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, December 26, 2013

WTF journalism and the gifts of the magi

W=Who, What, When, Where, and  Why.  

Have you met Miss Feasance?   If you live in South Dakota, your acquaintance with her is inevitable.  In Aberdeen, she is treated as royalty.  Sometimes a deity. 

One can't be sure whether her personality is defined by clandestine skulduggery or plain, old down-to-earth incompetence.  However, the city and county held a vigil in her honor a week ago without the press there to serve as altar attendant.  But it was there in spirit.  

Two men from White Oak Global, the San Francisco firm that lent Northern Beef Packers $35 million and then was the high bidder for the beef plant a at NBP's bankruptcy auction. at $44 million came to Aberdeen a week ago.  Their advent was dutifully announced a couple days in advance by the local scribe service, with the point being that they would meet with the county commission but there would not be a quorum because only two commissioners would, for some reason, attend the meeting.  It turns out the mayor was also there.  It seems that no reporters were at the actual meeting, so there was no account of who brought the gold, or the frankincense, or the myrrh.  We know that some gulls from China and Korea flew in some gold over the years, but what was really needed was the frankincense and myrrh because they are supposed to make things smell nice, and even though that NBP rendering plant at the side of town never got into real operation, it left a bit of a stench hanging over the community.  And the state.

The puzzler of the coming of the magi from the west is that only two showed up, and the accounts did not specify whether it was Larry, or Curly, or Moe who was there.  But then, when it comes to supplying stooges, the state and the local community are very resourceful.  There is quite a stag line waiting to dance with Miss Feasance.   

The three magi:  two of them came and no one knows their names. 

Apparently, the lack of a quorum made the meeting an unofficial gathering.  Accounts of it were relayed to the scribe by commission members who were there.  So, the usual requirements for a news story,  such as specifying the identity of the magi involved, were not observed.  Identifying information was relayed from county board chairman Duane Sutton:  "One of the White Oak officials, a South Dakota native, specializes in operating plants, Sutton said. The other, he said, is a Minnesota native."

If legitimate officials come to a town representing a legitimate company to do legitimate business, why are their identifies kept secret?:  And in most real newspapers, such a meeting conducted under such anonymous circumstances would, given the import of the Northern Beef Packers fiasco,  be the main point of the story.

But the story went on to detail some of the non-news produced by the visit of the magi:  "In general, the company wanted to introduce itself, Sutton said."  That was quite an introduction.  No names.  No titles.  No information.

The mayor was quoted as saying, "the White Oak officials were careful not to commit to any specific plans or time lines."  The story said the men came to town to do their home work.  They lent NBP $35 million, bid $44-some million on the plant at the bankruptcy auction,  and now they come to town to get informed about the company and the plant?

And so the show goes on.
Who wants the next dance with Miss. Feasance?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The South Dakota solution: legalize graft and, therefore, eliminate corruption in government

