Northern Valley Beacon

Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains----- E-Mail: Enter 'Beacon' in subject box. Send to:

Saturday, September 30, 2006


Congress guts the Bill of Rights

For a time, some Republican Senators resisted George W. Bush's quest for totalitarian power in their objections to the detainee bill he asked from them. Negotiations were held, compromises made, and the President won.

Well, for a time we were encouraged that there seemed to be a non-partisan stance in favor of civil rights.

The bill has been reported by the press to deal with terrorists taken prisoner. What the press has ignored is that the bill gives the president the power to designate even American citizens as terrorists or terrorist supporters and deny them the legal due process required by the law.

An analysis on TPM Cafe makes the case that the bill largely repeals the Bill of Rights:

Of the original 10 amendments to the Constitution of 1787 - IV, V, VI, VII and VIII are directed at arrest, trial and punishment. The bill passed by the Senate yesterday, and already rubber stamped by the house, effectively repeals all of these Amendments, because it allows a class of people declared by executive fiat to be treated in a manner which is separate from the rest of the judicial system.

All three of South Dakota's Congresspeople voted for this bill, and their staff members have received calls and have given statements on their votes. Sen. Johnson voted for the Military Tribunal Bill, but he did acknowledge the problems:

But in this case, the President is asking that we expand the definition of an enemy combatant. It isn't just people we capture on the battlefield anymore. It might be your next door neighbor who is in this country legally. And this legislation would allow them to be taken into custody without being told charges or seeing evidence or having access to lawyers and without hearings. That is a very strong use of the American power against people who are here legally.

Johnson offers the hope that the spirit of the Constitutional guarantees will be observed when American citizens are involved, and he suggested that the bill should have a sunset provision so that Congress can review whether the Bill of Rights was abused or ignored. And he states that the bill will eventually have to stand challenge in the Supreme Court.

That is a lot of comfort. One of the most devastating aspects of the Military Tribunal Bill is that it takes the appeal process away from the courts and makes them relevant at the whim of the president. With the mental acuity and motives demonstrated by the president currently in power, that should scare the bejesus out of us--including Sen. Johnson and Rep. Herseth.

One of our correspondents has pointed out that the country is so focused on insurgents and the atrocities committed daily in Iraq and, now, Afghanistan that it does not see that true American democrats are being given more reasons everyday why an insurgency of some kind in America may be necessary to preserve the human rights our country stands for. Hopefully, that insurgency will be in the form of a challenge that reaches the Supreme Court. We hope our preservation of the Bill of Rights will not rest upon our exercise of our Second Amendment rights.

But with the way the world is going and the mentality of the American rightwing, we are facing either a renaissance of our principles or a renewal of our revolution.

The New York Times has one of the more definitive analyses of the Military Tribunal Bill.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Hey, Dr. Rice, we checked and you were wrong.

When Bill Clinton upbraided Chris Wallace and Faux News for trying to ensnare him, he stated that he tried and failed to stop bin Laden. He said, “When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy…” for the incoming administration.
During her interview with the New York Post (a sister medium with Fox News owned by Rupert Murdoch), Condi Rice said his statement was false. “We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda,” she said, and advised people to consult the 9/11 Commission Report to see what actually occurred. She added that during the nine months before 9/11, the Bush administration did as much as the Clinton administration in combating terrorism.

She said if we want to see the facts, check the 9/11 Commissin Report. We did. And we found that the Report confirms Bill Clinton's version.

For the documented passages from the report that refute Condi Rice's version, go here.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Bill Clinton takes on Big Brother

The current Bush administration and its political values and tactics so dear to the hearts of the ruling faction within the Republican Party has been identified as "Orwellian" to the point that the term has little meaning. In fact, the term is probably misleading.

The Bush administration does not emulate George Orwell's political stances. It emulates what Orwell tried to warn about and explain. Orwell understood the totalitarian impulse in people who seek power over other people. And he understood how technology can be used to enslave people rather than free them from oppression and drudgery. In probing that use of technology, Orwell also delineates how language can be subverted and perverted to deceive and manipulate people through forms of mind control so that they give up their basic rights and freedoms.

