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Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, Oct. 20, 2015
A change north of the border
While U.S. politics is gearing up for what threatens to be — and, indeed, has already become — another long, noisy presidential election cycle, a big change has occurred north of the border. This could impact America in some key ways.
Canada’s national parliamentary elections were held Monday, and the 10-year reign of conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper came crashing to an end as Liberals swept to an outright majority, propelling charismatic Justin Trudeau, the 43-year-old son of former PM Pierre Trudeau, to the top post.
It’s easy at this juncture to compare Trudeau’s surprise victory to the rise of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency in 2008.
Trudeau ran on a campaign of hope (and, by inference, change) against an entrenched conservative government that had warned of uncertainties and risks with the relatively inexperienced Trudeau. As the Liberals surged in recent weeks, “Trudeaumania” swept across Canada, and that tide became an electoral tsunami.
Not unlike Obama, Trudeau ran on a platform of middle-class tax cuts while raising taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent. He also promised to raise government deficits — yes, this is a different country completely — in order to stimulate a sluggish national economy and generate infrastructure repairs.
One area that must be watched — especially by the U.S. — is environmental policy.
Harper has been the bane of environmentalists for his aggressive pro-oil policies. He withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and has been accused of “muzzling” federal scientists who were at odds with his policies, according to Scientific American. Trudeau’s triumph may indicate Canada will shift gears toward cleaner energy and more movement on climate change issues.
Paul Bledsoe, a former climate change official for President Bill Clinton, stated that Trudeau’s win sends “a strong signal, ahead of (the upcoming United Nations climate change conference in Paris) and to Republicans in the U.S., that climate inaction is increasingly becoming a losing political strategy even in developed countries with large fossil fuel resources. A Trudeau government is also likely to push national carbon pricing, increasing both opportunities for U.S. states to combine carbon markets with Canada and the potential of a pan-North-American carbon market.”
Nevertheless, the message moving forward remained unclear.
Trudeau and the Liberals generally favor TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which has become such a contentious and hyperbolic issue in the U.S. Liberals, who do say they want more stringent standards for clean energy, blame Harper for pushing the Keystone pipeline so hard that it created a backlash among environmentalists that has damaged the project.
However, some environmentalists are skeptical that Monday’s results will result in a wholesale change in policy. A scandal erupted in the waning days of the campaign when it was learned that top Liberal adviser (and Trudeau national co-chair) was on TransCanada’s payroll providing advice to the company about another tar sands pipeline slated for eastern Canada. The adviser has since resigned. Also, a top environmental scientist Trudeau consulted about climate policy wound up dismissing the Liberal leader as a “twerp” and accusing the Liberals of being “all over the damn map” when it came to the Alberta tar sands.
So, this could be fun to watch.
Finally, one issue that may impact Americans the most is America itself.
One of Trudeau’s major talking points during the heated campaign was that Harper had allowed Canada’s relationship with the U.S. to sour, and the new PM vows to change that.
“It’ll be one of my most crucial priorities to begin once again having a productive and constructive relationship with our closest ally and neighbor,” he declared.
Such an attitude — if it can be cultivated by both sides — could prove very productive, especially on issues, such as the climate, that are very important to both nations. This will be an interesting story to watch unfold.
Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Oct. 11, 2015
Thorough investigation of GEAR UP needed
Once again, the state’s executive branch finds itself under scrutiny after a tragic loss of life. Let’s hope state residents feel more satisfied this time after the investigations run their course.
Once again, the central issue appears to revolve around the dollar. OK, make that millions of dollars, which means the stakes are high — again.
It was on Oct. 20, 2013, when Richard Benda reportedly placed the barrel of a shotgun to his stomach and used a branch to push the trigger and take his own life. His death shed light on South Dakota’s murky EB-5 program, which collected millions of dollars from foreigners to invest in projects like the Northern Beef Packers Plant in Aberdeen, which went bankrupt and sits idle today.
