. Once the agency thought it found the real perpetrator, Dr. Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide when the FBI was closing in on him the agency provided a comprehensive account which covered the essentials of the crime--means, motive, opportunity.

The FBI has briefed victims and family members of victims of the anthrax attack. It also released scientists from secrecy to give the press an account of the sicence created and applied to solve the case. The New York Times has the fascinating story.

Scientists involved have declined to comment or speculate on the charges the FBI was developing against Bruce Ivins, but people involved in briefings, such as Sen. Tom Daschle, have said the ece was coompelling, even though some questions remain unanswered.

The FBI's forthrightness stands in contrast to the way such incidents and investigations are handled in South Dakota. That's why the death of Prof. Morgan Lewis on the campus of Northern State University on Nov. 1, 2004, remaiins a puzzle. The Police Department declared the death a suicide and claimed to have reached its conclusion with the help of experts. It neither identified or explained the information given by those experts, and it has never given an accounting of its own investigation.

Once a case is closed, the records should be made available for public examination and review. On the anthrax case, the FBI has met the requirements of open government. In South Dakota, much of government operation is closed to the public. In the public mind, the Morgan Lewis cse remains unsolved. It has no notion of how or why the investigation was done.

The open government laws in South Dakota are farcical. And some proposed laws are even more absurd. To become an open democracy, the state needs to open up all records, except for investigative cases in progress, needs a sunshine law that makes all records available after a period of time, and needs a freedom of information law that guarantees access to public records and provides a process for getting them.

South Dakota has a long way to go to catch up with the free world on government responsibility and accountability.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Putz crossing: proceed with care

T. Boone Pickens will be in the state today to promote his plan for shifting from foreign oil dependence to American-produced and sustainable sources of energy.

He agrees for the most part with those who think further drilling for oil will merely commit us more deeply to petroleum and its attendant problems in the environment and bind us more tightly to countries that plot and work against our democratic interests. Pickens has a specific plan for making the transition to wind and solar generation of electricity. It calls for the establishment of natural gas as the fuel that drives our ground transportation. Of course, the billionaire has vast holdings of natural gas. But he also has some ideas, facts, and figures about how natural gas can free us from foreign petroleum.

The need to be wary of Pickens is because of the direction his support of conservative causes took during the 2004 election. He gave $3 million to the organization that conducted the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry. Then he offered $1 million to anyone who could provide evidence that any charge against Kerry was false. A group of veterans came up with a list of ten falsehoods for which they had documentation of the slanders. Pickens, however, said his offer applied only to what was contended in the television ads and did not follow through with the money.

When Barack Obama met with Pickens, he was asked about the Swift Boat connection. Obama said that Pickens track record was much longer than that incident. But that incident is a big puddle of murky mire in that track record--which includes corporate raiding--and brings up a rule of survival: never trust a putz.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Great soldiers and sucking bureaucrats

Politics and Hypocrisy remarks on the fact that the Obama campaign has discharged Gen. Wesley Clark and told him there would be no purpose in him coming to the Democratic Convention. This could cost Obama the support of some veterans who think the war on Iraq is an atrocity that needlessly took 4,100 American lives and physically and mentally maimed tens of thousands of military personnel.
As NATO commander and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Gen. Clark worked out the diplomatic process and military strategies in dealing with Bosnia and Kosovo. In implementing the diplomatic "offensive," Gen. Clark was tireless and relentless. His appeal to military personnel is that he doesn't regard soldiers as disposable. He does not order soldiers into battle when there are other means of to deal with a crisis. Despite the words of commiseration by the Bush administration and John McCain, the fact is that war on Iraq is a war of vanity that has served no purpose in creating peace and bettering lives. It has done quite the opposite, and it needlessly sacrificed American lives in the process.

Gen. Clark has been dismissed from the Obama campaign for commenting in regard to John McCain that flying an aircraft and being a prisoner of war is not a qualification for the position of chief executive of the free world. As Fred Kaplan of Slate says, Clark's remarks have merit, but he has shown a politically tin ear. As NATO commander, Clark also irritated the hell out of Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Exceptionally intelligent and capable people test the tolerance of bureaucrats.

