Judge Karen Schreier is taking some time to compose her ruling on South Dakota's same-sex marriage ban.

While we wait for Judge Schreier to overturn the narrow 2006 majority who wrote that discrimination into our state constitution, how about a movie? The SDSU Gay Straight Alliance and the SDSU Office of Diversity, Equity, and Community are sponsoring a Brookings showing of The Case Against 8, a documentary about the fight against California's same-sex marriage ban.

After the movie, Nancy and Jennie Rosenbrahn, the happily married ladies leading the court challenge to South Dakota's ban on their legal relationship, will participate in a discussion of the film and their efforts for equality, along with two Sioux Falls couples participating in the lawsuit.

The Case Against 8 plays Tuesday, October 21, at 6:30 p.m. as part of the Common Good Film series at the Brookings Public Library, Brookings, South Dakota.

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Rep. Kristi Noem retools Mike Rounds's "South Dakota common sense" mantra to say the the economy would be fine if the feds just did things the way South Dakota does. Her weekly column cites the new French cheese plant as affirmation of South Dakota's tax policies and work ethic:

...Our state tax policy makes it cheaper to run a business. The workforce is one of the most dedicated and talented in the country. We put our hearts into everything we produce. And we are surrounded by communities that generously support each other during the good times and pull together like a family would during the hard times.

It’s probably no wonder, then, that I joined Gov. Dennis Daugaard to welcome a new manufacturer to Brookings. In addition to 3M and Daktronics, Brookings is now home to a new Babybel cheese manufacturing facility. It was an honor to welcome them to our state [Rep. Kristi Noem, "SD's Economic Policies Worth Copying," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.10.07].

First, let's be clear: most people everywhere work hard and help their neighbors. South Dakota workers are not uniquely virtuous. Working folks in New York or Texas or California are not uniquely lazy or anti-social.

As for the Bel Brands cheese plant, let's review the main reasons the French decided to build in Brookings:

  1. South Dakota saved its dwindling dairy herd by luring foreign investment through a government program to sell green cards.
  2. South Dakota handed Bel Brands $5 million in corporate welfare.
  3. Brookings offers Bel Brands access to skilled graduates of one of only two university programs in the country offering degrees in dairy production and manufacturing. That program is at South Dakota State University. State University, as in, made possible by good big government.

So really, Republican Kristi Noem is telling the country to be more like South Dakota: use big government to benefit big business.

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Holy cow! People are going to pay real money to hear me talk. I'd better work on that speech....

The second TEDx Brookings event—themed "On Fire"—happens Saturday, October 4, at the SDSU Performing Arts Center. Warm-up activities (among other things, yoga!) start at 8 a.m.; speakers go in three sessions, starting with words of welcome at 9:15 and wrapping up at 3:30 p.m. It looks like I'm first out of the chute... because, you know, I'm a morning person!

Here's the full roster of big thinkers up with whom I'll be trying to keep on Saturday:

The inaugural TEDx Brookings in February brought several fascinating speakers to town (this blog featured Carter Johnson and John Fischback; more February TEDx Brookings videos are available here). Saturday's TEDx Brookings bring even more brain power to a bigger stage.

You can get tickets on Eventbrite. See you in Brookings on Saturday!

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A couple weeks ago, I mentioned a Brookings correspondent's report that Chad Haber and Annette Bosworth had lured students to a campaign event with an ad in the SDSU Collegian promoting marijuana legalization. The comment section lit up with a discussion of who actually placed the ad.

Let's look at the ad in question first:

Cannabis legalization event ad placed in SDSU Collegian, first edition of 2014–2015 school year, August 2014

Cannabis legalization event ad placed in SDSU Collegian, first edition of 2014–2015 school year, August 2014

The ad states that it was "Paid for by the libertarian Party." The ad refers to the Facebook page for the marijuana legalization organization South Dakotans Against Prohibition. It identifies no individual organizers or speakers. Staff at the SDSU Collegian did not identify the the representative of the Libertarian Party who submitted and paid for the ad. We can only hope the advertiser's check did not bounce the way the SDLP's check for SDAP organizer Ryan Gaddy's lawsuit did.

So we don't know who actually signed the check for this ad. But we do know what the ad says. It promotes the September 3 event as a chance to...

  1. get free food,
  2. "meet the libertarian party," and, most prominently,
  3. join a "grassroots digital media movement" to end cannabis prohibition.