Many felt the investigations revealed little about how the EB-5 program operated, where the investors’ money was spent or who profited from a former government program that was privatized and run by two former state officials in concert with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
The state is now launching an investigation into its GEAR UP program. Questions are being raised after a Platte man reportedly killed his wife, their four children and then himself hours after learning the state would not award a $4.3 million grant to the Mid Central Education Cooperative.
As the town of Platte mourned the loss of the family, the news about how Scott Westerhuis, the cooperative’s longtime business manager, distributed GEAR UP money opened another window into how business apparently can be conducted in our state capitol.
GEAR UP is funded by the federal Department of Education and aims to get more low-income American Indian students into post-secondary education. In South Dakota, those funds were awarded to Mid Central Education Cooperative by the state Department of Education, which oversees the program.
According to one published report, the state has received around $16 million over the past decade for GEAR UP. It was how that money was spent and the apparent lack of accountability that is raising red flags.
Since the tragedy in Platte, the state has acknowledged that the cooperative was not required to report the number of students who went on to a post-secondary institution. Westerhuis simply had to submit invoices for expenses that included payments of thousands of dollars to former state education officials who were members of a Native American education advisory committee formed in 2012 by State Education Secretary Melody Schoop.
The men were paid from GEAR UP funds. Former state Secretary of Education Rick Melmer was paid $1,000 a month and former state Native American education director Keith Moore received $4,000 a month for their services.
A Rapid City man, Stacy Phelps, meanwhile, resigned earlier this month from the Board of Education after it was learned he was a partner with Westerhuis in nonprofit and business ventures that received GEAR UP funds.
In the wake of the EB-5 debacle, it is imperative that Gov. Dennis Daugaard order a vigorous investigation to determine what happened to the millions of dollars spent on the GEAR UP program and then hold those responsible for the poor oversight. It also needs to be done in a public manner.
If he does not, it will only raise more questions about the governor’s commitment to transparency and what really happens in the halls of the state capitol — again.
The Volante, Vermillion, Oct. 19, 2015
First Amendment protection must continue for chalking on campus
When someone visits the University of South Dakota and sees the Al Neuharth Media Center, they will see the words of the First Amendment proudly displayed on the outside of the building.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Freedom of speech has been upheld time and time again to be a universal standard by which we govern our society in the U.S.
People of the left-winged and right-winged political parties seem to fundamentally agree that persons should be allowed to speak their mind as they see fit.
Some universities throughout the country have tried to limit this freedom of speech to certain areas known as “free-speech zones.”
The very notion of a “free-speech zone” asserts that a person’s free speech rights do not extend past the boundaries set by the university.
Public universities are paid for by tax dollars and, as an extension of that fact, should be public domain.
Basically, since public universities are collectively owned by the tax-payers, they should ensure that there is no barrier to free speech anywhere on campus.
Recently, sidewalk chalkings around campus concerning pro-life and pro-choice have sparked debate and ignited passions for several causes.
Reviews of the student body range from vitriol against those that chalked up the sidewalks to admiration for the time and energy that was put into accomplishing this task.
No matter where one stands on any kind of issue being advocated for, it is essential that we come together and recognize that students have a right to chalk.
Chalking is protected speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution. Any attempt by the school administration to limit the chalking or confine it to certain areas and certain times of the year would be an infringement on the rights of these students.
Debate is good. Debate sparks action. Debate ignites passions. Debate should not be squashed in any way.
The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that even the vilest and hateful speech like the slogans of the Westboro Baptist Church is protected speech and must be allowed under the law.
Other rulings have determined that political contributions and flag burning are also protected speech.
The university has a duty to uphold the law as determined by our Supreme Court and legislators.
The university should be a place where students can advocate for causes they believe to be just and proper.
In this case, the chalk messages do at least have some level of support among the American populace.
The university must continue to ensure that the right to chalk around campus and advocate for causes is absolute and not infringed upon.