Gen. Clark commanded an infantry unit in Vietnam and was shot four times by a Viet Cong soldier during a fire fight. Clark commanded his unit to respond and it won the skirmish. He was awarded he Purple Heart and the Silver Star. Soldiers like to know that the person who orders them into battle and commands them knows and understands what it is to have your ass shot off. The War on Iraq is in the genre of Custer at the Little Big Horn. Custer ignored the intelligence brought to him and in his vainglorious frenzy violated his orders and all the rules of battle. He sacrificed an entire company to stupidity and incompetence--but George W. Bush has set a new record in that regard.

Gen. Clark lost no American lives in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Gen. Clark may make some injudicious remarks, but his record of performance is unparalleled in contemporary military history. He commits troops to battle only when diplomatic negotiations have been exhausted.

The Obama campaign needs to keep Gen. Clark on board, because America needs the kind of international and military thinking and experience possessed by him and people of his caliber. He is needed to extract us from the atrocity of Iraq.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

South Dakota Senate election is a referendum on Americans with disabilities

The Aberdeen American News again has a Sunday editorial suggesting that Sen. Tim Johnson's decision not to debate his opponent is a disrespect and distrust of the people of South Dakota. The newspaper, however, has demonstrated once again that it is a partisan hack-sheet, not because it has an editorial stance against Tim Johnson, but in its "news coverage."

On Thursday, Sen. Johnson visited Aberdeen. He held a meeting with the Brown County State's Attorney and others on issues of crimes against children and he toured the Brown County Fair. The American News did send a reporter to the meeting, but the account did not indicate where the meeting was held or under what circumstances, although it said Johnson walked into the meeting without assistance using a cane. The American News had no coverage of Sen. Johnson's visit to the Fair, which he toured on an ATV and stopped on the main midway to meet and greet people.

Still, when John Thune, who is not running for re-election, appeared 50 miles away in Webster, the AAN editors assigned both a reporter and photographer. This is just one in a multitude of examples of how the paper's partisanship determines it news editorial decisions.

I was in McLaughlin on business Thursday, so I did not see Sen. Johnson at the Fair. I did see him at the opening of the new Entrepreneurial Center in McLaughln, which is a cooperative venture of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Sitting Bull Community College.

Sen. Johnson has been forthright in stating that his progress in recovering his speaking abilities is not what he had hoped it to be by this time. Sometimes when answering questions, he is quick and fluent. At others, he finds it necessary to pause while groping for words. His pronunciation also is a factor. At times his physical speaking apparatus is not responsive and his diction is not clear and precise. Sen. Johnson knows and understands this and continues to work on improvement. He knows that he would be at a disadvantage.

And he knows from previous campaigns the kind of tactics that the Republicans will use to try to exploit his speaking disability. His campaign against John Thune six years ago became mired down in Thune-initiated muck. Thune then used the debate format to blind-side Tom Daschle with some false and irrelevant charges. Even when one is in full possession of verbal fluency, it is near-impossible, as the rhetorical rule states, to defend oneself against a lie. The only antidote to a lie is to expose the falsity of the facts , and the debate format does not provide for requiring that any charges or accusations being made be supported with clear and verifiable evidence.

Much of the press has, in its dog pack fashion, taken up the howling about the decision not to debate. None of them address the matter of what would and could happen if such a verbal confrontation were to take place.

I think of a couple of newspaper editors I knew. I once worked for the Davenport Morning Democrat. It shared the same building as the afternoon paper, the Davenport Times. While I was later working for The Moline Dispatch, the two papers merged into the Davenport Times-Democrat, but still published morning and afternoon editions. The managing editor of the Morning Democrat had a speech impediment. He had trouble with his l's and his r's. The word "library," for example, came out something like "wibwawy." The managing editor of the Times was a stutterer. When the two papers merged, the two editors had occasion to communicate frequently, and some staff members developed a funny but viciously cruel routine portraying the two men having a heated discussion. It was akin to Larry the Cable Guy's rendition of a song written by his deaf-mute brother.

And so the question is just what would be covered if Sen. Johnson were to debate Joel Dykstra--the substance or the speaking difficulties?

Sen. Johnson is fully aware that his speech has not fully recovered from the after-effects of his brain hemorrhage. Like all productive people who find themselves confronted with disabilities, Sen. Johnson is working around them in order to maintain his productivity. But some members of the press and the goon squad on the blogs is saying he has had his time and should step down. These factions are obsessed with the idea that his speaking ability signals an inability to function as a senator and to campaign.

The matter of the Senator declining to debate has turned the election into a referendum on whether the voters will shut out a person with a disability or will make accommodations so that the person can continue productive work.

