The December graduates at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology will get to hear from the guy who runs the Skunk Works. Delivering the December 20 commencement address is Alton D. Romig, Jr., Lockheed Martin VP and program manager for the aerospace company's secret weapons program, which over the last 70 years has produced weapons like the U-2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-117 stealth fighter, and now the F-35 fighter jet.

Romig is also a frequent donor to Mines President Heather Wilson's political campaigns in New Mexico. According to OpenSecrets.org, Romig has put about $3,350 in Wilson's campaign kitty. Romig's Lockheed Martin also manages the Sandia National Laboratory, which hired Wilson as a consultant after her stint in Congress. Wilson's consulting for Sandia has been implicated in a Department of Energy Inspector General's investigation of improper lobbying for a no-bid contract for Lockheed Martin.

But hey, it's graduation! Don't bug Alton about his pal Heather's consulting troubles. Let's just talk about how we can put our best and brightest to work securing global dominance through the military-industrial complex and how three-quarters of them will leave South Dakota right away to do such work.

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The GOP spin machine is trying really hard to scare Republicans away from investing $100 million in South Dakota roads by calling "the single largest tax increase in state history." Pat Powers tries to lower expectations and deter support by claiming the proposal from the interim Highway Needs and Financing Committee is dead on arrival.

Powers had better get in line with his corporate overlords, who are lining up behind road investment. For the past year, a variety of industry lobbying groups have been building a "Roads Are Vital" campaign to make taxes sound fun. Who's on the team supporting a ten-cent gasoline tax hike? The Chamber of Commerce, the general contractors, the truckers association, the cement and asphalt groups (yes, there is a Dakota Asphalt Pavement Association—they initiate new members by tarring and feathering), county commissioners, co-ops, Big Ag, engineers, AAA, the auto-dealers....

The Roads Are Vital Coalition is out tweeting and marketing its pitch, saying, among other things, that the current dip in gasoline prices presents the perfect opportunity to raise the gasoline tax. And while they don't have Governor Daugaard full-throatedly singing their song, they don't have him killing the roads proposal, which he could do with a word if he wanted.

Dead on arrival? I don't think so. The Roads Are Vital Coalition poses a powerful, big money threat to Republicans' commitment to their campaign-trail slogans. Add to that pressure the glaring reality of our crumbling roads and bridges, and we just might see the 2015 Legislature fill some potholes.

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Let's be clear from the start, I'm just making a sandwich, not exercising reproductive choice.

I contributed to the oppression of the proletariat yesterday by shopping for groceries at Walmart. I picked up some salami, another moral offense.

In the checkout line, my cashier, a black woman in hijab, scanned the salami where it lay on the conveyor. She then said something to me that did not register. I thought maybe she was puzzled as to how to proceed with my reusable shopping bag (that's me, trying to win back anti-consumerist karma) and was asking if she could place my remaining ten items in twelve plastic bags. I gestured toward my French loaf and my fabric bag. She returned my befuddled look and clarified:

"My religion does not allow me to touch pork. Will you put the pork in your bag?"

Islam! Pork! Of course! I once invited a Muslim to let me make him lunch, but all I had in the fridge was a frozen pepperoni pizza. He declined and went home hungry.

I was in buy mode, not blog mode, so I cheerfully grabbed the salami and put it in my grocery bag. My cashier scanned and bagged the rest of my items... which, interestingly, included a frozen pepperoni pizza that didn't set off her haraam alarm.

When I got home, I got to thinking. The Muslim pork taboo isn't just about touching swine flesh. My salami was packaged in plastic and cardboard. The taboo can logically extend to refusing to be complicit in the sin of others who would eat such foul meat. My cashier didn't refuse to complete the transaction, as some Muslim cashiers have done with customers elsewhere buying pork or alcohol. But my cashier did decline to provide me with a basic service that her customers and her boss expect her to provide.

Remember, it's just salami. One package of salami.

But how many cashiers are Muslim? (At my nearest Walmart, many.) How many customers have pork products in their baskets? Multiply those numbers by stores, and you start exerting a noticeable downward pressure on customer experience and check-lane efficiency. And suppose on a certain slow shift, every member of the minimal checking crew is Muslim. At that hour, does Walmart have to hang a sign directing all ham buyers to the self-service checkout? Or for the sake of its business model, does Walmart have to ensure that every cashier on every shift can handle every transaction that a customer may bring to the till?

Whether we're talking salami or birth control, I could see any retailer saying that if you have moral principles against certain products, you shouldn't work in stores that sell those products.

But can we say that? Can we tell Muslims (and Jews, and fundamentalist Christians who take Leviticus 11:7–8 at face value) that they don't get to work as grocery cashiers? Or do faithful cashiers get a conscience clause that means I take my meat to the self-service counter?

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Bob Mercer does us the favor of pointing out the individuals nominated to dig up good candidates to run Dakota State University. The folks recruited from outside the Regental system demonstrate the South Dakota view that the primary purpose of DSU and higher education in general is jobs and economic development:

  • Julie Gross, executive director, Lake Area Improvement Corporation
  • Michael Halverson, VP Information Security Administration, Citibank
  • Miles Beacom, President/CEO, Premier Bankcard

The latter two also reinforce DSU's rich history of being torn away from its liberal arts mission and converted by Bill Janklow into a training school for the usury industry.

