Senator John Thune is laying the rhetorical groundwork necessary to rationalize the shift he and Mike Rounds will have to make to lift the embargo against Cuba and boost donor Jeff Sveen's chances to sell Hutterite turkey in Havana. Senator Thune told the Sioux Falls Rotary Monday that opening trade with Cuba will boost South Dakota agriculture...

"Soybean production here in South Dakota could meet a lot of needs they have in Cuba for that product and that commodity, so there's upside potential and I think we have to recognize that," Thune said [Ben Dunsmoor, "Thune Open to Cuba Plan If Reforms Made," KELOLand.com, 2014.12.23].

...but Thune's not ready to give up his party's political club:

Before Thune would support anything, he says, he would like to see the communist country make political reform and take other progressive steps such as opening up Internet access.

"There are some things in this that could be beneficial for South Dakota but overall lifting the embargo I think there are conditions that have to be met before I could support that. There's so much more that regime needs to do to prove to the rest of the world that they really are serious about modernizing and reforming," Thune said [Dunsmoor, 2014.12.23].

Republican blogger John Tsitrian calls Senator John Thune's position on Cuba ridiculous. Tsitrian wonders how Senator Thune can subordinate clear economic gains to an ideologically (translate: oppose Obama!) misreading of history:

[R]ejection of a pragmatic consideration in favor of a principle may have some honorable intent, but when the principle itself isn't supported by the reality of History, the intent rings with the hollowness of political dogma. When you consider the advances in living conditions and economic opportunities for billions of people since the evolution of free trade that has been in force since the end of World War II, it seems that Thune lacks an understanding of cause-and-effect. Trade itself has been the medium for the elevation of political and economic freedoms, mainly because ideas and ideals flow just as freely as goods and services when markets open up [John Tsitrian, "Re: The Cuban Trade Embargo. Sounds Like Senator Thune Is More a Student of Polemics Than a Student of History," The Constant Commoner, 2014.12.23].

Mr. Tsitrian makes the case for normalizing trade relations with Cuba almost as well as Senator Thune as made the case for normalizing trade relations with much worse offenders. Let's look at what Senator Thune said about granting Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Cuba's old friend Russia in 2012:

“American businesses and entrepreneurs will no longer face a competitive disadvantage in the Russian market.... The Senate’s adoption of Russia PNTR today opens up new possibilities for American manufacturers, farmers, ranchers, and service providers. Not only does this legislation support American jobs by promoting our products and services abroad, but it will also help to strengthen the rule of law and combat corruption with the inclusion of the Magnitsky human rights provisions. Russia is the fifth largest importer of agricultural products and imported nearly $32 billion in agricultural commodities last year, making it a tremendous opportunity for commodity exporters. I look forward to President Obama signing this bill into law, and ensuring we do not delay job creation and export opportunities both in South Dakota and across the country.” [Senator John Thune, press release, 2012.12.06].

Putin's Russia is repressing political freedom at home and abroad and threatening international peace and stability more than either Castro's Cuba has for the last 25 years. Yet Senator Thune encouraged President Obama to extend the same trade relations to tantruming nuclear tyrant Russia that he's unprepared to extend to far more amenable and unthreatening neighbor Cuba.

Or rewind to May 24, 2000, when Representative John Thune voted to grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Communist China. Rep. Thune saw trade with China as an essential part of addressing ag difficulties in South Dakota. In 14 years, Thune has not reversed his China-trade position, despite China's ongoing censorship, human rights abuses, and ongoing war against religion.

U.S. military and intelligence experts determined in 1997 that Cuba posed a "negligible conventional military threat" to the United States and other neighboring countries. Since then, Cuba's military has only declined further. Cuba poses no threat, while Russia and China do. Cuba has 3% of the GDP of Russia and less than 1% of the GDP of China. I suspect those differences explain Senator Thune's free-trade disconnect. He's willing to thump his chest and demand progressive reforms from little guys, but when the big boys with bulging billfolds and bombers come knocking, principle yields to pragmatism, and Senator Thune opens the trade door wide.