The Aberdeen American News and other news organizations seem unable to confront their own intellectual and professional disabilities. Some are saying that the candidate is just a puppet for his campaign manager Steve Jarding. They seem to think that Steve Jarding is to Tim Johnson what Dick Wadham was to that poor wretch, John Thune. With organizations such as the Aberdeen American News, they whine and whine about no debates, but studiedly do not cover events where the Senator makes appearances and talks to constituents.

This election may well turn out to be referendum on whether the voters can accommodate some disabilities and looks past some superficial distractions to deal with the substance of the issues.

And it will also be a referendum on whether the press can surmount its Bush-league tabloidism and exercise some integrity of the journalistic enterprise.

For the Aberdeen American News, the conclusion is forgone.

[The photographs above are by Jason in Aberdeen and Tyler in McLaughlin of Badlands Blue.]

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hospitality in South Dakota and the roots of bitter politics

Saturday , Aug. 3, was a busy day for the Tim Johnson campaign in eastern South Dakota. Kirk, the director of the Aberdeen campaign office, and volunteer Tim had an arduous schedule of campaign events they attended wearing their Johnson '08 T-shirts. Kirk is from California and has worked across the country as a staff member for the Hilary Clinton campaign.

As they drove back toward Aberdeen late in the afternoon, they stopped in Clark to get some bottles of water. Kirk went into the gasoline station-convenience store first. As he approached the checkout with his water, the man behind the counter noticed the T-shirt said, "A Tim Johnson fan, huh?" He took the money for the water and said, pointing to the door, "No politics here. There's the door."

When Tim, who recently moved to the Aberdeen area, came in to get water, the man repeated the same invitation to get out.

The man behind the counter was Republican State Senator Brock Greenfield.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sen. Johnson at the Brown County Fair

Sen. Johnson and the Brown County Democrats both have booths at the Brown County Fair. Yesterday some fairgoers stopped by the booths to check out some information they had received at the Republican booth. They had been told that Sen. Johnson can't walk, and can't talk, and the current television commercials on which he speaks were made two years ago before his AVM.

Sen. Johnson will be at the fair at 2 p.m. today. He can walk with a cane, but will be touring the fair on a Mule ATV. He will stop at the fair booths, but will also make a stop on the central midway just north of the Kessler show tent.

Come out and talk to the Senator.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Need a break from the blogger drool?

Tired of pundit piss? Blogger drool? Try looking at some actual facts.

Here are three places to go to see if what you have seen or heard from national campaigns is true:

FACT CHECK: The Annenberg Political Fact Check is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

PolitiFact is a project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly.

FACT CHECKER: Fact Checker is a project of The Washington Post.

Sorry there are no such resources for the state campaigns. However, most of the state media, except for one local paper in the northern part of the state, try to be accurate.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The scourge of scurrility: bickering is not debate

The "debate" over Sen. Tim Johnson's decision not to participate in oral debates in itself demonstrates why such confrontations have no substantive purpose. It has to do with the South Dakota audience.

A debate is supposed to be a formal argument or discussion. "Formal" means that the discourse follows certain rules through which facts are established and viewpoints are validated and advanced. A debate is a form of rhetorical engagement. However, oral confrontations are not the only form of debate that serves the purpose of analyzing and clarifying issues. Madville Times has proposed one form of public discussion which could permit candidates to define and defend their stances. In this so-called communication age, there are innumerable arrangements that could be made, which would not make Sen. Johnson's halting speech the issue.

What passes for debate in political campaigns has little to do with a systematic and disciplined examination of issues. The televised confrontations between or among political opponents are really group interviews. In the better ones, the participants indicate their knowledge and define their positions on issues. But most televised confrontations quickly descend into pissing duels.

Real debates make lousy television. Pissing duels raised to the level of a spectacle are what attracts an audience. That's why the media spend vastly more time and energy covering the pissing in our political campaigns than they do the issues. People at their meanest and most degraded are of far more interest to the general public than people at their loftiest. Jerry Springer is "good television." Charlie Rose is not. A good portion of the population enjoys seeing other people degrade themselves. The degradation provides them with what they regard as human life forms lower than themselves, and it gives them a sense of elevated status. It sells.