I spoke with Nate Cacy, an SDSU student who attended the event at Hillcrest Park. Cacy says the first promise was absolutely true: free food was present.

The second promise is arguably true, if the Libertarian Party now consists of Chad Haber and Annette Bosworth. Haber and Bosworth were the only two organizers who identified themselves at the event.

The third promise, however, the thrust of the ad, proved entirely false. Cacy says that in the half hour that he attended the event, he heard not one word about legalizing marijuana. Haber dominated the event, talking nearly the entire time about his own candidacy for attorney general and, in Cacy's view, coming across as somewhat rude.

Haber exposed that rudeness most clearly when he took a moment to interact with his audience of four (Cacy reports seeing three other spectators, as well as a young unnamed companion helping Haber and Bosworth). Haber asked what issues the youth consider important. Cacy mentioned discrimination and cited LGBT equality issues as an example. Haber said to Cacy, "Oh, so you're coming out to everyone?"

Cacy is still wondering just what Haber's intent was with that comment. I'm trying to figure out how Haber's comment is any way an appropriate response to a voter who raises an important electoral issue.

I'm also trying to figure out the logic that gets a party to advertise an event around Issue X and then play a switcheroo in which one of its candidates shows up unannounced at the event and talks all about himself and not at all about the issue that drew people to the event.

Ah, but it's been a while. I almost forgot: if we're talking about Chad Haber, we're not talking about appropriateness, logic, or truth. We're talking about false advertising and self-obsession, the cement blocks to which the South Dakota Libertarian Party has chained itself.

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Hey, whose phone is that ringing? Ah, Senator Tidemann....

Ad released by South Dakota Democratic Party, 2014.09.15

Ad released by South Dakota Democratic Party, 2014.09.15

The South Dakota Democratic Party is placing the above ad in Senator Larry Tidemann's local newspaper encouraging his constituents to contact him and demand that he subpoena the folks who could answer the vital questions about Mike Rounds's promotion of Northern Beef Packers and other economic development projects with EB-5 investment. The copy I got did not include the footnotes, but one may refer to the following supporting texts:

  1. "repeatedly broke the law": start with conflict of interest, then unauthorized lawyering, sprinkle Board of Regents policy, and top it off with a scoop of possible tax evasion.
  2. "millions of dollars of potential liability": that's here... and maybe here.
  3. "refuses to bring in...": see Tidemann's willingness to settle for unsworn written testimony here.

Senator Tidemann has proven himself able to change his mind before. Perhaps some civic participation will convince him to change his mind again and acknowledge that the Legislature and the public should hear from Rounds and his GOED/NBP/EB-5 collaborators in person.

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Brookings city councilman Tom Bezdichek would like to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. Pat Powers screams "Nanny state! Nanny state!"

Seattle, San Francisco, and D.C. have banned plastic shopping bags. Chicago is implementing a partial plastic-bag ban. New York City may require customers to pay a dime for their convenience. Stores all over Europe expect you to bring your own bag. This isn't nanny-statism; it's recognizing that free bags easily become litter and trying to deal with that public problem.

We can debate the extent to which plastic shopping bags pollute the environment. (Alas, much of that debate is fueled by crony-corporate mouthpieces hitching their profit wagons to that one word from Mr. McGuire in The Graduate.) What bugs me is the crux of Powers's bitter attack on his neighbor as an enemy of sainted capitalists:

Let me restate this – So, Tom Bezdichek is going to go on the attack against the job creators & providers in this town. He is going to go on the attack against the lion’s share of the sales tax generated in this community, because in his dippy liberal world, he doesn’t like people who litter? [Pat Powers, "Welcome Back To The Nanny State. Brookings City Councilor Plans Attack On Retailers Using Plastic Bags," Dakota War College, 2014.07.23].

Pat's argument appears to boil down to the infallibility of businesspeople. The popular job-creator mythos attempts to paper over the fact that job creators, just like job doers, and moms, and kids, and retirees, make decisions that have consequences. They all—we all—have a responsibility to make sure our choices don't harm others. Sometimes we make choices that look as if they don't cost us much but end up imposing costs on others. And sometimes when the short-term financial incentive of such choices clouds certain actors' ability to see the long-term, large-scale costs, community regulation can and should trump certain selfish decisions... even the decisions of those whom the GOP thinks are hot stuff.