          Madville Times has noted that the Attorney General's pronouncement of  Richard Benda's death as a suicide has been met with loud skepticism, disbelief, and denial.   Cory Heidelberger challenged the disbelievers to call their legislators and demand a special session to examine all the documents relative to Northern Beef Packers and the  handling of the EB-5 program which financed the company.  He has reported carefully on Rep. Kathy Tyler (D-Big Stone City) calling for a special session of the legislature to examine the whole NBP mess. 
Asking the GOP-dominated  legislature  in South Dakota to investigate corrupt practices is like opening the hen house door and yelling, "Here Foxy Loxy, come and get it!" One-party rule has long abandoned any semblance of democratic integrity or the notion of serving the people.  Corruption and dismissive tyranny are what a majority of South Dakota seems to think serves them.  The legislature is an expression of the values and  character of those who put it in office.  At some point the people must realize that they are accountable for the those they have chosen to represent them.  Perhaps we have reached that point, but denial and deliberate ignorance is a way of life for many South Dakotans. 
The bankruptcy of Northern Beef Packers, the death of Richard Benda, and the handling of the EB-5 program are all incidents in a larger pattern of privilege, secrecy, and corruption in the state.  The Attorney General has tried to dismiss any further investigation with his report on Benda's death by terming it a suicide and linking it to  apparent double-dipping in expense reimbursements and to the diversion of state grant money specified for Northern Beef Packers construction to cover some EB-5 loan acquisition expenses.  He seems to hope that Benda's death will also terminate any interest in Benda's activities and relationships.  Many aspects of Benda's death were not accounted for in the Attorney General's report.  Many questions were left unanswered.  A few reporters have awakened to the fact that the casual and timid reporting on state government has let a culture of decadent greed and repression develop and flourish and become the dominant influence in the state.  That culture has written the laws governing access to public records.  Every law dealing with access to public records and the right to know is laced with loopholes that permit even the dullest of bureaucrats and politicians to find ways to deny the public any knowledge of what officials are doing. 
The case involving the death of Richard Benda is similar in the unanswered questions to the death of Morgan Lewis at Northern State University the Monday morning before the general election of 2004.  He was found dead by a door to his office building.  There was no suicide note, no indication that he was in a depressed mental state, and no known circumstances that might put him in such a state.  Initially, the coroner termed the death a homicide.
It occurred in a time of turmoil within the Aberdeen Police Department.  A chief had been dismissed.  Two detectives were fired.  And the policeman who was assigned to the NSU campus and was working at the time of the death ran into a conflict about the way he handled the situation and suddenly resigned.
After months of speculation and gossip, the chief of police declared the death a suicide.  The coroner's report was revised to indicate that conclusion.  Outside experts were allegedly consulted, but their reports were never made public.  Although the chief alluded to the evidence in a few published interviews, there was never a coherent explanation made that accounted for all the evidence and circumstances involved in the death.  During the turmoil with department personnel, the public was denied any explanation on the basis that
it was a private personnel matter and, therefore, excluded from public examination.  The record of the investigation of Morgan Lewis' death was treated in the same manner under the claim that issues of privacy were involved.  The result was that no examination of the records of the investigation were made public, leaving skepticism and suspicion about the integrity of the investigation and the validity of the conclusion. 
Nine years after the death of Morgan Lewis, there is still doubt and skepticism about Lewis' death.  Many specific facts involved in the case have never been made public, and the people have been told that the officials they pay  to carry out their business have decided that confidentiality of personnel matters and rights to privacy overrule the public's right to know what their public servants are doing. 
 In South Dakota, the politician who runs for office to do what is best for all the people of the state is rare.  Most politicians in South Dakota are in office to impose a bigoted ideology on the state.  From their bigoted, ignorant, and self-absorbed perspectives,  they promulgate policies which keep wages hovering around the poverty level, enforce racist discriminations, and send young people with an inclination toward decency high-tailing it for other places and other cultures.  The spirit that dominates and rules over South Dakota is viciously discriminatory and openly repressive against people and ideas that tend toward liberal tolerance.  For a time, while the state has consistently elected people who are characterized by the dominant party line, it elected more progressive representatives to federal offices.  Although, the dominant attitude in the state is against big government,  the people elected Democrats to get more than their share of the federal dole for them.  And some people voted Democratic because they really wanted a few people in government that provided support and progress for them.  However, a demographic shift from attrition, the flight of the young and talented to other places, and their displacement by people who moved into South Dakota longing for Jim Crow and an Old Testament theology fixed on hatred and vengeance, have changed the electoral balance.  Equality, justice, and concern for the poor are deliberately omitted from the planks of those who claim to be conservatives.   
The dominant political attitude shapes the state of freedom of information in South Dakota.  The state ranks 47th among the 50 states on the Better Government Association Integrity Index.  People in the state are denied the right to monitor the performance of their public officials and to require accountability for how their offices are conducted.  The bankruptcy of Northern Beef Packers,  the EB-5 program, the alleged suicide of Richard Benda have produced a definitive demonstration of the sneaking and repressive mode of doing business of state government.  But the laws governing access to information and the duties of officials give the sneaking and oppression legal cover. 
From the time that the Northern Beef Packers plant was proposed through its bankruptcy,  it  has been frustrating to know and evaluate the proceedings.  South Dakota corporation law allows a blanket of secrecy to cover all corporate business, keeping secret just who comprises the business.    But South Dakota law maintains that blanket of secrecy when government gets involved, too. Any business can get a full, detailed credit report on any individual.  But no one can get any information about the legitimacy and financial integrity of any business operation. 
Northern Beef Packers was a business scheme about which there was much justified skepticism.  It grew out of a recognition that a beef packing plant in this region was a desirable and feasible idea.  It earned serious consideration from producers who made an earnest study of the possibility of a producer-owned cooperative.   A hard fact is that very few cooperative ventures by agricultural producers succeed, as demonstrated by the attempts of wheat producers to make pasta in North Dakota.  Agricultural co-ops seem doomed to failure because farmers are not very co-operative when it comes to running businesses.  So, the farmer-owned beef packing plant was abandoned,  but the potential for a regional beef packer to succeed was recognized.
Attempts to launch a beef-packing plant with state help failed, first in Huron, and then in Flandreau.  Some promoters with devious schemes and other promoters who posed as entrepreneurs but had not the vaguest idea of how to start and run a packing plant put a murky taint on the whole idea.  When plans were abandoned for Flandreau, the economic development organization there and the Farmers Union were out  money they had invested in development plans.  The same people behind the scheme in Huron and Flandreau suggested the plant for Aberdeen, but were not involved in its development.  
From the  outset, supporters of  the NBP idea recognized that the plant would have to compete with the big four in beef packing who control 80 percent of the market.  However, they also recognized that a regional plant would have shipping and distribution advantages for both cattle-raisers and consumers.  As the idea for the plant progressed,  some of its supporters also recognized that there is a growing market for cattle not fed growth hormones and anti-biotics, for grass-fed premium beef, and for beef that could be tracked from birth to customer.   South Dakota Certified Beef was part of a plan to market specialty, premium beef that the big four packers are not equipped to produce.  This business model had two essential components:
  1. It required the development of a customer base.  This could most quickly and efficiently be done by becoming part of a distribution program that features and promotes premium beef, such as the ones branded Angus and Amish.
  2. The model also was dependent upon success for delivering exactly the quality of beef promised at the precise time it is promised. 
Industrial cattle feeding  hormones, anti-biotics, manure
This business model must have production facilities geared to serving this specialty market, something that the big four producers are too large and inflexible to economically do.  The NBP  plan would provide ranchers and farmers with a competitive market that disappeared with the closing of the stockyards.  When cattle were shipped to the stockyards,  buyers from competing companies would bid on the animals.  Most beef today is raised by contract in feedlots that finish the cattle with growth hormones that speed up the rate at which the cattle put on weight and anti-biotics to combat the diseases that thrive in the crowded, manure-laden, industrialized environment.  Most beef is sold directly to one of the big four packers--Tyson, Cargill, JBS, National Beef--who are more interested in keeping their industrial processes running cheaply and smoothly than in providing customers what they want. 

