You think I've been hard on Republicans today? Pat Powers is so disgusted with his fellow Republicans that he interrupted his usual lazy Sunday press releases to write his own blog post to blast Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge) and Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea) for exposing the vile, selfish thoughtlessness that having an R in front of one's name excuses in South Dakota:

How does saying test anxiety is contributing to a disturbing suicide rate encourage a young professional businessperson to run as a Republican candidate for office when asked? When going door to door, how does saying “Planned Parenthood is beheading children people like ISIS terrorists” convince people that helping Republicans get elected is a worthwhile cause?

The answer is that they don’t. They’re just incendiary bombs being lobbed for the sole purpose of getting personal attention. And of course they’re going to get attention. They’re over the top, offensive and just plain stupid. And all that attention comes at the expense of all the other Republicans who are trying to do the difficult job of governing, and are now at risk of being painted with the same broad crazy brush by Democrats and the media who look for these opportunities.

Everytime I read that kind of things, I find myself asking “For crying out loud, please stop damaging the Republican brand.” If you feel the need to say something offensive and incendiary, sleep on it first. Bounce it off of a colleague for a read on how it sounds [Pat Powers, "For crying out loud, please stop damaging the Republican brand. (And maybe sleep on it before you say it.)" Dakota War College, 2015.03.01].

Oh, Pat, you and your "brand." May and Latterell aren't "damaging" the South Dakota Republican brand; they are the logical product of the very Republicanism you peddle. They ooze Republican anti-intellectualism. They throw whatever they've got at their opponents. They say vile falsehoods to arouse their base, then assume they can wave the flag or hit Delete and make us all forget. May and (more so) Latterell are Republicans straight out of a Dakota War College lesson plan.

Because May and Latterell are products of the politics he practices, Powers can't issue a simple, uncategorical rejection of their errors. Powers still couches his critique in language about Democrats and the media that make it sound like we are to blame for talking about what Republican legislators say and do in Pierre. "Broad crazy brush"? Hey, if crazy Republicans were just the trim, I could use my narrow brush. But with Reps. Craig and Stalzer disrespecting students who beat their gun bill with smart lobbying, with Rep. Stalzer dissing cops, and with former Noem intern Tomi Lahren calling Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren men (why? why?!?), the "crazy" folks aren't the trim; they are the siding. I can paint all day with the biggest brush I've got and still not cover all the rank idiocy that South Dakota Republicans put out.

(Note: Powers has yet to critique Craig, Stalzer, or Lahren for saying things that hurt the GOP "brand".)

South Dakota Democratic Party chair Ann Tornberg, at whom Powers has regularly thrown mud, agrees with his assessment of Latterell's irresponsible headline-scoring. She sends out this comment appended to Huffington Post's coverage of Latterell's equation of Planned Parenthood and ISIS:

Our politics are cheapened when extreme GOP legislators resort to demagoguery to score headlines. No matter your position on issues like life and choice, South Dakotans deserve better than this kind of hateful rhetoric [Ann Tornberg, SDDP e-mail, 2015.03.01].

Tornberg is party chair; she has as much interest in promoting her party's brand as Powers does his. But for Tornberg, panning Latterell's comments is about respecting all South Dakotans and resisting demagoguery and hateful rhetoric. For Powers, it's just damage control, throwing a couple fellow Republicans overboard for fouling the party's effort to conceal its inherent extremism behind a marketing curtain.

48 comments

I didn't expect today's blog cycle to be the Thoughtless Comments from South Dakota Republicans series, but the hits keep coming.

Facebook friends share comments made at CPAC by Rapid City-born, San Diego-based former Noem intern turned conservative spokesmodel Tomi Lahren, who, in response to the charge that the GOP is the party of old, rich, white males, calls Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren men:

So, I think we’ve gone through this: Old, rich, white males. I want to remind you, let’s look at the top three Democrats for 2016. You’ve got Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden? Old, rich, white, and if the pantsuit fits, male too? [Tomi Lahren, quoted in Tony Ortega, "CPAC Speaker Calls Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren 'Old, Rich, White Males'," Raw Story, 2015.02.28].

