Citizenship

I get to catch Rush Limbaugh maybe once a month, usually for about five or ten minutes as I’m going to some noon-time appointment or another. 

Yesterday, I tuned in to the sound of Limbaugh citing a story from the Jamestown Sun, the daily newspaper in my hometown, about a North Dakota legislative proposal to require high school kids to pass the same test new immigrants must pass to become Americans

 

The bill is part of the national Civics Education Initiative, an affiliate of the Joe Foss Institute. Foss, a former South Dakota governor and Marine Corps pilot who received the Congressional Medal of Honor, started the nonprofit to enlist veterans to teach young people about the value of their freedoms. He died in 2003.

The effort counts among its supporters former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day Sandra Day O’Connor, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein and actor Joe Mantegna.

A similar legislative effort was announced in September in South Dakota with support from former U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, former Citibank president Ron Williamson and former Sioux Falls mayor Dave Munson, among others.

[NoDak governor Jack] Dalrymple said the goal nationally is to have all 50 states adopt the civics test requirement by Sept. 17, 2017, the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.

The state’s education commissioner notes that students can retake the test as many times as they need to get to 60% – which, I think, is the right idea; the point is that they learn the stuff. 

So – how would you do if you took the test?

Film Review: “The Overnighters”

I went to the Saint Anthony Main theatre on Friday night for a showing of The Overnighters.

It’s a good movie.  It’s worth seeing.

But it’s more complicated than that.

The Punched Social Ticket:  In reporting on life and the people in the Square States (aka “Flyover Land”), our culture’s self-appointed elites have a fairly consistent three-part narrative:

  • Prosperity in the square states is at least a bad thing:  at worst, it’s an unmitigated tragedy.
  • People in Flyover Land are conservative in all the wrong ways:  Whether it be a staid, stolid “that’s not how we do it here” to a cripping setness in one’s ways to a harsh, unforgiving bigotry, the Square States are like Deliverance Lite in the eyes of our coastal cultural elites.
  • Faith in general, but especially Christianity, is always a veneer over boundless depravity: Christians, in the narrative, are deluded and usually bigoted dullards at best; hypocritical unto evil at worst.  The notion of redemption is always exposed as a toxic lie in the end.

Keep those narrative points in mind through this review.

We’ll come back to that.

Baggage:  Before I get to reviewing anything, let me be up front; I have a chip on my shoulder.

I grew up in a place that barely qualified as a cultural punchline for most of its history; a place famous for durum wheat and George Armstrong Custer and scary fringe characters and Minuteman missiles and the nastiest blizzards in America, and not much else.  A place that some don’t believe exists, that some have tried to abolish and cede back to nature (before all that oil), that still provokes a lot of ignorant babble from “cultural elites” and newbies alike.

And when I was getting established in the big city, almost thirty years ago, it wasn’t a long trip for a lot of people from “you’re from a punch line” to “you are a punch line”.

And pushing against that turned into a hot ball of rage that kept me warm on many a cold night in my twenties.

That, like the narrative, will return to this review.

Hopeless Opportunity:   The film is set in Willison, North Dakota.  It’s the epicenter of the oil boom.  Ten years ago, Williston had maybe 8,000 residents; today, it’s probably pushing 30,000, and nobody’s sure about that. 

The movie’s protagonist – and for the first 90 minutes or so, hero – is Pastor Jay Reinke, minister at Concordia Lutheran Church in Willison.  We see at the beginning of the movie that Reinke is busy running an ad hoc program – the eponymous “Overnighters” - to provide shelter for people who are new to Williston and have noplace to stay.

It’s frequently a tough battle.  While North Dakota’s job market is smoking hot, it’s also more expensive to rent an apartment in Williston than in New York or San Francisco.   Property values and rents have risen to the point where some locals, especially people on fixed incomes, can’t afford to live there anymore.

And the job market’s not great for everyone; Reinke sadly informs an older black man who just got off the train that the oil fields are a young man’s trade, with brutal work and long hours and very difficult physical conditions.  For others – truck drivers – background checks trip them up.

In fact, if you didn’t look carefully, you would miss the parts where the filmmakers acknowledge the fact that the oilfields, overall, have a crippling labor shortage and that the unemployment rate is half the national average, and that Williston is a place where people with high school diplomas and (as one new arrival, a black man with a Chicago accent, notes on a cell phone) people with multiple felonies can make six-figure salaries.  

It’s an acknowledgement, of sorts – a drive-by, if you will.  But beyond that? 

The movie’s website says (emphasis added):

In the tiny town of Williston, North Dakota, tens of thousands of unemployed hopefuls show up with dreams of honest work and a big paycheck under the lure of the oil boom. However, busloads of newcomers chasing a broken American Dream step into the stark reality of slim work prospects and nowhere to sleep. The town lacks the infrastructure to house the overflow of migrants, even for those who do find gainful employment.

Grapes of what?

You’d think they were moving to Detroit or Camden.

To assert otherwise would be to break the narrative; there is no real prosperity.  There’s just bitter, broken people serving the monstrous, otherworldly oil rigs that loom on every horizon.

The movie follows several of Reverend Reinke’s “overnighters” – men who had spent time camping out at Concordia; a young guy from Wisconsin who starts at the bottom and soon moves his way up to a supervising position and an RV; a black truck driver from parts unknown; a hopeless electrician from Georgia; a former meth addict from somewhere down South; an enigmatic and very intense New Yorker who leaves thematic elements dangling like ripped-out telephone wires.

And all of them, every last one, leaves Williston a broken man; the young Wisconsinite, driving while exhausted, rolls his truck and ends up with a broken vertebra; the electrician’s wife, lonely and overworked with the kids, demands he return home or else; the truck driver flunks a background check and walks away, embittered with Reverend Reinke.  And the latter two?

That gets into spoiler territory.

Not Invented Here:  Reinke starts out as a fairly unadorned hero; a plainspoken, very Lutheran-looking man who seems to be doing a superhuman job serving as minister, homeless shelter operator, counselor and rescuer.  At the beginning of the film, it appears his biggest enemy is Willison’s status quo; a city council that’s maneuvering to curb the Overnighter program; neighbors that are alarmed at all the new people coming to the church and working their way up the hierarchy (they usually start out sleeping in cars in the parking lot, at least in the mild summer weather at the beginning of the film; then they move up to floor space in the hall; then, finally, a cot in the fellowship hall).

The other glimpses we see of the locals are straight out of central casting; city councilpeople intoning their reservations, locals outraged about their status quo being upset; I was almost surprised John Lithgow didn’t come to the City Council and demand a ban on dancing. 

Truth be told, outside the congregation and City Hall and the central casting Small Town Regulars, we see very little of Willison; neighbors that Reinke canvasses to try to reassure them about his charges; a newspaper publisher and his greasy, slimy reporter; one farm woman who, burned by a man who’d rented RV space before relapsing into methamphetamine, greeted Reinke and his film crew with a hunting rifle and a broomstick.

And then comes the word that some of the men have “sex offender” on their background checks.  And the movie’s third act begins.

Faith No More:   I’m going to try to walk the thin line between spoiling and reviewing, here.

Reverend Reinke, it turns out, falls short of his Christian ideals, as a believer and a minister.

On the way there, of course, we find that nobody was saved.  The unemployable are still unemployed.  The homeless end up with noplace to live.  The unredeemed, aren’t. 

I say “of course” because that is the cultural elites’ narrative these days; faith is beyond futility; it is absurdity.  A few of the plucky heroes whom Reverend Reinke “saved” earlier in the film turned out to be pretty spectacularly un-saved.

All that is good in the movie turns out to be “good” – in sarcastic scare quotes. 

