All hail Kevin Woster and South Dakota Public Broadcasting for their defense of long-form blogging! Woster cranks out over 2,600 words of the most thorough description of Rep. Kristi Noem’s contentious July 5 Rapid City town hall, burying the lede, weaving direct reporting with cultural observations and political critique, and SDPB lets the whole thing on their website. Ah, the Internet and public media, freeing Woster and all of us of the constraints of ink, paper, and commercial breaks for Sanford.)
Permit me to spotlight just one of Woster’s observations about Noem town hall. Evidently someone lied to Woster about restrictions on press accommodations at the event:
Reporters for TV, newspaper and public radio were squeezed into a spot along the wall 20 or 30 feet from Noem. I complained about that to Noem staffers, who said it was a Pennington County Sheriff’s Office mandate. I then complained to Pennington County Sheriff’s Office deputies, who said Noem staffers wanted the restriction.
Who penned the press? Noem says it was the sheriff; the sheriff says it was Noem. Both can’t be true, so someone was fibbing. Whoever those fibsters are, those public officials need to figure out that it’s not a good idea to fib to folks like Woster who have pens and cameras and websites where they can publish 2,600 words and much more.
*Update 2017.07.01 13:22 CDT: The original notice I received said the Noem town hall would start at 10 a.m.; eager reader Susan below reports the time has been changed to 9:30 a.m. Arrive early, get a good seat!
A tax increment finance (TIF) district is supposed to be a neighborhood that the city council declares economically depressed and in need of subsidized property development. Rapid City government has decided that a TIF district can be one vacant lot:
At the June 5 Rapid City Common Council meeting, the concept of providing low-cost housing took center stage again.
That evening, council members approved the creation of a tax increment financing district for a five-unit townhouse development on a vacant lot at the corner of Dilger Avenue and Monroe Street, just north of Rushmore Plaza Civic Center [Samuel Blackstone, “Small TIF, Large Repercussions,” Rapid City Journal, 2017.06.25].
Setting aside one lot for one developer to lower project costs seems to be a recipe for crony favors. The developer in this case is NeighborWorks Dakota Home Resources, a non-profit that builds affordable housing, so the beneficiary isn’t necessarily a typical capitalist raider, but this TIF still looks very much like the kind of private or special law—”granting to an individual, association or corporation any special or exclusive privilege, immunity or franchise whatever—that our state constitution forbids the Legislature to enact. The language of SDCL Chapter 11-9, which authorizes TIF districts, seems to envision areas with multiple lots so that the subsidy does not accrue to any one developer.
One of the progenitors of TIF districts says this new single-lot TIF district is part of a trend toward overuse of TIFs:
Former South Dakota state senator Don Frankenfeld can speak to the original intent of South Dakota TIF laws, since he helped write them.
“It hasn’t turned out the way I had hoped,” Frankenfeld said in a Journal interview. “I see a TIF as a potentially useful tool in limited situations … (but) it has morphed into a welfare program for developers that taps into the public treasury and is often regarded by city government as a free lunch” [Blackstone, 2017.06.25].
The information at this session will be presented by civil rights and immigration attorney Taneeza Islam Esq. Prior to moving to Sioux Falls she fought Islamophobia and empowered communities in Saint Paul/MN for four years. She conducted Know Your Rights Trainings and well as Workplace Trainings. She was instrumental in leading a coalition to persuade a Minnesota legislator who introduced a head covering ban for government ID’s which would have negatively impacted Muslims and people of other faiths requiring head covers based on religion (nuns, Hutterites wearing headcovers, Jewish men who wear yarmulkes, all forms of hijab etc.). The legislator withdrew his bill. Since January 2017 Taneeza has led a coalition to fight against two Islamophobic resolutions and an anti-refugee bill. This coalition is now 3-0 in winning this fight [Indivisible Rapid City, Facebook event details, retrieved 2017.06.20].
This program is free.