Orwell understood this process from personal experience. He allied himself with the Communist side in the Spanish Civil War and soon was confronted with the power-mad deviousness that drove the leaders of the Communist Party. Ernest Hemingway, by the way, also portrays this aspect in his work. Then Orwell examined how the Nazi and Fascist parties appealed to people of Europe and got their support in imposing totalitarian regimes on Germany and France. We Americans tend to honor the efforts of the resistance and underground so much that we forget that the Nazis had sympathizers, supporters, and collaborators in the countries that they took over. The Vichy French are a prime example.

From the time that Bush sent his propaganda shock troops to Florida during his contested election in 2000, we have been witness to a regime that shamelessly employs the tactics described by Orwell to hold the people in a mental thralldom.

The first thing it does is to make villains and miscreants out of its opponents. During the contested election in 2000, Bush and his totalitarian cronies vilified anyone who came down to Florida to look after Democratic interests in the election--the accusations of perfidy and nefarious purpose were aimed at Al Gore and his lawyers and any Democrat leaders, such as Tom Daschle, who went to Florida to see what was going on. That is the point at which we developed a strong antipathy to George W. Bush. We saw him and his minions using the propaganda techniques of massive slander and character assassination to make any members of the opposition into untrustworthy villains.

And, no doubt, their efforts worked. When the Supreme Court in effect appointed George W. Bush president, we knew we were losing America to totalitarian ambitions.

That is the first technique at which he was successful: to portray the opposition as enemies of the people. All one had to do is listen to Rush Limbaugh, or Pat Robertson, or any of the nighttime fascists on talk radio to hear the message and how many people fell for it.

The next thing Orwellian totalitarians do is create a war so that the people have a perpetual enemy on which to focus so that Big Brother can claim he is protecting them and making them secure and so that they ignore everything else by focusing on the threat constantly held before them. Bush got lucky. He got 9/11. And he was able to use the abstract and undefinable concerns of combating terror to create that war that people of his political orientation need to keep the nation in line. It was, indeed, a contrived war and a matter of wagging the dog. We even had film titled "Wagging the Dog" that chronicled how a power-mad regime could create a war that kept the people in fear and directing their hatred and energies channeled in the ruts of deception. But the Bush regime was successful. A majority of the people groveled before the regime for protection, and anyone who spoke out against the war was labeled unpatriotic, traitorous, and cowardly. And the people fell for it. Again, review the Thune campaign against Tom Daschle. South Dakota is under the rule of what we might call the Vichy Americans.

The hatred generated by the false accusations and malevolent contrivances against Tom Daschle won. And we knew again that America had taken a giant step into totalitarianism.

On the national level, we need not review the loss of civil liberties, the insistence upon vicious and cruel oppressions in the name of security, the massive deceptions, and the hate-based initiatives used to build the regime's hold on the people. On the state level, we need not review for the real democrats the most closed and repressive state government in the nation, the exercise in voodoo studies that produced a "task force" report that justifies the proposal to enslave and make brood sows out of pregnant women, or attitudes of malice and hatred that shape the state culture. Just read the regressive blogs, if you do need reminding.

And then we come to Bill Clinton. In the early nights of his presidence, the insidious voices of talk radio began circulating charges that he had assembled hit squads to murder his opponents. And the portrayals of monsterhood, upon which the right wing is so dependent, grew from there. Bill Clinton and his advisers, however, held to the idea that no charge should go unanswered. And if there is information that proves the falseness of the charges, no matter how ridiculous and outrageous, it should be stated. Eventually, the constant and low-key refutations of the night-radio nonsense, prevailed. But every other pretext for vilifying Bill Clinton was a major political industry. Unfortunately, His Horniness did not help matters when his personal assignations were revealed.

As a former president, he had enough. The Bush regime has tried to divert attention away from its war based on lies, its gross incompetence, and its devious politics by focusing on what Bill Clinton did and did not do to create the current state of affairs regarding terrorism. Clinton finally consented to be interviewed by the official Bush state news agency, Fox News. He knew he was being set up. He came prepared to answer.