Including – no spoilers, here – Reverend Reinke himself.

Every single person in the movie ends up, on one level or another, destroyed. 

Expectations: Now, I don’t mean to say The Overnighters isn’t an excellent bit of storytelling.  It is.

And I’m not saying it’s not worth seeing, if you get the chance; it is.  The cinematography is absolutely glorious.  The editing and pacing and the storytelling itself is enthralling.  If I had to give it a rating, I’d say “Four stars, and I didn’t like it”. 

Because truth be told, I walked into the movie fully expecting:

  1. Prosperity to be shown as a curse (or a mirage),
  2. North Dakotans to be depicted as clenched, bigoted caricatures, and
  3. Faith, the Church and its people to be shown up as frauds, hypocrites and hollow shells of sanctimony (or, at best, people whose flaws overwhelm and overshadow all good about them).

And I expected it because – the guy for whom the little ball of rage still burns deep down inside tells me – that’s the way it’s always been.  From the intelligentsia’s chortling about “Buffalo Commons” a decade ago, to MPR’s tut-tutting about all that unseemly prosperity on the Plains, to the NYTimes’ Gail Collins giggling her idiot giggle about having no place to shop and waiting in line at the Williston McDonalds, The Overnighters is an excellent story that fits squarely, unsurprisingly and predictably within the narrative.

It’s exactly what I expected.

And I wasn’t disappointed – or, put another way, I was deeply disappointed.

North Dakota’s Greatest Sailor

Today’s story ties together a bunch of my favorite themes; Epic Historical Events that happen as a series of happenstances and blunders; second-chance redemption stories; untold stories of great significance.

But most of all, it’s the story a maritime people sweeping the seas of their foes.

The maritime people, in this case, is North Dakotans.

We Come From The Land Of The Ice And Snow:  Joseph Enright was born in 1910 in Minot, North Dakota.

Enright, near his retirement in 1963, as a Captain.

He graduated from Annapolis, spent three years on the battleship USS Maryland, and then transferred to submarines, qualifying as a sub officer in 1936.  As the Navy, and especially the submarine service, grew frenetically before World War II – part of FDR’s version of “shovel ready jobs”, as well as getting ready for the war everyone on both sides of the Pacific knew was inevitable – Enright moved up fast, serving on the crews of the World War I-vintage subs S-35 and S-22; not long after the war started in 1942, with a new promotion to Lieutenant Commander, Enright was given command of an even older boat, the USS O-10, a predecessor of the S-boats, used as a training ship.

USS O-10

The early years of the war were tumultuous ones in the submarine service; equipment problems dogged American submariners’ efforts for the first 18 months.  It didn’t take long for a combat command billet to open up for Lt. Commander Enright; he assumed command of the brand-new USS Dace.

USS Dace, which went on to a stellar war career.  In one notable episode in 1944, after participating in sinking two Japanese cruisers and damaging a third, it rescued the entire crew of the USS Darter, which had run aground in an area crawling with Japanese ships.  It ended up in the post-war Italian fleet from 1955 to 1975.

Take Me Out, Coach:  He took command of the boat in July of 1943.  By November, he had the boat worked up and ready for action.  The boat’s first war patrol took it into Japanese home waters.

Enright, aboard Dace.

On November 15, a few weeks into the patrol, directed by an intercept from the US Navy’s “Ultra” cryptography unit, Enright and Dace were directly in the path of the Japanese aircraft carrier IJN Shokaku, one of two surviving carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor.  Enright made contact with the carrier’s task group – a powerfully-escorted force, dangerous to attack – but couldn’t quite maneuver into position by daybreak; in his own report, he described having made a “timid approach, breaking off as daylight approached”.  Later in the patrol, an attempt on a Japanese tanker ended with a sound depth-charging at the hands of Japanese escort ships.

The seven week patrol ended with no sinkings.  Disappointed in his own performance, Enright asked to be relieved of command.  Admiral Lockwood, the crusty submariner who commanded all US subs in the Pacific, obliged, as he had not a few earlier officers who’d decided they didn’t pack the gear.  Enright was assigned to administrative duties at the Midway Island submarine station.

And with most officers relieved of a combat command, that’s where it would have ended.

Redemption:  After six months of administrative penance, Enright asked Lockwood for another shot.

Incredibly, Lockwood said yes, assigning him to command the USS Archerfish.

USS Archerfish

Archerfish had had almost as disappointing a war as Enright so far.  In four war patrols, they had attempted three attacks, for zero kills.  They hadn’t even seen a ship on two patrols, and had spent one patrol on “lifeguard” duty off Iwo Jima, rescuing one shot-down naval aviator from the water.

Crew of the Archerfish on Guam, Christmas 1945, on their way home from their fateful fifth war patrol.  I’m not positive, but I think that’s Enright, in the baseball cap, on the far left of Row 2.

And so in October, Enright took Archerfish out on its fifth war patrol.  From November 11 to November 28, the boat cruised off the Japanese coast not far from Tokyo, on “lifeguard” station again – cruising in a small, fixed area that damaged American B-29 bombers could get to if they were too badly damaged to make it back to their airbase on Saipan.

With the cancellation of the day’s strikes on November 28, Archerfish was cut free from lifeboat duty, and was free to patrol.

And there, toward dark, his lookouts spotted what they originally thought to be a Japanese tanker, with an unusually heavy escort of three first-line destroyers, leaving Tokyo Bay.

Enright and his officers soon figured out it was actually an aircraft carrier; the ship was moving at a good clip, zig-zagging toward the south.  The officers worked out the math, and moved Archerfish as fast as its 20-knot surface speed could manage, to get it into position for a shot at the one point in the zig-zag they could intercept.

After six hours of maneuvering – much on the surface, but the last stretch underwater to avoid detection – the ship zagged into Archerfish’s path.  Enright ordered all six of the boat’s forward torpedo tubes fired, and watched as the first torpedoes hit and the ship began to list, before ordering the boat deep to avoid a depth-charging.

Four of Enright’s torpedoes hit the ship.  Although Enright never did see the final outcome, his sonarmen could hear the sound of internal compartments rupturing, the unmistakeable sound of steel ripping and crumpling. They knew they’d drawn blood.

They returned to Pearl Harbor, claiming an aircraft carrier.  The Navy staff was certain it had to have been a cruiser; they were pretty sure there were no surviving Japanese aircraft carriers in the area.  They grudgingly credited Enright and Archerfish with a light carrier after Enright sketched what he’d seen through the periscope in great detail.

The Big Kahuna:  They were both wrong.

The ship was the IJN Shinano, at 70,000 tons the largest aircraft carrier ever built.

The only known photo ever taken of Shinano (other than one taken from an Air Force reconaissance plane), on its very brief sea trials in Tokyo Bay, days before its sinking, taken by a civilian photographer on a harbor tug, who had no idea that he was committing a capital offense (for which he was thankfully never discovered).

The ship had started life as a sister ship to the Japanese battleships Yamato and Musashi, the biggest battleships ever built to this very day.  As it became clear that the age of the superbattleship had ended and the aircraft carrier was here to stay, the Shinano was converted into a large aircraft carrier.  It retained much of its battleship structure, including armor.

It had been built under complete secrecy, so paranoid that most of the Japanese fleet knew nothing about it; built in a covered drydock, by workers sworn to secrecy on pain of death by beheading, with no mention of it ever made on the radio or any other medium that the Allies could monitor.  It was the only major warship of the 20th century never to have an official construction photograph.  Shinano was in fact a complete surprise to the Allies – so complete, in fact, that they didn’t believe what Enright had sunk until they looked at records after the war.