This search committee does at least nod toward my friends in Beadle Hall, including digital arts and design major Jared Mills a a student member of the search committee. The last time the Regents empaneled a team to search for a new DSU president, in 2012, they included no representatives of the liberal arts. Of course, the Regents also pulled the plug on that search committee a week after its naming and elevated David Borofsky from interim leader to president, which seems to have worked out poorly for pretty much everyone.

Borofsky has yet to update his LinkedIn résumé. Borofsky's previous employer, for-profit Westwood College in Denver, still faces a lawsuit from the Illinois attorney general over deceptive marketing practices. The college he ran before that, Bates Technical College in Tacoma, settled a lawsuit with graduates dissatisfied with the salability of their degrees for a half million dollars. No word yet on whether Borofsky's brief reign has drawn DSU into any litigation.

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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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Gun Nut Shelley Gidding is throwing an NRA fundraiser in Sioux Falls next week. No, really, she calls herself a Gun Nut.

A Girl and a Gun Women's Shooting League holds a launch party Thursday, October 9, 6–9 p.m., at Prairie Berry in Sioux Falls. Yes, Prairie Berry, because what goes better with firearms than alcohol? The launch party will include a raffle, proceeds of which go not to the club but to the NRA Women's Network... which doesn't seem to need much in the way of donations, since, like the entire "A Girl and a Gun" national organization, it is sponsored by Smith & Wesson.

Gidding has had this project in the works since last spring, after attending the national conference of the "A Girl and a Gun Women's Shooting League (also sponsored by Smith & Wesson).

Shelley and her husband Caleb write a lot about guns on Gun Nuts Media, their shooting sports news site... also sponsored by Smith & Wesson.

Hang on, I'm having trouble telling the difference between this shooting league launch and a Pampered Chef sales meeting.

But hey! Have some wine, and help Smith & Wesson sell more product.

 

 

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Hey, you know that contract Mike Rounds let Joop Bollen sign with himself? No big deal—it's just a misdemeanor:

Officer's interest in public contract as misdemeanor. No public officer who is authorized to sell or lease any property, or make any contract in the officer's official capacity may become voluntarily interested individually in any sale, lease, or contract, directly or indirectly with such entity. A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor unless the act is exempted by law [South Dakota Codified Law 3-16-7].

Bollen's immediate superiors, Northern State University president James Smith and then-Board of Regents director Tad Perry, say they had no idea Bollen owned (Bollen was) the company to which he outsourced the functions of his state office. But the Rounds Administration knew of Bollen's ownership full well when it approved Bollen's privatization of the state's EB-5 visa investment program.

Try out your smell tester: suppose your local mayor bought a garbage truck and signed a contract giving his new garbage company the city's trash business. Suppose your school business manager formed a painting business and hired herself to paint the high school cafeteria. Suppose Mike Rounds had signed a contract with his own insurance company putting state employees' life insurance under his personal management. There'd be more than a partisan uproar. The press and everyone else would freak out. Employees of the state lottery get fired for doing such a thing. Public employees just don't use their public power to place money in their private pockets.

But that's what Joop Bollen did. Even if it's just a misdemeanor, Bollen broke state conflict-of-interest law, just as he broke Board of Regents policies and may have broken state banking laws. Bollen operated South Dakota's EB-5 program with obvious disregard for lots of rules...

...and Mike Rounds kept rewarding him with contracts and opportunities for cash. Mike Rounds keeps rewarding him with political cover. Why?

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Senator Larry Tidemann chided Rep. Susan Wismer yesterday for only talking about the bad side of the EB-5 scandal. In that spirit, I am happy to point out that, contrary to the examples of Chairman Tidemann and Governor Daugaard, some Pierre pols keep their eyes, their ears, and their hearts open.

Rep. kathy Tyler (D-4/Big Stone City) writes that immigration is actually good for South Dakota business:

Dairies and other work intensive ag businesses rely heavily on foreign workers. I received a letter from a local farmer during the past year. I learned a lot from it and will quote directly from it:

“We began employing foreign workers through the H-2A visa program in 2011. We had experienced increased difficulty in hiring capable local employees. We made the decision to try the H-2A program as a last resort before being forced to liquidate…….due to lack of labor…The program has provided excellent employees…" [Rep. Kathy Tyler, "Immigration of Children," Kathy's Corner, 2014.07.27].

Rep. Tyler then turns to the Latin American children currently entering our country under a Bush Administration anti-trafficking policy and asks where our hearts and minds are:

These children are fleeing for their lives. I cannot imagine a situation where sending my child away would mean that he or she might live. Let’s be thankful that we don’t need to make that choice. The issue is not settled, and looking at the way things go in Washington, it probably won’t be for a while. I think it’s time to open our hearts and our minds a bit. Remember, they are children [Tyler, 2014.07.27].

We could use more voices of calm, practical decency like Kathy Tyler's in Pierre.

p.s.: If we invited more immigrant children to our fair state, maybe Stickney and Corsica wouldn't have to consolidate.

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