South Dakota law enforcement alarmed the state into a manhunt yesterday morning following a multiple shooting in Sisseton:

State and local Law Enforcement are searching for Colter Richard Arbach, 22, Sissteton, the subject in a quadruple homicide. The shooting incident occurred in a Sisseton residence early this morning. Four individuals are dead and one is critically injured. The names of the victims are not being released at this time.

Arbach is armed and dangerous and should not be approached. Anyone who has seen Arbach or knows of his whereabouts is asked to contact the Sisseton Police Department at 605-698-7667 [South Dakota Attorney General's office, press release #1, 2014.11.22, approx. 6 a.m.].

About three and a half hours later, law enforcement found their suspect... dead at the scene of the crime:

The Division of Criminal Investigation has located and identified Colter Richard Arbach, 22, Sisseton, as one of the deceased individuals at the scene of the shooting incident that occurred at a Sisseton residence early this morning. Preliminary investigation results identify Arbach as the shooter, before taking his own life. Investigators are continuing to locate other individuals who may have been at the scene at the time of the shooting for their involvement or their eyewitness account. Law Enforcement does not feel that the public is in danger at this time.

The investigation is still ongoing. Agencies assisting in this investigation are the Sisseton Police Department, Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribal Police, Roberts County Sheriff’s Office, South Dakota Highway Patrol, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and the Division of Criminal Investigation [South Dakota Attorney General's office, press release #2, 2014.11.22, tweeted 9:32 a.m.].

Before whipping the public into a panic, maybe law enforcement should check IDs on the bodies one more time. If investigators knew enough to peg Arbach as the shooter, if they had a description and a photo, then whoever they were talking to at the scene probably would have known enough to ID the perp at the scene.

Keep calm, and carry on.

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Iowa Democrats didn't get beat up as badly as South Dakota Democrats in the midterms. Iowa Democrats lost some but not all statewide races, and they still hold a slim majority in their State Senate. But they are talking seriously about going into "rebuilding mode." What are they focusing on? Des Moines reporter Kathie Obradovich talks to Iowa Dems and summarizes the rebuilding plan thus:

That's a lot to pack in the Democrats' Acme Kit for Party Revival: Unifying leadership, a stronger message and a 99-county organization — plus the ability to raise lots of money and fast [Kathie Obradovich, "Democrats Need Inspiration, Message, Cash," Des Moines Register, 2014.11.22].

More easily said than done, I know, but South Dakota Democrats, take notes! If you're running for party chair (Jeff Barth for sure, maybe Rick Weiland? Ann Tornberg? others?), be ready to tell us how you'll build bridges with factions within the party and friends without, sharpen the Democratic message into effective rallying cries, and engaging grassroots activists in every county?

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Agricultural industry groups complain that President Barack Obama's immigration action won't help them find the workers they need to bring home the bacon. In a brilliant display of rationalization, Hurley hog farmer Steve Schmiechel says the President's inaction and the free market will force him to break the law to stay in business:

Steve Schmeichel, a Hurley, S.D., pig farmer, said he hasn’t hired undocumented immigrants to work on his operation, but the growing labor shortage and ongoing challenge to find employees willing to work means he’ll probably need to soon. Schmeichel said farmers he knows who have hired undocumented immigrants describe them as reliable and willing to work.

“It’s difficult for us or anybody else to find people who are willing to work and do the job and not be afraid to get dirty to get it done,” Schmeichel said. “It’s something that we’re almost going to have to do. It’s our next step” [Christopher Doering and Bill Theobald, "Ag Largely Left Out of Immigration Plan," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.21].

I guess South Dakota's hog farmers and dairy farmers are in the same situation as illegal immigrants. We flooded the Mexican market with subsidized American farm products, crushing the Mexican farm economy. Wal-Mart, sweatshops, and other fruits of NAFTA made things worse for Mexican workers. Mexican workers couldn't wait for the United States Congress or the President to expand and expedite H-2A visas. They couldn't wait to save up half a million dollars to buy an EB-5 visa. To feed their families, those Mexican workers needed to cross the border illegally. They had to. It was their next logical, justifiable, sayable-in-the-paper step, right, Steve?