The Bush regime assaults against anyone who disagrees with him have unfortunately produced demonstrations of cowardice among Democrats. People are so fearful of being called traitors, unpatriotic, obstructionists, liberals, and all those things that the conservative programs for perverting and subverting the language have produced in the national vocabulary, that they have submitted rather than resisted.

Bill Clinton made his case yesterday. That gives some hope that true freedom, equality, and justice might survive in America. But not a hell of a lot. Bush and John Thune were elected. A majority have chosen their sellouts to the power-mongers over a vigorous and honest examination of issues. Bill Clinton might remind us of what it is like to have leaders who do not simply hand the Bushites the Vaseline with the admonition to be gentle. But the quality of democracy depends on what the voters decide, and people who want true, American democracy instead of Orwellian wars and deceptions and revocations of freedom better get used to the idea that they might not get it in America. The people who want to cower behind and grovel before Big Brother outnumber them.

The greatest generation is dying out. And look what has replaced it. Just look at the war on Iraq. Just read the right-wing blogs. While we have honorable soldiers obeying their commander in chief and we have people who see this war as one of the greatest moral perversions in history, we have more Vichy Americans who hope to gain some security and personal gain by submitting to Big Brother.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Hugo Chavez to be guest lecturer at John Thune School of Political Science

Hugo Chavez, whose name-calling of George W. Bush was rebuked by Charlie Rangel and Nancy Pelosi, will come to South Dakota to lecture and learn at the John Thune School of Political Science and Blogging.

[Hey, Blind Orange Julius, how many fingers do you see? ]

Chavez is particularly interested to study Thune's campaign against Tom Daschle in which his supporters pictured Daschle along side Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. "Who would I picture George Bush next to?" he wants to know. He also was interested in how to turn house ownership into a liability and how he could contrive the charge that Bush wants to give up Laura for a beauty queen. "You people have lots of moral authority I can borrow from. I'll give you heating oil in return," he promised.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


The Pope gets a taste of South Dakota politics

Muslims are rioting and committing violence because of something Pope Benedict said in a lecture at the University of Regensburg. His words have been contorted into an occasion for violence.

There are two main factors in the Muslim reaction against the Pope: an incompetent press and a malevolent rage to avert the facts by those who contrive justifications for their transgressions against humanity.

The Pope is getting pilloried, figuratively and in effigy throughout Islam, for quoting a Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Paleologos, in a 1391 A.D. conversation he had with a Persian scholar on religion in which the subject of the jihad, the holy war, was broached. Here is the quotation as the Pope presented it and as reported in the press:

Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

The press presents only those words that might inflame those looking for some reason to posture their outrage. It omits the next part of the quotation, which the Pope included.

God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death....

But the press totally ignored the reason the Pope was making these citations from a 14th century conversation. He was addressing the relationships between reason, as demonstrated through science, and faith, and he was engaging in a dialogue that is obviously prompted by the mass atrocities that have become the hallmark of the 21st century. Here is Pope Benedict’s all-important thesis statement which his lecture addresses:

This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

What happened to Pope Benedict is what a blogging colleague recently referred to as being “Newquisted.” He was referring to the practice that I strongly condemn of people taking other people’s words and making false paraphrases, taking them out their syntactic context to alter their meaning, distorting them into some pretext for outrage. This is the old straw man technique of propaganda and fallacious reasoning. It is done by contriving another person’s words so that they can be easily refuted or made the object of outrage, which justifies assassination of character or person in the minds of the authors of the propaganda.

The strategy behind misrepresentation of words is to hope that the outrage displayed will sufficiently characterize the words to other people and form their perceptions of them. The words themselves are dismissed.

Pope Benedict’s quotation of the Byzantine emperor were taken out of context—both the emperor’s and the Pope’s. Islamic radicals (a euphemistic term, if there ever was one) contrived the quotation from six centuries ago into a personal insult to Mohammed from the Pope. And so the rage in the world gets fed by a transparent, easily checked lie.

The press is fully implicated in the lie. News organizations are more about trying to get an audience than about giving carefully checked news stories. Watching the Muslims burn effigies of the Pope is far more arresting to the people out there than is a carefully presented summation of the Pope’s lecture at his old university. News organizations do not serve higher intelligences, and so the personnel doing the reporting can find potentially inflammatory sound bites but they cannot comprehend or report an act of communication that speaks to a complex issue. Instead of opening a dialogue on the sectarian violence that grips the world, the reporting of the Pope’s words inflamed the violent.