Come on, Senator Thune! Havana hotels and Cuban beaches beckon! Get consistent, and lift the embargo now!

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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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Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

In this guest column for the Madville Times, actual live Native American Tasiyagnunpa Livermont weighs in on Watertown's cultural misappropriation, football, war, and racism:

Nobody likes to be told they are wrong.

Let alone racist.

I get it.

You feel like you are a pretty good person, and then suddenly, into your world of your own worries and personal concerns, some ticked off minority tells you that your world is not their world.

Your coziness, your personal issues and your own worries, yes, even those charming little things that you personally find comfort in, like football, don’t matter to them.

How dare someone criticize a group of children dressed like Indians during homecoming?

Or the name of a football team?

What is more laid-back and innocent that a game?

War.

I know, I know, Indians just need to get over it.

The Indians lost, America won, and just move on, people.

For God sakes, we bombed Japan and they’re doing just fine.

What the hell does football have to do with war, anyways?

Turns out, a whole lot.

American Football is the vehicle by which historically we have trained our military during war and kept youth fit for the military.

In fact, the military can be thanked for democratizing football, because in the 1800s only America’s elite Easterners in fancy colleges played or cared about football.

Back then, football was violent and bloody, and played by America’s most wealthy.

Last week, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart aired a segment that he had to give a lengthy forward to, because as one website put it, “Washington football fans freak out when confronted by actual live Native Americans.”

My fellow Americans, and South Dakotans, let me tell you something utterly shocking.

American Indians are not dead.

Oh, we were butchered, slaughtered, murdered and fought against, to be sure. We have suffered disease and war, both in our own lands and during major wars of American history on these shores and over seas.

We have been starved, marched, imprisoned and stolen from.

And yes, there are tribes that no longer exist in our country, utterly succumbing to Manifest Destiny.

Tribal differences aside, the homogenizing affect of hundreds of years of genocide and war has given us a solid voice.

And that voice says, stop glorifying our deaths.

Stop lying to yourselves that you are honoring a culture by calling it a slur associated with blood money.

In a country that prides itself on leading the overthrow of a government that murdered, imprisoned and yes, traded the body parts of a minority, America—you can be better than this.

The settler colonial worldview gave birth to a myriad of false stories, mythologies and justifications for how America treats those indigenous to this land.

Among these is a cultural agnosia that perpetuates us as things of legend and story.

In this agnosia, American Indians become nothing more than characterizations in stories like the Indian Maiden in Peter Pan.

Or Slurskins in the NFL.

And when presented with "actual live Native Americans," American football fans don’t know how to react.

The American Indians didn’t all die, as their history books taught them.

Even in South Dakota, in a state (and territory) named for an American Indian tribe, the Dakota, children of pioneers protected by forts against Indians, still think it is cute to re-enact their own false mythologies of Indians and dress up in faux-buckskin.

What would those children do if some South Dakota tribal students walked up to them and said, "Stop. We aren’t fantasy or figments of your historical imagination. You may not imagine us away into colonial imagery of pilgrims and Tonto and autumn displays of corn and leaves."

Would those children react the same way as fans of the Washington Slurskins did when "actual live Native Americans" went to FedEX stadium and were threatened to be "cut."

I don’t know.

I want to believe better than that of my fellow South Dakotans. I want to believe better of the children my son could play football against at State.

Cultural criticism can hit awful close to home. It can feel personal, because we are all products of our cultures, and it is against what we know about ourselves.

So is racism.

Yes, even the sort that puts on a jersey and takes to the battlefields of American football.

Go team!

Tasiyagnunpa Livermont is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She consults with small businesses on marketing and blogs at Sustainable Dakota.

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Hey! Larry Pressler got on TV Sunday morning! MSNBC's Steve Kornacki talked to South Dakota's combusting Independent Senate candidate about our how to attack ISIS, how to get Congress back to work, and how to win a three-way race in South Dakota:

On our impending return to war in the Middle East, Pressler says he would vote for air strikes but against attacking Syria. He opposes pouring more U.S. arms into the region and would prefer more special forces operations and high-tech weapons, with few if any boots on the ground.

