To the editor:
Some of your readers may view this as a typical two-part letter from someone who has been issued a traffic ticket. #1 Complain about the ticket. #2 Complain about the law enforcement officer involved. You be the judge.
On a gloomy morning some days ago, I was lost on the back roads north of Vermillion searching for Spirit Mound. My wife and I were returning from a cross-country trip following the Lewis and Clark Trail, and we wanted to visit some of the sites we had skipped westbound due to the oppressive heat at the time.
I came across University Avenue, whose name seemed incongruous with the rural setting. I turned south in an effort to get back on the map. I drove on slowly for several miles, expecting to see a large mound rising out of the plain. Suddenly, filling my field of vision through the mist and fog was an array of brightly colored dancing lights. I came to an abrupt halt. I was not only lost, I was now confused. Had I found Spirit Mound? Was I seeing the little Deavels that Native Americans had once feared?
I was jolted back to reality when a large truck roared by in front of me. I was back on the map, at the intersection with Highway 50. The lights were from a large, outdoor electronic message board, possibly associated with, as promised, the university just across the highway. I turned west looking for Highway 19, which would take me to mydestination.
I now became aware I was being followed at some distance by a law enforcement vehicle. You know the feeling. As I saw the signs ahead at Highway 19 and prepared to turn, the vehicle closed quickly, with lights flashing, and I was pulled over. The young highway patrolman told me I had "rolled through that last stop sign a little too fast," and I would be ticketed for the violation. I protested, respectfully. I was lost and confused. I had stopped, looked at a map, the fog, the dancing lights, etc, etc. The officer, somewhat disrespectfully, seemed amused and gave me a "tell it to the judge"
response. He then sought to engage me in unprofessional banter as he wrote the ticket. I felt especially vulnerable since I was not only an out-of-state transient, I had misplaced my driver's license. The dispatcher quickly verified that all was in order. As I signed the ticket, I asked the officer why he followed me for so long before stopping me � at least two miles from the site of the "alleged" violation. The officer was now not amused. He had probably broken some rule about following someone after observing a violation in an effort to entice multiple violations. I rationalized that this incident was just one those things you chalk up to that well known bumper sticker category "STUFF" HAPPENS, and move on.
But more "STUFF" was about to happen. As I drove north, I was startled to discover the officer was now stalking me. In my mirror, I could get glimpses of his patrol car just at a rise in the road or beyond a curve. He may had been following me since I took the wrong exit off the interstate. I decreased to a very low speed to force the officer to either reveal his intentions or give up this surreptitious nonsense. The officer now accelerated, without flashing lights, and closed at a very high speed. I now felt threatened. Was he going to run me off the road, or worse?
My wife and I were being assaulted by a South Dakota State Highway Patrolman. At the very last moment the officer swerved around, and with a grin and a wave, sped off into the distance. I have no life experience to compare with this encounter. I can only recall accounts given by Yankee tourists, African-Americans, and other targets of abuse by some red-neck deputy sheriff in the pre-civil-rights South, where I grew up.
But was I not now in the heartland of 21st century Middle America. You tell me.
We finally arrived at Spirit Mound. There we were met by a most pleasant and informative gentleman who was doing some landscaping work around the park. He told us about all the recent work, particularly with grasses and other plants, that had been made in the effort to return the site to its condition of 200 years ago when some of the Corps of Discovery stopped by.
I also learned that the top of the mound in one of only a very few spots on the entire Lewis and Clark Trail where
it is known with certainty that both captains stood together at the same place at the same time. I have made inquiries and a cursory search of local Web sites, and I can find no information that would indicate my unpleasant time in the Vermillion area was anything other than an isolated incident.
But, to my fellow Lewis and Clark enthusiasts, I must say that as you proceed on the Trail into South Dakota, be very, very cautious. Some of the little Deavels you encounter may not dwell on Spirit Mound.
It's about subsidies
To the editor:
My guest commentary of a few weeks ago suggesting that subsidies to ethanol are excessive provoked a number of responses, some to me personally and at least one on these editorial pages. Most comments fit into one of two categories, 1) I exaggerate the public subsidies to ethanol in South Dakota, and 2) the oil industry is more heavily subsidized than the ethanol industry.
South Dakota ethanol has enjoyed three kinds of subsidies: 1) an exemption from the federal excise tax on motor fuel, the exemption currently amounting to 51 cents per gallon of ethanol, 2) an exemption, currently 20 cents per gallon of ethanol, from the South Dakota excise tax on motor fuel, and 3) a producer credit or 20 cents per gallon to South Dakota produced ethanol, subject to a number of restrictions. The third subsidy has varied between 30 cents per gallon produced in 1989 and 1.4 cents per gallon produced in fiscal 2005. These three subsidies currently sum to about 70 cents per gallon.
Responses to my essay that detail subsidies to the oil industry are, by and large, well taken. My criticisms of subsidies are general, applying to all subsidized commodities. Yet it is good to know that while oil subsidies are large in the aggregate, for the past 20 years they have averaged about 12 cents per gallon of oil. Further, the proper response to oil industry subsidies is not to subsidize ethanol too, but to eliminate the subsidy to oil.
No one should be surprised or puzzled by economic criticisms of a subsidy. One of the standard beginning exercises in microeconomics is to demonstrate the benchmark case of subsidies costing more than they are worth.
An informed public should also understand that most "economic impact" studies, popular in the ethanol industry, are not capable of justifying much of anything. If nectar from petunias were subsidized at $100 per ounce, I suppose there would be all kinds of jobs and incomes "created," leading the Petunia Growers Association to talk a great deal about "economic impact" and "value added." But few other than petunia growers would think the subsidy worthwhile.
Finally, I like ethanol; I buy a lot of it. But that is a far cry from supporting excessive subsidies and mandates, which should be opposed on principle. Ultimately, it's not about ethanol; it's about subsidies.
Dennis A. Johnson, Ph.D.
Professor emeritus of economics