Monday, December 8, 2014

Taking the Side of the Train

Stop this train 
I want to get off and go home again 
I can't take the speed it's moving in 
I know I can't but honestly won't someone stop this train
Those lyrics by John Mayer are probable not exactly what the people of Enderlin in North Dakota were thinking when they felt the need to ban trains from taking breaks longer than 10 minutes in their city limits.  This has caused Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. to sue the town according to a report from Reuters.
Partly thanks to North Dakota's energy boom, twenty-eight of the railroad's trains now traverse the city every day. Each carry hundreds of tank cars filled with oil or grain. Some idle as long as four hours, inconveniencing motorists, stranding pedestrians and posing logistical challenges for ambulances and firefighters. 
Desperate for a solution, Enderlin's city councilors last month banned train breaks longer than 10 minutes. The railroad has, in turn, sued the city of nearly 900 in federal court. Canadian Pacific contends the order violates interstate commerce laws. The railroad's lawyers also asked a judge to grant a temporary injunction. 
It appears that this is a classic battle of business desires trumping human safety.  I would guess that business will win out in the battle.  The claim is simple.  A town can not regulate the rail line that is for interstate commerce.  That is the Feds job.

The only problem is when the train sits and sits in the town, it prevents first responders from getting to an emergency on the other side.  

Fighting back, Enderlin said in its own court filings that human safety should trump any financial harm to the company. It's not clear how much Enderlin is spending to defend itself, and city officials did not have data readily available. But Canadian Pacific has asked for the city to pay the railroad's legal fees should it prevail. 
Still, it's a fight Enderlin seems happy to pursue. 
As Scott DeFehr, who has lived in Enderlin for 14 years, wrote in a letter to the court, the city has residents "whose safety and very lives are threatened by the blocking of rail crossings."
It is time to stop caving into oil's needs when weighed against the rights and safety of people.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Argus Leader Nearly Gets It Right

The Sunday Voices section of today's paper had two articles examining failing funding approaches of this administration.  One was a news article from the soon departed David Montgomery about Daugaard's approach to managing the government.   The second was an editorial calling for more funding for education.

The editorial points to new information about a problem that has been well documented and ignore by Pierre for years.  That we will soon not have people to teach our students.
How bad is teacher pay in South Dakota? 
So bad that they are leaving — as more and more teachers retire, fewer are entering. 
According to a report by the School Administrators of South Dakota, 1,004 teachers are eligible for retirement this year. Meanwhile, there are just 726 seniors among education programs prepared to enter the workforce. 
The main factor? Low teacher pay.
These warnings are not new.  Unfortunately there is no reason why we should expect this to change.  In talking about the proposed summer tax increase to help increase education funding, Daugaard makes his position clear.

There is hope, however. A proposed one-cent sales tax hike during the summer months would raise $40 million to $45 million to increase wages, according to Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. 
But Daugaard probably won’t be on board.
“I don’t see myself supporting something like that,” he said after his budget address.
So what is an educator to do other than leave?  This is where the editorial staff gets it all wrong.  Their solution is to accept the rejected proposal of 2012 and take incentive-based increases.  Basically, make education worse and the climate worse, and the Governor may throw you a few bones.
Daugaard wanted to make a statewide teacher evaluation system mandatory and partially use student performance to impose merit-based bonuses. Voters said no by a 2-to-1 margin. 
If a compromise on the issue is needed to increase teacher pay, the union should strongly consider it. 
Everyone needs to work together to help avoid the teacher shortage, which will get only worse if nothing is done.
The solution is not accepting bad policy that has been shown to create a more hostile work environment (that is not going to encourage people into going into education).  The teacher union has offered many, many different approaches at compromise.  It is not time for giving in.  We have tried that.  I leave you with a selection of Patrick Henry's words from his speech to the Virginia Convention:
Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free² if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending²if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! 
It is time to fight.  It is time to be vocal to both the legislators and executive office.  Teachers need to start descending on Pierre and show up to coffee talks with our legislators.  Put some pressure on Pierre, and then, maybe then, something can be done.  The solution is not bowing before Daugaard for scraps to make things worse. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why Veterans Are Important to Our Nation's History and Future

Each year I have my speech students participate in the VFW's Voice of Democracy competition.  When I am trying to wrangle up the top speakers in the classes to record their speeches on a CD and get it to the area VFW chapter, I sometimes wonder why I bother.  However, it is the journey that the students take when it comes to writing these speeches that makes it worthwhile.

This years topic, "Why Veterans Are Important to Our Nation's History and Future," proved to be less of a challenge for the students than last year's.  The students dug into the issue with expected ideas.  They explored some of our earliest veterans from the Revolution and talked about the history of wars and the young men and women that fought in them.  One thing that is interesting was that this year's topic only focuses on the past and the future: It seems to ignore the present.

Student's were shocked and a few were very frustrated by the treatment that many veterans receive today.  They explored the problem of homelessness among the veterans.  They discovered statistics like
Although flawless counts are impossible to come by – the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty – the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimatesthat 49,933 veterans are homeless on any given night.
They also examined the health of our veterans and found that it is believed that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.  They looked into the rates of PTSD and found out
Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.
One of the more common conclusions that student drew was simply that we should be very proud of those that served our country.  The work and sacrifice of those veterans of the past are an vital component of what makes this nation wonderful.  They also concluded that if we don't start taking care of the veterans of the present, there may be no veterans of the future.