Pressler says Congress is supposed to be co-equal with the President in forming foreign policy, but a Congress that can't muster more than continuing resolutions to fund government hardly deserves a seat at the foreign policy table. Pressler predicts Congress will "take a pass" on any serious votes on our military policy toward the Middle East, just as he says Congress has done on the highway trust fund and deficit reduction.

Ending Congress's fecklessness requires Independents, says Pressler. He says that if South Dakota and Kansas double the Senate Indy count to four, he and his Indy caucus could "start something big" and get Congress back to getting things done.

But can Pressler win a three-way race, or is his only hope to get Weiland to drop out? Pressler speaks of no such Kansas-like plan. He says his trajectory in the polls says he can win a three-way race. He says he can a big chunk of the Indian vote away from the Democrats. And he also reminds voters of an advantage that no one else in the race can claim: he gets to take his seniority back to the Senate. That's power for South Dakota, says Pressler, and he will wield it without regard to any of the special-interest money that "cloaks" Rounds and Weiland.

Even Annette Bosworth managed to snag national TV time, so face time on cable like this doesn't tell us anything about who's going to win. But Pressler's TV performance makes South Dakota sound a lot smarter than Mike Rounds's bleating about "South Dakota common sense."

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An Exclusive Madville Times Interview

Somewhere in my piles of stuff is a photo of Senator Larry Pressler with me and a nice girl from Vermillion, Angeline Wilson, at the U.S. Capitol on a muggy June day 25 years ago.

Larry Pressler, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2014.08.23

Larry Pressler, Independent candidate for U.S. Senate, proudly displays a photo of his grandkids.

On this muggy Saturday in Sioux Falls, as candidate Pressler and I discussed policy and politics at his Sioux Falls office, I mentioned that brief meeting, one of thousands the Senator politely hosted during his time in Washington. Pressler said recollections like that are one of the small joys of his campaign. As he tours the state, people come up to shake his hand and say they're glad he's running again (though Pressler himself muses that maybe those folks are just being kind to an old man). And often they'll show him a picture from back in the day of Mom, Dad, and the kids (now with grandkids) with Pressler in D.C. or the State Fair or some such remarkable moment in their families' lives.

Ah, nostalgia. It's like Styx coming back and riffing out "Mr. Roboto" on the casino circuit. But will we elect Dennis DeYoung to the Senate?

You wouldn't think so, when Pressler has maybe a hundredth of the money of his main-party opponents. Pressler admits that, as a rule, "Money is determinative" of electoral success. "We"—and he looks around the office at his wife Harriet, his one paid staffer, and a friend-volunteer—"will be the exception."

Pressler's run at age 72, 16 years after losing his seat to the now retiring Tim Johnson, is not a return from retirement. Pressler has been teaching and serving on boards ever since leaving the Senate. He says he will always work. But he'd like to give South Dakota six more years of his work.

Pressler's Legacy: The Telecommunications Act

Pressler runs on the record of what he achieved for South Dakota. He refers to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as his "magnum opus," a project that consumed his efforts for ten years. That law created the Universal Service Fund, a tax that he had to rename a fee to get past the Gingrich Congress (sound familiar?). Pressler notes that Tim Johnson was one of only 16 votes against that fee and the final form of the bill in the House. Johnson may have had his reasons, but Pressler says the Universal Service Fund subsidized installation of fiber-optic cable across the country.

Larry Pressler, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2014.08.23

Maybe Al Gore invented the Internet, but Larry Pressler brought it to Pukwana. Candidate Pressler discusses the importance of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Basically, says Pressler, the USF allowed us to have Internet and cell phone service almost everywhere in South Dakota, not just Sioux Falls and Rapid City. The Telecommunications Act made long-distance calls an ancient artifact, made phone calls cheaper than they were in the 1950s, and stimulated the economy by bringing almost everyone, including rural folks, access to the newest communications technologies.