The Pope broached an issue that anyone who has had a religions of the world course is aware of. I am not a Catholic. I am a Lutheran. I graduated from a Lutheran College, which shared a campus with a seminary and required courses in religion for graduation. I minored in philosophy and religion, I taught at the college, and was a church councilman and synod representative. As Lutherans have carried on the scholastic tradition that the Pope was engaging in at Regensburg, I found his lecture significant.

He was initiating a dialogue on the issue that is consuming much of the western world: the mass atrocities committed in the name of Allah.

The Pope obliquely presented an issue that sends political and religious leaders into the bunkers. He brought up the three laws at issue: the Koran, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. He did so because there are issues that need resolution in order to end the violence that grips the world. The New Law, as the New Testament is referred to, militates against hatred and violence. The history of Christians battling each other, such as in North Ireland, is not escapable, but neither is the theological basis for good will and peace. The Pope spent a great deal of his lecture outlining how that theological call for peace is formed through the Greek tradition of intellect and how it has been regarded in theology through time. His point is that reason and faith together lead to respect and peace.

The problem facing religious leaders, particularly Christians and leaders of other peace-promoting religions, is that Islam has no overtly stated theological constraints against violence. That is why the face of Islam to much of the world is one of vicious atrocity.

Manuel II’s words about Mohammed connect with a face of Islam that is inescapable. While some Muslim scholars and clerics state that Islam is a religion of peace and compassion, their claims are feeble in the face of 9/11, the violence in Iraq, the acts of Al Qaida throughout the world, and the Muslim leaders who applaud those acts.

Islam is, simply, a vector for violence. Islamic atrocities are planned and supported through mosques.

If there are Muslim leaders and mosques that do not believe the jihad is the imperative of their faith, then Pope Benedict has extended an opportunity to talk about it and explain it to the world. He broached the subject in a scholastic setting, but it was appropriated by those who intend violence upon the world.

Sadly, until the people who are the stewards of the language—journalists, teachers, and theologians—demonstrate the integrity of the language, the inflammatory and the violent will prevail. The final words of Pope Benedict’s lecture, which were not reported either, lay out the task:

The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur – this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. “Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God”, said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


The ham-fisted bludgeon strikes again--sort of

Humor, satire, and parody have been important parts of American politics since Ben Franklin (and before him in the colonies). However, there is a huge literary distinction between humor that is sharp-witted and exposes some absurdities in the political system and humor that is dull-witted, bludgeoning and exposes the minds of the peope who think it is funny. Totalitarian movements have been predicated on that last kind of pretense to humor. When the Nazis mounted their hate campaign against the Jews they used debased stereotypes, false portrayals, and that school-yard-bully brand of taunt and derision to pull the witless into their way of thinking. In the Soviet Union, true wit is a main factor in helping to bring down the old Marxist regime. However, the party used those stereotype-filled portrayals of the capitalistic west to foment anger and hatred.

In comtemporary America, the bully-bludgeons are at work on what they call "liberals." Radio talk show Tammy Bruce, for example, contends that narcissism, the ardent fascination and absorption with one's self, is an identifying characteristic of liberalism. She suggest that this endemic defect of psychology and character is the motivating factor in liberalism.

While her "diagnosis" has absolutely no rational credibility, it is the kind of thing that appeals to the witless need for something to hate that possesses an alarming number of Americans. It is the kind of mass slander that the Nazis carried out against the Jews and the Soviets carried out against the west in order to martial support for their regimes. To the regressives in the conservative camp, liberalism is a huge threat, and they try to personalize it. Two South Dakota blogs (being joined by numerous others of late) typify the need to slander, assassinate character, and offer malevolent stereotypes of anyone who does not bow to their party line.

Following is an e-mail I received from members of the regressive camp. Under the guise of a "joke," it manages to cast its witless aspersions on almost everything and anything that does not fit their stereotyped view of the world. They did, however, leave out the Jews and western capitalists. And in its stunning stupidity, it reveals that the biggest issue in American politics today is, in fact, mental health.