Schmeichel and the rest of Big Ag just don't want to pay the wages that the local market would bear. They don't want President Obama or Congress to do anything, because that would take away their pool of cheap, exploitable labor:

Sanjay Rawal is the director of Food Chains, a documentary about farmworkers in the United States, which is released in theaters today. I got to chat with him about whether Obama’s failure to address farmworkers in his immigration reform is actually a significant setback.

“Obama is not addressing the needs of agricultural workers in this country,” he agrees. “The reason why the agricultural lobby did not push for farmworkers to be included – and in essence actually fought against it – was because they said that if farmworkers get a pathway to citizenship, they will no longer work in the fields, and [farms] will lose that labor force” [Eve Andrews, "Obama's Immigration Order Won't Help Farmworkers. What Can?" Grist, 2014.11.21].

But wait! We can still get Schmeichel off the hook. Don't blame farmers for the exploitation of migrant labor; blame Safeway and Hy-Vee:

The thesis of Food Chains, essentially, is that the exploitation of migrant farmworkers is a direct result of supermarket monopsony. In short, huge supermarket chains have maintained prices at artificially low levels as the cost of producing fruits and vegetables — in terms of land and equipment — has increased. To survive, farmers have no choice but to hire very, very cheap labor.

“Over and over, we kept hearing that the problem was farmers, the problems were labor contractors, but it seemed like the issues were much more systemic,” Rawal tells me. “And when we started following the coalition, we understood that the problem was really these gigantic corporations that control the entire supply chains. And these corporations can be ruthless” [Andrews, 2014.11.21].

A hog farmer resorts to breaking the law instead of paying market wages. Supermarket corporations refuse to pay producers the market value of their products. Consumers aren't making enough to afford food at the prices legal employment practices and fair payment of farmers would set because their corporate employers aren't paying living wages. That's the American "free" market at work.

What's the real tyranny here? Who in our society is exercising dictatorial power? And what was I saying the other day about slavery?

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The Legislature's Ag Land Assessment Task Force gets me to notice a tiny portion of our agricultural land assessment rules that show South Dakota thinking like Earl Butz, telling farmers to get big or get out... of agricultural land classification.

The evaluation of ag land is currently a contorted potential income tax, but the important part here is that ag land is taxed much less per acre than residential land. SDCL 10-6-31.1 says that land must meet two of these three criteria to be taxed at the lower agricultural rate (farmers, legislators, let me know if I'm boiling them down correctly):

  1. A third of the gross family income must come from agricultural activities on the land;
  2. The principal use of the land is agriculture;
  3. The land in question is at least 20 acres (although counties can increase that minimum up to 160 acres).

The interim committee is considering rewording that statute to make the principal-use criterion mandatory and requiring the land additionally meet either the one-third-income or minimum-size requirement.

I understand that some of the angst over ag land assessment comes from Pennington County, where evidently some Black Hills residents have kept taxes on their scenic parcels low by harvesting a little timber and calling themselves tree farmers.

But consider this situation: suppose the Governor gets serious about rural development in his second term and retools Dakota Roots to recruit young families to take up small-scale farming. We encourage young couples to buy small farms, less than ten acres, to grow real food for local sale and consumption. These young farm couples dig in for some local-level garden farming, but at least one member of the family maintains professional employment teaching, lawyering, doctoring, carpenting, what-have-you to ensure some income stability.

Under either version, current or amended, of our tax rules, those intrepid young small farmers get hit with an extra tax burden. It seems odd to tax farmers more just because they have chosen to work on a smaller scale. It seems contradictory for our income-tax-averse Republican Legislature to impose a higher tax rate on farmers based on their income.

Our property tax code should be able to distinguish between farmers engaged in real farming and Black Hills retirees tricking the county by chopping a few trees. But if we can't write a law to recognize that difference, we shouldn't punish small farmers who choose to sell their goods to their neighbors at the farmers' market instead of Smithfield, ADM, and Bel Brands.