Today, politicians will go around making speeches about how much the veteran means to them, how they are the veterans friend,  and how they will always be there to honor the veterans sacrifice.  Don't believe their words.  Make them show it not through press releases, but action that says: I respect you and your sacrifice and instead of benefiting the corporation or Wall Street or special interest/lobby group, I will fully fund veteran's health, education, and other benefits first.  

Thank you to our veterans of the past, future and present.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Predictions on the Elections

Cory at Madville Times asks people to go ahead and make their predictions.  I thought I would give it a shot, but for a disclaimer, if you could see my fantasy football team's record, you would know that I am not the best at predicting success and outcomes.

In the Senate race:

Mike Rounds with 42%

Rick Weiland with 38%

Larry Pressler with 19%

Gordan Howie with less than 1%

In the House Race

Kristi Noem with 58%

Corrina Robinson with 42%

In the Governor Race

Daugaard with 65%

Wismer with 28%

Meyers with 7%

Initiated Measure 17

Yes with 52%

No with 48%

Initiated Measure 18

Yes 57%

No 43%

Amendment Q

No 56%

Yes 44%

District 16 House

Herman Otten 70%

Issac Latteral 50%

Rich Schriever 35%

The National Senate Race

Republicans 53 seats

Democrats 44 seats

Independents 3 seats

Change in Washington's climate and culture?


Chance OBAMA will get blamed for the Republican's inability to lead for the next 2 years-

100 Percent

Monday, November 3, 2014

Using SD Common Sense in Casting Your Vote Tomorrow

Mike Rounds like to tell people that Washington needs some South Dakota common sense.  I think he is absolutely right; a vote for Rick Weiland means using common sense in protecting the people.

The biggest question that Rounds never explored when regurgitating his catch phrase is what is "common sense."  The Cambridge Dictionary online defines common sense as:
 the ability to use good judgment in making decisions and to livein a reasonable and safe way
Unless the South Dakota version of common sense is the opposite of that definition, there is no way Mike Rounds represents South Dakota common sense. 

First is the idea of using "good judgement" in making decisions.  Mike has failed on this in so many ways- 
Trusting Joop Bollen and Richard Benda to run the EB-5 program

Using state goods for personal use

Misusing federal money to hide mistakes:
–Rounds also took $26 million in federal dollars sent to help South Dakota’s children in light of our woefully underfunded educational system in South Dakota. Remember he did this while he was cutting education in the state by 25 percent in his eight years in office. So, what did Rounds do with this federal money that was supposed to be spent on education? He squirreled it away into the state’s general fund to mask his massive debts.

Being Honest about Medicare, Ellsworth, or simply read the editorial from the Mobridge Tribune to cover his many lapses of honesty.

Remember that to have common sense is to live in a reasonable and safe way.  It was under Mike that we experienced a huge budget problem that Dennis Daugaard explained was why he had to gut education and hurt every student and every person connected to the education field in this state.  It was Mike Rounds that used eminent domain to take land from farmers for his Transcanda pipeline.  Let's not forget EB-5.  

If you want a candidate that displays South Dakota common sense, then you need to vote for small business owner, family man, and hard-working Rick Weiland.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mike Rounds Is the Candidate of NO!

Tuesday is nearly here and things will clear up.  The Republicans are starting to do their touchdown dance of taking over the Senate.  There are still a few hurdles to overcome.  One of those hurdles is simply that the GOP seems to offer nothing than other than "NOT OBAMA!"  They live in this mind-set as the party of no.

Mike Rounds clearly epitomizes that mind set.  If you caught his performance on the KELO debate, he was running against Obama and not Weiland or Pressler.  His empty suit and empty promises will seem to fit in well with the GOP in Washington, but is that what we want?  This attitude was a party that brought you government shut down, a costly and extended delay in the Farm bill, and as led to the most ineffective Congress in, well, pretty much the founding of the nation.  No on immigration reform, no on  budget reform, no on EB-5 reform, no, no, no.  

If the Republicans falter to take over the Senate, it will be this lack of vision that could very well take them down.  As Bill Whalen states on the Daily Beast
Because someone has to be a contrarian in what otherwise looks like a bad November for President Obama and his party: what if Republicans manage not to gain control of the Senate in this election?  
You couldn’t blame it on the usual suspects—a lack of money, or an over-abundance of bad candidates, or uphill climbs in hostile Obama-friendly states. 
A more likely culprit: a strategic miscalculation on the part of GOP Senate candidates nationwide and the party elders back on Capitol Hill. While making this year’s races a referendum on Obama and his policies, Republicans ignored a fundamental rule of congressional challenges: to get to Washington, one has to run against Washington’s ways—specifically, the accumulation of job seniority and personal wealth that makes Senate incumbents seem long in the tooth and short on integrity. 
Mike Rounds has failed to earn your vote if you want to stand for anything real when it comes to changing Washington.  If you want to maintain the gridlock that brought you the government shut down, if you want the maintain the gridlock that brought you a delayed farm bill, if you want empty promises of repeal and replace of Obamacare, then vote for Mike Rounds.  If you want to hear no to immigration reform, no to making sure more people have access to health insurance, and no to helping students find ways to finance education, then cast a ballot for Mike Rounds.  

If you would like to see action immigration reform, if you would like to see college students getting a break to avoid crushing debt, if you would like to see someone that will try to advance legislation to avoid a government shutdown, if you would like to see someone that will not just trust foreign companies and instead will make sure to protect you first, then cast your ballot for Rick Weiland.  We simply cannot afford six more years of a party of NO!  We need to start accomplishing something, and you can do your part by voting for Weiland.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Vote for Mike Rounds is a Vote for EB-5

The only thing that Mike Rounds seems to be able to say in tonight's debate on KELO is that a vote for any of my opponents is a vote for Barak Obama; however, when asked if he would support repealing the EB-5 program all he could say was that we should look at it.  That is clear politician speak for I will give a wink and a nod to the program and still use it to line mine and my friend's pockets.  