Pressler says he wanted the Telecommunications Act to include cable TV regulations that would have given customers à la carte channel selection, pricing controls, and a 15% cap on ad time. But Pressler says that after attending a cable industry convention in Las Vegas, President Bill Clinton sent VP Al Gore to the Senate to kill those regulations.

Pressler would like the chance to revisit those regulations and restore the public service requirements for broadcasters. However, Pressler would place more priority on enforcing existing anti-trust laws to keep media companies from consolidating and monopolizing. Calling himself a "Teddy Roosevelt trust-busting conservative," Pressler says Time-Warner and Comcast are too big and that we need more competition in the media. He says the big media companies got a break by getting Congress to move anti-trust enforcement on their industry from the Department of Justice, which knows anti-trust law, to the Federal Communications Commission, which finds anti-trust law somewhat out of its ken.

Deficit and Taxes

Larry Pressler will raise your taxes. He said at Dakotafest that he would cut corporate, personal, and charitable tax deductions. In our interview, he said he would vote to increase the gasoline tax to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. He says Congress's temporary fix is irresponsible, since it adds to the deficit. Pressler sees great danger in the deficit and says we must get serious about fixing it.

Military and Foreign Policy

Pressler is the only candidate for South Dakota's open Senate seat who served in the military (U.S. Army, Vietnam, two tours, 1966–1968). The veteran is not eager to give today's young men and women the same experience. When it comes to foreign military intervention, Pressler labels himself a "Ron Paul Libertarian": he would send troops overseas only to secure "substantial American foreign policy interests."

I asked if that standard justifies intervention in the Islamic State's slaughter of the polytheist Yazidis in Iraq. Pressler said it may, depending on information that the President may have, but where there is doubt, he would err on the side of non-intervention.

Pressler worries that President Obama has erred in the other direction with his use of force in Iraq this month. He notes that he voted for Obama in 2008 for conservative reasons, expecting Obama to entangle us in fewer wars than John McCain. Pressler says McCain would have maintained permanent U.S. military presences in Iraq and Afghanistan and sent troops to Syria.

Pressler regularly cites the example of a U.S. fort that he and his wife visiting in northern Italy. Far from repelling the Slovenian menace, that base serves mostly to stimulate the local economy. If the military must be a jobs program, Pressler would prefer to bring those jobs home and boost the economy here. But "the whole economy has been taken over by the military-industrial state," says Pressler, and he would like to restore our military focus to military objectives, not big money.

Defining Independence

Pressler holds out his own Senate candidacy as a jobs program for young pols across South Dakota. He vows to serve just one more term, meaning that a whole crop of aspiring candidates will be able to rev their campaign engines in 2020. I ask if there's any chance he could be re-seduced by the power and celebrity of D.C. life. Pressler says absolutely not: he's been there, done that, and won't get stuck. One term—Pressler means it.

Larry Pressler with Joe Lowe photo of Mount Rushmore. Pressler campaign office, SIoux Falls, SD, 2014.08.23

Hanging on Pressler's office wall is this panoramic photo of Mount Rushmore, a unique view showing the most-photographed faces in the world small in the breaking dawn, in the context of the entire geological formation. The photographer? Rapid City artist Joe Lowe, a Democrat who ran for governor last spring.

That one-term promise is crucial to his expectation of what he regularly refers to as "the glorious freedom of independence." He says Senators and Congresspeople of both parties have to spend more than half of their time in Washington raising money. They aren't just filling their coffers for their own reëlections; the party leaders set quotas on contributions to colleagues' campaigns as conditions for plum committee appointments.

Pressler says nuts to that. While John Thune runs across the street each day to beg for money, Pressler says he will be working full-time for South Dakota. Even if he did reach for cash, Pressler knows he'd come up short, since the special interest groups don't stand to gain from candidates who free themselves of partisan and reëlection pressures. Ah, independence!

Blogospheric Curiosity

Say, remember that Internet that Pressler's Telecommunications Act helped bring to everybody? (Harriet jokes that she thought Larry, not Al Gore, invented the Internet.) Candidate Pressler shows a marked curiosity about the Web he hath wrought. He spent a few minutes at the beginning of our interview grilling me about the South Dakota blogosphere and the journalistic quality of its various nodes, including my own. I wouldn't say Pressler is taking his cues from the blogs, but he is paying attention to them.