We could avoid all this land-evaluation rigamarole if we just replaced our antiquated property tax with an income tax. Short of that, we could write a tax code that encourages young people to get into farming without feeling like they have to commit to the Big-Ag cycle of corporate serfdom and debt.

Related: The Legislature may be inching toward turning the agricultural land assessment into something even closer to an income tax. At their Tuesday meeting, the ag land assessment task force voted unanimously to commission SDSU economists to study the impacts of assessing ag land on actual use instead of ideal use. (Hey, isn't that Rep. Charlie Hoffman's good idea?)

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I must have missed the Pierre press release on this one....

Forbes this month issued its ranking of the Best States for Business for 2014:

Rank State Business Costs Rank Labor Supply Rank Regulatory Environment Rank Economic Climate Rank Growth Prospects Rank Quality of Life Rank Population
1 Utah 5 4 9 6 10 16 2,923,000
2 North Dakota 9 9 18 4 2 24 733,200
3 North Carolina 4 7 2 24 9 31 9,901,400
4 Virginia 24 2 1 12 33 5 8,292,700
5 Colorado 35 1 13 8 4 9 5,307,800
6 Texas 13 11 16 1 1 33 26,654,300
7 Nebraska 8 22 9 2 46 14 1,873,500
8 Washington 20 6 30 17 6 29 7,002,500
9 Minnesota 33 18 22 7 23 2 5,439,200
10 Oklahoma 7 31 14 5 15 41 3,865,900
11 Delaware 2 8 26 31 27 36 930,000
12 Iowa 11 39 11 9 42 12 3,099,200
13 Massachusetts 49 3 33 11 16 1 6,719,000
14 South Dakota 1 16 31 10 45 30 848,500
15 Indiana 10 45 3 28 31 15 6,585,000
16 Georgia 27 21 4 38 13 38 10,019,900
17 New York 45 30 20 3 17 10 19,688,400
18 Oregon 12 12 39 32 8 35 3,946,100
19 Florida 38 10 15 36 7 32 19,708,200
20 Maryland 41 5 36 16 32 8 5,947,300

Four of six adjoining states outrank South Dakota, whose Republican leaders portray South Dakota as a business haven.

Forbes ranks South Dakota #1 for low business costs (including labor, energy, and taxes), compared to Minnesota, whose 33 in that category is its lowest ranking in Forbes's six metrics. Forbes says it weights business costs most heavily, but Minnesota turns the tables on South Dakota in four other categories, most notably quality of life, where South Dakota ranks 30th while Minnesota ranks #2.

Further showing that you get what you pay for is the split between South Dakota and Massachusetts. That den of East Coast liberal sin offers the second-highest business costs among the states, but it offers the top quality of life. Massachusetts also offers better prospects for growth, ranking 16th compared to South Dakota's 45th.

We were 17th on the Forbes list in 2010 and 2011. We jumped to 12th in 2012, then peaked at 11th in 2013. Minnesota jumped from 20th in 2012 to 8th in 2013. Minnesota beat South Dakota in 2010 and 2011.

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Independent-Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders is awfully popular among progressives. He may run for President in 2016. Our modern Eugene V. Debs tells NPR that Democrats could get their traction back by rediscovering the working class:

...people look out and they say, "Gee, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well." And where are the Democrats? Do people see the Democratic Party standing up to Wall Street? Any of these guys going to jail? Not really. The average person is working longer hours, lower wages, and they do not see any political party standing up and fighting for their rights. What they see is a Republican Party becoming extremely right wing, controlled by folks like the Koch brothers. But they do not see a party representing the working class of this country [Bernie Sanders, interview with Steve Inskeep, "Sen. Bernie Sanders on How Democrats Lost White Votes," NPR: It's All Politics, 2014.11.19].

Senator Sanders sounds an awful lot like our own Rick Weiland. Does that make Weiland a socialist... or just the right man to lead the South Dakota Democratic Party back to its mission and electoral success?