Upcoming 2006 Democratic Convention agenda

6:00 p.m. - Opening flag burning ceremony.

6:05 p.m. - Opening prayers by Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton

6:30 p.m. - Anti-war concert by Barbara Streisand.

6:40 p.m. - Ted Kennedy proposes a toast.

7:00 p.m. - Tribute theme to France.

7:10 p.m. - Collect offerings for al-Zawahari defense fund.

7:25 p.m. - Tribute theme to Germany.

7:45 p.m. - Anti-war rally (Moderated by Michael Moore)

8:25 p.m. - Ted Kennedy proposes a toast.8:30 p.m. - Terrorist appeasement workshop.

9:00 p.m. - Gay marriage ceremony (both male and female couples)

9:30 p.m. - * Intermission *

10:00 p.m. - Posting the Iraqi Colors by Sean Penn and Tim Robbins

10:10 p.m. - Re-enactment of Kerry's fake medal toss.

10:20 p.m. - Cameo by Dean 'Yeeearrrrrrrg!'

10:30 p.m. - Abortion demonstration by N.A.R.A.L.

10:40 p.m. - Ted Kennedy proposes a toast.

1 0:50 p.m. - Pledge of allegiance to the UN.

11:00 p.m. - Multiple gay marriage ceremony (threesomes, mixed and same sex). Rep. Barney Frank (D,Mass.), Sponsor

11:15 p.m. - Maximizing Welfare workshop.

11:30 p.m. - 'Free Saddam pep rally led by Jane Fonda.

11:59 p.m. - Ted Kennedy proposes a toast.

12:00 a.m. - Nomination of democratic candidate.

With any luck maybe we can get Ted Kennedy to drive Hillary home from the convention?

Butchdog Jones
Nuke em' til they glow.Then shoot em' in the dark!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Democracy turns totalitarian as Snowball and Napoleon battle for control

It has been a tough week for honesty, integrity, and truth.

We often point out how the political propaganda, especially from the regressive right, matches exactly what George Orwell describes in detail in 1984. We have not paid enough attention to his other book, Animal Farm, that chronicles the sinking of an organization from incompetence to quasi-democracy to totalitarianism. We forget to remind ourselves that even in the best-working democracies, such as ours, the totalitarian impulse has possession of many people. They are not interested in freedom, equality, and justice, but in imposing their wills and their, often warped, views of the universe on the rest of us. In Animal Farm, the pigs Snowball and Napoleon engage in an intense, vicious contest to see which one imposes his brand of totalitarianism on the Animal Farm. And so it goes across America this week.

As is customary, George W. Bush led the charge by accusing the opponents of the war on Iraq on wanting to capitulate to terrorists and give Iraq and the Mideast over to Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic terrorists, who are reenacting the struggle for power of Snowball and Napoleon in their own land.

Bush has often characterized the anti-war policy as "cut and run." He is right up to a point. Many people want to cut the incompetence that has poured $300 billion and 2,700 American lives into Iraq. And they want the war to be run consistent with workable and legitimate military and diplomatic objectives. Members of the U.S. military come down on both sides of the issue, but more and more their dissatisfaction with Bush's entire concept and conduct of the war is expressed.

The main objection to Bush's characterization, often ignored by the press, is that his "cut and run" characterization deliberately and grossly misrepresents what the opponents of the war want to happen. He simply advances a lie to slander the character and motives of his opponents. Of course, George W. cannot afford to directly address the plans advocated by the many people who see no way we can win this war without a major military assault and total occupation of the country. If he acknowledges the arguments of his opponents, he has to face the gross incompetence and the deviousness with which he got us into the war.

And so the 5-year memorial to the people who lost their lives in 9/11 was turned into a huge propaganda event that scarificed respect, truth, and integrity to the pouring of more billions into Iraq and raising the death toll of Amerians and Iraqis.

On the state front, the same kind of Soviet-like propaganda involved the DM&E Railroad. From the outset, the plans for the railroad have had objections from people along the route who do not want it running through the center of their towns. This is something the citizens of a community have the right to question and object to. But not in the minds of the henchmen of Snowball and Napoleon. The DM&E managed to suppress the objections until it hit Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic. There is no secret to the objection. The people do not want "Railroad Avenue" running through the center of their town to disrupt, interfere, and create the obstacles and detractions.