People of some intelligence and good purpose do not willingly allow themselves to become participants in rituals of degradation. Increasingly, people I know avoid political blogs and personal pages. On occasion, they do visit blogs and web pages that deal with recreational, cultural, and educational interests. Of late, however, I had people express disapproval of political blogging. While they acknowledge that a few political blogs try to present reliable information and informed opinions, many people of some education and discernment regard the blogosphere as the special hangout of those devoted to meanness and scurrility.

The Tim Johnson story has become favored fodder among the Republican-allied bloggers. Just as the schoolyard bullies attack the lame because they can't fight back, some bloggers have taken up the cry that the Senator's cumbersome speech disqualifies him from the Senate. They assume he cannot or will not respond. He has already responded.

Some bloggers have adopted the Orwellian technique of using their medium in an attempt to condition their audience into accepting as fact that Sen. Johnson's speech indicates that he is not competent to do the job of senator. One blog has taken up the blogging cudgel against Sen. Johnson and has not missed a pretext to hammer the message that the Senator is incapable of serving. Another blog which is more strident in its espousal of petit-fascist attacks asserts that the Senator should have withdrawn from the race long ago and to be responsible should do so now. Democrat blogs have joined in the chorus that declining to engage in confrontational oral debates is sort of an admission of not being able to do the job.

They all miss the fact that Sen. Johnson resumed his committee work while in rehabilitation . Committee members do not need to be on the Senate premises to cast their votes. Since his return to the Senate a year ago, Sen. Johnson has sponsored or co-sponsored more than 100 pieces of legislation, has not missed a vote, and has fully participated in the work of his assigned committees:

Senate Committee on Appropriations - 11
Subcommittee on Agriculture Rural Development Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies - 6
Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development - 5
Subcommittee on State Foreign Operations and Related Programs - 6
Subcommittee on Interior Environment and Related Agencies - 7
Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies - Chair
Subcommittee on Transportation Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies - 10
Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs - 2
Subcommittee on Financial Institutions - 2
Subcommittee on Security and International Trade and Finance - 3
Subcommittee on Securities Insurance and Investment - 3
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources - 5
Subcommittee on Energy - 4
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests - 3
Subcommittee on Water and Power - Chair
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs - 5

He chose not to accept his appointment on the Senate Ethics Committee so that his energies could be concentrated on the above committees, which have have special relevance to the needs of South Dakota.

In explaining why he chooses not to engage in direct debates, Sen. Johnson has said that his speech has not recovered to the point he had hoped it would by this time. He sometimes pauses while he searches for precise words and his pronunciation has to be studied because he has not regained full muscular control of his articulation. He has shown no difficulty in answering questions when he meets with groups of constituents. But he realizes that his speech can be a distraction from a real examination of the issues--and lead some people to superficial and false characterizations of his abilities. And, of course, it would give the bottom feeders a chance to create a spectacle.

The South Dakota blogosphere may have had an influence on the decision not to engage in direct debates. As the character assassins hammered away at the speech and debate situation, the drooling goons who like to comment anonymously spewed layers of slime over their keyboards. If the Senator engaged in direct debate and encountered some infelicitous moments, one could expect the blogosphere to go off in orgasms of malignant glee. Of course, that is really good for democracy.

People who deal with aphasia--the effects of brain injuries on speech--have been cautious about Sen. Johnson's plans to engage in direct debates. Recovery of speech requires long and arduous work, and the speed of recovery is not predictable. The more the various media commented on the Senator's slowness of speech, the more it became apparent that the media was fixing on matters of fluency and diction, not on the work being done by the Senator. What would be gained by provoking personal attacks from some media "reporters" and some bloggers and providing occasion for the campaign to descend into the muck of personal attacks and scurrilous accusations and representations? However much some people want such a spectacle of degradation in the name of "democracy," intelligence requires that a political candidate not participate in such occasions.

A major consideration is the growing intolerance of personal attacks in campaigning. Hillary Clinton's undoing in her quest for nomination as a candidate for president was her lapse into Republicam-style campaigning. As the number of political leaders who endorsed Obama mounted, nearly all cited the direction that the Clinton campaign took as the major factor in their decisions. Instead of reporting on this factor, the media looked for stories of betrayal and double dealing. Consequently, people have not been provided with an assessment of how many voters are offended and object strongly to perosnal attack as a campaign strategy. And so, they are not given a clear reason as to the powerful attraction of Barack Obama. Any savvy campaign recognizes that any kind of campaign engagement which incites the malicious will lose the interest of a very significant number of voters and lose votes. The South Dakota blogosphere has sent very clear and strong signals as to what is in store for Sen. Johnson should he choose to debate.