It was the largest aircraft carrier ever built (until the American supercarriers of the 1950s through today).  It was the largest ship ever sunk by a submarine – and one of the largest ever sunk in combat, period (only its half-sisters, Yamato and Musashi, were bigger).

The moral of the story?

Forget F. Scott Fitzgerald; America is all about second acts.  Enright came back from palookaville to score one of the biggest notches in the history of naval warfare.

And watch out for North Dakotans.  We’re a maritime people.

And we know how to break things.

More Jobs!

…Inver Grove Heights-based CHS corporation is building a new fertilizer plant:

CHS, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, said its board of directors gave final approval of the project on Thursday.

“With this decision, CHS is taking an important, strategic step on behalf of its membership owners by ensuring them reliable domestic supply of nitrogen fertilizers essential to help farmers raise healthy, profitable crops,” Casale said in a statement.

Casale said plant construction could begin this fall, and operating in 2018. It would employ between 160 and 180 workers, the company said.

And oh, yeah – it’s going to be in the Berg ancestral home of Jamestown, ND. 

Another Minnesota company, sending jobs to a neighboring state.

Swirling About The Drain

I hate to indulge in schadenfreud. 

But I’m only human.

Arbitron numbers are in for the Fargo-Moorhead area – and the two big lib-talk hosts at KFGO (which is sort of the WCCO of the Fargo metro area) are sucking fumes.

Joel Heitkamp is off sharply, according to Rob Port

But even more sweet?  Mike McFeely – the sportscaster turned incompetent liberal talking head – is sucking pond water. 

Conservative talk thrives in liberal bastions like the Twin Cities, Chicago and LA – as a contrarian Jeremiah, and a rallying point for the areas beleaguered conservatives.  You’d think, orthagonally, that liberal talk would work for the same reasons in relatively conservative places like Fargo (although Fargo is the most liberal major city in North Dakota). 

I guess not.

An Anniversary

It was ten years ago today that a roadside bomb in Anbar province killed two soldiers from the North Dakota Army National Guard’s 141st Engineer Battalion.

One of them, Specialist Brown, was the nephew of two of my high school classmates and of my seventh-grade history teacher. I remember him as a little kid, back in North Dakota in the eighties. His grandfather, as I recall, is a friend of my father’s.

Different people get different things out of remembering.  If nothing else, I hope it prompts you to send a prayer to the Brown and Holmes families, and all the families who’ve lost loved ones in this past decade and a half.

Front Runner?

Scott Walker.

He’s conservative.

He’s got a killer track record.

He’s got killer approval ratings, and has them in a state perhaps even more purple than Minnesota, notwithstanding (or – ahem – because of) his tough, conservative stances on vital issues. 

He’s withstood four years of the most scabrous liberal and media (ptr) campaigns in the history of American politics (not directed at a woman or minority conservative, anyway), and come out stronger than ever

Revealingly, Walker fares well in an electorate that does not seem particularly conservative and that, if anything, appears to be slightly to the left of American voters in general. Among those surveyed in the WPR/St. Norbert’s poll, 48 percent had a favorable view of President Obama; 50 percent had an unfavorable view. Obama generally fares worse than that in national polling. In addition, Wisconsin’s liberal Senator Tammy Baldwin had a positive rating — 44 percent approve; 33 percent disapprove.

In this context, Walker’s popularity is particularly striking. 59 percent approve of his performance, while only 39 percent disapprove.

And despite the left and media’s (ptr) attempt to sand-bag his accomplishments (for instance, the left’s meme claiming Minnesota is “doing better” than Wisconsin, which depends entirely on ignoring the structural differences between manufacturing-heavy Wisconsin and service-heavy Minnesota, or Wisconsin’s commanding lead over MN in climate for new businesses), he’s got his own constituents basically on board - especially amazing considering the manufactured rancor of his first 18 months in office:

 Walker’s approval numbers basically track the right direction/wrong direction numbers for his State. 57 percent said that Wisconsin is moving in the right direction, while 38 percent said its moving in the wrong direction. By contrast only 32 percent believe the United States is moving in the right direction. 63 percent think we’re moving the other way.

If the GOP has a brain…

…well, Jeb who?

Bulletproof

Scott Walker is revolutionizing midwestern politics in Wisconsin.  And it’s driving Wisconsin Democrats crazy.  They are pulling out all the stops – and all the dirty tricks that decades of Democrat rulers accreted to help them try to keep their power – to try to depose him. 

Including an anonymous, unaccountable “John Doe” investigation that is essentially an extended prosecutorial fishing trip…

…that has found nothing against Governor Walker.  And, arguably, was never intended to – so much as it was to create a long, extended smear of Walker in the compliant press. 

It doesn’t seem to be working.  Walker’s approval is at 52%, and…:

The latest Marquette Law School poll, released Wednesday, shows Walker’s lead on presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke in the run-up to Wisconsin gubernatorial race in November has crept up a percentage point, to 48 percent to 41 percent. Walker led Burke, a wealthy Madison liberal and Commerce Secretary under former Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle, 47 percent to 41 percent in the law school’s last poll in January.

The poll of 801 Wisconsin registered voters was conducted by cell phone and landline March 20-23, a month after the release of Rindfleisch’s emails, which proved somewhat embarrassing for Walker and his associates but showed no evidence of illegal activity by Walker.

Wisconsin Democrats may wind up “attacking” Walker all the way to the White House at this rate.

Once They’ve Seen Paree?

I was reading a neighborhood Facebook group the other day.  A woman started spouting off about the “homelessness” in the Bakken oil fields, by way of hinting “maybe those people out there need much less of all that oil and exploration and stuff”.

And I thought – “Wow.  All those well-meaning Twin Citians – the media, the political establishment and just regular Metro-area folks – sure are concerned about the corrupting effects of jobs, prosperity, economic diversification and even a little wealth out there in the Badlands, aren’t they?

Like they should all go back to being season-to-season ranchers and farmers out in the middle of nowhere.  And speak when spoken to.

And then it occurred to me – that’s what it’s always like up in the Iron Range – only they never actually get to dig their mines, unlike North Dakota.  My native state actually managed to get something done – probably before the Strib and MPR knew what “Bakken” meant – before the suffocating hand of “benevolent, patronizing good will from their betters” descended upon them.

Lucky ND!

When Grownups Run Things

On the one hand: Minnesota hikes taxes two billion dollars.  The “surplus” rises about $200 million over what the Republican majority in 2011-2012 left.  The DFL majority is currently arguing not so much over how to spend the “surplus’, but how many times over it shall be spent. 

On the not-stupid hand:  Wisconsin under Scott Walker cut taxes.  Wisconsin’s surplus is pushing a billion dollars.  And the only argument in Wisconsin today is “how are the taxpayers going to get the overbilling back?”

“The additional revenue should be returned to taxpayers because it’s their money, and my administration will work with the Legislature to determine the most prudent course of action,” Walker said in a statement.

Walker has been talking with Republican leaders about tax cut proposals he plans to release in his State of the State speech next Wednesday. Walker’s spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster said the governor wants to adjust income tax withholding tables to put more money in taxpayers’ pockets immediately and is also eyeing income and property tax reductions.

It’d sure be nice to have grownups in charge in Minnesota again.

(VIa regular commenter Chuck)

Now Be Thankful

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

You know that moment when the house is totally silent?  The TV is off, the refrigerator stops humming, the kids are asleep and the furnace fan isn’t blowing?  Haven’t had that for the last day or two.  Furnace fan just keeps blowing.  And that’s a good thing.

