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Public Opinion, Watertown, Dec. 30, 2014
GOP control of Congress doesn't necessarily mean change
When Congress convenes next month Republicans will control both the House and Senate while President Obama begins the final two years of his presidency.
To call Obama a lame duck president is being generous. Considering how fellow Democrats running for office last month all but pushed him aside to boost their chances of winning on Election Day, Obama might be more of a cooked goose than a lame duck. Things don't look any better for him entering 2015 as 2016 is another election year and an outgoing president with a less than stellar record won't be of much help to any Democrat seeking office. With that on the table fellow Democrats may want even less to do with him this election than last.
So what does all this mean on Capitol Hill? Does having Republicans in control and Democrats steering clear of the president mean a new dawn of cooperation and progress? Does it mean the end of gridlock and the restoration of government by compromise rather than government by confrontation?
Nope. Not only can you expect more of the same it might even get worse.
As hard as that is to imagine, it's not beyond the realm of possibility considering that control of Congress, both houses, is again at stake in 2016 as is the White House.
In the 2014 midterms the Republicans had the best possible chance in years to win more seats in both the Senate and House. Democrats were defending seats in mainly Republican states and since term limits were imposed on presidents, five out of the six two-term presidents have lost seats in Congress after re-election — an average of 29 in the House and six in the Senate, according to election analyst Charlie Cook. Republicans made the most of the opportunity at hand and increased their control of the House and captured the Senate by gaining 9 seats, three more than needed to secure a majority.
In 2016, 34 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats are up for election and those seats are held by 10 Democrats and 24 Republicans. In the next election there won't be a defending president to tilt the scale for or against anybody. But with both parties almost certain to have contested primaries for their presidential nominations, that could have a major impact on congressional races, especially for Republicans.
How so? Republicans may control both houses of Congress but the party is split between establishment Republicans and far-right conservatives like tea party backers and the religious right. That could lead to infighting in Congress pitting moderates against the far right. That could hurt Republicans on both sides and make getting anything done in the next two years just as hard as it was the past few. Then throw in a lame duck — or is it a cooked goose — president who just may decide to go out swinging his veto pen and the picture gets even cloudier.
Then keep in mind that if all the political infighting that could happen does happen how it might affect the 2016 election, especially Senate seats. Many of the Senate seats held by Democrats up for election in 2014 were in predominantly Republican states. In 2016, the roles are reversed as many of the 24 Senate seats held by Republicans are in predominantly Democratic states. The pendulum could swing in favor of the Democrats then just as easily as it did for Republicans this time.
So how does this affect Congress? If Congressmen are more worried about getting re-elected than normal chances are they're not going to risk rocking the boat back home. That means there won't be many of them going out on a limb to actually get things done and that means we can expect more of what we've been seeing the past few years.
Of course all this is speculation and a lot could happen between now and election day 2016. But one thing we've learned over the past few years is that compromise, cooperation and concessions are dirty words for many folks on Capitol Hill and not to be discussed in any manner, shape or form. And as long as that continues, regardless of which party is in control, the end result is almost certain to be business as usual or perhaps even worse.
Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Dec. 25, 2014
Feds overreached in taking Sue the T-rex
If you haven't had a chance to watch the amazing documentary Dinosaur 13 on CNN or elsewhere, you're missing out on an in-depth look at one of the most compelling but also agonizing incidents in Black Hills history.
The story centers on how a handful of paleontologists from Hill City found, dug up and then began to preserve the nearly perfect skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which they named Sue in honor of Susan Hendrickson, the field paleontologist who discovered the skeleton on a foggy day in a quarry near Faith in 1990.
The short version of the story is that after the group took their dinosaur back to the Black Hills Institute in Hill City, and began working to preserve and put the skeleton back together, the federal government stepped in with a vengeance.
In a raid that took three days, federal authorities took the entire dinosaur and everything else from the institute, as protesters waved signs and begged that Sue be left where she was. That kicked off a nearly decade-long custody battle that left Sue sitting for years in storage at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.
Ultimately, the paleontologists not only lost their beloved dinosaur, but they were subjected to federal prosecution for unrelated activities in a move that looked very much like a witch hunt. One man, scientist Peter Larson, was even sent to federal prison for 18 months, ostensibly for carrying too much undocumented cash on a foreign paleontology trip.
In the end, Sue was auctioned off, and is now thankfully in the Chicago Field Museum, where 16 million visitors have had the chance to view her, and not in some rich person's parlor. The only "winner" in the case was landowner Maurice Williams, who took home millions of dollars at auction after he somehow was declared the true owner of Sue.
