Wondering what sequestration might look like? Look at SD Reservations

The clock is ticking. Washington lawmakers have until March 1, this very Friday, to strike a budget deal and avoid “sequestration,” that is, massive, automatic spending cuts to both the military and vital social programs:

Todd County

Todd County is one of the poorest counties in the U.S. And it might offer a glimpse of a United States in the grip of budget sequestration.

The White House continued laying out in stark terms what the cuts would mean for government services, dispatching Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to warn of the implications for critical security functions.

“I don’t think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester as without sequester,” said Napolitano, adding that the impact would be “`like a rolling ball. It will keep growing.”

Napolitano focused in particular on the impact to the border, saying her agency would be forced to furlough 5,000 patrol agents. She tamped down the notion that budget cuts would make the nation more vulnerable to terrorism, but said the sequester would make it “awfully, awfully tough” to minimize that risk…

Also Monday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said visiting hours would be cut at all 398 national parks, just as they prepare for an influx of spring and summer visitors.

Elsewhere in the government, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would harm the readiness of U.S. fighting forces. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said travelers could see delayed flights. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 70,000 fewer children from low-income families would have access to Head Start programs. And furloughed meat inspectors could leave plants idled.

If you’re wondering what a United States that fails to fund basic infrastructure, education, and health services might look like, you need look no further than South Dakota’s Indian Reservations. Truly, there is no better place to look in the country: South Dakota has the highest Native American poverty rate in the U.S.:

More than 48 percent of the state’s 65,000 Native Americans live below the poverty threshold, according to the American Community Survey on poverty covering 2007 to 2011. In Rapid City, the poverty rate for Native Americans was 50.9 percent. This leads the nation among the 20 cities most populated by American Indians and Alaska Natives…

[Oglala Sioux Tribal Council member Craig] Dillon said he doesn’t think failed policy is to blame for the poverty on the reservations. Education, he said, is the way to help children grow into prosperous adults. Part of that isn’t just offering good school systems, but other support such as reliable transportation to and from school. He cited the American Horse School in Allen, which he said works to get kids to and from school, provide meals during the day and a positive experience…

“I believe that federal funding ought to be targeted toward quality education, job training, and economic development,” [Senator Tim] Johnson said in a statement. “Otherwise, medical clinics, housing and other federally funded facilities and programs can only address the symptoms of poverty. We must continue doing what we can to break the cycle of poverty and dependency on our Indian reservations and elsewhere, though it is clear that entrenched poverty is a multi-generational problem, the solution for which will not materialize overnight.”

This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, unfortunately – South Dakota is home to four of the five poorest counties in the country, as measured by per-capita income. Nor is it surprising that our Congress finds itself, once again, held hostage by the corporate forces of austerity. But it is the rest of us–Native and non-Native alike–who will suffer if no deal is reached (or, likely enough, even if a deal is reached that significantly trims social programs.)

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The continuing saga of Powertech Uranium


Penny Powertech stocks

“Strategic investors” recently bought up $1.5 million worth of Powertech stock, which has recently been trading for a mere $0.10 a share.

Powertech Exposed is a great source of information about the Canadian refrigerator-turned-uranium company that’s looking to suck up West River’s water and cart the profits from South Dakota’s mineral wealth clean out of the state. They recently reported that, quite apart from its potential environmental impacts, Powertech’s financial status should remain a source of concern for uranium opponents and boosters both:

Once again, Powertech CEO Dick Clement has saved the Canadian penny stock company from bankruptcy by convincing “strategic” investors to buy up to 15 million shares for $0.10 each, according to a February 12 news release.

The unidentified strategic investors would purchase units consisting of one common share of Powertech and one share purchase warrant. One warrant entitles the investor to purchase one additional share for $0.20 for a period of three years.

The gross proceeds of the proposed private placement are only $1.5 million, but would allow Powertech to survive for another four months, assuming a cash burn rate of $400,000 per month…

Since Powertech is in the midst of seeking multiple federal and state permits for the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine, one would think that the disclosure of the potential future management of the company would be of interest to affected landowners, regulators, and investors.

But in typical fashion, Powertech has chosen to conceal the identities of the strategic investors.