Pressler's curiosity about our homegrown use of the Internet stands in marked contrast to his opponent Mike Rounds, the former governor who leaves all that Web stuff to his lackeys. Rounds's techno-aloofness makes him a little less qualified to legislate amidst the ongoing technological revolution than the ever-curious Pressler, who gave that revolution an early boost.

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Further demonstrating what passes for a Congresswoman in South Dakota, Rep. Kristi Noem tells Fox News that she supports Texas Governor Rick Perry's plan to send National Guard troops to the U.S.–Mexico border to... hmm... to do what, again?

See we need more than a thousand border troops down there, plus they're limited to what they can do on federal lands, so we have some proposals going into house that would give us more access to that. Get more troops, and more border patrol agents down there that would really help the situation [Rep. Kristi Noem, quoted in "Noem Supports Guardsmen at Border," KBHB Radio News, 2014.07.23].

Wait: the National Guard is limited in what it can do—i.e., it cannot make arrests (and conservatives should not want the military running around he country making arrests)—so Rep. Noem wants to send even more troops to stand around and watch children swimming the Rio Grande and staggering through the scrub to escape crime and violence in their homelands?

Noem says while actions of the Texas national guard may be limited, it does send a message.

"These countries have realized that if they send their children to the United States, we'll interview them, take care of them, feed them. We'll even deploy them all across the country and re-establish them with families across the United States. 72% of these children never leave our country. They get a free pass into the United States of America, and they're doing it illegally, so these parents in Central America recognize here if they can get them here and get them through this process. They have to recognize that we have rules, and we want people to do this legally" [Noem via KBHB, 2014.07.23].

Yeah, mobilize soldiers with guns to send scared, hungry children a message. That'll fix 'em.

Actually, the National Guard mobilization Rep. Noem wants to expand won't fix anything, say local Texas officials.

The National Guard will not be making arrests and will instead observe the border and notify law enforcement of any undocumented immigrants, which doesn't make sense to many officials at the border.

“I don’t know what good they can do,” Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio told the Dallas Morning News, referring to the National Guard. “You just can’t come out here and be a police officer.”

Lucio said that hiring additional police officers at the border would make more sense.

"The National Guard is trained in warfare. They're not trained in law enforcement. This is not a war. This is people asking for help," Lucio told the Houston Chronicle [Caitlin MacNeal, "All the Border Authorities Who Think Perry's Plan Doesn't Make Sense," Talking Points Memo, 2014.07.22].

Presidents Bush and Obama have sent Guards to the border before, to no apparent avail:

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera told the Chronicle that sending the National Guard to the border didn't help in 2006 and 2010, so it won't do any good now. Vera suggested that the surge of police presence at the border isn't even helping that much.

"Those DPS people that are down here," he said. "There's one every mile, or every half a mile. And then every once in a while you'll see a cluster or three or four of them chatting. They are doing absolutely nothing" [MacNeal, 2014.07.22].

Even President Bush's National Guard chief can't figure out what good a border-troop surge will do:

“Until mission requirements are clearly defined, it can’t be determined whether this is an appropriate use of the Guard in this particular case,” H. Steven Blum, who was the Chief of the National Guard Bureau from 2003 to 2009 and has been a career military man for decades, told me. “There may be many other organizations that might more appropriately be called upon. If you’re talking about search and rescue, maintaining the rule of law or restoring conditions back to normal after a natural disaster or a catastrophe, the Guard is superbly suited to that. I’m not so sure that what we’re dealing with in scope and causation right now would make it the ideal choice” [Greg Sargent, "Sending in the National Guard Isn't the Answer," Washington Post: Plum Line, 2014.07.15].

