Showing posts with label South Dakota. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Dakota. Show all posts

06 December 2018

A Corporate Christmas Carol

by Eve Fisher

It's December, and we've had a lot of news to deal with over the last year, so some things have just gone under the radar.  But it's time to let some of those rats out of the woodwork, and the current scene with nursing homes around the country - including 19 of them here in South Dakota - has enough rats to kill every cat in the country.  That and make Ebenezer Scrooge wonder why he ever listened to the Ghost of Christmas Future when there was money to be made out of starving old folks. 

Now I'll admit, I'm fascinated by nursing homes.  My parents lived in a massive retirement center complex in Knoxville, TN, that allowed you to buy a house, then a town home, then an apartment, get assisted living, and then go to their nursing home premises. For ten years, I spent my vacation visiting them and living on-site, and I always found it somewhere between fascinating and scary as hell.  And yes, I've set a few stories in that milieu.  A lot can happen in retirement centers and nursing homes.  In fact, the same things happen there as happen among any other group of people.  Just cause you're old doesn't mean you haven't stopped working on your life, for good or ill.  But it's better when the crazy stuff happens at the instigation of the residents, and not come down from on high. 

Back in May, 19 nursing home facilities were going bust in South Dakota, thanks to their (mis)management by Skyline Healthcare of New Jersey. Skyline had gone on a nursing home buying binge between 2015-17:  110 nursing homes in six states at bargain prices, mostly from Golden Living, a large national chain that was sued by the Pennsylvania attorney general in 2015 for providing poor care. Golden Living wanted to lease out a lot of its nursing homes, and Skyline gladly took them over. 

This is the picture you get when you Google
Skyline Healthcare
Now here's one of the problems:  Skyline Healthcare was and isn't a large corporation with the kind of bucks to run 110+ nursing homes. Instead, it's owned by a single family, the Schwartzes (Joseph, Rosie, Michael and Louis), and nursing home industry watchers used to joke about the fact that their office was above a pizza joint in Wood-Ridge, N.J.  

But it wasn't so funny when Skyline quit paying the bills to, among others, nursing home vendor Health Care Services Group in Pennsylvania for housekeeping, laundry and dining and nutrition services. Then they stopped paying in Massachusetts, Florida, Arkansas, Kansas, and most lately, South Dakota. (Kansas City News
According to the complaint argued by Pierre attorney Margo Northrup, Skyline did not pay bills for the facilities, including from vendors and employee salaries. More seriously, “there are hundreds of patients currently residing at the (nursing facilities) who receive varying levels of care and whose health and safety have been put directly at risk by Defendants’ many defaults,” according to the complaint. On April 26, Skyline, the defendants, notified the state health department “that they no longer had sufficient funds to purchase food for the patients.” (Capital Journal)
The former Golden Living Nursing Home in Madison, SD
The result is all the Skyline nursing homes were put in receivership, and most of them are going to close. Where do the residents go? God only knows.

What the hell was the deal? Well, apparently Skyline Healthcare was a classic example of buy, gut, and sell - or outright abandon. And none of the sellers - Golden Living, among them, apparently bothered to check the Better Business Bureau ratings (D+, and God only knows how they got that) or their employee reviews (HERE).   So Skyline Healthcare bought the nursing homes using borrowed money, hosed up all the money in the nursing homes' accounts to repay their debt (and pay themselves, and their investors, of course), and then dumped the nursing homes.  And leaving the residents holding nothing but eviction notes.

And - WARNING, WARNING, WARNING! - this appears to be a (relatively) new trend in elderly care. Witness this article from The Washington Post. Back in 2011, The Carlyle Group bought the ManorCare nursing-home chain - the second-largest nursing-home chain in the United States. The financial deal "extracted $1.3 billion from the [ManorCare] company for investors... Shortly after the maneuver, the company announced hundreds of layoffs. In a little over a year, some nursing homes were not making enough to pay rent. Over the next several years, cost-cutting programs followed, according to financial statements obtained by The Post." 

Among those costs were staff, utilities, rent, and patient care:
"The number of health-code violations found at the chain each year rose 26 percent between 2013 and 2017, according to a Post review of 230 of the chain’s retirement homes. Over that period, the yearly number of health-code violations at company nursing homes rose from 1,584 to almost 2,000. The number of citations increased for, among other things, neither preventing nor treating bed sores; medication errors; not providing proper care for people who need special services such as injections, colostomies and prostheses; and not assisting patients with eating and personal hygiene." (The Washington Post


The Carlyle Group is disputing all of these claims.  But the result was bankruptcy and sale, this time to non-profit ProMedica Health.

The Washington Post points out that private-equity firms have been moving - like sharks - into businesses serving some of the nation’s poorest or most vulnerable people, including payday lenders, nursing homes, bail bond providers, low-income homes for rental and prison phone services.

"Ludovic Phalippou, a professor at Oxford who wrote the textbook “Private Equity Laid Bare,” says it is a question of whether private-equity methods are appropriate in all fields. He has praised the ability of private equity to streamline companies but he has also described the firms’ approach as “capitalism on steroids.” (my emphasis)  He said, for example, that while private-equity ownership of nursing homes is accepted in the United States, people in some other countries would be “aghast” at the idea. “People will wonder whether this pure capitalism is appropriate in nursing homes,” Phalippou said. “The health and welfare of the old people who live there depend on them.” (The Washington Post

But who cares about health and welfare?  That's so oldfashioned!  From The New Yorker:
Ron Shaich, founder of Panera Bread
"Wall Street has embraced the idea that companies exist solely to serve the holders of their stock. Under this way of thinking, managers of companies should focus their actions on driving short-term value for their shareholders, and should pay far less (or no) regard to other constituents who may have a stake in the business, such as employees, customers, or members of the community. [Ron] Shaich... believes that the fixation on short-term profits is jeopardizing the future of American business, and creating social instability that has contributed to our current state of political polarization."

And adding to the fears and worries of a lot of elderly people in nursing homes who literally have nowhere else to go.  Up here in South Dakota, there were 111 nursing homes, so closing 19 of them is taking away 17% of all the nursing homes in this state.  There aren't enough beds left in this state to take all the residents.  Where is Granny going to go for Christmas, this year, anyway?   Does anybody care? 







25 October 2018

October Chills

by Eve Fisher

It's October in South Dakota, and the leaves are turning, where they're not just being whipped off the trees by bellowing winds.  It's pheasant season, so there are a lot of people in camouflage, carrying weapons, running around.  At least, I hope they're pheasant hunters.  Play safe, boys, and remember that pheasants are pretty dumb and pretty skittish!

It's also election season, and if I see one more political ad, it will be too late.  If I were god-empress of the universe, I'd ban them all.  For one thing, they cost a fortune, millions are being spent that could go to something useful, like education, or perhaps putting a few more poverty-level full-time employees (like teachers) back on Medicaid, now that the last shreds of the ACA is being gutted like a fish.

As a freeze-dried hippie liberal, I've been just standing in shock when I hear the President of the United States declare that we are all "radical socialists, Venezuela, open borders, the party of crime."  (Washington Examiner)  And then there's the Future45 (dark money super pac) "Any Democrat" ad runs every single morning on the national news, claiming that voting for "any Democrat" will lead to "screaming, violence, smears, and death threats..." if anyone votes for any Democrat.  Really?  As Bette Midler said, "What do they think we're gonna do, attack them with our PBS gift bags?"