If you want to burn up $8 and part of your soul Wednesday evening, anti-Muslim paranoiacs ACT for America and Big Horn Canyon Church are showing Faithkeepers in downtown Rapid at the Elks Theatre Wednesday at 7 p.m., which, for the sake of fluffing those comfy right-wing slippers of Christian persecution complex and scapegoating of all Muslims, gets history and interfaith relations wrong:
This matter was dramatically brought to a U.S. audience three years ago by eight patriarchs of the Eastern Christian churches — representing the majority of the Middle East’s Christians — who appeared together before a conference in Washington, D.C. Their message was poignant and direct: We need your help, but the help we need is not for you to vilify Muslims. Demonizing Islam may generate applause in some circles in Washington, but it does not help Christians in the Middle East.
That simple message was clearly not heard by the makers of the film “Faithkeepers,” which is to be screened nationally May 23. While purporting to be in defense of Christians in the Middle East, “Faithkeepers” is a not-so-subtle attack on Islam. The film mixes real stories of Christians and others who have suffered at the hands of ISIS with the insidious insinuation that such persecution is at the heart of the Muslim faith.
Adding insult to injury, the film falsely conflates disparate historical events — the Armenian genocide, the Jewish exodus from Iraq and other Arab countries, and the atrocities committed by ISIS — as if they were all the result of Islam’s “inherent” desire to purge all non-Muslims from the region.
What “Faithkeepers” ignores is the fact that the Armenian genocide was perpetrated by a secular movement in Turkey that attacked all non-Turks, including Muslim Kurds; and the horrific anti-Jewish pogroms in Arab countries that followed the 1948 war were in reaction to Israel’s horrific “ethnic cleansing” of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Christians and Muslims from what became the “Jewish state” [James Zogby, “‘Faithkeepers’ Film Is a Not-So-Subtle Attack on Islam,” Religion News Service, 2017.05.18].
I’m getting annoyed that we have to spend this much time countering these ill-informed, bigoted, and cowardly anti-Muslim programs in South Dakota. These non-stop cries of terror against our fellow humans are un-American and un-Christian, as dwellers of the greatest country in the world and followers of the Christian God alike should know better than to live in fear and ignorance. Such fearful people could benefit from listening to Taneeza Islam’s presentation… but I fear the people who need to hear her message most will see her name and be afraid to walk in the door.
A Pennington County GOP spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday, but South Dakota Republican Party Chair Dan Lederman said the state party supports the Pennington County chapter’s sponsorship of the event.
“Unlike the Democrats who demand that the members of their party fall into lockstep, the Republican Party is a big tent party that allows our members to have different views,” Lederman told [that Sioux Falls paper]. “Many of our members believe that if we are able to concur or combat Islamic radicalism, we must understand the threat and that is exactly what we have helped with in Rapid City” [Dana Ferguson, “Muslim Group Asks GOP to Drop Ties to Controversial Speaker,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.06.15].
At past speaking engagements, Guandolo has claimed that every major Islamic center and organization in the U.S. is part of a massive terrorist network, and that growth in Muslim communities is evidence of preparation for a jihad on U.S. soil.
“When they build a mosque they’re claiming territory, now all they have to do is occupy it,” Guandolo said at a conference in Colorado last August. “So they’re calling Muslims to occupy the land.”
…and one prominent Muslim South Dakotan’s response:
The idea that all major Muslim organizations in the U.S. are part of an extremist conspiracy to destroy America is an example of “getting a little carried away,” said local developer Hani Shafai.
Shafai, who was born in Palestine and is a practicing Muslim, has lived in Rapid City for about 35 years.
“I love the people, I love the area,” Shafai said. “This is home. I’ll defend it against anybody, I don’t care if they’re Muslim, Jewish or Christians.”
“Every religion and every society has its bad apples and its radicals,” he added. “But there are a lot of good people in every society. There might be some radicals, but most Muslims, if not the majority of them, are just hardworking people who believe in God and believe in the books that God has sent” [Anderson, 2017.06.15].
It’s bad enough that Republican elected officials like Al Novstrup, Shantel Krebs and Marty Jackley have graced these anti-Muslim events with their presence. Now Lederman is shielding his party’s sponsorship of anti-Muslim rhetoric with a false reading of tolerance. Tolerance does not mean total moral relativism in which anything goes. We can tolerate difference—different religions, different races, different political views, different lifestyles—while rejecting harmful lies and bigotry, the way South Dakota Democrats do:
While reasonable people can disagree about immigration and refugee policy, conspiracy theories and bigotry targeting a minority population should have no place in our political debates. Republicans should denounce this type of hateful rhetoric, not embrace it. Since Mr. Lederman refused to take the lead in denouncing hate, I call Republican elected officials and candidates like John Thune, Mike Rounds, Kristi Noem, Marty Jackley, Shantel Krebs, and Dusty Johnson to show some important leadership and make it clear that this kind of hate does not belong in their party or our state [Ann Tornberg, South Dakota Democratic Party chair, press release, 2017.06.15].