Early in its development, Northern Beef Packers had signed on with a marketing-distribution organization based upon the Angus brand. However, the marketing organization dropped NBP when delays and financial problems created uncertainties about the plant.  Beef producers supported the plant and hoped that the problems could be solved, but also understood that the controlling priority was a market for the beef it processed. 

A significant factor that is largely glossed over is that NBP could not attract domestic investors.  It found little market for its TIF bonds, and other investors were warned away by the constant uncertainties in NBP's financing and development plans.  Consequently,  NBP became dependent on the EB-5 investments for its formation and operation, and seemed to gear itself more to exporting its beef to the countries where those investments originated--Korea and China--than in the domestic market it once had envisioned.  By the time NBP actually began to process cattle, its programs for tracking its cattle, supplying specialty markets, and producing certified beef were no longer mentioned on its website or in its promotional materials. 

And here is where the corporate and governmental secrecy and the timidity of the press in covering the development of the NBP became complicit in the disaster which led to the apparent suicide, the loss of  tens of millions by foreign investors, the major screw-over of workers, and exposure of a government mired in a financial-finagle carried out with astounding incompetence.  The public knew that NBP was on very shaky, if not sinkhole ground, in its finances through the multi-million dollars worth of mechanic's liens filed against it, as reported in the press.  What was not reported was that the state economic development office had evidence that the company was floundering.  Both the local and state development agencies knew there were problems but chose to continue to promote the venture as an economic opportunity, not a financial and managerial disaster.  Bob Mercer brought this to light when he reviewed the minutes of the State Board of Economic Development and the State Economic Development Finance Authority prior to the blocking of an EB-5 loan.  The State Board of Economic Development committed itself to loan NBP $5 million and the Economic Development Finance Authority $20 million,  both contingent upon NBP meeting certain specifications before the loans were actually made.  I don't think they were ever made, but it would have been nice if local government agencies,  potential investors,  cattle producers, potential employees, and the community in general would have known about the loan commitments and the reservations the boards had about the venture. Here is an outline of the boards' proceedings obtained by Bob Mercer:   
  • State Board of Economic Development
  • Jan. 2010,  commits to $ 5 million loan with stipulated conditions to be met.
  • Jan. 27, 2011, conditions not met; loan commitment extended 3 months.
  • April 12, 2011, conditions not met; commitment extended 1 month.
  • June 27, 2011, conditions not met,   commitment extended 6 months.
  • June 12, 2012, an unexplained request from NBP is denied.
  • Sept. 12, 2012,  commitment to loan is extended to March 1, 20013

  • Economic Development Finance Authority
  • Feb. 2010,  commits to $20 million loan with conditions to NBP.
  • July 2011, notes at meeting that conditions have no been met.
  • Oct. 6, 2011. extends commitment 6 months.
  • July 19, 2012, approves extension with conditions.
  • Oct. 10. 2012, extends commitment to March 1, 2013.
  • Feb. 21, 2013, extends commitment to March 1, 2014.

       July 19, 2013, NBP files for bankruptcy.

Anyone who has dealt with government records, or corporate records of transactions  will be struck by the fact that the minutes cited above do not record any essential facts or provide any specific information about the actions taken.   The examination of the minutes by Bob Mercer reveals that no substantive records have been kept.  While most other states with freedom of information laws would be required to produce full records explaining what the loans were for, what conditions were placed upon them, and why the conditions were not met and the deadlines were extended,  that information is not available under the rules by which South Dakota operates. 

The matter of Northern Beef Packers, the EB-5 loans, and the death of Richard Benda reveal that the state is set up to conduct business in an under-handed, secretive way so that the citizens cannot learn what the state is doing and how it is doing it.  This is a custom that goes back to the Bill Janklow days when bank transactions and accounts were kept secret from the elected state treasurer.   

Mercer was further denied access to the records surrounding Richard Benda's death when the attorney general decided that such records would not be released if a member of Benda's family objected to the release.  Richard Benda was a former state official whose actions as that state official have been called into question by his death.  Every detail of his life that affects his record of performance as a state official is public business.  But under the ;protection of state law, the attorney general seems to be hiding corruption and connivery with a specious and viciously cynical act of legal skullduggery.

The late comedian Roger Price was a network commentator during political conventions many years ago.  In announcing a fake run for president, he said his platform was to legalize graft and, therefore, eliminate corruption in government.  With South Dakota's laws on access to government records and public information,  the state seems to have applied what was satire.   Once again, the people of the state are being played for dupes. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

South Dakota is number one again.

In paying teachers the lowest in the nation.   And folks keep puzzling about why the young and talented don't want to live here.  The map and list is from the Washington Post.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Thank God, it's over: that travesty we call Thanksgiving

Hell, yes, the survivors were thankful.  Of the 102 English people who embarked on the Mayflower for America, only 53 were alive for what has been termed the first thanksgiving.  That number included only four women.  The reason for a harvest festival in 1621 was because they had a very successful growing year under the tutelage of the Indian Squanto. The many deaths during that first winter were from disease, scurvy being a leading cause.  The people were forced to live on the Mayflower because they had arrived in the winter and did not have time to build shelters and find a source of more nutritious food.   Scurvy was a common illness among sailors and other people who lived on ship for months at a time and  did not have access to fruits and vegetables.  They lived largely on dried and salted meat and suffered from the lack of vitamin C, which is what scurvy is. 