The Mayo Clinic people are taking the lead in attempting to get the railroad to run around the town instead of through it. The totalitarian forces have distorted by insisting that Mayo and its supporters are trying to kill the whole railroad plan. The KGB is out in force posting this contention.

Mayo enlisted the help of Tom Daschle and Bill Janklow to work on the issue and bring it to a resolution that is favorable to Rochester. The thought police have launched campaigns of slander and character assassination against the men. If you read the blogs vilifying them--and it is not recommended that you do if you retain much hope for humanity--you will not find one word about what the real issue is and what the proposed solutions are. All you hear is that Daschle and Janklow are trying to get revenge on South Dakotans because they lost their political offices.

The week of 9/11 was intended to be a respectful memorial. Instead it produced the intention to sacrifice more of our nation to the mindless atrocities of Islamic murder squads. On the state level, it showed people using Animal Farm as a script for their totalitarian designs.

And as in that book, democracy is in jeopardy again. If you don't believe it, just read what the minions of totalitarianism are saying.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


The campaign for closed government goes into high gear

The author of South Dakota War College advises political candidates not to submit the National Political Awareness Test through which Project Vote Smart collects and profiles the positions of political candidates on prominent issues in election campaigns. His reasoning is that opponents can use the information against you. PP claims that his stance is based totally on what wins elections. His recommendation is based upon the idea that saying anything of substance and taking a stance is political suicide. So, candidates, keep your political opinions to yourself. Someone over at one of those regressive blogs might take your words and change them, misquote them, put them in a false context, and defeat you in an election.

We hear some out there call for "reasoned, respectful debate," but then we are told that facts and worked-out opinions and the other stuff that comprises debate will only get you into trouble.

South Dakota War College does not pretend, that I have ever seen, to address the matters of how political information is gathered and how stances are examined and opinions are formed. But some of the commenters on his blog do pontificate on the matter and reveal some of the deeper problems in South Dakota politics. (Should I have capitalized that last word?)

One shining defender of integrity and accuracy says a questionaire with yes or no answers by some outside special interest is a disservice. First of all, the NATP provides a full range of responses to each issue and also provides a space where candidates can elaborate and explain their answers. Secondly, Project Vote Smart is a bi-partisan effort to get campaigns to address issues instead of get bogged down with personal attacks and false claims and the malevolent paraphernalia that comprises so much of what goes on during campaigns. And in political blogs. This brilliant commentator says he would rather have his candidates explain their positions to him rather than some outside interest group. Oh, we forgot how informative political ads are and news accounts and how most people flock around each and every candidate, clamor to have campaign points explained to them, and keep notes to use in the election booth.

I confess that I was a supporter of Project Vote Smart from its outset. I taught journalism. I practiced journalism. And like most journalists, I realized that candidates seldom have available any information about the most important issues on which they have to act and vote. Project Vote Smart provides a file that tracks politicians' stances and is working on files of their voting records. In some places, such information is available through various organizations, such as press consortiums that assemble files of their positions and speeches and score cards on elected officials. In South Dakota, this kind of information is scarce and hard to get. Project Vote Smart is simply a boon to public information, and in South Dakota that is considered dangerous.

Then we have a commentator who celebrates the folksy approach to politics. He says,

"Thank goodness South Dakota is still full of voters who want to look candidates in the eye while they shake their hand and make a decision based on something other than campaign literature and answers to surveys."

A smile, a hand shake, and eye contact are all that's really needed to make a political decision. Now anyone who has canvassed for a campaign, which includes me, knows that the main concern of a candidate is to let people know who you are in the hopes that they will be able to make an identification when they go into the voting booth. That can help. But the fact is that most people vote according to their prejudices and biases and the misinformation they prefer to believe. But, of course, it would violate some basic trust and be counter to the purpose of effective government if they ever consulted campaign literature and profiles of candidates' stances and inclinations.