All of the candidates other than Mike Rounds were clear that this program was failed because of corruption.  Larry Pressler, Rick Weiland, and Gordan Howie say no to EB-5.  Mike Rounds says yes to EB-5.  We should trust Mike Rounds because,... because,... oh shoot, I can't think of a reason.

Here is a man that says that he investigates things like the Keystone pipeline that could destroy the South Dakota's main aquifer by asking the people that want to build Keystone XL for technical advice.  "I mean, why would they lie about something like that," say Round.  I think this statement tells you everything you need to know about Mike Rounds and his ability to lead and to support South Dakotans in the Senate.

So remember, a vote for Mike Rounds is a vote for EB-5 and anything else big business wants because why would they lie?   

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Daugaard's Salary Should Be Set at $3,200 a Year

Daugaard likes to compare apples and oranges when it comes to education as an excuse to keep teacher pay so low.  It is only fair that he should live under the same logic.  When you compare Daugaard's performance in office with that of the Lennox mayor, it is clear that Daugaard is getting paid way too much money.

The salary for mayor in Lennox is $3,200 a year and $40 per special meeting.  Daugaard's salary is $98,000.  

Lennox has experienced less crime, has a lower unemployment rate, the local school's ACT test scores are slightly higher than the state average, the roads in the town are in about as good of shape as the roads around the state, and while we too have issues surrounding favoritism, the town of Lennox has never given tens of millions of dollars to recruit businesses to have them go belly up.

By all measurements, the Mayor of Lennox is doing much better than the Governor.  There is no reason to pay him this outrageous salary.  $3,200 should be more than enough to compensate him for the work he has done.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Only Daugaard Could Pull Me Back In

I had taken a much needed break from blogging.  School had started.  The debate season is soon approaching and that has meant that I have spent nearly 50-60 hours at the school building between teaching, coaching, and helping referring volleyball.  My boys are involved in Boy Scouts, going to sporting events in town, and basic life.  It was nice to avoid taking an hour or more in writing a blog that is researched and deliberate (for the most part).  The Democrats are on life support with Rick Weiland.  Corrina Robinson has not been able to mount anything resembling a real campaign and Susan Wismer is not much better.  I was prepared to accept a Republican sweep; not happy about it but prepared to accept it.

Then Dennis Daugaard opened his mouth and pulled me back into the fray.  If there was ever any doubt about how Dennis Daugaard views educators and about how ignorant Dennis Daugaard is when it comes to the field of education, he has slammed shut the door on those uncertainties.  In an interview with the Argus Leader, Daugaard is quoted:
In an interview last week with 100 Eyes Daugaard said: "You can't say that you won't obtain quality without high compensation. I was just at O'Gorman (High School). The teachers at O'Gorman are paid, as a group, less than the Sioux Falls School District. Their students achieve better."
Daugaard was always a supporter of the private school system in Dell Raipids.  Most of his children went through the private school until of course it could not offer something that a child wanted and then he turned to the public system.  I have no qualms with private schools.  I taught at a private school in my first year of teaching.  The ignorance that Daugaard shows is that he thinks that the population at a private school like O'Gorman is the same as the population at Sioux Falls Washington.

At the private school that I taught many years ago, there was no special education department.  We didn't have IEPs.  Students whose needs that could not be met went to the public school in the town.  These students came from mostly stable homes.  The majority of them would be considered middle class families or high income families.  The overwhelming majority of the students were Caucasian.  That could not be said for the public school in Storm Lake, Iowa.  It is ridiculous to even think that the challenges faced by teachers in that school were the same as the ones I faced in the private school.

He then goes to the same old drivel of how it is not the state that sets teacher pay, it is the schools that set it.  
"The state doesn't control teacher pay," Daugaard said. "To point the finger at the state and say you are the problem here, it just, it's not accurate. If (school districts) want to spend more money for teacher pay, that's what they can do."
I AM SO SICK OF THIS LINE OF CRAP!  I appreciate my school board.  They are very frugal with the money that they have available to control.  When you only give school districts a certain amount of money, that money must be set aside to pay for all of the normal operating expenses.  When districts get some additional money, guess what the vast majority do with it: Give it to teachers as a means to increase salaries.  Daugaard controls what teachers get paid and clearly thinks that teacher gets far too much money right now. 

Daugaard will win next week.  This is true.  What else is going to be true is that Daugaard will do everything in his power to humiliate and belittle the education field.  We must turn our focus not on Daugaard who will have no one to answer to except the business elite that control him, but instead on the Senators and Representatives that must at least answer to the people every two years.

I think the feeling is best summed up by teacher and parent of an O'Gorman student, Travis Dahle, who posted on Facebook:
Dennis Daugaard - you owe an apology to every single teacher and student in this state. I may have disagreed with some of your policies, but I at least respected you in the past. That ship has sailed. If ANY educator thinks that this person should be re-elected, then you should leave the profession now.
Daugaard is an enemy of public education.  He has never, ever shown any respect for education.  When you wonder why some districts are struggling to fill positions, the management of the state by Daugaard is the key reason.  Daugaard may win, but he should get zero percent of the education vote: ZERO! 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banning Books

This week is Banned Books Week and an important reminder that we must allow for challenging view points to be available for students and the general public.  As a teacher, there is always the concern that some parent somewhere will become upset over a book that is part of the school curriculum.  The list of books that have been challenged and banned in places is incredibly long.  It includes books like Winnie the Pooh, The Scarlett Letter, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Animal Farm, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Lorax, The Outsiders, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, and many, many more.  You can see a list on South Dakota State University Library's website.