If you’re going to allow a company to engage in a potentially hazardous mining project, a company that has never mined anything, let alone uranium, you want to be sure that they are at least sufficiently financially solvent to see the project through – and to cover the costs of cleanup. You want to know who will (hopefully) be held responsible in the event of a toxic leak. Powertech evidently isn’t interested in such trivialities.

If you haven’t been following the long and tortuous saga of Powertech’s attempt to mine uranium in Fall River County near Edgemont, Talli Naumann at Native Sun News provides an admirable overview of recent developments in “Clash mounts over proposed Black Hills uranium mining” – and props to her for mentioning the protesters who showed up in Hot Springs on Feb. 7 (unlike the Rapid City Journal). The date for interveners to sign on against Powertech’s large scale mining permit just passed this Tuesday, and we’re looking forward to hearings being scheduled early in March (that is, the scheduling will be done in early March – the actual hearings will take place later.

And so the struggle continues.

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Obama golfs while climate burns

Further proof (from the Argus Leader, a newspaper apparently bent on denying the evidence of its own reporting) that climate change is heating up:

After suffering through the worst drought in decades last year, farmers throughout South Dakota should brace for another round of hot and dry conditions this year, some weather forecasters warned recently.

SD Drought

Farmer Greg Ode looks at the effects of dry conditions on corn last July in his field outside of Brandon, SD. (Jay Pickthorn/Argus Leader)

As the spring planting season nears, forecasters are worried that much of the Midwest could remain starved for moisture, though they caution it’s too early to safely predict the weather several months out.

The Midwest could see a late-summer increase in rainfall, but the relief will be too late to help farmers…

Last year’s drought spread beyond the Midwest to affect more than 60 percent of the contiguous U.S., making it the worst since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s… The latest Drought Monitor, a report by the U.S. government and the University of Nebraska, shows that dry conditions remain throughout South Dakota. The entire state is suffering from moderate to exceptional drought, up sharply from 20 percent a year ago.

This of course casts important light on the dangers of water-intensive in situ leach uranium mining (more on that in a couple days). But it also casts light on the great struggle of our time: the fight against climate change. As President Obama put it in his 2013 State of the Union Address, “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late.”

Forward on Climate

The “Forward on Climate” Rally in Washington, D.C. this past weekend. Photo by SDPJC ally Phyllis Cole-Dai of Fast for the Earth.

Last weekend, 40,000 people acted in the Forward on Climate Change rally in Washington, D.C., the largest climate rally in U.S. history. It was a powerful witness against a policy, both official and intentional as well as unofficial and accidental, of environmental destruction in the name of profit.

And where was the leader who urged us all to “act before it’s too late” as tens of thousands took his words at face value and marched on Washington?

Why, golfing with oil executives, of course:

On the same weekend that 40,000 people gathered on the Mall in Washington to protest construction of the Keystone Pipeline — to its critics, a monument to carbon-based folly — President Obama was golfing in Florida with a pair of Texans who are key oil, gas and pipeline players…

[O]n his first “guys weekend” away since he was reelected, the president chose to spend his free time with Jim Crane and Milton Carroll, leading figures in the Texas oil and gas industry, along with other men who run companies that deal in the same kinds of carbon-based services that Keystone [XL Pipeline] would enlarge. They hit the links at the Floridian Yacht and Golf Club, which is owned by Crane and located on the Treasure Coast in Palm City, Fla.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned, the legend says. And President Obama appears to be golfing while our climate burns, golfing with the men who, if they did not start the fire, are daily putting fuel to the flames that they might line their own pockets. Call the President and let him know how you feel. In the meantime, it’s clear that, as powerful as the Washington rally may have been, it is only the beginning if we’re going to hold the President to his word.

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Climate Change & the Sociopolitics of Newspaper Reporting

Climate change at the core

SDSU postdoctoral researcher Dave Ferris is in Antarctica retrieving ice core samples as part of the National Science Foundation’s West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide Ice Core Project. (Photo: Argus Leader)

A couple weeks ago, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader published a lead story entitled “Hint for state’s climate future: think Kansas,” the gist of which seemed to amount to, “Climate change isn’t so bad! Look, warmer winters!” I then proceeded to deconstruct the story, arguing that it cast the man-made nature of climate change in the “sphere of contention” (see the original post for more on that).