South Dakota is rated by the Better Government Association in a study funded by the Ford Foundation as the most closed, repressive, and inaccessible government of the 50 states. People just don't know what is going on. And it becomes apparent from the words of commentators on SDWC that they don't want to know.

Life is much more comfortable when you don't have to deal with real issues and information. South Dakota is a haven from such stuff. And that haven is threatened when voters actually check out what candidates think and say and do.


Woops. SDEA endorses Brown County Democrats

The SDEA Education Political Action Committee (EPIC) interviews South Dakota legislative candidates each election cycle on issues of public education. EPIC has a record of endorsing more Democrat candidates than Republican. That causes much whining and gnashing of teeth over in the Republican camp.

Within factions of the Republican Party, dismantling public education is part of the platform. In South Dakota public education is underfunded and generally dismissed as a taxpayers' nuisance.

EPIC has endorsed the following candidates in Brown County:

District 2

Jim Hundstad

House of Representatives:
H. Paul Dennert
Burt Elliott

District 3

[No recommendation for Senate]

House of Representatives

Tom Black
Ted Kneebone

Jim Hundstad, Burt Elliott, and Ted Kneebone have all been teachers, with Burt Elliott currently a teacher at Aberdeen Central. District 3 Senate candidate, Al Hoerth, who came into the race too late for an interview, retired from Aberdeen Central this spring.

If you want to see what teachers face in South Dakota and the reasons that bright and talented students go to other states to teach, if that is their calling, read the post regarding the EPIC endorsements on South Dakota War College and the thread of comments. This thread may represent what controls education in South Dakota more than we like to admit.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Where do you run a railroad?

The DM&E Railroad has the support of people who see it as the great revitalizer for towns suffering decline, such as Huron. While the railroad may have ultimate merit, the questions raised by its critics are generally dismissed or totally ignored by the supporters.

A nagging aspect is the special legislation that permits DM&E to apply for a huge federal loan. While the main purpose of the railroad is to haul coal from mines to electrical generating stations, its plans include plenty of pork and privilege. That is troublesome, and leads to another question.

The biggest argument for the railroad is that it can be a big factor in our energy supply. While we hear so much about cutting our dependence on foreign oil and moving to cleaner sources of fuel, we are also constantly besieged with pronouncements of "experts" who say that we cannot make a mass conversion to clean, renewable fuels. Still, we heard one discussion from clean energy advocates that if we spent the same money on an energy infrastructure that we spent on the war on Iraq, we could build the needed powers lines to conduct windpower, convert to hydrogen fuel, develop and improve bio-based fuels, and utilize the advances made in solar power. But that raises the question of how much of a future the DM&E would have. Are the nay-sayers against alternative fuels trying to create a reason for enterprises like the DM&E in spite of the need and potential to convert to other fuels?

From the outset, the DM&E plan has raised questions about where it will run its tracks. One benefit that came from the abandonment of rail lines in the 1970s and the removal of tracks was that towns were made safer and rail traffic did not interfere with other forms of traffic. It was often said that if railroads made a comeback, there would have to be new requirements for safety and traffic flow about where they could run their tracks. That is the essential argument with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The folks there do not want a railroad to mess up the town and be the cause of traffic problems. People in Aberdeen, S.D., should understand that. They know the essential value of the Second Street overpass and can remember the hassles a few years back when the overpass was being replaced and they had to wait at rail crossings constantly. Where the tracks run is not a trivial consideration.

One other thing about the DM&E. Ask someone connected with Burlington Northern Santa Fe what their attitude is. Their attitude is that they can haul the coal east from Wyoming just as well as DM&E. And other rail lines out of Aberdeen into North Dakota and east are being upgraded to handle heavy grain and coal trains.

The concerns about the DM&E do not come from just the Mayo Clinic. Its competitors have some opinions and plans, too.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Life in Aberdeen

While I was a candidate for the state house, I asked a market research organization I work for from time to time if I could use data from some of their studies in the campaign. They finally answered back and told me what I could use and what was considered proprietary information paid for by their clients.