I look at some of the books and can see why they might not be offered in a high school library.  Fifty Shades of Grey and Madonna's book Sex are a couple of good examples; however, if a high school student showed up to class with the book to read on his or her own, I would respect that student's desire to read.  

I remember a time when a parent that was homeschooling a student asked for a list of AP books to help her student prepare for college and an AP test.  This parent did not want any AP books that used inappropriate language, sexual references, or extreme violence.  I struggled to think of any books.  I gravitate toward more modern fiction, but knew I could not recommend Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, Great Gatsby, Fahrenheit 451, Catch 22, Frankenstein, or a host of others.  I know that there are some other books that might be considered acceptable, but I felt bad for that chance at great literature this student may never get.  

It is hard enough to get students interested in reading.  It is important that libraries can offer a wide selection of material to be available for potential readers.  When a parent challenges a book because they disagree with it based on religion or their own personal sense of morality, it runs the risk of limiting knowledge and access to opening new minds.  I do think that it is okay to question if certain material is age appropriate.  A good librarian is trained to examine material and help guide the library based on the audience.  

So, I encourage you to go down to your local library, thank the librarian working there, and check out a book that has been placed on the challenged or banned book list.  The book may challenge your world view, but what a better way to discover a little nugget of humanity.

Monday, September 15, 2014

EB-5 Is Mike Rounds

Mike Rounds continues to try and run away from EB-5, saying that it is not his program, but he still thinks it is really awesome!  Bob Mercer reminds Mike Rounds that EB-5 is all you pal:
Rounds and Weiland have run TV ads lately on the EB-5 matter. Neither of their ads is totally accurate. Rounds’ ad is the bigger dodge. EB-5 was indeed his program. His Cabinet pursued expansions of it hard from the federal agency that oversees it. His Cabinet secretary Richard Benda signed the contract in 2009 privatizing EB-5 administration, with state government to receiving percentages of the fees paid by foreign investors to the private company run by Joop Bollen of Aberdeen.
While the article was more about the role of Pressler, Mercer provides a clear reminder about just how much Rounds pushed for EB-5 in South Dakota and how active he was with the promotion of the program.

On other related EB-5 fronts, it appears that Tidemann is being encouraged to act on EB-5 instead of running away from it and protecting the GOP leadership in the state by an advertisement being running by South Dakota Democrats.

This seems to be one thing that the Republicans are good at: avoid debates, avoid asking questions, just continue to say that everything is fine.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Mark Twain wrote in his Autobiography, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."  This quotation, a favorite of mine, might sum up all this talk about polling in the Senate race between Weiland, Rounds, Pressler, and other (uhh, I mean Howie).  

Pat Powers at South Dakota War College attacks a recent poll by SurveyUSA because it doesn't look good for his man, Mike Rounds, and shows other Democratic candidates polling better than to be expected.  He does so by going after the methodology used for the poll.
Part of the problem is, according to its methodology, it’s a push button poll combined with Internet polling.
Cory Heidelberger at Madville Times, points out that just a little while earlier that Powers was raving about the same poll.  He then goes on to defend SurveyUSA's methodology:
Survey USAVoter Reg
Survey USA over-represented Republicans, not Democrats. Survey USA under-represented Independents. A more representative sample would have put Rounds even lower and Weiland and Pressler even closer to pulling off the upset of the decade.
Powers in another entry crows about another poll ( showing Wismer far behind Daugaard, but doesn't share that poll's methodology, which also uses online sampling to get to its conclusions.  The website explains its methodology in part:
The Battleground Tracker is a four-wave panel study conducted by YouGov for CBS News and the New York Times Upshot during the 2014 midterm elections. The survey provides estimates for voting on every race for U.S. Senate, Governor, and the House of Representatives. Interviews are conducted with samples of online survey panelists that have been selected and weighted to be representative of registered voters. This document describes in detail the statistical methodology used in the Battleground Tracker panel.
It targets registered voters that are available to go online.  The SurveyUSA poll actually calls people, mostly registered and some not registered.
SurveyUSA interviewed 775 South Dakota adults 09/03/14 through 09/07/14. Of the adults, 674 were registered to vote. Of the registered voters, 510 were determined by SurveyUSA to be likely to vote in the 11/04/14 general election. This research was conducted using blended sample, mixed mode. Respondents reachable on a home (landline) telephone (88% of likely voters) were interviewed on their home telephone in the recorded voice of a professional announcer. Respondents not reachable on a home telephone (12% of likely voters) were shown a questionnaire on their tablet, smartphone, or other electronic device. 
I am not an expert in statistical analysis.  I took a class in it during some graduate studies, but it is definitely not my strong suit.  These statistics are interesting to look at.  We all love polls, but we must remember that in the end, it is the real people that show up to vote in November.  If many Republicans think that Mike Rounds is going to be the hands down winner and decide not to show up, then Weiland/Pressler will pull off the upset.  If Democrats give up and don't bother to vote, then Rounds will beat Weiland by 30% or more and maybe even a third place finish for the Dems behind Pressler.

As Democrat, we should feel good that Rounds simple can't break 50% constantly because that shows people really don't like Mike that much.  However, we can't think this is solved.  The focus must be on voter turnout.  Get the early voting done.  Remind everyone that they need to get out and vote on November 5.  