Such absurdity warrants no rebuttal. But warranting more attention is Lahren's pro-choce declaration:

See, women like Sandra Fluke will have you believe the only way to be pro-woman is to lobby for free birth control. But, sorry, hun, I’m a Republican, and I can take care of myself. And besides that, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want the government anywhere near my body or my health choices, because have any of you seen how Obamacare or ‘healthcare dot dud’ has been working out? [Lahren, in Ortega, 2015.02.28]

Lahren cites her South Dakota upbringing in her speech to boost her down-home cred, so she must stay in touch with South Dakota politics. She must know her Republican kin back home have passed all sorts of laws dismissing the notion that little ladies like her have the mental wherewithal to take care of themselves.

But CPAC and the conservative media don't pick speakers like Lahren for their rhetorical rigor or mental acuity.

26 comments

Last week I noted Rep. Jim Stalzer's (R-11/Sioux Falls) insult to college students in defense of his dying guns-on-campus bill on the House floor. Evidently, Rep. Stalzer insulted cops, too:

Mike Walsh, South Dakota’s president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said Rep. Jim Stalzer’s, R-Sioux Falls, comment that concealed weapons carriers are more law-abiding than law enforcement officers was “irresponsible” and “disturbing.”

...Walsh said he challenges any legislator to find a state with fewer law enforcement members who have been discharged from duty or charged with a crime.

Walsh said that during a hearing for House Bill 1206, which would have authorized the concealed carry of pistols on public university campuses under certain circumstances, Stalzer said that calling 911 was like calling “dial a prayer”.

“My first thought was that it’s unprofessional to make statements like that to begin with and to base it on something other than actual real data is irresponsible,” Walsh said. “He’s making comments about law enforcement that are completely unjustified. I think law enforcement in South Dakota deserves an apology from him” [Mark Walker, "Police Group Wants Apology from State Lawmaker," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.02.25].

Let me check: if students are mad at Stalzer, and if police are mad at Stalzer, it should be pretty easy to beat Stalzer in 2016, right? And Stalzer should be backpedaling, right?

Stalzer, reached by phone Wednesday, said he will not apologize for his comments. He said his argument was based a report from the Crime Prevention Research Center.

“My intention was not to slam police officers, but rather to compare the honesty and integrity of concealed and carry permit holder to police officers,” Stalzer said. “Unless the report is proven false, I don’t think I have anything to apologize for” [Walker, 2015.02.25].

Rep. Stalzer, you pretty much said it all at "I don't think." If a legislator shoots his mouth off with so little regard for his targets, maybe we should hesitate to let him carry a gun.

Also not needing to apologize will be any District 11 candidate who takes out ads against Stalzer saying, "Stalzer says police lack honesty and integrity." Or heck, just shorten that to "Stalzer hates cops." Unless that statement is proven false, you don't have anything to apologize for.

For the record, here is the offending portion of Rep. Stalzer's February 19 floor speech:

This is "Concealed Permit Holders Across the United States" by the Crime Prevention Research Center which was founded by Dr. John Lott. In Florida they have issued 2.6 million permits over 25 years, and tey've had to rescind 168 of them for some kind of a firearms violation. But it's getting better. From January 2008 to May of 2014 they've only had to rvoke four permits out of the almost 900,000 that are currently in effect. Actually in Florida police officers have more firearms violations than concealed carry permit holders.

In Texas there are over 600,000 permits and they've had 120 where there was a conviction of a misdemeanor or a felony, very few of which involved firearms. And with all due respect to our colleague who is a police officer, the crime rate for police officers is higher than the crime rate for concealed carry permit holders.

[Booing is heard in background; Stalzer laughs nervously].

In Texas it's six times higher, and in Florida it's ten times higher. I do not believe our colleague falls in that category [Rep. Jim Stalzer, remarks on House Bill 1206, South Dakota House, 2015.02.19, timestamp 44:23].