The argument is that the drooling goons comprise a minority of the blogosphere. The malevolence factor has a right to give voice to its malignancy. But other people have an equal right to reject and avoid it. The critical matter in personal attacks, malice, and scurrility is how badly they contaminate the discussion. About four years ago when it was known that a political figure was looking for a place to house his papers and to set up a think tank and public service center focusing on the northern plains, some people in Aberdeen put together a very attractive proposal. However, when consultants reviewed the proposal, they rejected it out-of-hand largely because of the degree of malicious commentary on the discussion board sponsored by the local newspaper. Their explanation was: we put limits on the contaminants allowed in our air and our water because of their damaging effects on humans, and there are parallel damages with how verbal contaminants work in a community.

Sen. Johnson acknowledged that while he has regained his speaking ability to a considerable extent, it will be made a distraction by some members of the press and the blogosphere. There are better and more constructive ways to engage and inform the voters--ways that will avoid exposing voters to the withering malignancies demonstrated by some bloggers and commentators.

Democracy depends on sound information and clearly stated viewpoints. It does not depend on one form debate, a form that lends itself to degraded and degrading spectacles that is the current obsession of cable news and the only mode in which some bloggers operate. There is a huge distinction between an honest examination and criticism of a viewpoint and the spewing out of misrepresentations, slanders, insults, and other expressions of personal malice. The latter have become a tradition among some political operatives and have seriously damaged our democracy.

Perhaps if the trend of rejecting malicious campaigning continues, the blogosphere might even contribute to honest and constructive discussion.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hey, boy! Who do you think you are?

The McCain campaign is whining at hurricane force about "race cards," It is plumbing the depths of racial implication in going after Barack Obama. Under the guise of humor which has all the wit of playground taunts, McCain campaign ads have put on display the mentality that has so degraded politics. The television ad that compares Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears shows a political party so challenged intellectually and morally it regards juvenile depravity as wit.

It has been clear since the primary that the McCain campaign is going to be devoted to ad hominem attacks on Barack Obama. The Republicans call the process "defining" him. As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert points out, they have chosen to define him as "boy." He hasn't the experience, they say, to be president. That damned boy doesn't know his place. Abraham Lincoln did not have any more experience than Obama, and he was elected largely on the effectiveness of his words and his rhetoric. And, says McCain, that Obama boy sure can be glib. Watch out for him.

The so-called conservatives grow indignant when it is suggested that race is a part of their pogrom of character assassination. Their indignation rings hollow when all they do is "define" or assassinate the character. Their intention is clear. Character assassination is their motive and their motif. It's all they have--besides a history of preferring corporate fascism to democracy, war mongering, and incompetence. But they can't turn the country over to that boy.

In South Dakota, this kind of campaigning is familiar. John Thune used it in "defining" Tom Daschle, and it worked. He provided those with festering hate in their psyches with images that raised their provincial ire and against which they could vent their invective. And Thune found college professors who sacrificed their profession to their simmering malevolence and intellectual dishonesty. They got that boy Daschle, alright.

As soon as Barack Obama looked like a viable presidential candidate, the town tavern wits began their campaign on the blogs. Obama is is muslim. And that black bitch he has for a wife. And in the Republican commercials, he hangs out with white women. All the appeals to racist notions are there. Some of the blogs tried to disguise their "defining" through tendentious posturing, but the motive of character assassination has been clearly apparent.

The same tactic is being used on Tim Johnson. The petit-fascists line up like the playground goons taunting the class stutterer. He is slow in speech, so how can he be a senator. Who does that boy think he is?

The real issue in this campaign is whether the values of people of such ill will and malign intentions should rule the country. While we fervently hope Obama wins, it would be politically stupid not to frame options in case he doesn't. In their ad hominem frenzy, the Republicans have defined themselves. They have brought politics down to a depraved and perverted level. Their political mode has become a culture. And those who despise such cultures need to plan their lives on something more than politics.

Better watch yourself, boy.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Morgan Lewis case is still disputed

The Associated Press has run a story on unsolved and disputed murder cases in South Dakota. The Morgan Lewis case referred in the previous post is listed as a case under dispute.

The dispute centers on conflicting evidence and unidentified forensic "experts" whose opinions have never been made public.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States