As we get closer to November, the only thing that we can count on is that we will be hearing a lot of lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Monday, September 1, 2014

On Labor Day We Are Reminded South Dakota Has Little Respect for Laborers

Today is a day celebrating the work of the labor movement and dates back to 1882.    In South Dakota, "union" is a four letter word to many people, especially in the GOP.  There has been a lot of mischaracterization of unions.  The idea that working folk would band together to get the best deal from the corporation that are trying to take advantage of them.  Many get upset with the unions, but very few think it is wrong for businesses that band together through the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups to write laws to help them make a fast buck from government at the expense of the rest of us.

Kathy Tyler reflects on this idea in her latest blog post:
The influence of unions has declined over the years as working conditions and wages have improved. But in my research, one of the things that kept popping up was the growing divide between the upper and lower income groups and the increasing number of families that can’t make a living on their current wages and the increase in the number of jobs that do not provide a living wage. Will unions have a comeback because of these issues? I have no idea, but we must recognize their importance in our past and what they accomplished for workers in our country. If it weren’t for the laborers and the ‘little people’, where would we be?
We, the little people, are having a tougher time getting ahead.  The game continues to seem rigged for the big businesses and those in government that they can buy.  Many in the GOP see the idea of solving unemployment by letting businesses offer wages at any rate, seven dollars an hour, four dollars an hour,  or two dollars an hour.  The Rapid City Journal reminds us about this mindset that people like Dennis Daugaard, Mike Rounds, and Kristi Noem have fully accepted. 

Today the Rapid City Journal talked about the problem that many businesses in Rapid City finding workers.  An issue that Daugaard thinks can be solved by begging people to come here without offering better wages.  The article points to part of the problem that businesses have in finding quality workers: low wages.

According to the national Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent wage data from May 2013, South Dakota ranks second-to-last in average hourly wages, ahead of only Mississippi. 
A debate over wages in South Dakota is looming. In November, voters will consider a ballot initiative seeking to raise the state's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 plus annual cost-of-living increases. 

Raising the minimum wage in South Dakota will benefit many in this state.  It is a way of respecting all the people that labor day in and day out.  We need to remember this in November and vote for Initiated Measure 18.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vermont Tells Arne Duncan to Stick It; Should South Dakota Follow

School is starting in Lennox.  Teachers have had in-services and like all the teachers in South Dakota, the Common Core and SLOs were on the forefront.  Diane Ravitch posted the move taken by the Vermont State School Board when they adopted a resolution about the role of testing and other things in education.  A few highlights of the post include:

What standardized tests can do that teacher developed tests cannot do is give us reliable, comparative data. We can use test scores to tell whether we are doing better over time. Of particular note, standardized tests help monitor how well we serve students with different life circumstances and challenges. When used appropriately, standardized tests are a sound and objective way to evaluate student progress. 
Despite their value, there are many things tests cannot tell us. Standardized tests like the NECAP and soon, the SBAC, can tell us something about how students are doing in a limited set of narrowly defined subjects overall, as measured at a given time. However, they cannot tell us how to help students do even better. Nor can they adequately capture the strengths of all children, nor the growth that can be ascribed to individual teachers. And under high-stakes conditions, when schools feel extraordinary pressure to raise scores, even rising scores may not be a signal that students are actually learning more. At best, a standardized test is an incomplete picture of learning: without additional measures, a single test is inadequate to capture a years’ worth of learning and growth....

As a teacher, I am not opposed to testing.  I am opposed to testing that is used as a single snapshot of what is or is not important in student's education.  I am opposed to using testing to compare create a one-size-fit-all mentality.  

The statement continues:

Unfortunately, the way in which standardized tests have been used under federal law as almost the single measure of school quality has resulted in the frequent misuse of these instruments across the nation. 
Because of the risk of inappropriate uses of testing, the Vermont State Board of Education herewith adopts a series of guiding principles for the appropriate use of standardized tests to support continuous improvements of learning.
The School Board then laid out eight concepts that they wanted to focus on from testing protocol,  test development criteria, value-added scores, to test cut-off scores.

I want to leave you with the following resolved statements:

RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education requests that the Secretary of Education reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which has at its center qualitative assessments, does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, decreases the role of compliance monitoring, and is used to support students and improve schools; and 
RESOLVED, that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on the United States Congress and Administration to accordingly amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act”) to reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states; and 
RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on other state and national organizations to act in concert with these goals to improve and broaden educational goals, provide adequate resources, and ensure a high quality education for all children of the state and the nation.
South Dakota GOP love to have other people take the lead on policy issues like ALEC and Minnesota, maybe they should pay attention to Vermont. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Common Core is Losing Support Everywhere

As some teachers have started the school year and others are about to begin, one thing is forced onto their mind: the Common Core.  If you have not heard of the Common Core yet, I encourage you to turn your computer off and go back to sleep.  There are probably a lot of other things going on in the world that would upset you.

If you are like the 81% of Americans surveyed, you probably are not a big fan of the Common Core according to a recent PDK/Gallap poll.  This recent poll shows that 60% oppose them, but for some very, very different reasons.  This was reported in Education Week.