Senator Sanders recommends the sort of socialism that South Dakotans of both parties love—big federal investment in infrastructure:

...whether you're white or black or Hispanic or Asian, if you are in the working class, you are struggling to keep your heads above water. You're worried about your kids. What should the Democratic Party be talking about, Steve? What they should be talking about is a massive federal jobs program. There was once a time when our nation's infrastructure — roads, bridges, water systems, rail — were the envy of the world. Today that's no longer the case [Sanders, 2014.11.19].

Roads, bridges, water systems—we could be building real public goods that would put millions of Americans to work and serve the national interest, but a majority of Senators in the pocket of Big Oil think it's more important to authorize a private foreign oil pipeline that would hurt the U.S. economy and the working class.

Senator Sanders likely won't derail the Clinton nomination. But his exhortation to working-class politics could point Rick Weiland and South Dakota Democrats the route toward votes in 2016.

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Thought you wouldn't have Larry Pressler to kick around any more? Think again.

Yesterday, Pressler released remarks he prepared for a speech he's making today to the Farmers Union Foundation in Aberdeen. The former Senator continues to press his "Pressler Pipeline Plan" to reroute Keystone XL through North Dakota to carry Bakken crude to Midwest refineries instead of piping tar sands oil down to the Gulf and away to China.

There is a great need to build one or two new pipelines across North Dakota, and the right-of-way for them already exists. The Midwestern refineries in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois are currently under capacity, and diesel fuel would be about $1 cheaper than having it refined in Louisiana.

It is more environmentally friendly to move crude oil and distillates by pipeline and we need to free up our railroad equipment to haul more grain. South Dakota farmers need rail access to get their grain to market, and having two pipelines in North Dakota to carry oil will relieve railroad congestion [Larry Pressler, press release, 2014.11.20].

I still prefer preaching conservation (we should less oil and less of the corn syrup to which most of that surplus ag freight is destined), but Pressler's economic details are better than anything our deluding Big-Oil-mouthpiece delegation will offer.

Larry Pressler, still on the hunt...

Larry Pressler, still on the hunt...

Getting into the swing, Pressler fires off another press release today, this one with three little ticklers. Humboldt's most famous John Deere jockey says he plans to "will work for centrist, independent, moderate thinking in politics." He says contributions to the foundation will be tax-deductible, which I assume means he plans to form a 501(c)3, which can register voters, encourage voting, maybe even form a think tank and host events featuring like minded Indies and centrists but cannot contribute to candidates.

O happy Independence and not having to check with Party Central to make sure he won't hurt anyone's feelings by forming his group! Two recommendations, Mr. Pressler:

  1. The Pressler Foundation should host a series of Lincoln-Douglas-style debates between prominent political figures on significant South Dakota political issues. Formulate clear resolutions, require speakers to stay on topic and focus on policy, and have you and other centrists serve as strict moderators and judges at the events. (First speakers: Stace Nelson vs. me!)
  2. Use these events and other fundraising to raise money to support and expand speech activities in South Dakota. Nothing promotes independent, rigorous, policy-oriented thinking better in our fair state than high school debate and Student Congress.

Along with promoting independent thinking, Pressler suggests we could also use some ballot education:

Several people told me they mistakenly double voted, as they innocently believed they could vote for two, and of course that invalidated their vote. There is a lot of misunderstanding about independent candidacies [Larry Pressler, Facebook message, 2014.11.21].

Clip from South Dakota general election sample ballot, 2014

Clip from South Dakota general election sample ballot, 2014

Several people? What? O.K., nothing personal folks, but we're voting for Senator. Yes, we have two Senators, but, as the ballot says, underlined, in bold, we only get to vote for one at a time. It doesn't matter how many guys are running for that one spot; you still only get to pick one... at least until the Pressler Foundation successfully passes an initiative to allow instant run-off/ranked-choice voting. (But oh my; if we can't mark bubbles correctly, can we handle marking our top picks 1, 2, 3?)

