Want to meet the King of the Netherlands? Go to Emmetsburg, Iowa, Wednesday and see His Majesty Willem-Alexander break a wooden shoe across the bow of the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the country.

The King is coming because Dutch bioscience firm Royal DSM has partnered with Sioux Falls-based ethanol producer POET in Project Liberty, an effort to make ethanol out of something other than stuff we eat. DSM has developed the enzyme that breaks down corn-waste cellulose; POET has built the new processing plant in Emmetsburg that will use DSM's biotech to turn 770 tons of corn stover (cobs, leaves, husks, and stalks) into 20 million gallons (and eventually 25 million gallons) of cellulosic ethanol each year.

A UNL study earlier this year contended that making biofuel from corn stover would do more harm than sticking with gasoline by removing biomass from the soil and reducing farmland's capacity to capture carbon dioxide. The EPA says the study is based on the erroneous assumption that cellulosic ethanol harvesting would remove all of the stover from farm fields. POET says it is promoting sustainable corn waste harvest methods that would leave about 75% of the biomass on the ground to maintain soil nutrients and prevent erosion. We have to burn more fuel to make more passes over the corn fields to collect this biomass, but POET says removing excess corn waste will allow farmers to make fewer tillage passes over their fields to incorporate the remaining residue or make it easier to go to no-till farming.

So welkom Koning Willem-Alexander, and gefeliciteerd en veel geluk to Poet and DSM on making celluslosic ethanol commercially viable.

1 comment

What?! Nobody brought up the EB-5/Northern Beef Packers scandal at the State Fair gubernatorial debate? My belief is beggared! Debate sponsor Farmers Union is clearly showing its organizational bias toward Republicans, obviously shielding Governor Dennis Daugaard from questions about his involvement in the loss of millions of tax dollars and the privatization and exploitation of a federal program for personal profit on his watch. Obviously.

John Tsitrian agrees with me that Rep. Susan Wismer should not shield Governor Daugaard from her direct questioning. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate announced (unprompted, it seems, by any public criticism) that she would like permission to step down from the Government Operations and Audit Committee that is supposed to be investigating EB-5/NBP and send a proxy to question Governor Daugaard, former governor Mike Rounds, EB-5 exec Joop Bollen, and EB-5 lawyer Jeffrey T. Sveen (if they show) at GOAC's September 24 hearing. Tsitrian says stepping away from GOAC at this crucial moment cheats citizens and Wismer's own campaign:

...Wismer is still an elected official with all the knowledge and responsibilities that go with that position.  I have no doubt that during her work on this matter, Wismer has learned some things that give her a particular set of insights that no proxy could possibly possess. It's Wismer's job to bring that knowledge to bear on the hearings regardless of the political repercussions that will be an inevitable part of this process.

...Wismer's withdrawal from the committee would be doing voters a disservice because she's got a great opportunity to get some substantive media face time as the election approaches. Could there be a better way for voters to get the measure of her and Daugaard than in a face-to-face confrontation occurring during the routine work of government? I relish the chance to watch them doing what we hired them to do, along with all the comparisons and contrasts that go with it. Given her underdog status, Wismer should relish it too [John Tsitrian, "No Way Should Susan Wismer Withdraw From The EB-5 Hearings. No Way," The Constant Commoner, 2014.08.28].

As Tsitrian says, political theater is not inherently repulsive. Sometimes spectacle serves the public interest. Wismer as warrior on EB-5 is exactly the image that made her appearance at the Dakotafest debate a success. Wismer should keep that image ball rolling, stay on GOAC, and be ready to play Watergate inquisitor on September 24. What did you know and when did you know itwho wouldn't want to look Governor Daugaard in the eye and ask him those questions?

5 comments

Want a lieutenant governor with hustle? Vote for Susy Blake (and that Susan gal who's running with her)!

Around 2:30 p.m. CDT today, Blake posted this status and photo on Facebook:

"Having an amazing time and meeting wonderful people at the Eagle Butte Powwow!"

Susy Blake: "Having an amazing time and meeting wonderful people at the Eagle Butte Powwow!"

About six hours later, Blake posted this status and photo:

Susy Blake: "Rock'n to Boston!" FB photo, South Dakota State Fair, 2014.08.31

Susy Blake: "Rock'n to Boston!" FB photo, South Dakota State Fair, 2014.08.31

From powwow in Eagle Butte to grandstand rock in Huron in one day—Susy Blake may be the hard-charging South Dakota mom everyone can love. And I have more than a feeling that Blake keeps up this schedule on corndog power! We're ready, Susy! Don't look back! Keep on campaigning!

8 comments

When her son Brady Alan Folkens died in state custody, Dawn Van Ballegooyen of Brookings accused the state of South Dakota of murder. So did Larry Kurtz.