In their most recent report on climate change, entitled “Climate change at the core,” the Argus whipped out another classic weapon of journalistic obfuscation yesterday, one I’m going to call the “frame game.”

First, the meat of the story, about a team of SDSU researchers (led by Jihong Cole-Dai, the husband of Fast for the Earth co-founder and SDPJC ally Phyllis Cole-Dai) investigating the history of climate change through Antarctic ice:

Most people in the scientific community believe that greenhouse gases and the activities of humans have changed the climate system, “and we’re not really in a natural climate system anymore,” Twickler said. “I think it was Bob Marley who said, ‘If you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future.’ Now we are understanding our past much better.”…

All of those details are important in understanding where the planet’s climate goes from here, Cole-Dai said.

“If the climate of the Earth changes, how will it change? Will it change one place first and another place later, and how fast? And what impact will greenhouse gases have?” he said. “Using our findings, the forecasters should be able to build their explanations and have a much more accurate forecast as we move into the future.”

Those three short paragraphs, which form the story’s kernel of newsworthiness, are buried more than halfway through more than four online pages. “We’re not really in a natural climate system anymore.” That’s a pretty big deal. Huge, even. But the story is presented as a human interest piece, a charming day in the life of environmental chemists at work in an Antarctic wonderland.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a human interest piece per se. But it’s an awfully incongruous way to present looming global climate change, especially for a newspaper that recently tried to cast a positive spin on the very same phenomenon.

Or maybe it’s actually not very strange at all.

According to Wikipedia, framing is “the social construction of a social phenomenon often by mass media sources, political or social movements, political leaders, or other actors and organizations. It is an inevitable process of selective influence over the individual’s perception of the meanings attributed to words or phrases.” Framing is hugely important; a famous psychological study found that a single clear-cut situation can elicit hugely differing responses from an observer, depending on whether it is framed in terms of a gain or a loss, for instance.

In this case, the Argus Leader has framed global climate change as a human interest story, roughly equivalent to the birth of the first baby of 2013 – a pleasant and even informative read, but hardly real news worthy of serious analysis. I’m happy to read about Dr. Cole-Dai’s scientific work, and I’m awfully glad he’s doing it. And the work he’s doing is indeed newsworthy, for the light it shines on earth’s climate history and implications for its climate future. But unfortunately, in this round of the Argus Leader’s frame game, real newsworthiness loses.

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Guest post: REMINDER: Medicaid bill up for Friday vote!

You may be aware that a week ago last Monday, the House State Affairs Committee in the South Dakota Legislature defeated, on a 9-2 vote, HB1244. This bill would have disallowed the State of South Dakota from participating in the Federal Medicaid portion of the Affordable Healthcare Act. This, of course, is a win for anyone who is interested in bringing down the cost of healthcare for everyone. But it is just the first step.

Friday morning, Feb 15 at 7:30 AM, the same committee will take up HB1205. This would bring South Dakota in line with the Federal program, just as some of the states that previously opposed it have now changed their minds and see the benefit of having everyone covered by some sort of healthcare program. Here in South Dakota, this bill would cover about 35 to 40 thousand folks who are above the official federal poverty level but don’t earn enough to afford healthcare coverage either for themselves or for their families, and who don’t work for an employer who provides healthcare

Medicaid Expansion

A YES on HB1205 would pave the way to expanding Medicaid coverage to around 40,000 low-income South Dakotans.

At the risk of being redundant, I will repeat how that affects all of us. Those who are not covered by any form of healthcare, will not see the doctor on a regular basis or even when they are sick. Then, when they become seriously or even deathly sick, they will go to the emergency room for their healthcare. This of course adds to the cost of their healthcare many times more than they would have had to pay if they went to the doctor on a regular basis. Then because they cannot afford to pay for their bill with the doctor or the hospital, the bill gets written off, but those costs are not eaten by the provider. The provider then raises the cost of healthcare to the rest of us who are covered. It’s a “you can pay me now or pay me later” type of situation.

If passed, the majority of the cost of that State-provided Medicaid would be paid by the Federal Government for the first three years, so the State of South Dakota would get a chance to see if in fact it did bring down the cost of healthcare overall. I am asking for support of HB1205 by the House State Affairs Committee, and your support would be appreciated.