KOTA Territory News was denied access into the event, but given a statement by ACT for America. It read in part:
“The Rapid City chapter of ACT for America has decided to keep the “Understanding the Threat” event private due to previous mis-characterization and inaccurate reporting by members of the media… Learning about Islamic extremism is relevant in this age of terrorism, and the media has used a specific and intentional agenda to depict our attendees as bigots.”
Anti-Muslim fearmonger organization “Act for America” is bringing another team of hucksters to whip South Dakotans into fear and donations. With the help of the Family Heritage Alliance, AfA is hosting self-professed jihad experts John Guandolo and Chris Gaubatz to present “Understanding the Threat” (that’s the name of these consultants’ website, too)—i.e., the “Global Islamic Movement” that’s coming to kill us all.
“Knowledge is power,” says Willson in her letter, but propaganda and conspiracy theories are just tiring… and that appears to be what Guandolo has to offer:
In congressional testimony and on conservative talk shows, Guandolo dishes up conspiracy theories involving a prominent Muslim professor and organizations, implying that they are enabling Muslim terrorists. In one Columbus, Ohio, training, he accused a local professor of having ties to terrorism. (A Columbus Joint Terrorism Task Force member and an FBI agent told attendees that this individual had absolutely no ties to any such thing.) He has argued that former CIA director John Brennan is a secret Muslim and that Barack Obama was in league with Hamas. He’s said that Muslims don’t have First Amendment rights. And when Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, Texas, canceled his signature three-day law-enforcement training seminar, Guandolo claimed it was the work of “suit-wearing jihadis” [Jessica Pishko, “This Islamophobic Conspiracy Theorist Is Training America’s Cops,” The Nation, 2017.03.28].
Guandolo also makes money training cops about jihad (because, you know, your local cops face far more jihad than speeding, shoplifting, or meth). What do Guandolo and his UTT employee Gaubatz tell cops?
The non-profit attempts to trace the roots of this specific strain of officially-sanctioned Islamaphobia and present a disconcerting picture of unaccredited, self-proclaimed “experts” (none of them are, say, students of Islamic studies or have PhD in religious studies) who take taxpayer dollars to spread hate.
The contents of the sessions themselves are kept largely under wraps, particularly since groups like the ACLU and CAIR have identified the trainings’ anti-Islamic message, and organized protests against many sessions. (Guandolo argues these protests show how important the trainings are.) But according to Guandolo’s website, the training provides necessary information involving the funding apparatus of terrorism as well as where to find potential people to profile for arrest. Many of Guandolo’s talking points in his recorded public appearances reiterate half-regurgitated facts that are misinterpreted and dipped in the poison of association and rumor. For example, Guandolo and his colleagues argue that the Holy Land Foundation trial provides evidence that CAIR and other American Muslim Associations are in some way associated with Hamas. These statements have been proven to just not be true [Pishko, 2017.03.28].
Notice Willson’s use of a superfluous exclamation point in her group’s name in the return address in her letter: “Act! for America.” Interestingly, fellow superfluously self-punctuating xenophobes’ club “Americans First, Task Force” is hosting these same shady fellows the day after their Rapid City show. AF,TF is distributing a similar UTT poster, but without the A(!)fA logo:
Under AF,TF’s Facebook post asking people to “*mark your calendar*” for the Aberdeen event, Amy Willson comments:
“Will do!”—sure… I think, “already did.”
If not their strange penchant for extra punctuation, then this communication, these posters, and these identical programs indicate that my local xenophobes are coordinating their efforts with (or having them coordinated by) Act for America and at least one well-connected branch of South Dakota’s Republican Party.
When you get back from fishing this weekend, there will be meetings on both sides of the state to discuss the nonmeandered waters issue.