Meanwhile, as of this very morning (October 24, 2018), there have been explosive devices mailed to the homes of George Soros, Bill and Hilary Clinton, and former President Barack Obama, as well John Brennan at the offices of CNN and Maxine Waters at her offices.  (New York Times)  Since I do not believe for one second that these bombs were manufactured and sent by liberal operatives, my question is,
"Has the Republican base been ginned up enough yet?"  
Or do we have to have another Charlottesville, this time with more victims?

Meanwhile, our South Dakota gubernatorial race has hit the national news, because for the first time in forty years, there's a viable Democratic candidate.
Billie Sutton (D) is running against Kristi Noem (R) and they both look good on a horse:

  Image result for kristi noem on horseback 
Noem retweets hubby's crop insurance biz 2016-05-30.
(In fact in one ad, Sutton had his whole family up and riding the ranch.)  They're both ranchers, they've both served for years in the South Dakota legislature, and Noem, of course, more recently was our Representative to the US Congress.

Sutton also has a strong personal story:  a professional rodeo rider in his young days (top 30 worldwide), in 2007, a horse flipped upside down on top of him in a chute, paralyzing him from the waist down.  Even though he's in a wheelchair for life (he rides in a special saddle) he still ranches, still rides, still works.  He is also an investment counselor.

Noem's husband owns and operates Noem Insurance, which sells federally subsidized crop insurance (see Rep. Noem's interesting retweet on the right, put out on her Congressional feed).  Kristi's family farm - the Racota Valley Ranch, still hosts fishers and hunters - pheasant, turkey and waterfowl - with a lodge and bunkhouse.

Disclaimer:  I have never voted for Kristi Noem, who has consistently voted against authorizing and reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, for a variety of non-reasons.  (Dakota Free Press and its links)

Meanwhile, November 6th - election day!  And even better, November 7th - no more political ads!

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02 August 2018

Mata Hari in South Dakota

by Eve Fisher

For those of you who follow my tales of South Dakota politics, I talked about Mariia Butina in my blog post Just Another January in South Dakota. She and Paul Erickson, local South Dakotan, formed a couple of LLCs here in Sioux Falls, and Ms. Butina did the South Dakota speaking tour, all about God, Guns and Let's Be Friends With Russia!, including SDSU, USD, and the Teenage Republicans Camp in the Black Hills, where a number of past and current South Dakota legislatures were counselors, attendees, or just there for the party.

Back in February, almost no one had heard of Mariia Butina, or certainly weren't admitting that they did. But then a couple of weeks ago, she was indicted and arrested for being a Russian agent, and ever since we are in the fire hose of information about her.  Here's a beginning cast list:

(1) Mariia Butina, who introduced herself to America as a pro-Russian Christian gun-rights activist, and managed to get into every NRA convention in her years among us (2012-2017), as well as the National Prayer Breakfast (a private, closed event in case you didn't know) in Washington D.C. in 2017.  Apparently she had a very compelling story... and offered sex for political access and "in exchange for a job at an unidentified “special interest organization.” New York

(2) US Person Number 1 (from the original indictment), a/k/a Paul Erickson - more about him in a minute, but here they are strategizing away:
Maria Butina and Paul Erickson, posted to FB 2013.11.01
(3) US Person Number 2 (from the original indictment) - still unnamed, but described in the court documents as the target of Butina’s efforts to establish a backchannel between U.S. policymakers and representatives of the Russian government...

(4) Butina's handler, Alexander Torshin, Russian politician and Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia. He's also been identified by U.S. intelligence sources as having "established ties" to Russian security forces and a fierce Putin supporter, and by Spanish intelligence (they want to arrest him) as the money launderer for the Russian criminal Tambovskaya Gang. He and Butina founded the Russian-based Right to Bear Arms, and there was a regular correspondence between them that has to be read to be believed. Social media never had it so good.

(5) Her funder, Konstantin Nikolaev, a Russian oligarch worth $1.5 billion by Forbes’s latest estimate. Read USA Today on that: Russian Billionaire Paid Mariia Butina. There's a South Dakota connection to Nikolaev, which I'll get to in a minute.

(6) Her NRA friends: All photos courtesy of Cory Heidelberger at his blog post: (HERE)

Former NRA president David Keene introduces Maria Butina and Alexsandr Torshin to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, April 2015.
Former NRA president David Keene introduces Maria Butina and Alexsandr Torshin to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, April 2015. [Source: Walker’s “Our American Revival” PAC photo album]

David Keene, former NRA President, and Maria Butina [source: Maria Butina, Facebook, 2013.11.03]
Right before or during Mr. Keene's visit to Moscow at her and Torshin's invitation.
(7) Her South Dakota friends. She spoke at South Dakota State University and at University of South Dakota in Vermillion, offering her compelling story, and, as you can see, was front and center at the South Dakota Teenage Republican Camp:
Butina at SD TARS camp, 2015.07.22.
Butina at Rapid City, SD TAR camp, 2015.07.22
The current candidate for South Dakota's lone US Representative seat, Dusty Johnson, ran that TAR Camp, on her visit, and afterwards tweeted:

Dusty Johnson thought Maria Butina was "incredible" at TARS Camp in 2015. Incredible, indeed.


To be fair, Mr. Johnson's current statement is that he was duped. This is also the current statement from USD, SDSU, and innumerable others...  Crickets from the NRA, despite the fact that she was part of their "million dollar donors" group, and was photographed with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, NRA Presidents Sandy Froman, Jim Porter, and Wayne LaPierre.  (See Alleged Spy Mariia Butina/NRA Photographic History)

And, as the cherry on the top, here's Butina asking then-candidate Trump questions at FreedomFest, July 11, 2015, Las Vegas:





She also attended one of the inaugural balls in 2017.

But for a complete timeline, you can't do much better than Mother Jones. Read that article, and then we'll continue with South Dakota's Season of Spies.

First of all, Paul Erickson. I was talking to a friend about him the other day, and she said she kind of felt sorry for him because he was the butt of so many jokes this day. My response:  "Look, if you can't make fun of the man who masterminded the John Wayne Bobbitt "Love Hurts" tour, who can you make fun of?"

Image result for paul erickson south dakota

Paul Erickson, of Vermillion, SD, is a long time Republican and Republican campaign operative. In the 1980s, he served as the national treasurer for the College Republicans in Washington, D.C., where he met Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, and Jack Abramoff.  (If you don't know who these guys are, well, look them up. 

Erickson also served as the national political director / campaign manager for the 1992 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan, and later as an advisor to both of Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns. He is a former board member of the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).[5] He worked in SD for the Trump campaign, and in 2016 Erickson claimed he was on the Trump presidential transition team. During the 2016 NRA convention he sent an e-mail to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump via Trump's campaign advisor Rick Dearborn and (for some reason) then-Senator Jeff Sessions with the subtle subject line: "Kremlin Connection":
"Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let's talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions' advice on how to proceed."
No one knows if that meeting took place: Sessions told the House Intelligence Committee he didn't remember the request (even though the e-mail plainly says "Senator Sessions' advice on how to proceed"). I don't know if anyone asked Rick Dearborn.  

Anyway, back in 2013 (or earlier?), Erickson met Mariia Butina, and she recruited him hugely. While a lot of people didn't like Erickson (and even more detest him right about now - you'd be amazed how quickly the SD Republican Party has repudiated him), he was a man with connections. Apparently he knew everybody, and he literally made Butina a list and told her, these are the people you need to contact.  And she did.