The report Stalzer cites comes from gun advocate John Lott, a "perpetual misinformation machine" for the gun lobby. He was exposed over a decade ago as having based a major pro-gun study on error and fraud, but that hasn't stopped the NRA and gun nuts like Rep. Stalzer from providing a market for Lott's product. Media Matters neatly and linkily dismisses Lott's research:

Lott's research on gun issues, including his famous "more guns, less crime" theory, has been discredited in academic circles and he has faced credible accusations of data manipulation and fabrication. He often twists statistics on gun violence in order to advance a pro-gun agenda [links in original; Timothy Johnson, "NRA-Friendly Washington Times Turns To Discredited Gun Researcher John Lott," Media Matters, 2014.10.10].

Another article notes that Lott himself, writing under a pseudonym, once contended that we should completely dismiss the arguments of an academic who engaged in the above behavior. That article then applies that same standard to Lott:

Time and time again Lott has abused his academic credentials to peddle falsehoods. Instead of soberly presenting evidence, and letting the research speak for itself, Lott instead authored his own fan-base, fabricated evidence, manipulated models, mischaracterized data, and then attempted to bulldoze anybody that dared question the authenticity of his research. This is not the behavior of someone who is interested in truth-seeking; it is the behavior of an ideologue who is concerned only with making his opinions as loud and virulent as possible [Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes, "Shooting Down the Gun Lobby's Favorite 'Academic': A Lott of Lies," Armed with Reason, 2014.12.01].

You ready to apologize yet, Rep. Stalzer?

The report itself looks like another exercise in cherry-picking. Lott cites Florida concealed weapons permit revocation rates for firearms violations. That's far from the overall crime rate. That's not even the full list of crimes that could provoke revocation of a concealed weapons permit, like domestic abuse or possession of controlled substances.

Lott also cherry-picks dates, looking at Florida police firearms violations from 2005 to 2007 while peddling the concealed weapons permit revocation numbers from 1987 to 2014 and emphasizing those numbers from 2008 to 2014. You can't draw conclusions from differing crime rates over different populations in different eras to guide policy right now.

Comparing firearms violations among police and civilians also seems prone to a fatal statistical flaw. Suppose we were looking at nail gun violations (if there were such a thing). I imagine we would find more nail gun violations (accidental discharge, improperly stowing the device or its ammunition) among carpenters, who carry and use nail guns every day for work, than we would among weekend warriors who have nail guns in their garage but only use them for occasional home improvement projects. Ditto for comparing armed police and concealed weapons permit holders: police have their guns every day, every hour on duty. Concealed weapons permit holders do not train as much and do not carry and handle their weapons as frequently and as openly as police officers.

And like our legislators, forgetful or rebellious concealed weapons permit holders sneak their weapons into gun-free zones unnoticed on a regular basis, but those violations won't appear in Lott's warped statistics or any others.

Interestingly, when the question turns from concealed weapons permits to racism, Lott musters his mathematical legerdemain to dismiss as distortions accusations that police improperly use their weapons. Lott alternately defends and attacks police, as it suits his political agenda. Lott's "reports" should be taken as political propaganda, not as reliable scientific research.

Rep. Jim Stalzer should apologize for disguising his attack on the honesty and integrity on South Dakota's police as objective research. The lack of honesty and integrity is Rep. Stalzer's, and citizens of all stripes (police, students, etc.) should work to remove him from office.

24 comments

I'd love to see the state and the education establishment abandon Common Core and similar exercises in faux-accountability and paperwork. But that won't happen with opponents claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids:

We’ve buried eight kids down on that reservation in the last week. We need to sit up and pay attention. I’m not naive enough to think the Common Core is the… is what’s causing all of this, but it’s part of the effect. We’ve got teachers down there who have just quit teaching it, because the kids can't do it [Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge), remarks on House Bill 1223, South Dakota House, 2015.02.24, timestamp 21:12].

At this point, Speaker Dean Wink (R-29/Howes) interrupted Rep. May to pull her back to the motion at hand, which was not the Common Core-repealing House Bill 1223 itself but the question of whether to place HB 1223 on the calendar for debate. Even if the House had allowed that debate to happen, the suggestion that Common Core leads to Indian youth suicide sounds more like a high school debate nuke-war disad (the classic argument that demonstrates that any federal policy change leads to mushroom clouds) than a useful legislative contention.