Overall, the wide-ranging survey found, 81 percent of those polled said they had heard about the common standards, compared with 38 percent last year. However, 60 percent oppose the standards, generally because they believe the standards will limit the flexibility that teachers have to teach what they think is best. Last year's poll did not specifically ask respondents whether or not they supported the standards.  
The poll also highlighted a partisan split in opinion on the common core: 76 percent of Republicans  and 60 percent of independents said they oppose the standards. Democrats were the only category of respondents polled in which a majority said they support the standards, 53 percent in favor compared to 38 percent opposed.
So what do Republicans and Independents dislike about the Common core according to the article?
A majority of Republicans, public school parents, and independents also agreed that the common core is not challenging enough, despite the fact that many education analysts have found them to be more rigorous than most previous state standards (with the exception of Massachusetts and California). 
For many educators the problem with the Common Core is not so much the standards, but it is the way those standards are implemented.  There was this big rush to start testing with the Common Core.  The call is to continue to attach teachers evaluations to those tests, and a push by some to direct specific instruction.  There has also been a lot of misinformation about the government using this to brainwash our children.  Terry Holliday, a supporter and education leader in Kentucky, explains part of the problem:
Holliday also said the rush by states to implement requirements linked to waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act "connected the common core with a federal overreach," which didn't help. "And the rush to implement the standards has led to inadequate support for teachers, inadequate communication with our public, and led to a major pushback from our teachers who [are skeptical] of connecting the common core to teacher development," he said.
As the President of the American Federation of Teachers stated in the article that the Common Core should be guides and separated from testing.

One other thing that was reported in the poll: The biggest obstacle facing schools is lack of financial support.  
A lack of financial support was named as the top challenge facing public schools by 32 percent in response to an open-ended question, the only problem to draw a double-digit response.
Welcome back to school everyone!  Keep you eyes on the prize! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mike Rounds Looks to Hurt America's Workers!

Mike Rounds has come out and and stood by some actual policy positions other than "South Dakota Common Sense" and lies about Obamacare.  Unfortunately, one of the positions would actually hurt many Americans and South Dakotans.  The policy is Susan Collins 40 Hours is Full Time Act.  

Rounds writes:
The increased number of South Dakotans that will work less than 40 hours, due to the ObamaCare mandate will increase.  The ObamaCare Employer Mandate, and specifically the 30 hour workweek rule, is a job killer that must be repealed before it kicks in next year.
This policy, by setting the mandate at 40 hours a week, will hurt those working over forty hours already.  As was explained in the New York Times:

But with a 40-hour threshold, the workers at risk are those who work 40 or more hours per week, or about 45 percent of the workforce. 
In other words, raising the threshold would actually place more workers at risk of having their hours reduced. The result would be substantially less employer-sponsored coverage, which in turn, could cause a large increase in federal spending on subsidized coverage for people who otherwise would be covered at work — just what the foes of health care have long claimed it would do.
Ken Jacobs points out in The Hill:
Under current law, we at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education expect cuts in work hours to be restricted largely to people working just over 30 hours a week.  It is not economically efficient for most employers to cut employees’ work hours to avoid the penalty. Doing so for workers currently working well above 30 hours a week would result in more turnover and expense for hiring, training, supervision and unemployment Insurance. We estimate that 2.3 million workers (1.8 percent of the workforce) would be especially vulnerable to work-hour reductions. These are people who work just above 30 hours a week, earn enough to make them eligible for federal programs, and do not already have coverage through their employer. 
While this is a real problem for the workers who will be affected, the kicker is the Collins-Donnelly proposal would put millions more workers at risk.  Overall, we estimate that 6.5 million employees would be immediately vulnerable to hour reductions under their proposal, nearly three times the number under current law.  That’s because the cost of cutting hours from 40 to 39 hours a week would be negligible for the vast majority of employers and many more employees work 40 hours a week or more compared to those who work close to 30.
I am not opposed to looking at ways to tweak the Affordable Care Act.  Going with Medicare for all would take all the pressure in the world off of business about how to force workers to stay at a certain time period.  My feeling is that Mike Rounds doesn't care if people have access to healthcare, but instead cares about how businesses can line his political pockets.

Corina Robinson and Missed Opportunities

Message is everything.  That message must be focused and direct.  This is my advice for Corina Robinson after seeing the Dakotafest debates.  My advice to my speech students is to tell them what you are going to talk about, tell it to them, and then remind them what you told them.  After watching the debate between Kristi Noem and Corina Robinson, I felt that Kristi Noem left too many softballs handing in the air, waiting to get knocked out, but Robinson only made partial contact.  

One example of this is the first main question about Washington policy sustainability of South Dakota's landscape and rural towns.  Noem speaks about the Farm bill, as should be expected, and needing to watch over the USDA.  Here is the first softball.  Robinson's answer tries to point out you have to be present at all the hearings (this is good) and that the need for compromise is key to protecting everyone to avoid things like letting the Farm bill expire (also good).  Then she starts drifting off about people wanting to work hard in South Dakota and talking about teacher funding in the state.  This drift makes her look a bit confused about the real issue and distracts from Noem failure to pass the Farm Bill on time and also how the government shut down was the key reason for delay in helping ranchers West River after the horrible storm.

I would have liked to have heard hear mention the failure of the farm bill, government shut down, and Noem mentioned at least 5 times in the message.  I would have also like to have heard her drop some names. "John Boehnoer can come and raise money for Kristi, but it she can convince him to influence her part to pass a farm bill on time."  "I would not have voted for Tom Cotton's amendment to pass when Jim Peterson from Minnesota said it would be a sign of betrayal and destroy all democratic votes for the bill."  

Another example was the Highway Trust Fund.  It was good to drop her experience of tackling highway infrastructure, she missed another opportunity to put Kristi on the defensive.  I would have liked her to talk about that instead of wasting time over trying to repeal Obamacare and voting to sue the President, she would make sure that the Highway funding measure was not another stop gap action so that our bridges can be fixed and we are not the fourth worst state in the nation when it comes to structurally deficient bridges. (Susan Wismer, are you listening?)  When Kristi Noem says that the Federal Government doesn't do its due diligence in making sure that the Highway Trust Fund is adequately funded, Robinson must jump on that and remind everyone that KRISTI NOEM IS THE GOVERNMENT NOT DOING THE JOB NEEDED.