Bexdichek isn't attacking job creators or anyone else. Bezdichek is trying to solve a problem and improve his community. We can hope Brookings shows the wisdom to ignore Pat Powers's one-note squawking and instead engages all interested citizens in an intelligent discussion about the harms and merits of plastic shopping bags.

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Let's go to Cuba! Brookings Pax Christi is hosting a potluck and program to support the "Caravan to Cuba" project. For 25 years, Pastors for Peace has been organizing relief trips to Cuba to protest the anti-Castro embargo the United States has imposed on the island for over 50 years. Brookings Pax Christi's potluck begins at 6 p.m. Friday, July 11th, at the United Church of Christ, 828 8th Street South, in Brookings. The program begins at 6:45 p.m. For more information, call Andrew L'Amour at 692-4386.

Pastors for Peace justifies its humanitarian protest thus:

“The blockade is a byzantine maze of US Cold War-era policies aimed at destabilizing our neighbors in Cuba -- from the ban on commercial transactions, which still stifles Cuba’s ability to get basic medicines to the travel ban which separates families, to putting Cuba on the list of state-sponsors of terrorism, which is absolutely absurd,” said Gail Walker, Co-Director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace. “How can we label a country which sends doctors and teachers around the world and trains thousands of young people to become doctors for the poor as terrorist?” [IFCO/Pastors for Peace, "Cuba Caravan Kicks Off July 8th," press release, 2014.07.07]

I can understand the urge to have nothing to do with unsavory characters like the Castros and Che Guevara. But fifty-plus years of not interacting with Cuba hasn't toppled Castro regime; it's just made Cubans experts at antique auto maintenance and urban farming. What practical harm lies in following Pastors for Peace and opening the doors to Cuban trade and immigration?

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Did someone say "moral hazard"? Time for some brain TV!

"Tie-wearing management consultant" (his description) and really smart Brookings dude (mine) John Fishback presented the following talk at the first TEDx Brookings event in February. He talks about the term "moral hazard," its academic pedigree, its use in current discourse on public policy, and its relevance in the context of his hometown:

Among his key points, Fishback says we should not place theoretical incentives to recklessness above empirical evidence of practical benefits:

If the mere presence of moral hazard was actually an argument against action, no insurance policy could ever be written or sold, ever, and no government policy at all could ever be put into effect. So those who forcibly conscript economic thought into the service of their argument by using the thin gruel of "what economists call moral hazard" rather than doing the difficult work of economic analysis claim a level of support for their position that just doesn't exist. They are suggesting to decision-makers that the public is protected from the risk of a bad decisions because experts have evaluated possible outcomes, even though experts have not [John Fishback, "What Economists Call Moral Hazard," TEDx Brookings, 2014.02.21].

Fishback notes that the academic debate over moral hazard seems to have shifted responsibility for "bad" decisions from individuals to the situations and incentives created in the marketplace. Fishback turns to his hometown, to his neighbor Jacob Limmer, his mom, and his old debate coach Judy Kroll, and says (I perhaps oversimplify) nuts to that.

People choose to... create the communities they want at the expense of their own economic incentives all the time [Fishback, 2014.02.21].

Fishback says Limmer could have saved himself a lot of money and effort opening a Starbucks instead of Cottonwood Coffee. But Limmer chose to go his own way. The result:

When you go into Cottonwood Coffee, you know you're in Brookings, South Dakota [Fishback, 2014.02.21].

Fishback says his mom bought a plot of land in town with a house valued at zero and refurbished the house into a lovely little rental with character. Fishback says Judy Kroll passed up lots of more lucrative coaching opportunities to teach him and hundreds of other Brookings kids how to make a speech.

She taught me how to make a speech. And I don't know if her doing so made her community into what she wanted it to be. But her doing so has helped me make my life into what I want it to be [Fishback, 2014.02.21].

Fishback says his Brookings neighbors show the hazards in conventional moral-hazard theorizing. He does not reject the idea that economic incentives can incent. He simply rebuffs those who would assert moral hazard in theory without examining the real effects of real policies in real communities like Brookings, where people are not pinballs:

No matter what Mark Pauly says about the economics of a situation driving our choices, it is us and not our incentives that make our choices. If we want to live in a healthy rural community, then we need to make choices about how we want things to be rather than seeing ourselves as at the mercy of larger forces. We are not a product of the forces acting on us. Our community is, not nothing more than, but as much as the sum of all of our choices for it [Fishback, 2014.02.21].

Heavy thinking like Fishback's makes me want to see another TEDx Brookings really soon!

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