I will be sending the above message to each member of the committee and would ask, if you do believe this would bring down the cost of healthcare in South Dakota, that you contact the members of the committee and if it passes in committee that you would contact your own legislator and any others you know.

Let’s make this happen!

–Lanny Stricherz lives in Sioux Falls and is a longtime friend of the SD Peace & Justice Center

Posted in Economic Justice, News, SD Legislature 2013 | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

An Open Letter to the Heartland: Let’s Protect the Sacred Together

A few weeks ago, a Gathering to Protect the Sacred from the Keystone XL Pipeline took place between Natives and non-Natives from across the continent on the Ihanktonwan (Yankton) homelands near Wagner, SD. Our friend Phyllis Cole-Dai from Fast for the Earth was there, and she has written a powerful “Open Letter to the Heartland” about her experience of the Gathering, and her hopes for the future of this struggle:

My impression was that the “Protect the Sacred” gathering was a powerful experience for many who attended, native and non-native alike. As I heard various people saying during our last day together, “This is just the beginning,” and, “We have to keep doing this.”

Faith Spotted Eagle

Faith Spotted Eagle at the Gathering to Protect the Sacred 1/23-1/25/2013.

What was the “this” to which they were referring? Was it only our resistance to the Keystone XL? I don’t believe so, although that is crucial. Was it our celebration of native lifeways and spirituality and history and community? I doubt it, although that, too, is extremely vital. (Indeed, I’m convinced that our immersion in native spirituality greatly facilitated and deepened the best of all that happened during the gathering.)

No, I believe that the “this” we have just begun, and which we must carry forward, is the work of healing–healing both among native peoples themselves, and between natives and non-natives. I know that the word “healing” may sound overblown and presumptuous, but it’s the only word that seems to fit. Forgive me if I overstate things, but at times during the gathering there were some truly wondrous dynamics moving in the circle, beyond my ability to put into words…

As I drove eastward [after the Gathering was over], the stars were brilliant above me, and the moon hovered immediately before me, bathing the quiet landscape in bluish-white light. And I remembered how the same Ponca truthsayer who had identified the “new Indians” had reminded us during the last hours of the gathering, “This struggle will be long and hard. But we are not alone. We are the Star People. We come from the stars, and the stars are always with us, helping us. And Moon Woman is above us, shining down.”

Of this I have no doubt. No doubt whatsoever.

You can read the whole letter over at Fast Talk, Fast for the Earth’s (excellent) blog. As we wrote yesterday, small gestures can give us courage in the face of overwhelming odds. So it’s good to know that folks like Phyllis are committed to protecting our sacred earth, that although we have a long road ahead, there are others making the same journey and waging the same struggle.

Posted in Essays, Faith & Spirituality, Keystone XL, Tribal Sovereignty & Native Issues | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Five easy ways to say NO to Keystone XL

This weekend, tens of thousands of people from all across the country will converge on Washington, D.C. for a Forward on Climate rally to urge President Obama to take urgent action to avert global climate catastrophe.

Foremost among their concerns? TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline, which, if approved, would funnel almost a million barrels a day of dirty, carbon-dense tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. And the Pipeline would pass right through South Dakota, endangering our water and natural environment even as it served as a mainline for America’s oil addiction.

Meanwhile, the SD House of Representatives passed concurrent Resolution HCR 1006, “petitioning the President of the United States and the Department of State to authorize the Keystone XL Pipeline,” by a vote of 57-11.

Contact your representatives to let them know how disappointed you are in them for failing to protect landowners and South Dakota’s environment.

And while you’re at it, while you listen to the State of the Union tonight, you can take these easy steps to oppose Keystone XL:

Will your changing your Facebook profile stop Keystone XL? Probably not. But a show of solidarity, however minor it may seem, can be important when you’re fighting an uphill battle – Norwegians wore paperclips on their lapels to demonstrate their solidarity against their Nazi occupiers during WWII, that they “hung together.”

Thank you for all you do. Look out for more information after the rally this weekend as things really start to heat up (though hopefully not in a climatic sense.)

Posted in Keystone XL, News, SD Legislature 2013 | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment