Northern Valley Beacon

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Friday, November 11, 2005


How are things in Oceania? Are the Pravdas still a-publishing there?

Clean Cut Kid's web log broached some information about the relationship between John Thune and the DME Railroad that put a lot of people's panties in bunches. (I use one of the more vivid figures of speech from the Rapid City Journal blog.) A purpose of blogs is to give political wedgies. That is not the purpose of newspapers. What the Rapid City Journal and AP did with this story is really galling.

Chad Schuldt reported that John Thune has received in stipends and campaign contributions nearly a quarter of a million dollars from DME and its executives. His information was taken from public records. John Thune introduced legislation that would raise a federal transportation authorization fund, from which railroads may borrow, from $3.5 billion to $35 billion, ten times the amount at which it was previously authorized.

At the same time, Thune also voted to cut $35 billion from the federal budget, principally from farm programs and heating assistance programs. DME needs to borrow $2.5 billion to complete its railroad project. Banks have not cottoned to the idea. It seems to put their polyester panties in a bunch. But with the expansion of the Transportation Reauthorization bill to $35 billion at the instigation of the person to whom the railroad has doled out $239,000, DME seems to be the first in line for its $2.5 billion federal loan.

Chad and many of us think the railroad project will be beneficial to South Dakota, but it has a lot of problems. A main one is how what is essentially a 19th century rail line intersects with 21st century highways and towns. And its principal commodity will be coal from Wyoming going to coal-fired generating plants to the east . There is a big push to utilize our coal reserves to cut down our dependence on foreign oil. The question is where this investment in a 19th century infrastructure fits in with 21st century plans for clean and renewable energy sources. However, those questions are major panty-bunchers, and instead of producing answers they produce the spectacle of people writhing on the floor and giving off moans of great discomfort from the regions where the sun don't shine and the moon is in eclipse.

Chad's post, as sometimes happens with web logs, was picked up in a story in the Rapid City Journal, which covers a lot of panty bunching, by Bill Harlan. His story, in turn, was picked up by the Associated Press and was published throughout the state. The story is largely a summary of John Thune's lobbying and a defense against anyone who might question the propriety of a Senator pushing legislation that he openly admits is to provide a privilege for a former client, DME. It is, apparently, based largely on a statement from Thune's office released through his spokesman, Kyle Downey.

We, too, wonder about the propriety of enacting special legislation for the benefit and privilege of a private corporation. This kind of legislation is forbidden by the South Dakota Constitution, as we pointed out in a comment on Clean Cut Kid's site:

Article III: ยง 23. Private and special laws prohibited. The Legislature is prohibited from enacting any private or special laws in the following cases:
9. Granting to an individual, association or
corporation any special or exclusive privilege, immunity or franchise whatever.

Well, increasing the Transportation Authorization fund 10 times so that DME can get in on the gravy train sounds more than a little bit like a special privilege or franchise. We wondered in a comment on the Clean Cut Kid post if there are any rules in the U.S. Congress similar to what is in the State Constitution.

The Thune spin a la news story refutes that. It says, "Thune's help for a former client is not against the law or against Senate rules, and the lobbying fees are public record." We knew about the public record part, because that is where Chad got his information. We did not know, and still do not know, about the laws and rules that govern the U.S. Congress. The statement that it is okay does not explain the discrepancy between a state principle and federal one. But, by God, we sure got straightened out on that question.

Well, we envy DME a bit and wish we, like they, could go through a life filled with silk boxers or crotchless panties. The snarky irritation in that terse statement about legality and propriety is a prelude to someone either getting it or taking it in the shorts.

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