The Republic of Awesome

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What is the Republic of Awesome?

Rural Politics. Agriculture. Environment.

Geographically the ROA is the Midwest and the Great Plains, but some of the Mountain West too. Philosophically its more a collection of contradictions spawned when frontier independence collides with politics and greed.

The ROA is a place where “conservatives” froth at Obamacare but champion federal ethanol mandates and farm subsidies. A place where ranchers are celebrated for refusing to pay for grazing their cattle on public land and sparking a near violent clash with law enforcement while hungry children and veterans on food stamps are considered “moochers.”

It’s a place planted with a sea of laboratory-approved, genetically-modified corn, but the science behind man-made climate change is considered a hoax.

The ROA is a place of staggering wild beauty, big skies and abundant natural resources that are under constant assault by polluters and profiteers.

The Republic of Awesome is also not-coincidently the name of my new novel.

Why me?

I have a deep interest in rural politics and how they interact with food and agriculture. At no other time has the way our food is grown, sold and consumed been so intertwined with our political process.

From running the kitchen at a hunting lodge, to farm country political campaigns, to federal agriculture and environmental policy work in Washington, D.C., I’ve been professionally involved in theses issues for the past fifteen years.

And now I’m blogging at the ROA while helping manage my family’s South Dakota farm.

Rural Politics. Agriculture. Environment.

Thank you for your time.

Don Carr

The Sanford Pheasant


Picture via SDGFP

My home state of South Dakota is famous for its ringneck pheasant hunting. It’s a statewide tradition every fall that also brings in hordes of out of state hunters. In high school it didn’t matter what your interests were, nearly everyone took to the fields after class.

Pheasant hunting is also big bucks for small businesses like hunting lodges, restaurants and gas stations to the tune of $200 million annually. The once robust pheasant population was built on the federal conservation reserve program that paid farmers to return land to habitat. Taxpayers shelled out over $1.2 billion since 1995 to South Dakota landowners (including my family’s farm) in CRP payments.

CRP has incredible environmental benefits aside from generating habitat including carbon sequestration and helping clean water tainted by agriculture pollutants.

Sadly, South Dakota State University researchers have documented how corn ethanol mandates, crop insurance subsidies and increased global demand for meat raised the price of crops making CRP monetarily less attractive to farmers.

The result was a staggering and swift land conversion from grassland to row crops of 1.3 million acres in the Western Corn Belt, much of it in South Dakota. Combined with drought this habitat loss resulted in a 64% decline in 2013 South Dakota pheasant numbers.

So recognizing the disaster on their hands, the Governor’s office convened a Pheasant Habitat Summit in Huron that I attended in December of 2013. The summit resulted in the Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Workgroup. There are some good folks on the work group, but was also larded up with industrial agriculture interests, so it was hard to find something to be optimistic about.

On Tuesday the group released their final recommendations on how to reverse the downward trend of pheasants and habitat in South Dakota.

They are much worse than anything I could have dreamed up. Here’s why:

Most of the recommendations are pure lip service. But two stuck out.

The whopper is Recommendation #6: Petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (USDA-RMA) to include all South Dakota counties as eligible for crop insurance coverage on winter wheat.

-       Winter wheat is OK pheasant habitat. It is not a substitute for native prairie grass. Nothing is.

-       The SDSU researchers ID’s crop insurance subsidies as a culprit for land conversion. Now that’s the answer?

-       This is the fourth way in recent years taxpayers have been forced to pay for creation/destruction of pheasant habitat. First, when CRP was started. Second, when the corn ethanol subsidy VEETC helped spur demand, third through crop insurance subsidies for corn and soy and now fourth a proposed wheat crop insurance subsidy. I’m reminded constantly by the SD GOP and its candidates that South Dakota is a deeply conservative state yet this sounds a lot like federal welfare hamster wheel to me.

-       The same day the Workgroup announced their recommendations, a Government Accountability Office report urged Congress to cut crop insurance subsidies.

And recommendation #8: Support Congressional efforts to raise the federal Duck Stamp from $15 to $25. First, duck habitat isn’t native grass. It’s wetlands and prairie potholes. Sure it will help, and any new habitat is good habitat, but not much in the way that’s needed. Second, passage is far from certain.

Farmers are doing better and that’s a good thing. But South Dakota has been fundamentally changed – not for the better – in the process.