Rations were tight.  The pilgrims plundered an Indian village of its stored corn and other food supplies.  The place they settled for their village was an abandoned Indian village where the people had died off from the plague brought over from Europe.  The first colonists did not see much of the Indians that winter.  Because of their past experience with Europeans--they killed Indians and sold captives as slaves--the Indians stayed away from them.  In March, an Indian named Samoset showed up and welcomed them in English.  He, in turn, introduced them to Squanto, who had been taken captive, sent to Europe as a slave, where he learned English, and found his way back to America. Squanto taught the pilgrims  the Indian techniques for growing corn, but as importantly he taught them which berries were edible as a source for vitamin C  and where to find them.

When the people at Plymouth Plantation harvested their first crop which included 20 acres of corn, they found, according to their accounts, that they had enough to provide each person with a peck a week to last until the next harvest.  With their prospects so improved, the governor ordered a harvest celebration.  This included a  feast and the discharge of firearms in salute.  Historians surmise that the sound of gun fire caused some alarm among the neighboring Wampanoag people, which dispatched 90 men to see what was going on.  When they found it to be a celebration,  they joined in.   William Bradford's account tells of preparing for the feast by sending out a hunting party to obtain some fowl, fish, and other food stuffs.  He does mention turkeys specifically, but not as the main item on their three-day menu.  The Wampanoags sent out a hunting party, also, which came back with five deer, which they presented to the leaders. 

Herein lies a source of misunderstanding that defines our Thanksgiving holiday.  The Plymouth pilgrims were there on behalf of a company.  Their purpose was to make a profit for the investors of that company.  While they also hoped to find religious freedom and prospects for decent lives, their controlling purpose was to generate profits.  Their idea of engaging in trade was defined by those profits.  Just as their predecessors had taken Indians as captives and sold them as slaves at twenty dollars a head, the pilgrims saw their economic duty as exploiting and plundering, if necessary, their new land.  To them, trade was taking advantage.  In Lakota, the term wasichu, refers to this concept.  It means the greedy or avaricious ones. 

The Indians, on the other hand, were an exchange culture.  When they traded gifts and ideas, their motive was to produce mutual benefit.  Their concept is expressed in providing the pilgrims with five deer after sharing their harvest feast.  They also shared means of survival by having Squanto teach the pilgrims how to plant and harvest the natural bounty from the American landscape.  Trade to them was to exchange goods and ideas for mutual benefit.  It was the operative concept throughout the nations that peopled North American before the Europeans moved in. 

During that first harvest celebration, two different and opposing concepts of human organization were present.  The pilgrims represented a culture that was based on avarice and a corporate mode of social organization for which avarice was the operating principle.  The Indians represented a culture based upon sharing and mutual benefit.  In their value system, the concept was not to gain wealth, but to create sustaining relationships.  When native nations found themselves in competition with each other,  they tried to establish agreements or treaties to make an exchange relationship.  When, for some reason, that did not work, they went to war.  Domination and exploitation of other people was not their purpose.  Their purpose was to avoid exploitation and depletion of the land. 

When it comes to the concept of Thanksgiving, Indian people have consistently made the point throughout history that in their culture, every day is a thanksgiving.  Acknowledgment and appreciation for the benefits that nature provides forms the dominant aspect of their culture.  Consequently, they resist the exploitive and predatory aspects of the white culture.  The white culture considers them backward and indolent because they do not embrace avarice as a controlling motve around which to build enterprises and culture. 

Both native American and Euro-American cultures  have strong traditions of hospitality.  Warring tribes are recorded as giving food and shelter to even their enemies.  Turning down a request for hospitality brought shame and stigma on a nation.  The settling of the American frontier was made possibWhenle by the custom of hospitality.  As people ventured into the wilderness, they had to depend upon the hospitality of those who preceded them to provide food and shelter.  In popular culture, it was called the Cowboy Code:  you invited people in to your campsite to rest and refresh, and they were welcome as long as they asked no nosy, probing questions. 

When the Wampanoags  became convinced that the pilgrims had not come to kill them or take them captive and sell them as slaves, they offered hospitality to them.  They helped them plant the abandoned village that they renamed Plimouth Plantation, and they signed a treaty with them.  The first Thanksgiving was both an acknowledgment of the bounty the land produced and of the rule of hospitality through which the Indians accommodated the pilgrims. The pilgrims seemed to suspend their profit motives and participated in the exchange culture.  That seemed to be the prevailing way of observing Thanksgiving as it was made a national holiday and an acknowledgment of sharing. 

However, the corporate mentality has changed Thanksgiving to be something quite other.  The Friday after Thanksgiving for decades was a day when people had time off and were thinking of the Christmas and New Years holidays a month away.  It was a time to begin buying Christmas gifts.  As corporations realized it was a big shopping day, they seized upon the idea of Black Friday.  And now Black Friday has crept into Thanksgiving, grey Thursday, if you will.

The culture has changed largely through the corporate mentality which has seized control of the media and other influences on popular culture and conditioned the nation into a competitive frenzy to buy. 

The Black Friday ritual of degradation.
The U.S. has been brainwashed to the point that it is a contender to being one of the stupidest, meanest nations on the planet.  Black Friday has become a ritual of human degradation, of frenzied greed, as people have been gulled into behaving like dogs in a pack fighting over a bone.   

It struck our family.  When the Congresswoman my wife worked for lost an election, my wife, of course, lost a job.  While the search continues, she took a part-time job in a department store, which became fulltime.  On Thanksgiving, she went to work at 7 p.m. and got off at 4 a.m. Friday, on which she reported for work again at 1 p.m.   The corporate mentality has affected our household and the way we schedule family gatherings.

My wife recounted a woman customer who could not resist spreading some holiday good wishes.  After completing her purchase, the woman said she could not leave without spreading the word about how bad Obamacare is.  She brought this up out of the blue.  It is just one symptom of how the media has conditioned a segment of the population to recite political slogans, like Pavlov's dog salivating at the ding of a bell. 

Thanksgiving was once a day of sharing.  Christmas was once a time, whether people were Christian or not, for extolling peace on earth and good will toward all people.  New Years a point in the cycle of human affairs of assessing and making the new year better than the old. 

South Dakota is undergoing the revelation of corruption in its governments economic dealings. In the name of bolstering the economy for the people, we discovered some bad schemes and the exploitation and devastation that accompanies them.  It was hard to think of Thanksgiving without thinking of the man who died in a shelterbelt, ostensibly by his own hand, of the many people throughout the world and the country who were bilked out of millions of dollars, and of the hundreds of people who lost jobs.  The state shared a terrible sickness of the soul, not the fruits of productivity and the extension of hospitality.

And we anticipate what plans the corporate mentality has for Christmas this year and the New Year.   For many people, "merry" and "happy" will not be in their vocabulary.

Monday, November 18, 2013

If you show me your EB-5, I'll show you mine

How business gets done in South Dakota.
Bob Mercer has a lengthy article in Sunday's Aberdeen American News tracking the EB-5 investments and loans in South Dakota under the auspices of the Governor's Office of Economic Development and its one-time designated agency, the South Dakota Regional Center.  Mercer reports the information as  coming from a "brain-spinning set of records."  He carefully notes: "The version of the report that was obtained as a public record from GOED had much of the information removed because that information dealt with specific individual investors. Most of the dates also were removed."

A previous report in the Beacon deals with how the systemic corruption through which South Dakota state government operates is hidden under a blanket of secrecy, enforced by state laws and rules.  The rules that govern access to the records that Bob Mercer examined are a case in point.  You begin with the statement in the codified laws that give the people the right to see what the government they elect and pay for is doing:

Except as otherwise expressly provided by statute, all citizens of this state, and all other persons interested in the examination of the public records, as defined in § 1-27-1.1, are hereby fully empowered and authorized to examine such public record, and make memoranda and abstracts therefrom...(SDCL 1-27-1)

That first clause "Except as otherwise expressly provided by statute" signals that there are a lot of records that you, the people, just ain't going to get. 

The set of records that Bob Mercer accessed has its own basis for denial among that its expressly covered by statute:
Any documentary material or data made or received by the Board of Economic Development or Governor's Office of Economic Development for the purpose of furnishing assistance to a business, to the extent that such material or data consists of trade secrets or commercial or financial information regarding the operation of such business, may not be considered public records, and is exempt from disclosure... SDCL-16G-11.

Sorry, folks, but when the state and its cronies collude on some scheme,  you have no right to know what is going on.  The fact is that whether the state is involved in economic development, environmental and business regulation, justice, or much of anything else, you will find a statute that provides a way to keep you from getting that information.  In the case of the story Bob Mercer compiled, names and dates were withheld. 

The state legal code is riddled with exceptions that deny access to information.  This will not make exciting reading unless you tend to get pissed off over being bilked and played for a foot, but the first set of statutes that limit your right to know what the state government is doing occurs right after the one that purports to give you freedom to find out:

1-27-1.5. Certain records not open to inspection and copying. The following records are not subject to §§ 1-27-1, 1-27-1.1, and 1-27-1.3:

(1) Personal information in records regarding any student, prospective student, or former student of any educational institution if such records are maintained by and in the possession of a public entity, other than routine directory information specified and made public consistent with 20 U. S.C. 1232g, as such section existed on January 1, 2009;

(2) Medical records, including all records of drug or alcohol testing, treatment, or counseling, other than records of births and deaths. This law in no way abrogates or changes existing state and federal law pertaining to birth and death records;

(3) Trade secrets, the specific details of bona fide research, applied research, or scholarly or creative artistic projects being conducted at a school, postsecondary institution or laboratory funded in whole or in part by the state, and other proprietary or commercial information which if released would infringe intellectual property rights, give advantage to business competitors, or serve no material public purpose;

(4) Records which consist of attorney work product or which are subject to any privilege recognized in chapter 19-13;

(5) Records developed or received by law enforcement agencies and other public bodies charged with duties of investigation or examination of persons, institutions, or businesses, if the records constitute a part of the examination, investigation, intelligence information, citizen complaints or inquiries, informant identification, or strategic or tactical information used in law enforcement training. However, this subdivision does not apply to records so developed or received relating to the presence of and amount or concentration of alcohol or drugs in any body fluid of any person, and this subdivision does not apply to a 911 recording or a transcript of a 911 recording, if the agency or a court determines that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in nondisclosure. This law in no way abrogates or changes §§ 23-5-7 and 23-5-11 or testimonial privileges applying to the use of information from confidential informants;