Noem's answers contradict themselves (She argues for farm bill support for farmers and then says everything should stand on its own.)  Noem left a lot of issues unanswered and avoided them in the debate.  There were a lot of strong moments for Robinson in this debate; however, she must get more aggressive and must be near flawless if she hopes to defeat Noem.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Round's May or May Not Support Voucherizing Medicare

Mike Round's mouthpiece, Dick Wadhams, is getting upset with people questioning his lies statements about Mike Round's support (or not?) to voucherize Medicare?  Some people pointed to the GOP debate that Mike attended as evidence that Rounds supports Ryan's plan.  Wadhams and Pat Powers have to run and defend their man by showing a clip from the SD GOP debate and a radio clip from the Greg Belfrage interview.  
Rounds responded that while he respected Congressman Ryan’s efforts to balance the budget, he could not support that specific plan. Neither Medicare nor the use of vouchers in Medicare were mentioned in the question from the panelist but Rounds did clearly state his opposition to more than $700 billion in cuts to Medicare that would fund Obamacare.
In the debate clip, it is unclear if Rounds supports or does not support the Ryan budget.  In the Belfrage interview, he does say that he doesn't support the Ryan plan, but only because it doesn't seem to go far enough.  In neither case, does he come out against the Ryan plan to voucherize Medicare.  It has been pointed out that Rounds doesn't really have anything to say about Medicare other than spreading a lie about Obamacare and Medicare.  

Until Rounds actually states a real position on Medicare, we have to go with John Thune's vote since Mike Rounds is willing to follow Thune's lead (unless Dick and Mike want to be clear that John Thune is wrong on Medicare).

So, we have no clear position on voucherizing Medicare from Rounds and only a lie that continues to be spread about Medicare money used to fund Obamacare.  If you don't want to believe this "leftist ally," then you can believe the KELO Land report:
"We just really don't find this one all that true," reporter Joshua Gillin said. 
PolitiFact says the claim isn't accurate because the $700 billion doesn't come from the traditional Medicare program itself.  Instead, it's a reduction in payments to insurance companies through the privately-managed Medicare plan called Medicare Advantage. 
"The idea behind that is that the Affordable Care Act is trying to reduce the amount of payments that are going to Medicare Advantage plans because they are reimbursed at a higher rate by the government than actual Medicare is," Gillin said. 
Gillin says far from losing hundreds of billions of dollars, Medicare spending will actually increase as more Baby Boomers become eligible in the years to come.  
Still waiting for apology Mr. Wadhams.

You Really Need to Meet Corinna Robinson

You may not know who Corinna Robinson, and that would be a shame.  Today, I had the opportunity to listen to her speak at the Democratic Forum at the Sioux Falls VFW.  After having a chance to have a few people speak and a few candidates running for state positions (Ann Tornberg and Elle Spawn) introduced themselves, Corinna Robinson took the floor.

I want to share a few of my perceptions of this candidate running against Kristi Noem.  She is a strong and passionate speaker.  One of the things she shared was her biography.  A lot of this I did not know.  I did know that she had a distinguished military career.  I know that she has had the opportunity to lead and be in positions of importance as a military leader and in civilian life.  I also know that she has a passion for supporting veterans and military personal.  That was about the extent to what I knew about her.  

I found out that she is a third generation South Dakotan with about 98% of her family members living here in South Dakota.  She grew up in Rapid City and learned the value of hard work.  She shared the store that at the age of 16, she worked at McDonalds so that she could afford some new clothes for the school year.  She pointed out that she grew up a God-fearing Christian that is still active in attending church.

She shared upon graduating from high school she enrolled in the military with idea of enlisting and then  going to school for a criminal justice degree.  Things changed and she made a career in the military.  It was the severe problems with Washington that drove her to run for Congress.  She became so upset when Washington could not get its act together and she had to tell people that they were being furloughed.  She gave her two weeks notice and despite her superior trying to convince her to not quit for her family, she felt driven to try and make Washington run better and serve the people of South Dakota.

It is the life experiences and her opportunity to go around the world that has shaped her drive for commitment.  When asked how she would be different than Kristi Noem, she stresses her military background.  In the military you can't be partisan, you just have to make sure that the job get done.  She would approach Congress much like she approached life in the military.  She would be vocal and support the people she was charged to protect and serve (the people of South Dakota), and she would fight in Washington for all the people, Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.  That is one of the key differences between she and Kristi Noem: leadership.  She also doesn't tolerate mediocrity

If you would like to meet Corinna Robinson, she will be at Josiah's Coffeehouse at 1:00 P.M.  You can also visit her website at  She is very personable and would love to here from you.

By the way, Elle Spawn is running for the District 12 House seat and will be having a meet and greet at Spellerberg Park on Saturday, August 16 from 3-5 P.M.  There will be watermelon!

Rounds Opposes Saving Social Security and Giving More to Seniors

Mike Round's policy spokesperson, Dick Wadhams, is starting to make Mike Rounds positions on policy a bit clearer.  One thing is clear is that Mike Rounds does not want to strengthen social security and prefers protect the well off over the health of social security.