Crop insurance subsidies need to be drastically reformed so that taxpayers are on the hook with farmers who do the right thing for all of society. Make conservation THE incentive, not an afterthought.

Otherwise, its time to contact South Dakota’s wealthy philanthropist whose name appears on every other building in the state. Let’s ask T Denny Sanford if he’ll pony up the cash.

We’ll rename the bird.

Love it or Leave it News: Secession Makes You Dumb


The big news this week was the announcement that a billionaire backed effort to break California into six states had the requisite number of signatures to get on the 2016 ballot.

Under Draper’s plan, each of the six states would have its own government and own collection of elected officials, including congressional representatives.

Usually secession efforts are justified by too much gubermint. It’s refreshing that this wildly wasteful plan would create six whole new governments. Apparently the guy is a libertarian, or something.

Up near Chico the State of Jefferson folks are continuing to press on.

The Tehama County Board of Supervisors Tuesday threw its support behind the state of Jefferson movement, which wants to separate from California to form a new state.


Roxy Williams, an administrator at the Tehama County Department of Education, said Tehama County education stands to lose about 70 percent of its funding should the state of Jefferson be successful.

"So the dilemma for us is … how to educate our kids on 30 percent of the funding," Roxy Williams said.

Hero Roxy Williams makes a great point. It’s one thing to think the idea of secession is dumb, but what if secession actually made you stupid?

Finally, rural Coloradans frustrated by the progressive tilt of their state legislature failed to get enough votes in the November election for secession. The secessionoids are back though, with a scaled-back effort to instead reorganize the legislature based on landmass, not population.

Our founding fathers understood that urban and rural interests would collide without a mechanism to compel cooperation.  Simply put, larger urban interests have enough votes to pass legislation without the need for any votes from smaller rural communities.  This leads to what is known as the tyranny of the majority.  Larger urban areas can pass legislation unfavorable to smaller communities.  It also means tax revenues collected from smaller rural communities can be spent on projects in urban areas.  This happens in communities like those that produce energy and agricultural products as well as those that support tourism, like ski resorts and casinos.

If only there was a way to take tax dollars from urban areas and spend it on rural agriculture.

Love it or Leave it.

Love It Or Leave It News 5-7-14

On April 23rd, 1982 Key West half-jokingly seceded from the union to forever be known as the Conch Republic.

When Florida seceded, the island outpost of Key West remained under Union control throughout the war.

Florida was readmitted into the United States of America on July 25, 1868.

More than a century later, Floridians from Key West led their own secession effort that was much more productive, successful — and humorous.

Their “tongue in cheek” secession has generated an annual festival. This year the celebration took a poignant turn as Sir Peter Anderson, the longtime Secretary General of the Conch Republic, came back from the brink of death to open the 32nd festivities. Some excerpts from a Miami Herald profile:

Anderson took the humorous role super-seriously, creating an office, passports, official vehicles, ambassadorships, conch-sulates in several countries and a brand that is internationally known.

In October, he was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer.

But Anderson, 67, has led an unbelievable life, even by Key West standards, so tracking down a “miracle” and recovering from near death is just another chapter.

One of Anderson’s four wives was formerly married to notorious psychedelic drug guru Timothy Leary. When he worked for Hosiery Corporation of America, Anderson coined the term “cotton center panel” as a better marketing choice than “cotton crotch.”

He built the home of David “Kung Fu” Carradine in California’s Laurel Canyon. And in 1980, he worked with Omni magazine to try to get President Jimmy Carter and then-candidates Ronald Reagan and John Anderson to attend a summit about space colonization.

In a recent interview, Tim Bluhm, co-founder of one of California’s great bands, the Mother Hips, commented on the inspiration for his lyrics in “Jefferson Army.”

I read Jack London’s The Iron Heel and it really felt like it was set in and around the Bay Area. The novel is a kind of future history, a fantasy that has its roots in actual events. It reminded me of the State of Jefferson secession movement. I thought it’d be a worthwhile thing to kind of extend the State of Jefferson concept into a dramatic future history. I am not real up on the Tea Party line, unless we’re talking about the Boston Tea Party. Because of that I’m not concerned with any political slant within the song. I don’t like that. It’s just a narrator that we’re listening to who is a soldier in his self-proclaimed “Jefferson Army.”

Those guys say some crazy shit but I find it very interesting.