(6) Appraisals or appraisal information and negotiation records concerning the purchase or sale, by a public body, of any interest in real or personal property;

(7) Personnel information other than salaries and routine directory information. However, this subdivision does not apply to the public inspection or copying of any current or prior contract with any public employee and any related document that specifies the consideration to be paid to the employee;

(8) Information solely pertaining to protection of the security of public or private property and persons on or within public or private property, such as specific, unique vulnerability assessments or specific, unique response plans, either of which is intended to prevent or mitigate criminal acts, emergency management or response, or public safety, the public disclosure of which would create a substantial likelihood of endangering public safety or property; computer or communications network schema, passwords, and user identification names; guard schedules; lock combinations; or any blueprints, building plans, or infrastructure records regarding any building or facility that expose or create vulnerability through disclosure of the location, configuration, or security of critical systems;

(9) The security standards, procedures, policies, plans, specifications, diagrams, access lists, and other security-related records of the Gaming Commission and those persons or entities with which the commission has entered into contractual relationships. Nothing in this subdivision allows the commission to withhold from the public any information relating to amounts paid persons or entities with which the commission has entered into contractual relationships, amounts of prizes paid, the name of the prize winner, and the municipality, or county where the prize winner resides;


(10) Personally identified private citizen account payment information, credit information on others supplied in confidence, and customer lists;

(11) Records or portions of records kept by a publicly funded library which, when examined with or without other records, reveal the identity of any library patron using the library's materials or services;

(12) Correspondence, memoranda, calendars or logs of appointments, working papers, and records of telephone calls of public officials or employees;

(13) Records or portions of records kept by public bodies which would reveal the location, character, or ownership of any known archaeological, historical, or paleontological site in South Dakota if necessary to protect the site from a reasonably held fear of theft, vandalism, or trespass. This subdivision does not apply to the release of information for the purpose of scholarly research, examination by other public bodies for the protection of the resource or by recognized tribes, or the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act;

(14) Records or portions of records kept by public bodies which maintain collections of archeological, historical, or paleontological significance which nongovernmental donors have requested to remain closed or which reveal the names and addresses of donors of such articles of archaeological, historical, or paleontological significance unless the donor approves disclosure, except as the records or portions thereof may be needed to carry out the purposes of the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the Archeological Resources Protection Act;

(15) Employment applications and related materials, except for applications and related materials submitted by individuals hired into executive or policymaking positions of any public body;

(16) Social security numbers; credit card, charge card, or debit card numbers and expiration dates; passport numbers, driver license numbers; or other personally identifying numbers or codes; and financial account numbers supplied to state and local governments by citizens or held by state and local governments regarding employees or contractors;

(17) Any emergency or disaster response plans or protocols, safety or security audits or reviews, or lists of emergency or disaster response personnel or material; any location or listing of weapons or ammunition; nuclear, chemical, or biological agents; or other military or law enforcement equipment or personnel;

(18) Any test questions, scoring keys, results, or other examination data for any examination to obtain licensure, employment, promotion or reclassification, or academic credit;

(19) Personal correspondence, memoranda, notes, calendars or appointment logs, or other personal records or documents of any public official or employee;

(20) Any document declared closed or confidential by court order, contract, or stipulation of the parties to any civil or criminal action or proceeding;

(21) Any list of names or other personally identifying data of occupants of camping or lodging facilities from the Department of Game, Fish and Parks;

(22) Records which, if disclosed, would constitute an unreasonable release of personal information;

(23) Records which, if released, could endanger the life or safety of any person;

(24) Internal agency record or information received by agencies that are not required to be filed with such agencies, if the records do not constitute final statistical or factual tabulations, final instructions to staff that affect the public, or final agency policy or determinations, or any completed state or federal audit and if the information is not otherwise public under other state law, including chapter 15-15A and § 1-26-21;

(25) Records of individual children regarding commitment to the Department of Corrections pursuant to chapters 26-8B and 26-8C;


(26) Records regarding inmate disciplinary matters pursuant to § 1-15-20; and

(27) Any other record made closed or confidential by state or federal statute or rule or as necessary to participate in federal programs and benefits.

Source: SL 2009, ch 10, § 6; SL 2012, ch 11, § 1.
And that's just for starters.  No doubt, some of the restrictions are legitimate in certain circumstances, but if some official just doesn't want you to have information, it does not take a great deal of smarts to construe one of those statutes into a denial. 

So that you may never know how Richard Benda was shot, the Attorney General has an entire legal code that he can use to keep you from knowing.

County and city officials can, likewise, cover up and bury things going on their jurisdictions with the state legal code and some their own governments dream up.

But this is the kind of government the people want.  And they've got it.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

They call corruption "economic development."

South Dakota's business climate is often rated as number one, and that may well be because it is the most corrupt. 

It is a state that raves about free enterprise, but free enterprise is interpreted as being free to screw customers and bilk taxpayers.  The Governor's Office of Economic Development is undergoing investigation which appears to lead to many avenues of perfidious connivance, actually dark and seamy alleys of larcenous enterprise. The now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen seems to be at the center of the investigations, but its relationships with state and local government-sponsored organizations are typical of other situations in which the government has been involved in providing special and secret advantages for business operations, few of which have the trappings of open and honest dealings.   

A majority of people in South Dakota accept under-the-table and behind-closed-door transactions as business as usual.  For years, South Dakota has striven mightily to be at the bottom of the Better Government Association's Integrity Index for state governments.  Many times, it has succeeded.  In the latest Index, it is ranked 47. 