Suicide is a serious problem for our Native neighbors. The Pine Ridge Reservation has had waves of youth suicides since well before the adoption of Common Core. Dr. Delphine Red Shirt says the despair driving these suicides comes from the culture of fear imposed imposed by colonialism. Maybe we could make the argument that imposing Western rationalist curriculum standards on Indian reservations is one aspect of colonialism. But with the Department of Education warning that repealing Common Core would only require implementing new (Western rationalist) standards, and with Common Core opponents suggesting new standards, the colonialism critique doesn't get us anywhere on HB 1223.

But Rep. May wasn't making that deep critique. She seems to have been colonializing her Indian neighbors again, exploiting their pain to advance her political goal of the moment. This one ill-considered rhetorical tactic only weakened her position, opening education policy critics to ridicule from the national press, which lump her suicide claim in with other wild accusations made by Common Core opponents.

The Huffington Post lets Rep. May try to explain herself:

May clarified her comments for The Huffington Post, noting that, “Our suicide rate keeps increasing on the [Pine Ridge] reservation, our kids are under a lot of distress socially and economically.”

Indeed, the suicide rates of Native youth are disproportionately high around the country.

May further said she thinks the Common Core State Standards put too much emphasis on standardized testing.

“Very simple, testing, testing testing. They have to teach to the test. You know and I know and every teacher in the trenches on the reservation know it,” wrote May in an email. “It never is about children and teachers it's about a bureaucracy.”

“There’s kids who just won't go to school," she added over the phone. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children. We see it more in the depressed areas of our country. Not all children learn the same. We can't put everybody inside a box, it doesn’t work."

The Common Core State Standards do not necessarily increase amounts of standardized testing, but tests aligned with the standards have been noted for their rigor [Rebecca Klein, "South Dakota Legislator Suggests Common Core Contributed To Kids' Deaths," Huffington Post, 2015.02.27].

We can dismantle Rep. May's elaboration on straight logic:

  1. "Our suicide rate keeps increasing" indicates the problem has arisen from and will continue as a result of other factors. HB 1223 would not have solved.
  2. "too much emphasis on standardized testing" has been a critique of every standards movement (remember No Child Left Behind?). HB 1223 would have left the testing regime in place.
  3. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children"—then why did Rep. May's remarks on the House floor Tuesday talk about suicide among Indian children? Is there a spate of white youth suicides induced by Common Core that Rep. May left unmentioned? This comment sounds like Rep. May realizing she'd made a weak claim and trying to move the debate to a different topic.

We could beat back Common Core and other centralized intrusions on the art of good teaching with better, more practical arguments. Claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids only invites ridicule that prevents good arguments from being heard.

38 comments

The South Dakota Legislature will not require me to wear my bright pink t-shirt when I ride my bike. They may, however, require you motorists to give me three feet in town and six feet in the country.

Apparently listening to the bicycle community, Rep. Nancy Rasmussen (R-17/Hurley) went to House Transportation on February 17 and pulled the plug on her House Bill 1214, which would have required bicyclists to wear fluorescent or reflective clothing. Unlike Senator Corey Brown, when Rep. Rasmussen saw her bill was a bad idea, she didn't whine or threaten her opponents; she simply asked that the committee table her bill. Unlike most legislators, committee members Dennis Feickert, Jim Stalzer, and Mike Verchio did not automatically extend Rep. Rasmussen the standard courtesy of voting aye in response to a sponsor's tabling request. HB 1214 nonetheless died 10–3.

House Bill 1030, the "move over for bikes" bill, survived House Transportation, the full House, and Friday, Senate Transportation. You're already supposed to give any vehicle—motor or pedal—a "safe distance" when you pass; HB 1030 defines "safe distance" between cars and bikes as three feet at slower speeds and six feet at speeds above 35 miles per hour.