Thank you, Xcel Energy, for keeping the natural gas and electricity flowing so my house is warm.  Thank you, oil field workers, pipeline maintenance engineers, electricity linemen . . . all the burly men who work in unimaginably bad conditions to provide me with the luxury of sitting in my recliner reading Sci Fi on the Kindle.

Joe Doakes

Goodbye, Animal Dorm

I went to a little college in the middle of nowhere. I’ve written about it a time or two; it nearly followed a hundred other small rural colleges to extinction in the eighties, but bounced back in a huge way (and, in this environment where people are starting to take the higher ed bubble seriously, provides an excellent value for the educational dollar, especially for science majors, nursing majors, pre-meds (!), teachers and a fewer other areas.  Don’t say I’ve never done anything for you, alumni office!).  Back then, it was known for a top-flight nursing program, athletic programs that fought waaaay above their weight, and a concert choir that was pretty internationally famous

But I come today not so much to praise Jamestown college The University of Jamestown, but to razz it.

(And not for changing its name to University of Jamestown, although I could).

Among Jamestown’s salient virtues – it never had fraternities. No vapid insipid Greek blar-di-blar ever poked its nose onto the campus. We used frat boys for firewood at Jamestown College.

What the college had were dorms. Three of them

Up on the far north end of campus (at that time – the campus has grown as the student population has doubled), New Hall dated from the seventies; it was basically an apartment building for married students (and, sometimes, groups of 3-4 upperclassmen who got along really well). 

Also on the north side of campus, Kroeze Hall (pronounced “Cruise-y”) was from the sixties: it was full of modern amenities, like shower stalls, telephone jacks, water pressure.

And then there was Watson Hall.

Built in 1930 on the south side of the campus, on the edge of the hill overlooking Jamestown, it was old, and it showed. The rooms were…rooms. That’s it. 14 feet by 10 feet. Two beds – twin-size.  Two closets, big enough to hold just barely more than the pre-grunge wardrobe I had. Two desks. In-room phone not an option even if you DID want to pay for it (and I did not); there was one phone per floor. Two shower heads and three toilets per floor, housing 40 or so guys (or gals, after 1982 when the third, top floor was ceded to the women, not so much to cut down on the partying as make it less violent). And if you flushed while someone was in the shower, you yelled “SHOWER” at the top of your lungs, because with the cold water flushing the toilet, anyone in the shower had to get clear before getting scalded. It was all on the same run of pipes.

Rodents were not strangers. Hot and stuffy in warm weather, its ancient steam heat system was incapable of subtlety, either chilling the residents or clankily steaming them into sweaty indolence.

But there was a chummy esprit de dorm about the place. People either stayed in Kroeze (or tried Watson and moved across campus at the first opening), or stayed in Watson their whole time at JC. The resident assistants were generally low-key and laissez-faire about rules; if you had a few beers or a girl in your room after hours (it was a dry, nominally-Presbyterian campus – no alcohol allowed, and the genders were supposed to get off each other’s floors by 11pm, or 1am on weekends), as long as you didn’t make a ruckus, it wasn’t a federal case.

The inmates hated and loved the old building. It’s petty hardships gave the locals a crude cameraderie. It was Jamestown’s Animal Dorm.

I don’t miss much about college – but i do get a little nostalgic over that old dorm.

But as the man said, everything dies, that’s a fact:

Christmas break will see the demolition of the building’s west annex, and construction will begin on a 3,100-square foot addition to the west side of the building.”Our plan is to work on the addition while the University is in session and work in the main building over the summer,” says Tom Heck, Vice President for Planning and Administration [and my Econ teacher]

The addition will include the building’s new main entrance, an elevator, a Resident Director’s office, new restrooms and shower rooms for each floor, and expanded lounges with kitchenettes on the second and third floors.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Other work will include aesthetic improvements in the hallways, new electrical lines and upgraded lighting, and installation of air conditioning and a sprinkler system. Work will be completed in time for the start of the 2014-15 academic year.

Have these people no respect for tradition?

Hope all you epicurean punks learn to appreciate what you’re missing!

Today’s News, Seven Years Ago

When I left  North Dakota in the eighties, it seemed like rural America was on the verge of drying up and blowing away.

Of course, it was a historically lousy time for farmers and farming – and a time when there just wasn’t much more than that to draw people to a small town, unless one specifically sought out the small-town life.

Which I, for one, certainly did not.

Anyway – times have changed.  Not just in NoDak – perhaps you’ve heard, they found oil – but also in rural Minnesota:

Amid what has been described as a new “golden age” for farm profits and land wealth, the list of the 50 Minnesota counties with the fastest-growing incomes since 2005 includes only one big Twin Cities county. The state’s net farm income has nearly doubled, from $4.5 billion in 2010 to $8.2 billion in 2012.

The town of Jackson, in southwest Minnesota, was one of only four rural cities over 2,500 to suffer significant losses in numbers during this century’s first decade — then it landed a new employer from Europe offering 1,400 jobs.

Studying trends in retail, Craig and a colleague uncovered what they called “astounding” growth in consumer sales in regional centers such as Mankato and Brainerd, and “remarkable” increases in economic activity in many smaller communities — stiff reproofs to the “myth of rural decline and ghost towns.”

The spread of technology helps, of course. One of the worst things about small-town life, if you weren’t wired to appreciate it or didn’t live to spend your days in deer stands or on fishing boats, was the stultifying isolation. That’s much less a factor these days.

Oh, yeah – and I wrote about this almost seven years ago. Joel Kotkin’s been predicting this for a long time; as technology makes small towns, especially the exurbs, less isolated, growth will shift there.  Cities will become playgrounds of the wealthy and warehouses for the poor; everyone else will be living in Watertown.

This Hard Land

Note to all you folks thinking of moving to North Dakota to start cashing in on the oil boom:  North Dakota is cold.  

There aren’t a lot of trees.  And outside of the eight or nine significant-sized cities (Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Devil’s Lake, Bismark/Mandan, Minot, Williston, Dickinson, and maybe Valley City), there just aren’t a whole lot of people. 

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Chanting Points Memo: Why Yes – We Did Build It

“You didn’t build that”.

President Obama said it to America’s entrepreneurs during the campaign; the not-remotely-muted message was that “private sector innovation follows public sector investment” – that without roads, there’d be no car company; without airports, there’d be no aircraft. 

On the state level, one of Governor Messinger’s budget czars made essentially the same statement at a meeting of government and business leaders in Thief River Falls last year; without government to build the infrastructure, entrepreneurship would be doomed to failure. 

On the one level, it’s wrong – unless the entrepreneurs and their employees not only weren’t paying plenty of taxes, but hadn’t already paid their taxesforall that infrastructure all of their lives, and their parents, and grandparents, back to statehood. 

But even beyond that – and I can’t believe I and many other conservative pundits didn’t note this at the time?   It’s just not true; infrastructure tends to follow innovation.

A great example – which came first, the car or the road?

Henry Ford and dozens of other auto makers put a car in almost every garage decades before the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act in 1956. The success of the car created a demand for roads. The government didn’t build highways, and then Ford decided to create the Model T. Instead, the highways came as a byproduct of the entrepreneurial genius of Ford and others.

Read a little about the history of the automobile.  When cars were expensive, handmade playthings of the wealthy, roads, were few, far between, and largely wretched outside the cities, where they existed at all.  The normal “road” in the greater US in 1900 was a cow path or a wagon trail.  Early cars were as likely to be found driving along railroad tracks as anywhere else. 

And what happened next?  A huge federal road-building initiative? 

No!  Ford mass-produced the Model T, which brought the car financially into reasonable reach for working-class Americans.  Other auto makers followed suit. 