So we have a Republican Texas Governor seeking redemption and a Republican South Dakota Congresswoman seeking more Fox News time eager to spend more money on a plan that local officials dealing directly with the immigration problem and a former Guard chief say won't do any good. Soldiers are a response rooted in fear, not compassion. Governor Perry and Congresswoman Noem favor a policy that does little but play to "un-biblical and inhumane" impulses among their constituents.

With their common commitment to posturing over problem-solving, Perry and Noem might make the perfect GOP running mates for 2016, representing everything—ineffective, inhumane, but good-looking—that the GOP wants to be.

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President Barack Obama is sending 300 advisors into military and legal jeopardy to help Shiites beat Sunnis in Iraq. The war-on-the-cheap advisor model works, "as long as the security forces of the host country have the motivation and basic combat skills to stand up and fight and are not facing overwhelming odds." Uh oh....

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Rick Weiland says we've already lost too much (1.7 trillion dollars, 4,000 American lives) to pour troops into Iraq's oily maw:

There is no lobby for, nor explanation of, our having picked sides in a far away religious quarrel between sects of a religion foreign to all but a tiny sliver of Americans. No explanation save one. Oil.

It is the energy industry that funds the war college professors and militarist politicians who peddle the most obviously self-serving pedagogy on the planet. Their five syllable words and 6 letter acronyms purport to find vital threats to American security. What they are really finding are vital threats to their big money paymasters.

I am a patriotic American, and I am vehemently opposed to sending more men and women and dollars to Syria or Iraq [Rick Weiland, press release, downloaded 2014.06.23].

The only old soldier in the Senate race, Independent Larry Pressler, goes a step further. He says we should pull all of our military and diplomatic personnel out of Iraq:

...the United States should completely, totally, and immediately withdraw all US forces from Iraq - if our embassy staff is unsafe there, we should move them out to another country until it becomes safe, but we should not be sending any more troops of any kind into Iraq [Larry Pressler, press release, 2014.06.20].

Pressler sounds like he would pull our foreign aid out of Iraq, too:

The Obama administration also has made substantial new aid commitments to Iraq. We are spending huge amounts in foreign aid, which should be spent back home on education and other matters. We must reduce the federal deficit, and our expansion of this war will mean we will spend another $100-$200 billion in unnecessary foreign military spending [Pressler, 2014.06.20].

Would anyone like to take a swing at persuading Pressler or Weiland that Americans should sacrifice their lives to help Shiites beat Sunnis (if that's really who's fighting)?

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Speaking of smoking dope, Congress appears determined to spend more on military equipment that the military does not want:

The House panel that decides defense spending came out with a $570 billion blueprint Thursday that spares the USS George Washington aircraft carrier....

The spending bill echoes the broad defense policy bill that the House overwhelmingly passed last week that saves ships and aircraft despite pleas from senior military officers for the reductions....

Military leaders have warned that sparing what they consider to be parochial programs will undermine their ability to train soldiers, sailors and airmen to fight. But lawmakers are determined to protect favorite weapons [Donna Cassata, "House Panel Snubs Pentagon on Defense Spending," AP, 2014.05.29].

MSNBC's Steve Benen lists more items where Congressional posing trumps military budget sense:

The Pentagon requested a modest pay raise; Congress went beyond what was requested.

The Pentagon requested a slight increase in out-of-pocket costs for housing and food, in order to help control the cost of benefits; Congress turned down the request.

The Pentagon requested retiring the U-2 spy plane and the A-10 Warthog; Congress funded them anyway.

The Pentagon requested shuttering unnecessary bases; Congress is keeping them open.

Lawmakers, at least on the right, aren’t just throwing unwanted money at the department, they’re also ignoring military leaders on policy matters – the Pentagon wants to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and Congress doesn’t care [Steve Benen, "Pentagon Asks for Less; Congress Spends More," MSNBC: MaddowBlog, 2014.05.30].

Thank goodness we've saved Senate candidate Jason Ravnsborg's favorite prop.

I thought candidates liked to get hyped up about listening to the military and not making battlefield decisions from political perspectives. But apparently neither the practical advice of the generals nor their own deficit-hawkery can stop Congresspeople seeking re-election from throwing money at the Pentagon.

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