Department of Transportation lawyer Bill Nevin told Senate Transportation that the point of HB 1030 is not to write more tickets. The point is to educate everyone on the road and bring down the number of car-bicycle accidents. (Nevin said that from 2002 through 2013, South Dakota had 1,156 bicyclists injured—7 of them killed—in collisions with motor vehicles.)

Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-4/Florence), an avid cyclist, joined proponents testifying for HB 1030. He said cars frequently buzz by him within inches while he's riding... which is odd, because in all my riding, I rarely have such close encounters. Could South Dakota motorists be more inclined to buzz Republican legislators than liberal bloggers?

After additional proponentry from the Department of Public Safety, certified bicycle safety instructor Chris Parsley, and the American Heart Association, one opponent took the mic. Shane Barber, rancher and water tank manufacturer from Hermosa, ran the Gordon Howie critique, saying his road, twenty-foot-wide Lower Spring Creek Road, is to narrow to accommodate bicycles and the cars and overwidth hay trucks that would have to give them HB 1030's six-foot berth. Barber complained that HB 1030 makes no provision for "substandard width lanes," a phrase Barber chose carefully. Barber said that current law requires cyclists to ride "as close as practicable" to the right edge of the road. Among the exceptions to that stricture is a "substandard width lane" like Lower Spring Creek Road or Highway 34 through Madison, where cyclists are allowed to take the full lane to discourage passing. Barber said HB 1030 might be acceptable if it included some exception for drivers in such lanes and encouraged bicyclists to do what Barber said is standard practice for drivers of overwidth trucks and farm implements: pull over and let cars pass.

In response to Mr. Barber's concerns, Transportation Chairman Mike Vehle (R-20/Mitchell) plugged his own road-funding bill as the best solution: "If we had more money, we could make the shoulders a little wider." Committee members and the audience laughed—Senator Vehle has been pushing more road funding for years—and the committee then unanimously passed House Bill 1030 to the full Senate.

*   *   *

By the way, Senate Transportation member Rep. Alan Solano (R-32/Rapid City) mentioned during Friday's hearing that the safety concerns motivating HB 1030 are like those motivating the state's "move over" law for vehicles stopped along the side of the road. That's the rule that says if you see any vehicle pulled over with its hazard lights flashing on the Interstate, you need to get over in the passing lane. The law also applies on two-lane roads, but instead of moving over, the law requires that you slow down to 20 miles per hour below the speed limit. That rule applies to any stopped vehicle with yellow flashers; HB 1030 applies only to bicycles "proceeding." So if you see Rep. Deutsch standing beside his bike on the shoulder of Highway 20 on the way to Florence, you don't have to swerve left six feet, but if he has his winky-blinky light on, you have to slow down to 45.

5 comments

A million things are happening, yet I am sad to distraction over the death of one actor. Quite human, Mr. Spock would say, and quite illogical.

Star TrekThe man who brought Spock to life, Leonard Nimoy, died today. He played one famous role, enjoyed a variety of other artistic passions, and got four memorial posts in the New York Times and a statement on his passing from the President of the United States. Much poorer lives have been lived.

As far as I know, Leonard Nimoy never visited South Dakota*, never influenced the direction of our fair state. But he influenced me.

Star Trek was the most influential text of my youth. Nimoy's Spock was the most influential character in that text. Nimoy's Spock represented the person whose logic and intellect made him an outsider. He insisted there must be a logical explanation for everything, some machine or mischief behind every pretend god. Spock helped me make sense of who I was and who I wanted to be. (If I were more given to introspection, I might nail down more accurately to what extent Spock and Star Trek shaped me and to what extent Nimoy's and Gene Roddenberry's art resonated with a character already formed.)

Leonard Nimoy gave depth and soul to his Vulcan. Subsequent portrayals of Vulcans on television seemed merely cross. Zachary Quinto gets his big-screen alternate-timeline Spock better. Maybe Nimoy had and Quinto has an advantage over other Vulcan portrayers: Spock is half Vulcan, half human, an ideally conflicted character for actors, viewers, and readers alike. Along with Nimoy, we got to explore an alien soul struggling with his own profound internal conflict, yet subordinating that personal conflict to devote his strength to helping sometimes resentful, xenophobic others survive and resolve great external battles.