She also did what any good Russian agent in a spy novel would do: She befriended him, had sex with him, called him her boyfriend, and shared a Sioux Falls address with him, but...  [sob]
"But this relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Butina appears to treat it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities. For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization. Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1."   Dakota Free Press
"Clowns to the left of me, jokers to my right, Here I am, stuck in the middle with you..."  would appear to be Mariia's theme song...  (Stealers Wheel)


Erickson and Butina also, as I said, founded two LLCs. The LLCs - "Bridges" in South Dakota in 2016, and another one - Medora Consulting LLC - in 2018 - are both "located" in an apartment complex in Sioux Falls, and neither have any stated purpose or partners. (Argus Leader)  Personally, I think they're shell companies for, perhaps, a connection to Cyprus...

Why Cyprus?  Well, let's go back to Maria's financier, Konstantin Nikolaev, who has been known to enjoy a seat at Putin’s annual oligarch’s dinner in 2014. Nikolaev owns, among other things, a 34% stake in Globaltrans, “Russia’s Leading Freight Rail Group.” Globaltrans had a subsidiary based in Cyprus called Ultracare Holdings. Between December 2007 and April 2008, Ultracare Holdings received three payments totaling $1.5 million from Northern Beef Packers, based in Aberdeen, South Dakota. At that time, Northern Beef Packers was four years and two more rounds of EB-5 visa investment dollars away from slaughtering any cattle. NBP was five years away from its bankruptcy, the suicide of Richard Benda, and the eruption of South Dakota’s EB-5 scandal. (Thanks Cory Heidelberger!)  Granted, to Globaltrans, or Ultracare Holdings, $1.5 million is not a lot of of jack...  But no one outside of NBP and he EB-5 scandal knows what that cash was for.  (Rail cars? the nearest track is a third of a mile away from the plant).  And the plain truth is that the EB-5 scandal was and is huge, and there are still millions of dollars missing, and no one believes it was suicide, and I have written somewhat often about it:

October 2015 - A Little Light Corruption
January 14, 2016 - The Chinese are Coming
April, 2016 - If Only We Had Laws Against This Stuff

But now we have a Russian connection - so I ask, what in God's sweet green earth was NBP doing sending $1.5 million dollars to Ultracare Holdings in Cyprus? Still waiting for answers, Joop Bollen, Senator Mike Rounds, and soon to be ex-Attorney General Marty Jackley!

But wait, there's more!

Because running one scandal at a time is NEVER enough, while Erickson was playing "find the marks" with Butina, he was also passing bogus checks and running a couple of phony investment schemes:
(1) a company called Compass Care he founded in 1997, which he sold to investors as a Christian-based nursing home company that would eventually build 24 facilities, but never built any. Instead, it just lined up investors and never paid anything out.
(2) A 2009 company called Dignity Medical Inc., which he promised would give a rate of return of between 25 and 75 percent. (Argus Leader - this article also has a really great time line about Mr. Erickson's career)
NOTE TO FUTURE INVESTORS:  Any time any one promises you 25%-75% return on your investment, THEY ARE LYING.  
Meanwhile, in case you're wondering, no one knows where Paul Erickson is. Casey Phillips, a political consultant who once worked with Erickson, said the last time he saw Erickson was on a flight from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C. in June. (Argus Leader) Nobody's seen him since. But I'll bet the feds are looking for him...

Meanwhile, Mariia Butina is "cooperating" with authorities.
Meanwhile, the NRA is being as silent as an isolation tank about Mariia Butina.
Meanwhile, the GOP is copy-catting the NRA.
Meanwhile, did I mention that Mariia also was a grad student at American University (on Russian money, of course) in Washington, D.C.?  There she was "in-your-face" with her pro-Russia and pro-Putin views.  "Those who came across Butina said the back of her cellphone prominently displayed a picture of Putin. And while on campus, Butina freely alluded to her activity on behalf of the Russian government, but she made it seem like she was a secretary or held some "low-level" position with a department in the Russian government."  (ABC News)

Hiding in plain sight.  With lots of friends around her...

Anyway, that's the latest from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 
   
Meanwhile, some Blatant Self-Promotion:

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Yep, that's me, along with John Floyd and Michael Bracken of SleuthSayers in the 3rd issue of Black Cat Magazine!  Huzzah! 


07 June 2018

The Horse-Off

by Eve Fisher

"Baseball is something like a war."  - Ty Cobb (1886-1961)
And so is politics.  That or the most dysfunctional family reunion ever.  Certainly that's the way the Republican Primary has been here in South Dakota.  In case you didn't know, South Dakota is red, red, red, red, and more red.  We have Democratic candidates, but there are never any Democratic primaries, because rounding up just one per position is pretty much all we can do.  Anyway, the primary had two huge sections:

FOR GOVERNOR:

Attorney General Marty Jackley v. US House Representative Kristi Noem

US District Attorney Marty Jackley.pngImage result for kristi noem on horseback
(Notice the horse.  This is going to be
important.)


FOR UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:

Dusty Johnson v.              Shantel Krebs v.                          Neil Tapio

Johnson and Krebs     Neal Tapio in Watertown, South Dakota.jpg 

a/k/a the nerdy Chief of Staff to the governor, the beauty queen SD Secretary of State, and the State Senator/South Dakota Trump Presidential Campaign Director.
(Others, not so kind, have referred to them as Howdy Doody, Clarabelle, and Phineas T. Bluster.)

Now before I get started, you need to remember that all of these people know each other, have worked together, have gone to the Governor's Annual Pheasant Hunt ("if you're not there, you're nowhere", and it's invitation only, my dears, invitation only) together, attended Republican conventions and fundraisers, annual ALEC meetings, etc., etc., etc.  South Dakota is one big small town, and there aren't six degrees of separation between anyone - more like two.  Three at the most.

So the campaign started off slow and respectful.  Dignified, even.  The first political ads were exclusively for Jackley, Noem, and Krebs, and I swear each and every single one of them all showed the same words: "Experienced.  Conservative.  Tested."   And then someone would ride a horse.  And load / carry a gun.  Also lot of shots of cattle, hay, farms, and rolling hills.

Now Kristi Noem has always made her horse riding central to her campaigns and she does look damn good on one.  Marty Jackley stuck with just having almost every sheriff in the state sing his praises, after which he'd go pheasant hunting, and then lead his daughter around on a horse.

And then, the local newspaper came out with a poll that said Jackley and Noem were neck and neck, and things got nasty.

Kristi Noem launched ads about the EB-5 scandal (which yours truly has spoken of at length in these blogs).  No mention of my favorite question, "Who killed Richard Benda?" but she did raise the missing $5 million.  (The reason why the United States Customs and Immigration Service letter of September 28, 2015, found South Dakota too unreliable and incompetent, if not downright corrupt, to handle EB-5 visa investments any more. Thanks Dakota Free Press!)

Marty Jackley, who talks about EB-5, the missing millions, Richard Benda, or the missing Gear Up! millions about as often as I request a colonoscopy for fun, ignored all questions of corruption and fired back with ads about how Ms. Noem hadn't kept any of the promises she made on going to Washington.  Even more shocking he appeared in the ad below, talking about balancing the budget.  Locked and loaded indeed!