Begin with the fact that the area that comprises the Aberdeen "micropolitan" region consists of about 14 counties. In the mid-1980s, it led the nation in the rate of outmigration of people, according to data cited by Dun & Bradstreet. The severity of the outmigration and lack of inmigration can be seen in the statistic that, during the same time period, the enrollment in the Aberdeen Public School District dropped by 6,000 students. The big question facing government and civic leaders is whether that bleeding away of young people has slowed down or stopped and what that demographic trend portends for the community and the region.

The slump in Aberdeen population was related closely to the demise of the railroads. When Aberdeen was, in fact, a hub for the intersection of five railroads, it was a distribution center for the region. In other words, goods and materials came to Aberdeen and were distributed from there throughout the region. That role formed the economic structure of the town. People from the region came to Aberdeen to do business because that is where the goods and services were centered. A pattern of life involved people coming to town from the rural areas to shop. They, then, ate dinner in town and went to a movie or some other entertainment before heading home.

The biggest factor in the decline of business and population in Aberdeen has been the consolidation of farming and ranching. In one of the market studies, that counted how many farmsteads have been abandoned and/or demolished, 80 percent of the placesin South Dakota that once accommodated families in rural areas and small towns became vacant in the late 20th century. This decline in occupied homes correlates with the decline in small businesses in small towns.

Another way of looking at the matter is that farm productivity is rising, but the ability of an acre of land to sustain the people working it has dropped by as much as 80 percent. The cost-price squeeze that farmers have experienced has had a severe effect on both the demographics and the economy of the regioin. All of what is referred to as the Buffalo Commons region has experienced this decline, but the Aberdeen micropolitan area has felt it with particular severity.

A point made by market analysts who have been brought in to advise planners over the years is that Aberdeen would need to regain its role as a distribution center or replace that role with something else. There is a history of resistance to changing the patterns of life in Aberdeen, and that resistance aggravated the decline in working-age population.

When large organizations invest in a community by building large facilities, they do so on the basis of detailed and thoroughly analyzed market studies. For example, at one time Osco Drug intended to expand by building an Osco-Buttery store on Sixth Ave. That plan was canceled and Osco eventually pulled out of Aberdeen altogether. Other drug stores that closed at about the same time were a Walgreen agency and a White Drug Store. Their revenues were either stagnant or falling, and market studies did not show that revenues had any possibility of rising again. When I came to Aberdeen, there were four men's stores on Main Street along with two department stores, and another men's store in Super City Mall. The two department stores closed and later reopened at Lakeview Mall, but there are no men's stores in town. This signifies how cultural patterns intertwine with economic factors in affecting the character of communities.

Some things have changed in the economic picture. Menards is expanding to build its Aberdeen store into one of its biggest facilities. Wal-Mart is doing the same. Walgreens has been looking at properties. One hears murmurs that Target is planning an expansion.

Some of Aberdeen's role as a distribution center has been regained. Contractors from the region come into Menards, for example, to pick up supplies as soon as the store opens. Its parking lot shows cars from other counties and North Dakota in the lot at closing. Wal-Mart shows a similar pattern of traffic. Ardo is one of the biggest John Deere dealers in the upper Midwest. Some of the automobile dealers in Aberdeen now carry some of the biggest inventories in the region.

The expansion of U.S. 12 to four-lanes to I-29 has facilitated traffic to and from Aberdeen, especially for trucks. However, railroad upgrades have contributed, too. The proposed beef processing plant in Aberdeen falls into the pattern of a distribution center.

One problem is in the division of the local economy between production and service. The financial industry, particularly debt-collection, has seen some growth in Aberdeen, but manufacturing and the creation of marketable entities lags. Firms dependent upon high-tech operations have not succeeded in Aberdeen.

The problem for people who make policy is that the region offers a rural way of life that is attractive, but it does not have the kind of jobs needed to sustain people who prefer that way of life. Its best chance of attracting those kind of jobs is to continue development of the community as a distribution center.

What needs to be studied is just how that can be done. And that gets into the quality of educational programs that prepare people for the kind of creative and intellectual enterprises that expand the economy by expanding the culture. When young people leave a community because it does not afford them the cultural opportunities, the economic opportunities, or the lifestyle they want, there are many people whose attitude is good riddance.

These are tough issues. Is anyone out there confronting them?


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