It doesn't take long for anyone who moves to South Dakota, and has marginal or no knowledge of the state and its people, to discover a generally held vibe that we don't care for federal government intrusion.
Despite the fact we benefit from a major federal military base, and are a recipient state when it comes to taking in federal money, and we benefit from several national parks, forests and monuments, many South Dakotans would rather that "the feds" keep their hands out of our business.
The Sue situation provides a clue to why some people feel that way. The federal government intervention, and taking of the dinosaur skeleton, was completely unnecessary, and their approach was overly aggressive. If there were concerns about whether the skeleton had been lawfully removed from the ground, Sue could simply have been left in Hill City until the matter was resolved.
And in our view, Sue should be there now, adding to a long list of natural attractions that make this a great place to live but also which generate millions in tourist dollars each year. The sad saga of Sue should be an embarrassment to any public official who played a role in the matter and allowed such a needless travesty to take place.
Capital Journal, Pierre, Dec. 25, 2014
We may be starring in another documentary we didn't want to see
The Dust Bowl has parallels with what the Capital Journal has been writing about this week. Granted, climatologists say the Dust Bowl of the 1930s wasn't long-term climate change — periods of severe drought are just part of what is built into the Great Plains' climate.
But it's also undeniable that human activities made the drought of the 1930s worse. We plowed what we should not have plowed and loosened the soil so the wind could take it.
That is the common denominator between the Dust Bowl and what is called "anthropogenic climate change" — human activity in both cases took a toll on the environment.
True, some people nowadays — mostly on the conservative side of the aisle, it appears from our own Capital Journal poll of South Dakota lawmakers — dispute whether man is playing a starring role in climate change. That, too, had its parallel in the Dust Bowl.
It's part of the historical record that South Dakota Rep. Karl Mundt removed a film called "The Plow That Broke the Plains" from circulation because he and others found it offensive — the idea that farming practices on the Great Plains had helped write "the most tragic chapter in American agriculture," as the film says at one point. Jerking that government documentary film away from the public was one of Mundt's first accomplishments as a U.S. representative, before he went on to become a U.S. senator.
Sounds familiar — a Republican lawmaker standing against a Democratic administration that was obsessing about harm to the environment. But think about it: Is there a more tragic chapter in American agriculture than the Dust Bowl? What good did Mundt do by suppressing that film? If anything, he may have slowed the message we needed to hear.
If the vast majority of scientists are right, climate change is the message we need to hear now. That is why the Capital Journal is doing this package of stories all this week and Monday.
Yes, it's true that some of our readers deny that the climate is changing, deny that humans are a part of it if it is changing, take issue with the science, question the motives of the scientists, attribute it to liberal politics. Problem with that is, these people are our neighbors — people who practice science at places such as South Dakota State University and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the University of South Dakota, Black Hills State. Are they really participants in a massive international hoax? Or just honest South Dakotans, doing honest work at the tasks we pay them to do? They tell us the climate is changing; many of them are convinced that humans are a part of that.
We don't even need to answer the question of whether, or how much we're responsible; we just need to plan how to respond to a changing climate.
Those who argue that it would be costly to respond to false hype of climate change miss the fact that people already are responding — we just don't necessarily call it climate change. In eastern South Dakota, farmers are tiling their fields because of increased rainfall; in the northeastern part of the state, landowners and sportsmen are squabbling over what to do about hunting and fishing on lakes that no longer observe their traditional boundaries or anyone else's property lines; in the southeast, gardeners are following revised horticulture recommendations that reflect warmer temperatures.
We could choose to do nothing. Ignore the scientists and go on with business as usual — that also is a choice.
But that is where we would part company with our grandfathers and grandmothers.
For the people of the Dust Bowl, when they learned what human activity was doing to their environment, changed the way they did things. They planted shelterbelts. They adopted conservation farming practices. Over the decades they set some fragile lands aside into the Soil Bank or the Conservation Reserve Program. Later, as technology advanced, they also adopted no-till or reduced tillage farming. All these were strategies to minimize the human impact on the Plains environment, and all of these were taken partly with the next generation in mind.
Perhaps that is the best model of how we should act with global warming.
We cannot abandon a carbon-based economy, obviously, but we can step up efforts to find cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels. There are business opportunities in this changing climate, so let's find them; there is a need for adaptive strategies; there is even the possibility that climate change will bring more benefits that we've been told.
But we can't pretend that it's all nonsense.
Like it or not, we may be starring in another documentary we didn't want to see. Let's work on the ending.