(My first reaction was, "First they had to drug the horse, right?")

And then Kristi hammered away with ads about Jackley holding up a $1.5 million settlement payment for a DCI employee (sexual harassment; and I can assure you that it was serious, and seriously well-documented, for her to actually win in this state) after Jackley saw said ex-employee sitting with Noem at a Republican fundraiser.  (Argus Leader)
So Jackley retaliated with photos of Noem shaking hands with (gasp!) then-President Obama back in 2015...

Back to our candidates running for our sole House seat.  Dusty Johnson was the odd one out, with quiet ads illustrating fiscal responsibility at dinner out with the kids.  Shantel Krebs ran pheasant hunting ads (it's a theme up here) and urged South Dakota to send her to Washington to help Donald Trump make America great again.  Neal Tapio's ads were a combination of lies about his opponents (Shantel Krebs, for all her faults, certainly did not make South Dakota the 3rd most Obamacare-compliant state in the nation - for one thing, our Governor never expanded Medicaid) and his passionate loyalty to Donald Trump.

Then the aforementioned poll also said that Dusty Johnson was leading (which surprised almost everyone, including, perhaps, Dusty), and things got nasty:  Shantel approved ads that claimed Dusty flew on private planes on government expense to the tune of almost $10,000.  A private Ohio group accused Shantel of raising taxes - and her salary - whenever possible.  Johnson swore he wasn't behind the ads, and I believed him.

Remember, all these people worked together for years.  I see them cousins at a 4th of July reunion, who smile at each other and then hiss gossip about the others to everyone as they load up on baked beans and potato salad.  And Mr. Tapio, who is the crazy Alex Jones fan at the picnic.  You think I'm kidding?  Back in January Tapio gave a speech and said that "one more terrorist attack between now and then [the election] and I will be the … just by the ‘Trump effect,’ I will be the candidate. That’s the way I look at it.”  (Listen here.)  But then Tapio is an anti-Muslim zealot.  He accused South Dakota Lutheran Bishop Zellmer of aiding and abetting terrorism, and "taking away the Christian fabric of our nation" by holding an Interfaith Day at the Capitol in Pierre (Argus Leader).  Above all, Mr. Tapio ran on Trump.  110% pro-Trump.  Send him to Washington, so he can help Trump.  Period.  And then he decided to up the ante by calling for an end to tribal sovereignty, and to rewrite all the treaties between the United States and Native American populations.  (Argus)
And another SD Representative, Michael Clark, applauded the recent SCOTUS decision about cake-baking by saying that business owners should be able to discriminate based on race.  (Argus)

So it was a Republican Primary, and all the dogs were howling.  Literally.

So what were the results?
Kristi Noem is our new Republican candidate for Governor, 57%-43% over Marty Jackley.  (Proof that negative ads work, especially if they're 100% true.  And the question has already been raised of who's going to run against Jackley for AG in November - the sharks smell blood.)
Dusty Johnson is our new Republican candidate for United States House of Representatives, with 47% of the vote (Krebs got 29%, Tapio 24%).

Who'll win in November?  Danged if I know.  But I can guarantee you we'll see a lot of horses.

Anyway, that's all from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 

PS:  Oh, there was also one non-partisan item on the ballot, an Amendment to modify Marsy's Law.  I went and voted, and even the polling people agreed that this was ridiculous:  any amendment should be on the November ballot, not a Republican-only primary, where as few Democrats and Independents would vote as possible.  As a friend of mine said, "they did it as dirty as they could."  It passed.


01 February 2018

Just Another January in South Dakota

by Eve Fisher

I don't know if this made the national news, but the South Dakota media was all over the story of a 72 year old SD man, Daniel Lucas, who snow-birded in winter to Arizona, and who never came back last spring and was missing.  Well, they found him.  He killed himself in his car, they say.  His head was in a box, and his body down in a canyon in Maricopa County.  So how did he get dismembered?  Well, apparently a homeless man, Mattew David Hall. found him in his car, dead, and rather than call the police, he moved the body but kept the head to prove that he hadn't killed him...  And kept it for a long, long, long time...  They say that Mr. Hall has mental issues.  Yah think?  I think the guy kind of looks like Nick Nolte, so there's casting if they ever make a movie of it.

Mattew David Hall


Moving on, we South Dakotans have our own Kremlin connection!  We're so proud.  Paul Erickson, of Vermillion, SD, is a long time Republican campaign operative.  He worked in SD for Trump, and in 2016 Erickson claimed he was on the Trump presidential transition team.  Which is why he sent an email during the 2016 NRA convention to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump with the subtle subject:  "Kremlin Connection":
Image result for paul erickson south dakota
Fun Fact:  Back in 1994 Erickson was an entertainment lawyer
who booked John Wayne Bobbitt
on a “Love Hurts," worldwide media tour.
Subtle, he's not.
"Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let's talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions' advice on how to proceed."
No one knows if that meeting took place:  Sessions told the House Intelligence Committee he didn't remember the request.

Okay, so Erickson is also connected to Russian gun rights advocate Maria Butina, who's worked for the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, Alexander Torshin, and who ran a pro-gun group in Russia supported by Torshin.  Erickson and Butina formed a limited liability company called "Bridges" in South Dakota in 2016 (I don't know if it was before or after the Kremlin Connection e-mail), which has an address in a Sioux Falls apartment building and no known actual purpose.  (Can't even find it on the web, dag nabbit.)  So - according to McClatchy news outlet, the FBI is investigating whether Torshin funneled money (thru Butina, thru Erickson?) through the NRA to help fund the Trump presidential campaign. The NRA spent $55 million on the 2016 election with $30 million of that going to the Trump campaign.
Gentle reminder:  The reason this matters is that it's illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.  (Thank you, Angela Kennecke for your investigation!)
BTW:  Check out this post from South Dakota's own Cory Heidelberger, with photos of Ms. Butina speaking all over South Dakota, including the Teenage Republicans Camp in the Black Hills, where a number of past and current South Dakota legislatures were counselors, or just there for the party.  Including Mr. Erickson...

Our South Dakota Legislature is back in session, and the legislation is coming out thick and fast, and piling deeper and higher.  Some of my personal favorites so far:

HB 1144, which makes it easier for city councils, county commissions, school boards, and other governmental bodies to do their business behind closed doors, especially if they're "Consulting with legal counsel or reviewing on communications from legal counsel about proposed or pending litigation or contractual matters.”  (Someone's trying to do something they don't want anyone to see...)

SB 107, which would repeal all regulations and licensing requirements for barbers.  Can't figure that one out to save my soul...
SB 109, which would repeal the licensing requirements for sign language interpreters.  Can't figure that one out, either...  

SouthDakota-StateSeal.svg
THE Official State Seal
HB 1102 started as a bill to require as much as a year in jail and a $2,000 fine for creating any replica of the Great Seal of South Dakota that did not include every detail specified by state law, including the state motto, “Under God the People Rule.” (See image to the right)

Well, the ACLU and most of us South Dakota smart-alecks had a lot of fun with that (google freely), and it's since been amended to ban renditions of the seal that are “greater than one-half inch in diameter and used for an official purpose or a for-profit commercial use” while at the same time making it clear that HB 1102 does not apply to “or limit any artistic or satirical use of the seal.”  More fun is still being had, because how can you resist shooting ducks?  (This is funnier up here, in Ducks Unlimited territory.)  Google freely.