Here are the facts placed on the record by the state of South Dakota. First, the state press release on Folkens's death:

A 17-year old male resident of the State Treatment and Rehabilitation (STAR) Academy in Custer has died from an apparent medical condition.

Brady Folkens developed symptoms and was seen by on-site medical staff before being taken to the Custer Regional Hospital on Dec 21. After being placed in the care of the Custer Regional Hospital, the decision was made to airlift Brady to Sioux Falls so that he could be seen by a specialist. Brady passed away Saturday night at a Sioux Falls hospital.

The family was notified and was present at the hospital at the time Brady died.

Per Department of Corrections (DOC) policy, the Juvenile Corrections Monitor (JCM) was also notified of the death. The JCM serves as an independent advocate for the youth placed at STAR Academy.

An autopsy will be conducted. The DOC has requested that the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation investigate the death, which is standard procedure for all deaths that occur while someone is in DOC custody.

There is no indication at this time that any of STAR Academy’s youth or staff members need any special medical treatment as a result of this illness. However, test results are still pending regarding the cause of his illness and if further follow-up is indicated appropriate measures will be taken.

Brady’s name is being released with the approval of his family.

STAR Academy is home to the state-run juvenile corrections programs. The Patrick Henry Brady Academy and Youth Challenge Center programs for males are located on the main campus south of Custer, while programs for female offenders are located in Custer State Park. The youth that are served by STAR Academy have all been placed in the custody of the DOC by the court system [South Dakota Department of Corrections, press release, 2013.12.22].

DOC issued this statement on the autopsy in February:

A death certificate shows a 17-year-old resident of the State Treatment and Rehabilitation (STAR) Academy in Custer died from lymphocytic myocarditis associated with Parvovirus B19.

Brady Folkens developed symptoms and was seen by on-site medical staff before being taken to the Custer Regional Hospital on Dec 21. After being placed in the care of the Custer Regional Hospital, the decision was made to airlift Brady to Sioux Falls so that he could be seen by a specialist. Brady passed away that night at a Sioux Falls hospital.

Parvovirus B19 is a common viral infection in children also known as erythema infectiosum or Fifth disease. This has been called Fifth disease because it is one of five common viral rash illnesses in children, along with measles, rubella, chicken pox and roseola. This infection is usually associated with runny nose and fever (most often thought of as a common cold) and then often followed by a bright red rash of the cheeks. There is no treatment for this virus and symptoms usually resolve spontaneously. However, when the infection invades the cells of the heart it can cause muscle dysfunction in the heart.

The Division of Criminal Investigation investigated the death and determined that no foul play was involved.

The juvenile corrections monitor (JCM) has submitted a report that shows no evidence of abuse or neglect and had no further recommendations in this case. The JCM serves as an independent advocate for the youth placed at STAR Academy [State of South Dakota, press release, 2014.02.05].

A commenter claiming to be Dawn Van Ballegooyen has alternated between saying that Brady Folkens died because of the state's neglect and saying that the state committed murder. I await confirmation of that commenter's identity, but either claim provokes sufficiently to warrant discussion in a thread of its own.

I invite discussion of Van Ballegooyen's charge. However, I will moderate to keep the discussion focused on available and relevant facts. This discussion does not branch off into discussion of other child welfare cases or campaign advocacy. Our questions here:

  1. Did the state of South Dakota murder Brady Folkens?
  2. Did the state of South Dakota neglect Brady Folkens when he needed medical assistance?
  3. Are any of the facts as laid out by the state in the press releases above incorrect?
79 comments

Speaking of South Dakota wages, I continue to gather evidence that South Dakota could afford my moonshot plan to raise our average teacher pay $10,000, to 34th in the nation.

$10,000 may seem like an awful lot of cream on top of the teachers' pie, but this chart from the South Dakota Budget and Policy Institute says we could have done if we loved teachers as much as we love state employees:

SD Budget and Policy Institute: growth of state employee salaries vs teacher salaries, 2000–2013

(click to embiggen!)

South Dakota's average teacher salary: $39,580. South Dakota's hypothetical average teacher salary if we had funded salary increases at the same rate that Governors Janklow, Rounds, and Daugaard gave their employees: $49,189. Difference: $9,609.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

16 comments

Todd Epp of Northern Plains News finds an interesting report from the Tax Foundation stating that South Dakota is the fifth-best state for stretching a dollar:

Tax Foundation, price parity

(click to embiggen!)

Only Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Alabama can make a dollar go further. Dollars shrink the most in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, and California.

The Tax Foundation used these same data earlier this year to calculate that South Dakotans have the fourth-highest adjusted per capita disposable income in the U.S. (which per-capita figure does not take into account concentration of wealth at the top).