Nimoy brought out that conflict. Nimoy made Spock more than interesting; he made Spock a literary character worth talking about. He used Spock to help explain to a biracial teenage girl how she could deal with not fitting in with white or black society. He made Spock a character who spoke to real-world problems (that's a big part of why literature matters). He made Spock an icon of humanity who was not human.

Leonard Nimoy made good art. Leonard Nimoy is no longer with us to make that art. Nimoy's performances made our culture richer; Nimoy's passing leaves us poorer. To praise the former and mourn the latter is logical.

*   *   *

p.s.: Leonard Nimoy was not so serious about his that he could not make fun of it. His 2013 tag-team Audi ad with Zachary Quinto nicely spoofed their movie stardom (and Nimoy's singing):

pp.s: Within his Star Trek oeuvre, Leonard Nimoy was perhaps proudest of his work directing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home—you know, the one with the whales. In NPR's report on his passing, Neda Ulaby notes "Nimoy was proud of the film's environmental message and that this was the only Star Trek movie that did not involve weapons or even villains." The director's favorite Star Trek movie solved problems of our own making with brains and courage, not phasers set to kill bad guys and bogeymen. Think about that, gun-crazy South Dakota legislators.

*Update 09:25 CST: Nimoy was here! Owen Reitzel comment-links KELO's obituary, which includes a clip of a TV interview with Nimoy in Sioux Falls in 1981.

14 comments

People use county roads to get to town to buy booze. People who do stupid things after drinking that booze then use county jails. Counties do not get to tax sales or alcohol to pay for those roads and jails. Towns do.

Why the Legislature so throttles the counties but not the towns escapes me. As the road funding bill has been pared down to reduce the funding counties get to fix their deteriorating roads and bridges, the Legislature is advancing Senate Bill 135, which would allow the towns to impose an additional sales tax for their needs.

The Legislature's willingness to heed town criers while ignoring destitute county commissions seems odd. By itself, however, SB 135 doesn't seem like a terrible idea. If towns have needs, they ought to be able to meet those needs. Local control, yadda yadda.

But then Pat Powers comes tooling along for the Koch Brothers to shout Oh my Mammon! SB 135 increases taxes $150 million! Aaaaaaaahhh!

Please. The press release Pat reads from Americans for Prosperity lives in the La-La Land in which its Koch-sipping serfs need to make it look like they are busy. "If every city in South Dakota participated, it would mean more than $150 million in new taxes." Sure. And if every city in South Dakota participated, that would mean every city in South Dakota apparently has unmet needs, and a majority of voters in every city in South Dakota agree that their city commissioners are making wise taxation decisions. That's how democracy works... but as we know, Americans for Prosperity has a problem with democracy. They thus must blow up local control as an evil new tax and stand in the way of local governments meeting local needs.

Americans for Prosperity—remember, they're not for the collective prosperity, just the prosperity of the 1%.

15 comments

The South Dakota Senate passed the latest nibble at women's reproductive rights yesterday, voting 29–5 for House Bill 1130. This measure makes it illegal for abortion providers to accept payment until after women have had a good hard think during South Dakota's minimum 72-hour waiting period.

South Dakota has only one abortion provider, and even proponents acknowledge that such prepayment is not standard practice. HB 1130 thus has little practical effect. But Senator Angie Buhl O'Donnell (D-15/Sioux Falls) explains the moral effect of further insult to women:

I’m bothered by the underlying idea that women could possibly, that women take so lightly the idea of what they’re going to do when they have an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy that they might think to themselves – well, gee I was gonna decide to keep the pregnancy but I already wrote the check so ok let’s go. That really bothers me [Senator Angie Buhl O'Donnell, quoted in Jackelyn Severin, "Senators Pass Measure Restricting Payments for Abortion Procedures," SDPB Radio, 2015.02.26].

Senate Health and Human Services made a minor amendment to HB 1130, eliminating a line that would have prohibited abortion providers from accepting a commitment for payment. The bill must thus return to the House for concurrence.

67 comments

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