State Representative Drew Dennert wants to make hunting, fishing, trapping and harvesting wildlife a constitutional right, that "shall be forever preserved for the public good" in HJR 1005, and make "Hunting, fishing, and trapping...  a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife."  Still trying to figure out the "harvesting" part.  I can just see it now - hunters fighting against farmers in combines in the corn fields over the pheasants:
"I'm hunting!"  "But I'm harvesting!"  And shots ring out...

Meanwhile, a Mr. Levi Breyfogle of Rapid City has proposed a new Constitutional Amendment that would make all "victimless" crimes unchargeable:
"(1) A charge of a violation may only be filed by a victim whose person or property has been physically damaged by the defendant. If the victim is incapable of filing a charge of a violation, a family member may, but only if the victim does not object; and  (2) The damages must be physical, quantifiable, and have already occurred."
(Someone's done something they don't want anyone to know about...)

But enough of that, back to the news:

636523968955778979-DUUlef1W0AEUSO1.jpgLocal News:  On January 24th, in an improbably appropriate move, a woman crashed into the Billion Car Care Center.  Meth, not alcohol, and there were also 2 children under three in the back seat, who were unharmed, and are now "in the care of a family member."  Thank God.  BTW, here in South Dakota, if you get arrested, you get to do the walk of shame in jail stripes., which is then broadcast on the nightly news, and she looked shell-shocked, to put it mildly.  Whether it was the situation she finds herself in, or that she hadn't had any meth in over 24 hours, I don't know.

636004804435050121-aqua.JPG
The photo that launched multi-
million dollar investments...
The latest scam:  Perhaps because they saw the EB-5 and GearUp! rifling of federal dollars, Tobias Ritesman and Tim Burns (long-time Brookings developer) cooked up a new company, Global Aquaponics which was going to be a high-tech fish farm near Brookings, SD.  (check out their website here!)  They were going to grow fish and shrimp in tanks, and use the "nutrient rich" water to grow vegetables.

And apparently there were quite a few people who weren't bothered by the lack of experience in shrimp farming available in the High Plains, because they managed to raise a few million dollars. (P. T. Barnum was so right.) But a year later, while the ground had been (barely) broken, no tanks were being built, and there was no sign of anything but a nice office downtown in which Mr. Ritesman went slightly off his nut one day and wanted to know about Bitcoins while waving a gun in front of a tech consultant. Let's just say that everyone got ripped off, and Mr. Ritesman and Mr. Burns are facing federal charges.

In the "we should have known" department: Mr. Burns was involved in the EB-5 scandal. (Thanks again to Angela Kennecke at Keloland News)   And Mr. Ritesman claimed to have won the same "Entrepreneur of the Year Award" as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.  He didn't, but apparently no one checked before investing.
(BTW, this proves that there's a reason why Frank L. Baum made the Wizard of Oz a humbug and a conman in his earthly life back in Kansas and other parts of the Midwest.)

National News:  So, no fish, no shrimp, no vegetables in nutrient-rich water.  But we do have radium, at least in Brandon, SD.  Radium, which is (1) radioactive, (2) killed Marie Curie, (3) can occur naturally, and (4) has been in the city's water for decades. It's also not uncommon across the country. An analysis by EWG (go here for an interactive map) found 170 million people exposed to radium from drinking water in 22,000 utilities nationwide.  Brandon's radium level doesn't exceed federal guidelines.  What's amazing to me is how much (and many) poison(s) you can have in your drinking water before it exceeds the guidelines  Look it up some time.  

Well, that's all from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 

My husband just looked this over and suggested, "Sponsored by the South Dakota Tourism Department".





28 January 2018

Who'd a Thought?

by R.T. Lawton

SOUTH DAKOTA - East River

It was Super Bowl Sunday 1980, when the bartender paged me to the phone. My boss was calling to let me know that a four-engine aircraft had come down in a wheat-stubble field just west of the Missouri River during the late afternoon. He then made a strong suggestion that I go to the scene.

SOUTH DAKOTA - West River

Just as the sun was peering over the horizon, I drove up out of a shallow ravine and there in the wheat-stubble field sat a four-engine aircraft with oil slicks from each engine dripping off the aft edge of both wings. The plane's fuselage was loaded with bales of marijuana, 26,000 pounds of the stuff.

As we later pieced it together, it seems that a group of entrepreneurs had purchased a couple of four-engine aircraft in Spain and had at least one of them flown to Panama where it was worked on. According to regulations, whenever a plane departed the airport in Panama, it was supposed to file a flight plan as to its destination, however there is an exception to that rule if the flight crew was merely going to take off, fly around to check out the maintenance work and then immediately land. So, that's what the aircrew told the tower they were going to do. They took off like they'd said, but then kept on going south, all the way to a clandestine airstrip in Colombia, an airstrip guarded by Colombian Army soldiers. Corruption at its finest.

The plane got loaded with pot bales and the aircrew was going through a pre-flight check list, when a jeep load of soldiers drove up and told the pilot to take off NOW. The pilot politely explained that it was too early to leave, that he had a certain two-hour window in which he was to take off in order to arrive at his destination at the correct time. At that point the conversation deteriorated.  The Colombian soldiers pointed their automatic weapons at the pilot and insisted it was time for him to depart their clandestine airstrip. Not having any weapons of his own, the pilot quickly cranked his engines and took off. The tenseness of this experience rattled the aircrew's nerves enough that shortly after wheels up on the landing gear, they commenced the consumption of rum.

Somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, the plane lost oil pressure. This necessitated the crew chief hooking up a 55-gallon barrel of oil and hand-pumping oil to each of the four engines. They entered U.S. airspace at the Texas border and allegedly flew north over Omaha, Nebraska, over SAC Headquarters without our Air Force scrambling fighter jets to intercept them. So much for our national border security in 1980.

Meanwhile, the ground crew, out of Minneapolis, was busy that late afternoon, laying out a landing strip in the wheat-stubble field with lights hooked up to car batteries, when they suddenly heard the approach of a large aircraft. They immediately got on their radio and told the airplane they had arrived too early and therefore were supposed to fly into North Dakota and return after dark before landing. However, the pilot having been threatened with automatic weapons, having consumed a quantity of rum for his nerves, and tired from having flown a leaky aircraft for several hours in air space he wasn't cleared to be in, made a heated reply, something to the extent of they were landing now, so get the hell out of the way. And, they did.

Airplane Number
South Dakota people are friendly folk and have a tendency to help people in distress, thus the ice fishermen on the Missouri River (America's true first line of national border defense) saw the airplane come down in the field, and in their concern for their fellow man, they immediately put down their fishing poles and drove over to assist these unfortunate souls downed in the middle of nowhere. Turned out, the aircrew members were not grateful for this offered assistance. The fishermen became suspicious and one brave guardian of America's borders let the air out of the plane's front tire, and state radio then got a call.

Now, the pilot, having been previously involved in these types of operations, had it in his contract that he would be driven to a motel to wait out the unloading process, after which he would be driven back to the wheat-stubble field and would then fly out the airplane. He never went back. Also, a fuel tanker and a flatbed semi with hay bales on the trailer were on a side road nearby to refuel the aircraft and offload the pot bales to then be concealed among the hay bales. They never got to perform their functions.

That's me in brown coveralls
and black wool watch cap
Back at the wheat-stubble field, seeing that all was not going according to plan, the ground crew scattered into the hills. Being city boys, they were not suitably prepared to spend the night in the great outdoors. By morning, most of them stumbled out as best they could to country roads. Cold, shivering, some with hay sticking out of their hair and clothes from burrowing into hay stacks to keep from freezing, these future felons begged to get arrested just to get warm again. For them, their grand pot plane adventure was over. Their court adventure was about to begin.

A few months later, DCI Agent Tommy Del Grosso and I flew down to Tampa, rented a car and drove over to a county jail where the pilot had taken up temporary residence. He agreed to talk to us if we'd take him out for a real meal. Guess he didn't care much for jail cuisine. Tommy and I signed him out in leg irons and took him to a local restaurant. When his meal came, I watched him pick up the salt shaker and pour it all over his salad. Having not seen this act before, I inquired as to what he was doing. His explanation was that it was terribly hot in that Florida jail, no air-conditioning for the summer heat, therefore the inmates sweated a lot and the jailers did not provide any salt or salt tablets, so he was taking this opportunity to load up. We got a lot of details from him on the smuggling operation, so he was worth the price of a meal and an empty salt shaker.

In the end, we had an airplane from Spain, flown out of Panama by an aircrew from Florida and loaded with marijuana from Colombia. The ground crew, fuel tanker and flatbed semi came from Minnesota, The wheat-stubble field was scouted out by a local boy from West River. A group of Eskimos from Alaska helped fund this pot plane endeavor, and if all had gone well, then three more smuggling flights were planned.

It was several years later, when I learned from another source that one of the higher up pot plane conspirators, that we didn't know about at the time, who was from the Dutch Antilles, took a long walk off one of the upper floors of a high rise in Singapore. The rumor in the drug world at the time was that someone in upper management wanted to ensure that his own name never got mentioned for some of their clandestine marijuana deals.

In retrospect, will we ever win this war on drugs? Probably not, but then most of us working agents figured the best we could do on the streets was to try to keep the lid on the garbage can.

                                                                           #

On September 30, 2017, my old boss and I took a road trip to Pierre, South Dakota, to attend the first and only Pot Plane Reunion. I got to meet and shake hands with the now 98 year old rancher/ice fisherman who let the air out of the plane's front tire. Also listened to the defense attorney who represented the pilot from Florida all those years ago. Unfortunately, too many law enforcement and others who had participated in the case had already passed on and there was one more of us who probably wouldn't make it to January in order to have the reunion on the actual anniversary date.

South Dakota. Super Bowl Sunday. A wheat-stubble field. Who'd a thought?

27 April 2017

Moving, Moving, moving...

by Eve Fisher

Next week, my husband and I are moving from small town South Dakota to Sioux Falls, South Dakota - which to many people is still small town South Dakota.  (Sioux Falls is South Dakota's largest city, with a population of under 200,000.)  We're moving for many reasons:  the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) work we do at the pen; doctors (we're getting older and frailer); amenities (restaurants, shopping, etc.); cultural events (of all kinds!), etc.  And we already have a network of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances in Sioux Falls.  And we found a real gem of a house, a vintage Craftsman, that I call the "Goldilocks house", because it's not too big, not too small, but just right for the two of us.  Amazing!  (Will post pictures later.)

So excited, exhilarated, exhausted.  Also sad and bittersweet.  We've lived in the old town for almost 27 years, so of course we're going to miss a whole lot of stuff.
  • Everywhere we go, we know somebody, if not everybody.  There is always someone to talk to. 
  • Everywhere we go, they know who we are.  They know our order at the Chinese Restaurant. They know us at the two diners.  And at the library, the grocery store, the post office, and just about everywhere else we go.   
  • We don't have to think about where we're going and how we're going to get there:  there are only so many places to go, and only so many ways to get there, so by now we move on autopilot.  
  • We have a state park two miles from town, which I walk in almost every day.  I've seen deer, eagles, foxes, coyotes, pheasants, and wild turkeys, not to mention geese, ducks, pelicans, seagulls, coots, and cormorants.  
  • Friends.  You all know who you are.  
And there are all the differences of small town living.  Some of my favorite stories are:

When we first moved up here, we rented for the first year, and then went house hunting. There weren't that many houses for sale, so I think we saw all of them.  (In the same way, we visited every church in town.)  When we finally did buy - a huge two-story box a block and a half from campus - after the closing, I went down to City Hall to change the utilities over.  The lady at City Hall said, "Oh, we already took care of that.  It's all in your name now."  They're not going to do that in Sioux Falls.  (We lived in that house for 22 years...)

Northern Exposure-Intertitle.jpgThe local radio station used to broadcast out onto Main Street, so that as you walked around downtown, you could hear the news, weather, music, and the ever-important "locals".  One day I was walking to work and heard that I was going to be interviewed later that day...  This kind of thing was one of the reasons that, back then, I used to tell everyone back East that I lived in the South Dakota equivalent of Cicely, Alaska (of Northern Exposure for those of you who weren't fans.)  They all thought that was pretty cool.

Pharmaceutical shock:  The first time I walked into the local drug store and saw that they had needles for sale to anyone who wanted them I about freaked out.  Then I realized they were for diabetics, and it hadn't occurred to anyone that addicts might want them. Another time, I had to have my wisdom teeth surgically removed, and the pain prescription wasn't going to be ready for another hour.  But Allan had to teach all day, so I called a friend and asked if she could pick me up and take me to the drug store, because the pain was pretty bad?  Fifteen minutes later her husband knocked on the door with my prescription, and told me to write him a check later. It was so sweet of him, but what stunned me was that the pharmacist had given pain meds to someone else to deliver to me...  (In case you can't tell, I was used to big city living - LA and Atlanta - where you show up in person with some serious ID.)

When I first moved up here I was 36 years old, with long black hair down to my waist.  After a couple of years of dealing with prairie winds - either I kept my hair tied back, pinned up, or got whipped almost to death by it - I cut it short.  One of my best friends came up for my 40th birthday, and as I gave her the walking tour, in almost every shop someone came up and said, "Oh, Eve, let me look at your new haircut!"  After about the third or fourth time, Lora stopped on the sidewalk and asked, "Are you telling me that people don't have anything better to do in this town than talk about your hair?"  Pretty much, yep.

The truth is, ANY change in a small town will generate days, if not weeks, sometimes months and even YEARS of talk.  My hair got a couple of days.  But people still talk about when the old hotel downtown burned down, and they still give directions according to buildings that are no longer there. (I have always been grateful that I moved up here BEFORE the Franklin School was torn down, because that way when someone says I need to turn right after the old Franklin School, I know where that is.)

Caring: small towns pull together, show up, bring food, and send cards.  I can't tell you the number of fundraisers that are held in a small town, most of which involve food:  pork loin feeds, pancake feeds, soup suppers, etc.  They're held for cancer patients, accident victims, hospital bills, medical bills, funeral bills, you name it.  And people show up, pay a generous free will donation, and eat heartily. And no death is ever ignored.  When my mother died, I got cards from practically everyone in town, even though no one had ever met her.  When we moved Allan's mother up here, she quickly became part of the community (she was the biggest social butterfly you could ever meet).  Sadly, she lived less than a year after the move (pancreatic cancer), but her church, prayer, and exercise groups called and visited, and at her South Dakota memorial service, over 200 people showed up.

The web.  You sit in a small town cafe, or church supper, or anywhere, and you hear stories.  Families are traced backwards and forwards.  Where they came from, where they lived, where they're buried, where the children / grandchildren / great-grandchildren moved to and what they're doing now.  Who married whom?  Where did they work?  Some stories are repeated with great relish:  You remember the folks that used to live in that big house on the corner:  they separated, and she got the house, but he came back every year to check up on the kids, and every year, nine months later, she had another baby.  Never divorced...  Others - of violence and abuse, or heartbreaking sorrow - are spoken of in hushed voices.  It's endlessly fascinating.  Especially since my family isn't in the mix.  Because the downside of a small town is that they never forget, and all the sins of the fathers are remembered unto the fourth and fifth generation.  This is one of the reasons why people move away from small towns. Small towns never forget.  Allow me to repeat that.  Small towns never forget.

I've enjoyed living in a small town; and I know there are times when I will really miss it.  But it's only an hour's drive away from Sioux Falls, and, as I said, Sioux Falls isn't that large a city.  I will continue to see my friends, and they now have another reason to come to Sioux Falls.  Thank God I live in the age of automobiles and interstates, instead of the days of buggies and dirt roads! And I will continue to write stories set in Laskin, South Dakota, with Grant Tripp and Linda Thompson and Matt Stark.  But who knows?  Some new characters, new settings may be coming into the mix.  I'll keep you posted!






16 February 2017

They're baaaack.... or, Further Updates from South Dakota

by Eve Fisher

Here in South Dakota, we never quite do things the easy way.  As you may or may not remember, last November, we South Dakota voters passed four voter initiatives:
  • Amendment R, which transfers control of tech schools from local school boards to a new... something
  • Initiated Measure 21, which caps payday loans at 36%
  • Amendment S, "Marsy's Law", "creating constitutionally protected rights for crime victims"
  • Initiated Measure 22, on campaign finance reform.

So far Amendment R and Amendment S have been left relatively untouched.  Except that crime victims have to opt-in for their rights under Marsy's Law (something nobody mentioned in the high-profile ads that were running non-stop before the vote), and names, addresses, etc., may continue to be given to news media, insurance companies, etc.

But IM 21 is under challenge, thanks to a House Bill 1090, which - while keeping 36% as the maximum interest a lender can charge, adds all sorts of new fees that a lender can charge, including "fees for optional maintenance agreements and extended service contracts, official fees and taxes, sales tax, title fees, lien registration fees, and dealer documentary fees. Late fees, return check fees, and attorneys' fees incurred upon a consumer default." No wiggle room there, eh?  (Why do I get the feeling that someone in the legislature was trying to text Chuck Brennan - "come back!  all is forgiven!")

Image result for 2017 south dakota legislative session
Governor Daugaard, chastising the voters
And IM 22 - well, we've made the national news with that one. Governor Daugaard, who offered to veto it as soon as it passed, is still in a snit. “They were hoodwinked by scam artists who grossly misrepresented these proposed measures." To be fair, he has some reason to be upset and in a hurry to veto it:  "Gov. Dennis Daugaard has more than a million dollars in his campaign account which, if this law is killed by his legislators, he will be able to put into his own bank account. If IM 22 is able to stand, he will not be able to touch the money." (Argus Leader)

Meanwhile, our legislature is shocked, appalled, and offended that we think so little of them to have passed IM 22.  Some of those ads depicted lobbyists handing out cash!  As if they'd ever do that! After all, there is no corruption in this state.  EB-5, Gear-Up!, and that little sex scandal have all been taken care of.
NOTE:  Under the "you can't make this stuff up" column, our legislature rejected a bill to ban legislators from having sex or sexual contact with interns.  (My favorite defending quote, not to mention defender:  "I'm hesitant to pass something when we get into itemizing every potential wrongdoing that a legislator could commit, lest this become a criminal code rather than a code of ethics," Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City.)  Seven days later, SD Representative Matt Wollman admitted to sexual contact with two interns and a few days later, resigned. But that doesn't mean we need any laws against that kind of thing...  
Anyway, the SD Legislature would like you to know that there is no corruption, no problems, IM 22 is unconstitutional, that's all (but they won't wait for a ruling from the SD Supreme Court), we voters were hoodwinked by out of town money (not that that's a problem when it's our legislators going to ALEC conferences on ALEC's dime, or when ads starring Kelsey Grammer and paid for by California billionaire Henry Nicholas are pushing Marsy's Law), and so they are pushing their anti-IM 22 legislation "emergency legislation". What's the emergency?  Well, under our constitution, emergency legislation is exempt from any referendum of, by and for the people (Article 3, Section 1).  So...  our SD Legislature's message seems to be pretty much, "sit down, shut up, you had your vote, you were wrong, and we say to hell with you."

IMG_0058
In a strikingly tone-deaf picture, four of our legislators -
who'd just voted to kill a commission to enforce
campaign finance regulations - posing with
make-believe “gold” watches that contained candy.
You really can't make this stuff up.
I understand that attitude has become a trend.  As this GOVERNING  headline says, "Don't Like the Ballot Measure Voters Approved? Just Ignore It, Some Lawmakers Say."  And the article says that we South Dakotans are not alone...

Anyway, on February 1st, our legislature struck down IM 22, taking time to lash back at the IM-22 campaign that painted them as corrupt, self-dealing politicians.  "I've not known anybody to accept a bribe, I've not known anybody to offer a bribe. In South Dakota, while we're not infallible, that has never been a concern," said Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark. "There are no gold watches, there are no bags of cash."  (ARGUS LEADER)

Really?  First of all take a look at the picture to the right, my friends.  Real classy, huh?

And, for Valentine's Day, South Dakota Senate killed a bill which would have set up a commission to enforce campaign finance law.

And then there are the idiots out there:  Rookie SD Rep. Neal Tapio (R-5/Watertown responded to a question about getting rid of Medicaid by saying (timestamp 54:35), “I want to kill it altogether.”
Three minutes and fifteen seconds later, in response to a follow-up question about how we proposes to take care of elderly, children, disabled, and other folks currently on Medicaid, Rep. Tapio said, “I’m not saying that we get rid of it.”

NOTE:  Rep. Neal Tapio was Presidential candidate Donald Trump's state campaign chairman...

Meanwhile, other times, other scandals...

joop.jpgAllow me to re-introduce you to Joop Bollen (a Dutch foreign national), who somehow was allowed by our own then-Governor Mike Rounds (currently our US Senator) and our current Attorney General Marty Jackley, to privatize EB-5 (cash for green cards, largely used by Chinese investors) and turn it over to himself via his own corporation (SDRC, Inc.).  Last April, AG Jackley finally indicted Bollen, for "misappropriating" funds - at the time counted at $1.2 million.  Yesterday, Mr. Bollen pleaded guilty to one felony count and got... 2 years probation.  ("Authorities" say he paid back most of the money, except for $167,000.)

This might not bother me so much if there still weren't $120 million missing from the EB-5 program, which had to have gone somewhere.

It also might not bother me if a woman in Sioux Falls wasn't facing 10 years for embezzling $57,000.00.  My bet is, she'll do time in prison, not probation.

Well, that's it for now.  More later, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 




08 December 2016

Updates and Repercussions: South Dakota Edition

by Eve Fisher

Back in December, 2005, the Zip Feed Tower in Sioux Falls, SD, was demolished to make room for retail and office space.  Things didn't go that well:


It's still a running joke up here, and they show it semi-regularly on TV.  Eventually they took a crane and wrecking ball to it, which worked a treat.

However, last week we had a tragedy in Sioux Falls, when a building came down that wasn't supposed to:  December 2, 2016, the Copper Lounge building collapsed out of the clear blue sky while a lot of people were having coffee across the street.  A Mercedes parked right outside the building was crushed; a woman who lived in an apartment was trapped with her dogs, all were eventually rescued; but a man who was working construction in the building was killed.  (The Copper Lounge Collapse.)

Now, before it got tragic, I admit, my first thought was to blame HGTV, because all anyone can talk about on those shows these days is an "open floor plan".  Obviously, someone took out a supporting wall. And - sadly - I was right. This was an old building - built in 1916 - and "Sioux Falls City Building Services approved a limited permit authorizing Hultgren Construction to remove interior finishes such as furnishings, floor coverings, ceiling tiles, and an existing bar area." But the permit did NOT authorize removing walls, as you can see they did in the photo to the left. (Hultgren Construction removed that photo from their website, but local news, and others, posted it on Facebook sites time and again.)

Then, two days later, a hole in an adjacent (and now exposed) wall opened up (belonging to an entirely different business). Emergency Management had put up shoring to protect the first responders and to keep more walls from collapsing, but "The weight was eventually going to take it [down]... That area was heavily compromised." Basically, a lot of businesses are closed. And at some point, a lot of lawsuits are going to be started.

So, lesson of the day:  if you must have an open floor plan, remember that old buildings, like people, don't care to have large chunks removed, and make sure that you leave important supporting walls where they are.  And get all the necessary permits.

On to more fun things, like elections.  South Dakota stayed Republican, and if this shocks you, remind me tell you that "The Wizard of Oz" is a work of fiction.  Donald Trump got 227,701 votes, Hillary Clinton got 117,442 votes, and Gary Johnson got 20,845 votes, with 69.6% of the electorate voting, which isn't bad.  We also had a slew of ballot measures, of which 4 passed:

(1) Amendment R, which transfers control of tech schools from local school boards to a new... something. It's now up to the SD legislature to decide what kind of supervision/board and how much funding to give them. (Note to tech schools: our SD legislature is notoriously cheap about everything but EB-5 and Gear Up. Don't hold your breath.)

(2) Initiated Measure 21, which caps payday loans at 36%, no exceptions. I am happy to say that Chuck Brennan, a former rock concert promoter and CitiBank collections professional, the mastermind behind the multi-million dollar Dollar Loan Center, is indeed doing what he promised, which is that if Measure 21 passed, he'd pick up his toys and go back home to Vegas. (Hint: He's not as popular in SD as he thinks he is.) He's selling the recently purchased Huset's Speedway (bought it for $1 million, wants to $9.5 million), and we're all waiting to see what he'll do with Badlands Pawn and Badlands Radio.

Image result for kelsey grammer marsy's law south dakota
They pulled out the star power for Mary's Law ads...
(3) Amendment S, "Marsy's Law", "creating constitutionally protected rights for crime victims" although they already had them under the SD constitution. This one passed in a landslide, because there were so many ads (with and without star power) that there were barely any fast food commercials on TV for October and November.  That was because Marsy's Law is bankrolled by California billionaire Henry Nicholas III, whose sister was murdered in 1983. Her killer was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, and he and his family attended all the parole hearings, in which the killer was always denied parole.  But apparently that wasn't enough. Mr. Nicholas wants "Marsy's Law" to be not only law nationally, but to become an Amendment to the United States Constitution - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsy's_Law), and is willing to shell out big bucks to do it. (He passes laws, the Hunt boys tried to buy up all the silver in the world, everywhere you look, billionaires have hobbies.)

Anyway, now we have Marsy's Law, and like the dog catching the car, nobody knows what to do with it. The police already aren't giving out address of crime sites anymore - what if there's a victim there? Supposedly, now, a crime victim does not have to be deposed by a defense lawyer (even though that's in the US Constitution.) And everyone agrees that it costs will go up, as notifications now have to go to victims of ANY kind of crime (not just felonies) and sentences will probably get longer, as notifications have to be sent to every crime victim and their families.  More later.

(4) Initiated Measure 22, on campaign finance reform. This is the really fun one: It requires more disclosures and reporting; lowers contribution amounts to AND from PACs, parties, and candidates at all levels. It also creates a publicly funded campaign finance program for statewide and legislative candidates who choose to participate and agree to limits on campaign contributions and expenditures. (Under the program, two $50 'credits' are issued to each registered voter, who assigns them to participating candidates. The credits are redeemed from the program, which is funded by an annual State general-fund appropriation of $9 per registered voter. The program fund may not exceed $12 million at any time.) And it creates an appointed ethics commission to administer the credit program and to enforce campaign finance and lobbying laws. It also prohibits certain State officials and high-level employees from lobbying until two years after leaving State government. It also limits lobbyists' gifts to certain state officials and staff members.

Image result for family heritage alliance actionIn case you're wondering, IM 22 is being fought tooth and nail by the GOP Legislature. Now I understand totally why no one wants to come up with those $50 per-tax-payer-credits.  (HINT: with no income tax, our only revenue is sales tax, and sales have gone down; WAY down.  We don't have money for much of anything in SD.) But that's not the reason our Legislature is already talking about nullifying the will of the people, either by hook (lawsuit) or crook (repeal).  It's about money, honey, and jobs: So far, 12 legislators and 1 organization are filing a Lawsuit HERE, because the legislators are claiming they would need to quit the Legislature or quit their jobs, or their spouses would need to quit their jobs because of conflict of interest. (Makes you wonder who's doing the hiring, doesn't it?)  And the Family Heritage Alliance group ("protecting and promoting faith, family, and freedom", and they only mean conservative Christian), which lobbies our Legislature with considerable success every year, is suing because... well, obviously, they spend some money to get their views... enabled. And our fearless leader, Gov. Dennis Daugaard has (1) said that he'll support repeal if the measure isn't struck down in court and (2) NO MATTER WHAT, he will not fund IM 22.

Meanwhile, going back to Marsy's Law, fear not:  after a month of confusion, our Attorney General, Marty Jackley, has just announced that crime victims have to opt-in for their rights under Marsy's Law, and names, addresses, etc., may continue to be given to news media, insurance companies, etc. (In an interesting twist, he said that crime victims have to opt-in the same way perpetrators do...)  And, although Marsy's Law also increases costs (extra hearings, longer jail times, more contacting victims and victims' families), it will be fully funded, one way or another.

Anyway, one good thing that came out of this is that we know who's running for governor in 2018: South Dakota United States Representative Kristi Noem (who looks great on a horse, and whose family makes their living off of crop insurance, both receiving - 18th largest recipient in the state! - and selling it)

Image result for kristi noem on horseback

and our Attorney General, Marty Jackley (who still can't find the Westerhuis safe, but does have good Anderson Cooper hair).

  Image result for marty jackley

They both opened campaign accounts and transferred money in a couple of days before the IM 22 became law (remember, it limits campaign contributions).  So we also know that Noem has $1.6 million and Jackley has $730,000 in their treasure chests.  This should be fun.  This should be epic. Bring popcorn.

Well, that's it for now.  More later, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.