Take these data at face value, and we run into a policy implication that might alarm South Dakotans: to ensure the same desired economic and social outcomes across all states, South Dakotans should pay more in federal taxes and receive less in social assistance. Consider the federal child tax credit: leaving $1,000 in a South Dakotan's pocket provides significantly more help than leaving the same amount in a New Yorker's pocket. To enable the New Yorker to buy as many diapers and boxes of Cheerios as the South Dakotan, the IRS should allow the New Yorker a child tax credit of $1,154 and the South Dakotan $882. Maybe New Yorkers should start a riot over that IRS unfairness.

But notice that the Tax Foundation's read of dollar-stretchability doesn't square with other data we've looked at this year. The ACCRA cost of living index for South Dakota in 2014 Q1 was 98.3% of the national average, suggesting we South Dakotans only get $1.73 stretch out of every hundred dollars. Adjust our median wage (ah, there we start capturing some sense of wealth concentration) by cost of living, and South Dakota is at a regional low for purchasing power. So are adjusted teacher salaries. Even when we look at adjusted average wages, South Dakota families can get by on one average full-time income in only 13 of our 66 counties.

Dollars do stretch in South Dakota, but we need the state and employers to shake more dollars loose so workers can enjoy those bargains.

2 comments

Mike Rounds is lying again. After yesterday's State Fair debate, the Rounds campaign issued a press release making these false claims:

Key points in today’s debate include:

  • Rick Weiland’s belief that everyone should be on Medicare; creating a single payer system.

Gov. Rounds disagrees.

“Rick is the only candidate in America who believes in signing everyone up for Medicare. Why? Because it’s a terrible idea that will ruin Medicare for every South Dakota senior” [Rounds for Senate campaign, press release, regurgitated by Pat Powers, Dakota War College, 2014.08.29].

Rounds dishes three errors:

  1. The semicolon in his fragment bullet point makes no sense. If creating is a participle modifying everyone should be on Medicare, the punctuation should be a comma.
  2. Rick Weiland is not advocating that everyone should be on Medicare. As Weiland has stated consistently throughout his campaign and as has been reported regularly by multiple new outlets, he supports opening Medicare enrollment to all willing customers, of any age. That is not single-payer... unless Medicare is so good that, given the chance, everyone would choose it over the private insurance that Mike Rounds sells. Ah, so that's what Mike is afraid of....
  3. Signing everyone up for Medicare (which I support) or even signing several million new policyholders up (which Weiland proposes) does not ruin Medicare for any South Dakota senior. Insurance 101, Mike: the surest way to strengthen a risk pool is to sign up more members, especially more members who pose less risk than the average member of your current pool. It's not as if Medicare only has $492 billion to spend on health benefits and new enrollees will be slicing that pie into smaller pices, forcing Grandma to wait for her new hip. Weiland's new enrollees would be younger working people, adding their premiums to Medicare's $576 billion in revenue and drawing less out in benefits than their older counterparts. Letting my family and millions like us buy into Medicare makes Medicare stronger for my parents.

Mike Rounds the insurance agent knows full well that Weiland's Medicare-as-public-option proposal would make Medicare stronger the same way that all of us coming into Fischer Rounds to buy our insurance would make his company stronger. But the last thing Mike Rounds the insurance agent wants is a stronger Medicare that cuts his personal profits. That's why, almost every time Mike Rounds opens his mouth about Medicare, he lies.

Related Reading:

52 comments

Fake Libertarian candidate for attorney general Chad Haber has chosen to exploit American Indian foster children as his primary campaign (fundraising) issue. Even American Indians aren't falling for Haber's latest scam. Chase Iron Eyes, attorney for the Lakota People's Law Project that worked to bring abuses in South Dakota's foster care system to light long before Chad Haber decided he could make money off the issue, says Haber's exploitation of the issue is as bad as any cover-up or corruption of which we might accuse Haber's opponent, Attorney General Marty Jackley:

The articles surrounding the issue recently have tended to focus on Chad Haber and his campaign to unseat Marty Jackley from the Attorney General’s office.

Lakota People’s Law Project believe Jackley and his officers were more interested in covering the tracks of the corrupt DSS than pursuing justice for disempowered and sexually abused children.

The heinousness of this crime cannot be overstated and the fact that it has received little to no press coverage inside or outside of South Dakota is disappointing to say the least.

However, it is equally dismaying to see this unconscionable instance being used as little more than a narrow window of political opportunism by opponents to Jackley who are angling for a high-powered state job.

The Mette case should not be about elections. If Haber is elected, will the illegal practices of the Department of Social Services suddenly cease? Forgive us for our cynicism, but it is doubtful [Chase Iron Eyes, "The Mette Case Is About the Children, Not Elections," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.08.28].

South Dakota's Lakota people have true allies in the ACLU, the U.S. Department of Justice, and other conscientious actors. They recognize that the attorney general campaign is a sideshow that will do nothing to advance the cause of their children and families.

88 comments

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