And the Wisconsin GOP defeated a secession vote at their convention this past weekend. In a prescient post on the Daily Beast David Freedlander declared:

Fear not, America. There will be no import taxes on Leinenkugel. There is no reason to stock up on cheese. Brett Favre does not need to get a new passport.

Love It Or Leave It. 

Love it or Leave it News 4-24-14


Image via The Conch Republic

In California the “State of Jefferson” folks are steaming along. Secession activists turned out for a Butte County hearing on the subject as reported by the Sacramento News Review. 

One man told the board, “My wife and I discuss leaving this state every single day. The State of Jefferson is a new opportunity, a second chance. You ask, ‘What do we have to gain?’ I say, ‘What do we have to lose?’”

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has some clean-up to do in the fruit and nut aisle. 

When you go to the booth in November, remember that Walker, the self-proclaimed original Tea Party candidate, is the leader of a party that voted on the right to secede.

Speaking of the state of Cheddarworst’s secession efforts. According to Mordecai ”Mind you don’t cut yourself"  Lee, a professor of governmental affairs, Wisconsin secession efforts are most definitely treason

“Efforts to secede are an effort to overthrow the Constitution of the U.S. and frankly, can be called a traitorous activity,” said Mordecai Lee, a professor of governmental affairs.

“I know that sounds strong, and I know we’re supposed to be gentle about everybody having freedom of speech, and I realize that some people don’t take this seriously and they think this is something of a joke about some crackpot, radical right, sort of ‘flat-earther’ concept, but this is very serious,” he said Thursday.

Finally, right wing anti-government darling Clive Bundy is speeding up his fifteen minutes by going full racist in the New York Times. 

And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Love it or Leave it. 

Love it or Leave it News

Writing in the Week, Ryan Cooper uses the recent Bundy Ranch standoff to point out “the myth of rural ‘powerlessness.”

But more importantly, the idea that rural America is powerless is nonsense. In fact, rural voters continue to exercise vastly disproportionate influence — if anything, the political system is rigged in their favor.

A petition to that called on Alaskans and others to vote for Alaska to secede from the US and become a part of Russia was taken down after failing to garner enough signatures. 

The petition urges Alaska to separate from the US and join Russia. The message points out that residents of Siberia got across the Bering Straits to Alaska in ancient times.

You will recall Russian Ambassador to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov’s joke that Senator McCain should watch over Alaska. This happened on March 22 during the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show where the key issue was the crisis in the Ukraine.

Love it or Leave it. 

The Republic of Awesome

THE REPUBLIC OF AWESOME is a rollicking political satire that asks an important question of our time: Why is everyone so pissed-off in the most prosperous and free country the world has ever known? 

When Federal Agents illegally seize a rare T Rex skeleton from Oahe Village, Mayor Will Davies is thrust into the only course of action his small South Dakota town has left - - secession.

Will’s ancestors founded Oahe Village on a spot of riverside prairie etched in Lewis and Clark lore. Confiscating their dinosaur fossil is the latest in a recent list of insults suffered by the town. Corrupt game wardens hassle hunting and fishing guides out of business. And the governor granted his crony permission to build a massive drag strip on their unspoiled peninsula — despite ferocious opposition.

Inspired by Key West’s ‘tongue-in cheek’ secession, Mayor Will Davies dreams up his own ironic breakaway, this time repurposed as tourist bait. Will’s mock secession generates rabid press coverage. He also attracts Lakota Sioux activists with a covert plan for reclaiming the Black Hills by using Oahe Village’s media frenzy as cover.

When the governor declares their movement illegal, it leads to shocking revelations about Oahe Village’s history and forces Will to choose between his family, his girlfriend and the secessionist cause.

With a Nevada ranch standoff and active secession efforts in California, Colorado, Wisconsin and Maryland dominating headlines, the timing could not better for a rowdy lampoon of rural America’s identity crisis in the age of Obama.


From YouTube, to Pandora, to Spotify, streaming music is piloting our listening habits in fascinating new ways that both upend old hierarchies and recall innovations of previous eras. Eric Harvey explores how these developments are affecting ideas of taste, access, and ownership today—and what this shift means for fans and artists alike—in our latest Cover Story.