But before he launches a foundation or agitates for ballot education reform, Pressler's has to pay the bills:

Meanwhile, I have a more immediate task. Our campaign raised only a total of about $200,000, largely from individual contributions such as yours. I know you have contributed, and I have asked, and some of you have contributed again, and while I do feel a bit audacious and embarrassed (but not apologetic), I do have a $250,000 deficit. I will probably pay it myself, but if you have not reached the $2,600 limit, I would ask that you consider contributing more [Pressler, 2014.11.21].

According to the FEC, Pressler reported being $355K in the hole on October 15, so he's made $105K worth of progress. But we should all appreciate the softest sell in any campaign finance pitch this year: I'll probably pay it myself, but if you want to help, that's o.k.

If Pressler is willing to drop that much of his own cash to close out his campaign, it will be interesting to see how much of his own cash and time he'll be willing to dedicate to promoting further political discussion along the centrist lines he desires.

39 comments

Like Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, President Barack Obama is using his executive authority to tackle immigration problems. Specifically, President Obama announced last night that he is inviting more than four million illegal immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law." Here's the deal, in the President's own words:

We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve with been in America more than five years. If you have children who are American citizens or illegal residents. If you register, pass a criminal background check and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. That’s what this deal is.

Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you [President Barack Obama, address to the nation, transcript posted by Washington Post, 2014.11.20].

Speaker John Boehner says the President is sabotaging efforts to pass legislative immigration reform, even though in his speech last night, the President explicitly invited Congress to pass a bill that would render his action unnecessary, and even though Speaker Boehner has had an effective, bipartisan immigration reform bill on his desk since June 2013. Speaker Boehner says the President is showing he can't be trusted to enforce the law, even though the Boehner Congress has given the President only enough funding to deport 400,000 out of the nation's 11,000,000 illegal immigrants, requiring the President to choose on which minority of illegal immigrants to enforce the law. The action the President announced last night allows law enforcement to focus on crooks and terrorists.

Someone in Rep. Kristi Noem's office types up a response saying that "'my way or the highway' negotiation won’t work." This from the office of a Congresswoman who supported shutting down the federal government and crashing the economy when the President wouldn't yield to GOP demands to repeal health care reform.

Rep. Noem claims that the President is defying the will of the people of South Dakota. On what basis Rep. Noem divines that popular will is unclear, since South Dakotans all seem content to enjoy the cheap produce and other labor made available by those millions of illegal immigrants and unwilling to crack down on the businesses that exploit those workers.

Rep. Noem mentions something about the President's being unconstitutional, but she has yet to enunciate the legal grounds on which she would prosecute the President... probably because there are none:

...[T]he president’s discretion to enforce the immigration laws has always been the cornerstone of a de facto guest-worker (or, if you want, caste) system from which most Americans have greatly benefited. That’s why Republicans’ claim that the president is shredding the Constitution sounds so odd to people knowledgeable about immigration law. He’s just doing what countless Congresses have wanted him to do, and have effectively forced him to do, so that Congress itself could avoid charges that it has created a two-tier system of citizenship where the bottom tier is allowed to stay in this country and work, but is not allowed to vote, to benefit from welfare programs, to travel freely, or to enjoy the full protection of workplace laws. Of course, you might say that the whole illegal immigration system, with its two-tier system of rights, violates the Constitution or at least constitutional values, but the fault for that lies with Congress, not with the president [Eric Posner, "Obama's Immigration Plan Is Perfectly Constitutional," Salon.com, 2014.11.21].

The President is taking legal and practical action to solve problems. We can only wish Speaker Boehner and Rep. Noem were similarly committed to practical action for the good of the country.

Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.

My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forbearers were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal, that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will. That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come [President Barack Obama, 2014.11.20].

Related: Under President Obama, illegal immigration from Mexico has declined, but overall numbers of illegal immigrants in the country have remained relatively stable, dropping just a bit from 11.3 million in 2009 to 11.2 million in 2012.

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