And then the roads got built: 

 

Moreover, the makers of autos, tires and headlights began building roads privately long before any state or the federal government got involved. The Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway for cars, pieced together from new and existing roads in 1913, was conceived and partly built by entrepreneurs—Henry Joy of Packard Motor Car Co., Frank Seiberling of Goodyear and Carl Fisher, a maker of headlights and founder of the Indy 500.

And this was the pattern for advance after advance in industry and “infrastructure”; the canal boat led to the government canal; the burgeoning steamship industry led to everything from seaports to the taming of the Mississippi; commerce, not Algore or even the Department of Defense, built the Internet. 

And the business in Thief River Falls which Governor Messinger’s budget apparatchik owed its existence to infrastructure?   Not only had they paid their fair share for the infrastructure that exists (more than their fair share, actually, given Minnesota’s business taxes) over the past 40 years, but it was the company’s existence that gave Thief River Falls the need for significant infrastructure in the first place. 

It’s time government – especially the arrogant, preening, narcissistic variety practiced by the DFL – learn its place.

The Death Of A Million Cuts

 When the DFL-controlled legislature started jacking up taxes, we tried to warn ‘em.  “North Dakota’s gonna eat Northwest Minnesota’s lunch”. 

But did they listen?

Pffft.  They know what “A Better Minnesota” means, peasant!

Oh, the left trotted out its talking heads.  “It’s really fairly marginal”, said the heads, snug in their academic offices in the Twin Cities.

One of the Marginal Ones up in Moorhead has had enough:

When service station owner Brady Olson decided politicians weren’t listening to him, he took to the airwaves to protest higher taxes that he said were cutting into his profits.

 

“Hi, I’m Brady from Brady’s Service,” he said in a 30-second radio spot. “Minnesota has quietly been turning my business in to a tax collection business.”…Olson and other business owners in northwest Minnesota say those higher taxes make it difficult for them to compete with businesses in North Dakota, where the booming economy has allowed legislators to cut taxes.

To a talking head in the Twin Cities – who, likely, has never run a business or made a payroll – it’s just nickels here, dimes there. 

But nickels and dimes add up:

 With Minnesota legislators recently deciding to increase cigarette taxes by $1.60 a pack, Olson said, “Now they’re in the well again.”

 

Olson was particularly critical of the higher cigarette tax, which on July 1 will be $2.83 a pack. North Dakota’s cigarette tax is 44 cents a pack.

 

As a result, Olson expects to lose a few customers. He said people who buy cigarettes in Fargo will likely buy gas there.

And the bottom line?: 

Olson said every tax increase makes it tougher for his family-owned business to compete with convenience stores a mile or two away in Fargo. He pointed to gasoline as a key example of taxes that make his profit margin smaller than that of a North Dakota business.

I did mention the academics, didn’t I? 

As Minnesota lawmakers struggle to pay for essential services while allowing companies to remain competitive with those in nearby low-tax states, a big question is whether such tax disparities can kill a business.

 

There’s not much evidence to support that, said David Flynn, an economist at the University of North Dakota.

 

“When it makes a difference, they move or they change their business tactic,” said Flynn, who has studied the border business climate. “When it doesn’t make a difference they complain, but we don’t see a noticeable change, a business shuttering the windows or anything of that sort.”

 

Flynn said taxes are generally not the key factor in where business locates. As an example, he cited Minnesota’s lack of a sales tax on clothing. Although North Dakota taxes clothing purchases, there are more clothing stores on the North Dakota side of the border.

And there’s the point that everyone (on the left) misses, always.

There’s more of everything on the North Dakota side.  Moorhead, Breckenridge and East Grand Forks are pale, wan little bedroom towns across the river from Fargo, Wahpeton and Grand Forks (respectively) that are booming, and have always far outstripped their Minnesota neighbors in employment, in business growth, in everything. 

In short, the point isn’t that the border doesn’t reflect the disparities today over taxes discussed last month; it reflects decades of different approaches to taxes and regulation, which the current session will exacerbate.

Read the whole thing – it’s from MPR’s Moorhead correspondent, and it does a decent job of stringing together the story, including the non-sequiturs from the apologists for the Minnesota system.

The Harvest Home (30th Anniversary)

I wrote this piece five years ago yesterday, on the 25th anniversary of what had to have been the most famous crime in North Dakota history, the Medina Shootout.

Not much has change for me, or the story, since then.  So while I usually don’t re-run pieces, I’m going to basically just update the piece from 2008.

———-

I was a 20 year old college kid working a grindingly-boring Sunday afternoon shift at KQDJ Radio in Jamestown, ND on February 13, 1983.

I was doing what I usually did on those boring Sunday shifts; playing records, doing homework, taking transmitter readings.

Then, the police scanner in the “newsroom” next door, which normally burbled with the desultory reports of DWIs and bar fights and traffic stops that make up the lives of most small town cops, suddenly erupted.  There’d been a shootout; officers were down; cops and sheriff’s deputies were being dispatched to Medina, a town of about 400 people about 35 miles west of Jamestown on I94.

It took hours to untangle the story, which became perhaps the most famous crime in North Dakota history, the Medina Shootout.

Two US Marshals, dispatched from Fargo to try to arrest a group of tax-protesters affiliated with the neo-Nazi-sympathetic “Posse Comitatus”, had been killed in the shootout that ensued.  Their leader, Gordon Kahl, and several others fled the scene.  The scanner reported ambulances on their way to the hospital in Jamestown bringing the wounded, which included Yorie Kahl, criticially injured by a gunshot; in one of the many ironies that day, Kahl’s life was saved by the doctor on duty in the Emergency Room that day, Dr. Evan Kostick, father of my high school pal David (himself a doctor today), and one of Jamestown’s tiny Jewish community.

The scene of the shootout when the first TV station, from Bismarck, arrived on the scene.

Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of the shootout.  The anniversary passed without much notice in the regional media.  Five years ago it was another matter; the Fargo Forum led the coverage; others from the Bismark Trib pitched in; former Forum staffer James Corcoran wrote “Bitter Harvest”, the definitive book on the event, relating not only the shootout and the apocalyptic trial of the survivors, but the social sturm und drang that the event caused on the Northern Plains.

———-

Times were brutally tough in the Dakotas in the early ’80s.  The rest of the US was slowly recovering from a recession; it’d be hard to call what happened on the Plains anything less than a depression.  What the foreclosure crisis is to the inner city today, the farm crisis of the ’80s was to the Great Plains.

The Medina water tower. The tower was there in 1983, although without the antennae.

Some farmers – and some of the workers whose livelihoods depended on agriculture, which in North Dakota back then accounted for pretty much every job in the place – did what human nature naturally bids some people to do; blame someone else.  And for some – like Kahl and a thin film of like-minded people – it wasn’t a big leap from “losing your farm to the bank” and “losing your farm to Jewish Bankers”.  The Times’ review of “Bitter Harvest” notes:

The book that turned his head at an early age was ”The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem,” and it was written by Henry Ford.

It is based on a 1918 treatise called ”The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which purported to be the minutes of a cabal of Russian Jews plotting to destroy Christianity and the white race and take over the world. Ford wrote ”The International Jew” in 1920, and it was not until 1929 that he finally conceded that ”The Protocols” was a fabrication concocted by czarist Russian anti-Semites.

Even so, as a young man in the 1940′s, Mr. Kahl believed it totally. He had considerable encouragement. He came of age at a time when the velvet voice of the Rev. Charles Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest who reached into almost as many homes with his weekly radio show as Fred Allen, broadcast some of the nastiest anti-Semitic propaganda ever heard on the airwaves; when Gerald L. K. Smith established the Jew-baiting Christian Nationalist Crusade in Arkansas and gained a national following, and when Gerald Winrod, an apocalyptic fundamentalist preacher in central Kansas gained tens of thousands of adherents to a movement that came to be known as the Jayhawk Nazis.