Ken Santema, who is documenting this controversy closely, notes that the South Dakota Wildlife Federation and 29-90 Sportsman’s Club are hosting a meeting in Sioux Falls Tuesday, May 30, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. CDT at the Hub building at Southeast Tech. Those two groups oppose the draft legislation and say they have “12 words to fix water law in South Dakota.”
Much of the brouhaha over nonmeandered waters has taken place here in East River, where water is slower and more abundant than in the Black Hills and on the non-glaciated Plains. But West River fishing enthusiasts, wildlife and water advocates, agriculturalists, and property rights defenders can discuss the issue this week at the Prairie Hills Audubon Society‘s Wednesday meeting:
This draft bill will allow (by giving property owners the free choice to restrict access to these non-meandered waters)…. privatization of a large precent of SD water bodies. Violators of restricted access areas will be guilty of criminal trespass. The types of bodies of water in question currently belong to the public. Local private property owners, under the status quo, own the ground beneath the non-meandered lakes in question, but not the lakes themselves or the wildlife, fish, invertebrates and plants that reside in the lakes. The public owns all water and the biodiversity that is above the lake bed. With this bill the landowner can restrict the public access to something the public owns and thus land owners acquire unique access for themselves and their friends. If they commercialize such access — they have successfully privatized some of SD’s wildlife and fish for sale for private gain (you can’t fish, hunt, trap, photograph or “nature study” such without paying for access to do so) [Prairie Hills Audubon Society, online statement, retrieved 2017.05.28].
PHAS and Santema both note that there’s a lot more nonmeandered water that could be affected (i.e., closed to public access) by the draft legislation than I thought. According to this Game Fish and Parks presentation to the nonmeandered waters interim committee, nonmeandered waters make up over 70% of the natural lakes in South Dakota:
But notice in that same presentation that GF&P says 152 of the 267 meandered lakes offer fishing, while only 91 of the 29,033 nonmeandered lakes offer fishing. By those numbers, the draft legislation affects 56,000 nonmeandered lake acres, 9.5% of nonmeandered waters in the state.
Folks attending the Sioux Falls, Watertown, and Rapid City meetings should also arrange their carpools to Pierre for Friday’s meeting of the Legislature’s nonmeandered waters committee. Friday’s confab should be the last committee meeting before the Governor and legislators decide if they have enough support to call the proposed June 12 special session to pass the draft legislation.
Senator Marion Michael Rounds has a good excuse for missing the March for Healthcare in Aberdeen tomorrow: he’s actually holding a public meeting in Rapid City Friday! Friends transmit this invitation from Senator Rounds to coffee and conversation at Western Dakota Tech tomorrow morning:
I would like to invite you for coffee and conversation in Rapid City on Friday, May 19, 2017. I will be hosting a coffee at Western Dakota Technical Institute’s library to give a short update on what is happening in Washington, take your questions and hear about the issues important to South Dakotans. I hope to see you there!
May 19, 2017
9:30 a.m. MT
Western Dakota Technical Institute, Library, 800 Mickelson Drive, Rapid City, SD 57703 [email from Senator Rounds, 2017.05.17]
Of course you know, if Senator Rounds goes long and visits with interested Rapid City constituents until noon Mountain, he could still hop in his plane and buzz here to Aberdeen in plenty of time for our 5 p.m. Central march!
On Saturday, April 22, believers in science, logic, and facts (that should be all of us) and the foundational role of reason in democracy will rally in Washington, D.C., and around the world to protest the anti-science attitude of the Trump Administration.
Four marches are in the works here in South Dakota:
Rapid City: 9:00 a.m. MDT, starting at School of Mines Surbeck Building
Pierre: 2:00 p.m. CDT, starting at federal building/U.S. Courthouse, 225 S. Pierre St.
Sioux Falls: 10:00 a.m. CDT, starting at Carnegie Town Hall, 235, W 10th St.
Aberdeen: 1:00 p.m. CDT, starting at Central Park, across from the ARCC.
If you join me here at the Aberdeen march, we’ll walk a square through the heart of Aberdeen: Central Park to the public library, then over to Main, up to red Rooster, and back to Central Park, where we will find the Green Aberdeen Earth Day Fair in full swing at the Briscoe Building.