Right now there is a cap on social security taxes at $117,000.  If you make more than $117,000, you do not pay above the $117,000.  So, if you make a million dollars, you stop paying social security once you have hit $117,000.  That means you avoid paying anything into social security for the $883,000 above the cap.  Here is how it was explained on The Hill:

Many people don’t know that any income above $117,000 per year is not taxed by Social Security (this limit on the amount of earnings subject to the tax is adjusted annually to keep up with inflation). That means that someone who makes twice the cap this year – $234,000 – pays the tax on only half of his or her wages. And those lucky enough to make at least $1.2 million per year are taxed by Social Security on less than one-tenth of their income.
Wadham's make it seem like everyone in South Dakota would be crushed by this, but the reality is that scrapping the cap would eliminate a tax break for just a small percentage.  From The Hill
While every one of these senators and representatives earn over $117,000 annually, Census Bureau data shows that only about 1 in 18 workers would pay more if the cap were scrapped, and only the top 1.4 percent (1 in 71 workers) would be affected if the tax were applied to earnings over $250,000. 
It gets even more interesting when you look at different states and slices of the population.  In the home states of Merkley, Harkin and Sanders (Oregon, Iowa, and Vermont), the top 4.2 percent, 3.5 percent and 4.0 percent of workers, respectively, would pay more if the Social Security payroll cap were phased out. 
Even fewer women workers would be affected if the cap were abolished: only about 1 in 36 (2.8 percent) of them would pay more, and the top half of one percent would be affected if the tax were applied to earnings over $250,000.  Similarly, only about 1 in 50 black or Latino workers would pay more if the cap were lifted entirely, and about 1 in 200 would be affected if earnings above $250,000 were subject to the tax.
By scrapping the cap, you would also be able to be able to give more to seniors.

That has put the cap at the center of the debate over Social Security reform. Raising or eliminating the cap on income subject to tax has been suggested often as a way to improve the program's long-term funding gap. New payroll tax revenue could close the gap by anywhere from 28 percent to 90 percent, depending on the cap's height and to what extent the new revenue is used to boost payouts to high-income households. 
Elimination of the cap also figures in a broader discussion aimed at addressing the looming retirement security crisis among middle- and lower-income households. Enhancing Social Security looks like the best solution to that problem. 
Under the "Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013" introduced by Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), the taxable maximum would be phased out gradually by 2018. The plan would also increase annual cost-of-living adjustments and change benefit formulas to increase benefits for all seniors by about $70 monthly. Along with boosting benefits, the plan would extend the trust fund's solvency by 16 years, according to the Social Security actuaries.
 So, scrapping the cap would improve the health of social security and provide more for our seniors.  Mike Rounds wants none of that.  He and the SD GOP feel it is more important to protect their well-to-do backers.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wadham's ignores the Reality of Round's Support for Medicare Vouchers

Dick Wadham's, Mike Rounds pseudo campaign leader, tries to distract us from the fact that Mike Rounds will vote to voucherize Medicare.  Dick states,
“Mike Rounds has never suggested, much less endorsed, ‘voucherizing’ Medicare. Weiland’s sorry excuse of a record shows that he not only endorses Obamacare and the $716 billion in cuts to Medicare that comes with it, but also his desire to destroy Medicare as a senior healthcare program . . . it is clearly a matter of public record.” 
Okay, I guess that Dick missed my blog entry explaining the connection of the Ryan plan and how that would in fact voucherize.  I do agree that Rounds has not come out and endorsed anything when it comes to Medicare or the budget in general.  He only offers this as his approach to Medicare:
Mike supports Medicare for our seniors. Obamacare threatens Medicare’s solvency. Mike will defend and protect Medicare. Using Medicare cuts to offset Obamacare costs is wrong.
Here is a brief description of the Ryan plan on Medicare (one that has been supported by John Thune):
By now, most people have heard about Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to convert Medicare into a "voucher" program for citizens currently under age 55. A draft of the Republican platform at the party's national convention in Tampa, Fla., recommends adopting some form of the Wisconsin lawmaker's proposals, and Ryan mentioned it again in his Wednesday night speech at the event.  
Under Ryan's plan, people who are now age 55 and older would continue to buy traditional Medicare insurance. Those who didn't meet the age threshold would be given "premium support" from the government when they attain the retirement eligibility age. They would then be free to buy their own insurance coverage from for-profit insurance companies. They would pay any difference between the voucher amount and premiums charged by insurance companies out of their own pocket.
I would encourage Mr. Wadhams to read a CBS report from 2012 when his lies were being debunked:
To some voters, it may sound counter-intuitive at first to think that cutting money from Medicare would improve, not weaken, its finances. But, again, this is a reduction in the future growth of Medicare spending over 10 years. And spending less is a good thing for Medicare’s finances — as it is for most people’s. 
For instance, let’s say someone has a dedicated coffee budget but decides to drop a daily latte habit and instead buy regular coffee. That person’s coffee budget took a big cut in spending, enabling the budget to last longer. Instead of one month of lattes, this java fan can have two months of coffee. 
The biggest savings from the Affordable Care Act come from reductions in the future growth of payments to hospitals — about $415 billion over 10 years. That’s Medicare Part A. Income for Part A comes mainly from payroll taxes. If Medicare doesn’t need to spend that income immediately, it’s credited to Part A’s trust fund, and Medicare gets a Treasury bond that it can cash in later. Anytime Medicare needs to cash in that bond, Treasury must pay it. Even if Treasury spent the original money on something else, it must pay the bond.
So, campaign claims that imply that Obama has taken money out of Medicare, and Medicare won’t ever get it back, are simply not true. 
Once again, the people of South Dakota await your apology to Rick Weiland and every citizen in this state.