Winrod’s son, George Gordon Winrod, kept the ministry alive.  I remember his followers leaving corrosively anti-semitic leaflets under the windshield wipers of cars in the church parking lot when I was in ninth grade.

Nobody in my circle bought into it, of course – but we all knew people for whom it rang true.  There was an audience, out there.

And they – like Kahl – weren’t necessarily easily identifiable:

When Mr. Kahl came home from World War II, he was 25 years old, and he was regarded as a hero. He had shot down 10 enemy planes as a turret gunner on B-25′s, and he had won the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, two air medals, a Presidential unit citation and two Purple Hearts. That was not all the metal he brought home. Surgeons never did get out all the shrapnel he took in the jaw, chest and hip.

Kahl in World War 2

So the combination of hard times and ready scapegoats found some adherents.

———-

Kahl escaped that day; with two federal agents dead, the federal law-enforcement machinery sprung into place.  Two blocks from the house where my father still lives in Jamestown, in Stutsman County’s then-brand-new courthouse, the FBI and an alphabet soup of other federal law-enforcement agencies set up their command post; local hotels were jammed with brusque men and women in sharp suits and/or, occasionally, battledress utilities.

Kahl

And they were not happy.  Rumors began to circulate; the Feds were tramping about the prairie with big, nasty boots; they were conducting no-knock raids, presuming the locals guilty until proven innocent, acting like a hostile occupying power – or so said the rumors.

The previous summer, I’d worked at KDAK, a little station in Carrington, a town of about 2,000 about 40 miles north of Jamestown.   The station had also just hired a new “News Director”, a pretty mid-20-something named Peggy Polreis who’d just come from Carrington’s newspaper.  One of my jobs had been to make her broadcast-worthy.  I did a good job.

One day, a few days after the shootout, Peggy got a tip from a source that the Feds were going to search a farmhouse near nearby Fessenden.  She arrived on the scene to find that the press were being cordoned away from a farmhouse located a solid half-mile up the road, behind a shelter belt.

Peggy slipped away from the group, and crawled – so the story went – a quarter of a mile along the shelter belt, keeping out of sight of the cops.  She was, apparently, the only non-cop to see what happened.

The police – and, as I recall, a North Dakota National Guard armored personnel carrier – had surrounded the farmhouse.  A dog darted from an outbuilding; a policeman shot the dog dead.  The gunshot sparked more gunfire, and before long the farmhouse was completely riddled with bullet holes.  Finally, the police moved in…

This is a photo, as I recall, from the search near Fessenden. That’s an M-114 Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle on the right, a ND National Guard vehicle that was pretty much the only armored vehicle in the state at the time that wasn’t intended to carry cash.

…to discover the farmhouse empty.

It was one of many incidents that angered, and occasionally alienated, the locals from the Feds.

———-

How you look at the events of that winter (and the ensuing spring and summer, when the manhunt for Kahl led to a final shootout in Arkansas that left Kahl and another Christian Identity supporter dead) depends on who, and where, you were back then.

If you were a local, you knew that North Dakotans tend to be good, law-abiding people; they’ve voted Republican in pretty much every Presidential election since statehood, making them marginally less conservative than Utah.  And yet the Posse, and Christian Identity, found recruits and adherents – and it was no mystery why.  Radical fringes were no stranger to the plains; the Non-Partisan League, the Grangers, the Bund and other fevered activists had gestated in the area in response to other crises since the 1890′s.

The seven Kahl case defendants

So we weren’t surprised that some of the locals were sympathetic.  It was a minority – a small one – but it drew attention.  One of them even wrote and recorded – on a home cassette player, I think – a song praising and rooting for Kahl, during the manhunt and before the final fatal shootout in Arkansas.  It got a little play – mostly from news organizations who were reporting on the acceptance Kahl, the Posse and other extremists got from the area.

If you weren’t from the area, and didn’t understand it, it must have seemed odd.  And maybe a little scary.

———-

Hollywood certainly knows nothing of the area, and understands less about it.  But that didn’t stop it from making a made-for-TV movie, based rather loosely on Bitter Harvest, in 1991.  Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas starred Rod Steiger as Kahl, andMichael “Family Ties” Gross as an FBI agent from New York who flew to the state to help solve the crime.

The show got the basic facts right; the names, the places (most of the show was putatively set in Jamestown), the timeline (sort of).

But the Hollywood take on the area, and the locals, was bemusingly warped.  Part of it was the Central Casting version of small-town people; although North Dakota is a place where you can hear the Fargo accent (“Yah, sure, you betcha”) in a hundred little main street cafes and bars, the show had the local farmers speaking with cornpone Arklahoma drawls.  The locals, to Hollywood, were out of Gomer Pyle or, given the sinistry of the subject matter, maybe Deliverance.

Rod Steiger as Kahl, during the shootout scene.

Worse?  While there was support for Kahl (and even more criticism of the Feds’ heavy-handedness, arrogance, and occasional contempt for due process in the way they carried out the manhunt in the immediate wake of the shootout), Manhunt in the Dakotas showed something that was almost an active guerilla movement, with rocks and shots aimed at passing police cars, threats, Gross (and Larry Hunt as “Chief Walters”, a composite and sympathetic Jamestown police chief) being harrassed while driving in the countryside, and – in the movie’s climactic scene – the two walking, nervous, down “Jamestown”‘s main street as the “local radio station” played the pro-Kahl song (with a cheery intro from the DJ), both of them keenly aware of the hateful gazes of the locals (by now all of them seemingly Kahl-sympathizers) boring through them both, as if they were fully-bedsheeted Klansmen scurrying through Compton.

“Main Street in Jamestown”, from “Manhunt in the Dakotas”. Note the 1986 Honda Civic wagon inserted into a story set in 1982. Also note the movie theatre – and I’ll point out the relative lack of local significance to “The Alamo” in rural North Dakota. Perhaps that’s why all the “Locals” in the movie had Arklahoma accents.

It was crap, of course, factually (no station in the state played the song, except as news) as well as socially (Jamestown is a college town of 16,000 that hosts a state hospital, and a school for the profoundly disabled, where Kahl had little traction; Kahl’s base of support was out on the isolated drift prairie).  But it was interesting, seeing how inscrutable “flyover land” was to the people who actually produce these things, and the almost-superstitious fear the place engenders.

———-

That part of North Dakota is a huge place in terms of the land and the sky; the human geography is much smaller.  In the 27-odd years since I left the place, whenever I meet other expats, it’s hard to go more than thirty seconds without finding a common acquaintance.

It’s the same with events.  Besides Dr. Kostick, and Peggy Polreis, I knew Darrell Graf – Medina’s police chief at the time (and Graf has actually turned up on this blog) and people in his family.  Scott Kopp was another – a guy I remember as a Stutsman County deputy who lost a finger from a Kahl shot that could have done much worse.  Another guy – a Medina cop who was on the periphery of the action – was my friend’s sister’s boyfriend (and, the last I checked, husband of about twenty-five years).

The internet can make you acquainted with even more people.  Scott Faul – one of the Posse members who was arrested, tried and did prison time for his role in the shootout – had a blog, although it hasn’t been updated since the first time this piece ran.

Thirty years is a long time, even out there.  But memories are longer still.

Slouching Toward Hawley

First things first: Charlie Quimby of “Growth and Justice” and Dave Mindeman of MnpACT are two of a small, select set of Minnesota liberal bloggers who needn’t be under police surveillance or at the very least restraining orders.  I’m just giving credit where it’s due (although the idea that a group can be named “Growth and Justice” yet still stand for neither is just a tad bemusing).