State officials have discretion about making sensitive records secret.  When records do not have to be made available to the public and there are no sunshine laws requiring them to be produced at some point, officials have no need to conduct themselves forthrightly and above board.  So, they don't.

The right to do business in clandestine and prejudicial ways has even been written into state law.  An example is when Dick Butler, a Democrat, was state treasurer from 1995-2002.  When Butler took office, he instituted a number of reforms.  This spurred  the Janklow administration to campaign to cut Butler off from access to information on state financial matters and to restrict his authority in exercising the office of treasurer.  The Lakota-Dakota-Nakota Coalition, which has a full account of Butler's work, recounts, "The Commissioner of Banking in South Dakota, Richard Duncan, wrote a memo to all state banks in South Dakota advising them not to give information to Butler regarding executive accounts, and a bill was proposed that was intended to strip the State Treasurer of his banking authority for colleges and universities."

In 1996, Governor Janklow initiated a gag law that would restrict Butler's activities.  The law selectively closed  corporate records and prohibited state officials from disclosing information on investigations into the actions of corporations, even the fact that such an investigation was taking place.  Janklow's chief henchman in shepherding the law through the legislature was then Senate Majority Leader Mike Rounds.  The law has since been revised, after a number of challenges pointed out that it violated every aspect of a democracy.   

As Governor, Mike Rounds was involved in the beef plant scheme when it was first advanced in Huron under the Ridgeway Farms schemers, then floundered and went to Flandreau, where it seemed to die until it popped up again in Aberdeen. 

Even where information is available, the press has not tracked the state's involvement in economic development.   One thing it could have done and can do is track the number of enterprises to which the state has contributed money and adjusted rules and regulations and kept an account of how many such enterprises succeeded, fulfilled expectations to some degree, or failed. 

The only place any account of Dick Butler's tenure as state treasurer appears is at the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota Coalition, which is largely based upon reporting from the Lakota Journal.

State government is corrupt. The record is long and detailed, as the Coalition points out.   It gets lots and lots of help. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

If we free Leonard Peltier, can we keep the Black Hills?

The U.S. legal system sucks.  With gusto.

It has evolved into  a system that insures no equal justice under the law.  Due process is a process of extortion and bilking through which the accused are coerced into the various forms of servitude.

The Leonard Peltier case makes the point.  Particularly at this time. 

When a member of the South Dakota Legislature, who is also some kind of pastor, mentioned on his blog that releasing Leonard Peltier might be some kind of gesture of reconciliation, he elicited a number of opinions on the blogosphere.  No facts, but a plethora oif blogospheric opinions.

The good pastor's posting acknowledged our long history of fucking over the indigenous people of our country and he calls for redress.  But short of an omnipotent miracle, nothing can be unfucked.  (There are occasions when the brutality of the language must match the brutality of the deeds.)  However, a tweet he sent out when the Governor asked for suggestions for celebrating 125 years of statehood is cause for caution:


SD seeks ideas to celebrate statehood. Giving the Black Hills back ain't happning but how about a meaningful reparation gesture of some sort. 

This is a propitious time to bring up the Peltier case because it demonstrates the way that justice is a race-based, class-based process of discrimination.   This week a member of the Kennedy family, Michael Skakel, who was convicted in 2002 of murdering a neighbor girl
in 1975 was granted a new trial.  The judge who granted the new trial did so on the basis that Skakel's defense attorney did an incompetent job.  Jeffrey Toobin, the lawyer-journalist on judicial matters,  finds that the judge seems to be looking for any kind of plausible argument to free Skakel.

In contrast, the Peltier trial was fraught with misconduct to the point of fraud and unfairness that has caused Amnesty International to list the trial not just a miscarriage of justice, but an outright abortion.  The entire matter of the occupation of Wounded Knee and the subsequent killing of two FBI agents is just another episode of the racial rage and the vicious dishonesty with which the American Indian people have been treated.

The two cases demonstrate how our justice system is driven by race, class, and connections.

The cautionary aspect of the good reverend's tweet that "giving the Black HIls back ain't happening:"  The Lakota people have been awarded money for the wrongful taking of the Black Hills, but have spurned the money, preferring a return of the Hills, or at least a good portion of them, to their custody.  America has never understood how or why the land is essential to the American Indian culture.  A culture built upon greed and indiscriminate exercise of power cannot understand a culture of generosity and mindful stewardship of the natural gifts.  The land is the scripture of Native American culture.  Its defilement is to the indigenous people of America what the burning of the Bible or the Koran is to their adherents.  The Black HIlls are the last remnant of their scripture.

There can be no reparation.  But there might be a temple where the traditions may be fully observed. 

What bothers some most about the return of the Black Hills or a good portion thereof is that the entire violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 will be called up for examination.  And that examination would cover all of west river South Dakota.  The prospect of a Lakota nation in the middle of the United States is disconcerting,  unthinkable for most. 

But it would be required if the U.S. is to honor its treaty.  And it would be justice.  Justice not delivered by devious dishonesty and misconduct. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Reviving Karl Marx

The overwhelming evidence that capitalism is not benefiting the U.S. and most of the western world comes from the capitalists themselves.  For three decades, the middle class in the U.S. has been under a systematic degradation as manufacturing jobs that once provided a living wage have been displaced by jobs that provide less-than-subsistence wages. 