From YouTube, to Pandora, to Spotify, streaming music is piloting our listening habits in fascinating new ways that both upend old hierarchies and recall innovations of previous eras. Eric Harvey explores how these developments are affecting ideas of taste, access, and ownership today—and what this shift means for fans and artists alike—in our latest Cover Story.

McGovern Talks Hunter Thompson

Spent a fun day at the McGovern house in 2005. The Senator and Eleanor McGovern entertained us with campaign stories and a tour of their art collection. The interview was for an SDDP podcast on the state of politics in South Dakota. 

I used the opportunity to also quiz the Senator on his relationship with Hunter Thompson, the lasting impact of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72, Duke’s favorite books and his memorial service

Willie Nelson Dakota Blues Sample

Donald Carr -

In 2005 during a tour stop in Sioux Falls, I asked Willie Nelson about biofuels and bringing Farm Aid to South Dakota. 

Sundance 2014 Reviews

Last week was my 11th visit to the Sundance Film Festival held in Park City, Utah, and the 30th anniversary of the festival.  Here are some brief reviews.  


Dinosaur 13 – A top pick of mine before Sundance started that greatly exceeded expectations. Dinosaur 13 is the true story of an epic dispute that erupted over Sue, a rare near intact T Rex fossil discovered in South Dakota by a talented cadre of independent paleontologists. The story may feel familiar to those of us who grew up in the state and have friends and family intertwined with the principles, but the format and pacing is what propels this doc.

The riveting narrative is organized around several set pieces like the army of Feds that stormed the Black Hills Institute to seize the fossil and a courtroom drama. And the interviews with key players, including hardcore optimist and paleontologist Peter Larson who was at the center of the controversy, make this a near perfect documentary. Bought by Lionsgate and CNN, everyone should get a chance to see Dinosaur 13 soon.

Nick Offerman: American Ham – On TV Offerman plays everyone’s favorite government hating municipal employee as Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson.  At this year’s festival he premiered a concert film of his stage show, American Ham.

Offerman’s comedy is aimed right at the sweet spot for so-called South Park libertarians. His hilarious take on his nine rules for life success combines praise for American farmers with socially progressive views, disdain for vegetarians and pleas to heartily enjoy intoxicants — only after a day of hard work.

Dear White People – is a deft, well-crafted comedy with similarities to Spike Lee’s School Daze. Black students at a fictional and mainly white Ivy League college struggle, often humorously and occasionally affecting, to find their identities and direction. The film did stumbled a bit toward the end and could have a more cohesive resolution, though overall a strong debut by director Justin Simien.

Rich Hillwon the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. documentary and I couldn’t wait for the dam movie to end. The film is a remarkable achievement, letting viewers into the lives of three at risk boys in the economically depressed town of Rich Hill, Missouri. Viewers are given a stark window into the soul crushing existence endured by the boys and their families. While dizzying in its intimacy, Rich Hill is relentlessly hopeless.

Lambert and StampMy biggest disappointment is the rockumentary about legendary mentors/managers of the Who. The first hour is rollicking and kinetic while the second drags. Pete Townshend and Chris Stamp are two of rock ‘n roll’s wittiest and engaging commentators, sadly they are allowed to prattle on for far too long about minor ego infringements. Like for miles and miles and miles… 


Back in the dark ages (the pre-Tumbr world), we used to receive A LOT of physical demos (CD/Cassette/LP/R2R/Cartridge/Glossy Band Photos), and this was our form rejection letter for virtually ALL of the submissions. Harsh sure, but honest and real. These days, we receive mostly SoundCloud and BandCamp submissions from the aspiring future Nirvanas, Shins, Mudhoney’s, and Bands of Horses of the world, and we just point them to this page, all of which feels much more impersonal than it used to, though much better on the natural environment in which we reside, I suppose. Anyway, as you were.

Much better than the rejections I’ve received. 


Back in the dark ages (the pre-Tumbr world), we used to receive A LOT of physical demos (CD/Cassette/LP/R2R/Cartridge/Glossy Band Photos), and this was our form rejection letter for virtually ALL of the submissions. Harsh sure, but honest and real. These days, we receive mostly SoundCloud and BandCamp submissions from the aspiring future Nirvanas, Shins, Mudhoney’s, and Bands of Horses of the world, and we just point them to this page, all of which feels much more impersonal than it used to, though much better on the natural environment in which we reside, I suppose. Anyway, as you were.

Much better than the rejections I’ve received.