But over this past week, both of them assailed Rep. Pat Garofalo’s statement on this past week’s “TPT Almanac” program; the Lakeville Republican claimed, in what struck me as a bit of hyperbole, that the broadening of the state’s sales tax to cover clothing will “destroy” border communities like Moorhead.

Always on the lookout for hyperbole to dissect, Mindeman and Quimby were on the job pronto.

Quimby was – as is his unfortunate wont – dismissive, in a post subtitled “Do We Believe Our Lying Eyes?”

Back in 2007 when Growth & Justice was presenting its Invest for Real Prosperity tax proposals to the legislature, I recall a member waxing nostalgically about his parents hauling the family across the North Dakota border to buy untaxed clothing in Minnesota.

The point of his anecdote was that if Minnesota lowered its sales tax and broadened its tax base—as economists recommend—this lucrative cross-border school clothing traffic would dry up, with terrible consequences for Minnesota’s border city retailers.

We’re hearing a version of the same tale…This week, Rep. Pat Garofalo objected on TPT’s Almanac: At the Capitol. He reported that a North Dakota Democrat was proposing eliminating the state’s tax on clothing as a form of tax relief.

“Retail businesses in border communities like Moorhead will be destroyed,” Garofalo said, attracting blogger Dave Mindeman’s skeptical response:

Mindeman interspersed some facts with the snark (which is to his style what dismissal is to Quimby’s) in his piece, noting – correctly – that North Dakota has a 5% sales tax, onto which Grand Forks and Fargo lard 2% in city sales taxes.

Oh my God….how would Minnesota compete?…Garofalo loves that flaming rhetoric doesn’t he?

Fact: North Dakota sales tax is currently 5.0%. Fargo, ND which is the booming ND metropolis across the river from Moorhead adds a 2% city tax. So here is the facts. Under Dayton’s tax proposal, Moorhead (which adds no city tax) would be 5.5%. Fargo would charge 7.0% Clothing may be exempt in the future, but Moorhead will still have clothing under $100 exempt as well.

And like most DFLers, Mindeman, like Quimby, can’t resist taking a homer shot at the Dakotas:

But let’s suppose North Dakota finally drops its state clothing tax just when the gap with Minnesota is closing.

Then what? Will Minnesota border towns really suffer? Were North Dakota retailers in the thriving cities of Fargo and Grand Forks suffering in silence all these years?

To which Quimby assents – with, to be fair, an actual study with real numbers:

As the Minnesota legislator said in that 2007 hearing, should I believe you or my lying eyes?…Looking at the literature studying economic activity in response to sales tax rates, I found research that supports the following points:

Response to differences in the sales tax depends on proximity of border communities. In other words, the farther you have to drive to avoid the tax, the less likely you are to do so.

How much does distance matter? A 2010 Utah study of local option sales taxes PDF* that investigated distance as a variable found increasing the tax rate lowers taxable sales (all else held equal) when there is a jurisdiction with a lower tax rate within 5 km, or about three miles. The effect disappears altogether within about 40 miles. This is to be expected for low-cost goods and everyday commodities. But it also appears to hold for expensive major purchases such as new or used automobiles.

All of that may be true.

But the effects of an individual tax like the Sales Tax, and its nuts ‘n bolts comparison with other sales taxes, while potentially interesting and certainly economics-class-fodder, are the trees that help you miss the forest.

For the real comparison between the states’ tax burdens – not just sales taxes, mind you, but taxes across the board – you need to ask yourself a key question:

“What did I see last time I went to the Moorhead/Fargo area?”  Or you could fill in the “East Grand Forks / Grand Forks area”, or the “Breckenridge / Wahpeton” area, or for that matter the “Worthington/Sioux Falls” metro area?

For starters, you’d know they’re called “Fargo/Moorhead”, and “Grand Forks/East Grand Forks”, “Wahpeton/Breckenridge” and “Sioux Falls”.  Because in every case, the North/South Dakota side is where the action is.

And it’s not just force of habit; it’s not even close.  The Minnesota sides of each of these metro areas (or clusters, in the case of Wop/Breck) are sleepy, moribund and dismal out of all proportion to their North Dakota neighbors.  They’re not competitors in any meaningful way.  They are all sleepy little bedroom communities with highway exits; whatever commerce, dynamism and action is happening in the area is happening west of the Red (or the Bois de Sioux, or County 17, as the case may be).

Forty years of wide tax disparity – Minnesota has the #7 overall tax burden in the US, while North and South Dakota are 35 and 49, respectively) has left a clear choice to all of those places; move west, and keep more of what you have.  The choice was more nuanced, of course, 40 years ago – when North Dakota was a sleepy agrarian backwater.  Today, with my home state an economic dynamo in both energy and technology, things are a little clearer-cut.  And at any rate – as noted by Quimby and Mindeman – fluctuations in the sales tax, or any individual tax, are background noise to the larger effect of decades of disparity; the Dakotas have better business climates; while the western 3/4 of both states are limited by their sparse populations (which is why working on the rigs out in the Bakken pays so very very well), but Fargo, Sioux Falls and Grand Forks are all well-developed cities with young, highly-educated populations and, at least in North Dakota, K-12 schools that are as good as or better than those in Minnesota.

So once you take a step back and stop the pointillistic crabbling about this remark or that individual tax rate, you see that the real issue is the long-term effects overall tax burdens have.  As the Dakotas prosper more generally and gain more people and – as seems to be their goal – turn more of that prosperity into tax relief, that disparity is only going to get starker.

Put briefly – the reforms of the sales tax won’t destroy Moorhead, because tax policies took care of that forty years ago.  There’s really not that much to destroy.  It’d be like harming business in Saint Anthony compared to Minneapolis; who’d know?

So here’s another question:  Up until 2 years ago, Wisconsin was addled by governments more dementedly “progressive”, as a rule, than ours.  That changed in 2010, right about the time Minnesota seemed to have some hope of shucking off some more of the dross of DFL legislative control.  Now, as NPR noted last week – in a report I’ll be going over later this week – Minnesota’s economy is stronger as a whole than Wisconsin’s.  But the improvement in Wisconsin since 2008 is dramatic;it’s improving fast, bouncing back from decades of neo-socialist perfidy.  What’s going to happen in Minnesota?

What do you think?  We’re raising taxes in the middle of a recession!  What happened in California, Illinois and France?

That said – we won’t know what’s going to happen until things tamp down for a while.  Will Minnesota’s government remain the shiny toy of Alida Messinger’s band of plutocrat dabblers and union fixers?  Will Republicans retain control in Wisconsin?  If so, give it a few years.  Then we’ll check back.

As to Fargo versus Moorhead?  That train left the station decades ago.  Changing the sales tax one way or another is just bouncing the rubble, as it were.

The Heartland Strategy

Romney/Ryan, running to peel the “Midwest” away from the Democrats?

A rout of the Democrats along the Great Lakes would be huge not only electorally, but also culturally.

It would marginalize the party as a group of arugula-munching, latte-sipping elites who enjoy their ocean views and heedlessly live off the fat of the land (many on the taxpayers’ dime) as lawyers, journalists, college professors, government employees and entitlement recipients — while the rest of the interior labors to pay the bill and suffers the “regulation” of distant, unaccountable bureaucrats.

In other words, the Heartland Campaign is not simply about Electoral College votes. It’s also a way to frame the Democrats as the out-of-touch party of the status quo — i.e., Big Government — at a time when Big Government has so signally failed the average American.

If it works — and if a Romney administration can successfully grapple with the debt bomb, the entitlement crisis and growing government dependency — it could set back the Democrats’ prospects for years to come.