We know that unemployment in the U.S. is much worse than the 7-some percent at which it has hovered for some time because that figure does not include those who have given up looking for work.  Talk of immigration reform misdirects attention away from a huge problem in Europe among the so-called industrialized nations. Here is the most recent unemployment rates in the European Union:

July 2012
June 2013
July 2013
Eurozone (17 countries)
European Union (28 countries)
*Jun 2012 **May 2012***May 2013Source: Eurostat

Youth unemployment in Italy and Spain has spiraled, and academic and journalistic organizations have begun surveying and tracking the youth  In those countries. Young people have largely given up looking for work and those who find it possible have moved to other countries.   Young people who have found  work in other countries have expressed attitudes toward their homelands that portend some political upheavals that threaten the current forms of governance.  They think strongly that the forces that have forced them to leave their homelands are the huge corporations which in effect are the ruling powers that caused the recession--in some countries a pronounced depression--and that those forces have reverted the countries back to medieval status in which a few overlords exercise rule and treat everyone else as serfs.  The European Union has asserted that the economic problems facing its member countries are a result of the profligacy in social programs, which is evidently true to a point.  But our western governments are afraid to raise the matter of the role large, global corporations are playing in the economic and social conditions in the world.


I spent a good portion of the summer in Illinois where I heard and read much discussion of a kind that is absent in South Dakota.   A local PBS radio station, located on the campus where I received my B.A. and later taught, has a discussion show.  I listened to one on which a former colleague appeared, along with professors from the campuses located in the area.   He is a retired professor of political theory and practice.  That is his official title.  He spurns the term professor of political science because he says the people who call themselves political scientists have given science a bad name.  The other participants were from a Catholic University and a state university which has established a large campus in the area.  They represented the fields of history, sociology, as well as political theory.


A point of discussion was how young people perceived their futures in a political context.  It was a consensus that the brightest young people are looking past the  banalities that comprise political discussion.  One of the discussants has studied the Occupy Wall Street movement and interviewed many of its participants.  He said that a striking aspect is that the young people are not accepting the definitions of capitalism, democracy, socialism, and Marxism that previous generations have passed down to them.  They are a generation that is skeptical of the old Cold War attitudes and rhetoric.  They are examining the world from the perspective of their own circumstances, and they do not see that the current state of affairs offers them a future.  They find that the current economic state of America is denying them opportunity, and they are looking for alternatives to a system that is oppressing them economically with a consciousness of the mistakes of the past.  The Occupy Wall Street movement was criticized for not having a clear agenda and an identifiable leadership.  But young people see those conditions as the fatal flaws that have created the situation where the 99 percent of Americans have only 1 percent of the wealth.   They are working on collaboration and consensus as the keys to effective governance in achieving true liberty, equality, and justice.  They dismiss the ranting about Marxism and socialism as ignorant cant and they also disregard the liberal factions for being drawn into baseless and pointless arguments. 

My former colleague, who is often a visiting professor on campuses, agrees that the most promising young people are aloof but alert.  All the accusations about Marxism, for example, make them curious to know just what Marxism is.  He says they do not confuse Marx's social criticism with the Communist Manifesto and the Soviet and Chinese brands of communism.  They are finding that income inequality in America arises from those factors that Marx cited in his observations on class warfare, but they do not see his solutions as effective or relevant.  Rather, they see that the form that capitalism has taken with global corporations as much of a social failure as Soviet communism, and that American capitalism has destroyed the equal opportunity and economic justice that were the operative principles in the growth of the American middle class.


Table 1: Income, net worth, and financial worth in the U.S. by percentile, in 2010 dollars
Wealth or income class
Mean household income
Mean household net worth
Mean household financial (non-home) wealth
Top 1 percent
Top 20 percent
60th-80th percentile
40th-60th percentile
Bottom 40 percent
From Wolff (2012); only mean figures are available, not medians.  Note that income and wealth are separate measures; so, for example, the top 1% of income-earners is not exactly the same group of people as the top 1% of wealth-holders, although there is considerable overlap.  
Marx has a new relevance in examining the relationship of those who hold the wealth with the rest of the people.  Young people who are facing the paying of college debts with jobs that hold them in a state of poverty represent the new workforce, and they are experiencing the same forces that laborers did when unions arose.  In one way, said the discussants, it is a familiar situation in American and world history.  In other ways, it presents new factors and situations to be confronted, and the current level of political discussion in America does not address the concerns.
The people on the discussion show noted that young people who have moved out of their home countries to find work do not find any reason for allegiance to their home countries.  They think that their future lies in the countries where they can live their lives.  This is not unlike, the discussants agreed, the circumstance that caused the emigration to America.  They posited the question of what will happen when American young people see this as their situation. 
The professors said they all experienced a critical restiveness in their most promising students, who question if America can once again be the land of opportunity.  The political forces in America seem oblivious to what is facing its prime-age workforce. 

The GOP is irrelevant to this group of young people.  The Democratic Party seems too afraid of the labels its opponents cast upon it to take the necessary decisive action to restore the opportunity that once was America.
For the 46.5 million people living in poverty and the millions  being pushed into it, the system proposed by Marx might seem superior to the one that is in control of the economy.  Those in control have found that they can make huge profits without creating jobs and opportunity for a talented and educated workforce. 

To these people, the system has convincingly demonstrated that the system does not work..  The future of America is not in the hands of Congress or the political parties.  It is in the hands of those people in the process of deciding what to do about America.


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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States