Which brings us back to Eastwood. In such films as “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and “High Plains Drifter,” he’s the embodiment of rugged, rebellious heartland values.

And those cranky, cantankerous, all-American voters are just who Romney & Ryan need to defeat the coastal elites and return America to its heartland roots.

If it works, and R&R crush in the heardland, leaving the left clinging to the coasts and their suppurating outposts in Chicago, the Twin Cities and Madison/Milwaukee?  Expect to see a lot of mid-November prate and gabble from lefties about coastal secession.

North Dakotans In The Mist

As I’ve noted over the years, I was born, grew up and went to college in North Dakota.  I left when I was 22 – largely because everything I really wanted to do with my life involved one kind of city or another.  At that time, “things I wanted to do with my life” mostly included “have a band and take a shot at making it in a city with a decent music scene” – but over time, everything else I ended up wanting to do tended to involve living in a major city as well.

In 1985, North Dakota was in pretty dire straits.  The state had a lot in common with Minneapolis and Saint Paul, back then; it was in the throes of the deflation of a huge real estate bubble, in this case a bubble in the price of farm land which had led an awful lot of farmers to over-borrow, which led to a huge wave of foreclosures when the bubble finally burst.  Foreclosures zoomed, unemployment soared, the whole US agriculture industry reeled (no state more than North Dakota, which was at the time more dependent on agriculture than any state in the union).  The farm crisis of the eighties took place in the fly-overiest of America’s flyover lands, and so left only a few marks on the larger American psyche – some good, some pretty awful.

The state learned a few lessons from the eighties (which also included a brief boom and long bust in the oil market; the Oil Embargo in the seventies caused a brief burst of drilling in the western part of the state, which led to some rapid expansion and equally rapid contraction when the price of oil dropped the below the point where North Dakota oil made economic sense).

Of course, times have changed in my home state.  The place is floating in oil, and money to boot.  And that money is going to a lot of things – and infrastructure isn’t as high on the list as some (MPR) seem to think it should be.  There’s method to the madness, of course; during the first oil boom, North Dakota built all kinds of infrastructure that wasn’t needed when the boom shriveled.  While this boom may not shrivel in the same way, the state also knows that there’s a pattern to oil booms; the first ten or twenty years is the Boomtown phase, with hordes of workers drilling exploratory rigs all over the place.  Once all the exploring is done, and things switch over to production mode?  There’s still lots of oil, jobs and money – but it’s not the same.  It’s steadier. And a lot of the “boom” will move on to the next boomtown, wherever that is.  And the infrastructure needs will be very different.

Still, it’s very different than when other NYTimes columnists were calling for the state to be evacuated and handed back to nature – the infamous “Buffalo Commons”.

Our nation’s idiot media “elite” have never known what to make of the place.

I bring it up because the New York Times is writing about North Dakota again.  Gail Collins, as trifling and meringue-y a columnist as Maureen Dowd,  h paid the state a visit recently, and wrote a column that TMZ might have rejected as too shallow and caricature-worthy:

Right now you are probably asking yourself: “What would it be like to live in a place with an unemployment rate of 1 percent?”

Me, too! So I went to Williston, N.D., to find out. There are certain things that journalists do as a public service because you, the noble reader, are probably not going to do them for yourself — like attending charter revision meetings or reading the autobiography of Tim Pawlenty.

Or take Gail Collins seriously.

But she gets a key fact straight; there are jobs out in oil country:

Going to Williston is sort of in this category. The people are lovely, but you’re talking about a two-hour drive from Minot.

If you did come, however, you would feel really, really wanted. Radio ads urged me to embark on a new career as a bank teller, laborer, railroad conductor or cake decorator. The local Walmart has a big sign up, begging passers-by to consider starting their lives anew in retail sales. The Bakken Region Recruiter lists openings in truck driving, winch operating and canal maintenance work, along with ads for a floral designer, bartender, public defender, loan officer, addiction counselor and sports reporter. All in an area where the big city has a population of around 16,000.

There’s an oil boom…Williston’s median income, which was under $30,000 when the serious drilling started, has jumped to well over $50,000 a year…“It’s a place of opportunity,” says E. Ward Koeser, the genial head of a local communications company who has also been Williston’s part-time mayor for the last 18 years. A waitress at a restaurant that Koeser patronizes recently told him that she made $400 in tips on a single night. “Although I’m sure that’s not the norm,” he added hastily.

(As someone who used to work in part for tips in ND, it sure isn’t.  I drove an airport van for a hotel.  You could always tell when someone visited from New York or LA; I’d get a $5 tip for driving and hauling the bags.  Minneapolis?  A couple of bucks.  North Dakotans?  Nothing.  Or a quarter.  And that was meant to be a good tip).

You are probably wondering about the downside.

Indeed, if you’re in the MSM, you’re obsessing about it.  This is wealth not bestowed by government; there just has to be a dark side to it all!

Obviously there has to be one, or you and I would already have moved to Williston, or at least taken up a collection to send unemployed college graduates.

We’ll come back to that.

You would expect that, as population and incomes rose, new stores, theaters and restaurants would follow. But, in Williston, they haven’t. Lanny Gabbert, a science teacher at the high school, says his students yearn for a mall where they could shop, “but the closest thing is Walmart.” The most ambitious restaurants would be classified under the heading of “casual dining,” and the fast food is not fast, given the lunchtime lines that can stretch out for 20 minutes or more. Neither retailers nor restaurateurs are interested in investing in a place where they have to compete with the oil fields to attract workers.

So the “downside” is that relatively great wealth hasn’t brought a Rodeo Drive to Williston.

OK, fair enough.  Let’s continue.

Housing costs in Williston, N.D., are approaching those in New York City. Many of the oil workers stash their families back wherever they came from, and live in “man camps,” some of which resemble giant stretches of storage units.

“The man camps — I call them the necessary evil,” said Koeser, who added, apologetically, “that’s a little derogatory.”

If the place you love can’t quite climb out of the recession, think of this as consolation. At least you’re not living in a man camp and waiting half an hour in line for a Big Mac.

Which is as excellent a metaphor for Obama’s America, the America of Planet Upper West Side, as there is; better to have amenities than a job – even a job in a place that may not be up the street from Fifth Avenue or the Mall of America.

Not-Obama America?   I know guys who wake up in West Saint Paul on Sunday morning, drive all day to Williston, make a ton of money, and drive home after work Thursday.  I know guys – my sister’s husband among ‘em – who spend two weeks driving a truck in oil country and a week at home, because it’s where the money is and a great way to blast that nest egg to the next level.  People who, by desire or by necessity, have taken the recession by the horns and done what needs to be done to keep themselves and their families not just above water, but in the black at a time when the likes of Gail Collins are sniveling about their friends’ brats who just graduated from Bard College with an art degree and somehow can’t find a job with a hedge fund.

(Via North Dakota’s official blogger, and my Mom’s neighbor, Rob Port)

You’ll Never Know Which Way To Look, You’ll Never Hear Us

Scott Walker, and America – real America – win.

It’s not even close.  As this is written, it’s 58-42, with 52% reporting.

It brought things to mind:

Lament!

And the Democrats, with their plutocrat supporters and smug union leader fatcat commissars gathering around them, have to know that this is not a good omen for the fall.

Because this was a victory for regular private sector working people – the backbone of this economy.

This was a victory for the Tea Party – which has moved from carrying signs to working at the grass roots and winning elections.

This was a victory for conservatism.

The Democrats would have you believe this was a victory for money.  Of course, money always wins elections; that’s why Michael Huffington and John Corzine are sitting in office today.

No.  This was a victory for the people; for real America.

And we’re not done.