Saturday, March 23, 2019

Could Somebody Tell Me What "Riot Boosting" Means?

     South Dakota's Senate Bill 189, which just became law, makes "riot boosting" illegal.  I
Protestors
Don't Suppress Them
think I get the idea behind the law's passage, but "boosting" is such a nebulous word that I'm wondering how enforcement of the statute can take place. SB 189 makes "boosting" another dimension of the law against riot-incitement already in the South Dakota books (22-10-6.1).  That law says  "any person who does not personally participate in any riot but who directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating in the riot to acts of force or violence is guilty of a class 5 felony."  By using the word "boost," the new law opens up those indirect participants to financial responsibilities for damages caused during the riots they "direct, advise and encourage." 
     There's a reasonable element of objectivity to the existing law.  "Directing, advising, and encouraging" are activities that probably can be pinned down to specific individuals and maybe even organizations.  But SB 189 gets cloudy when it considers "boosting" to be an activity that can occur through "an employee, agent, or subsidiary." It opens a can of rhetorical worms that will no doubt be tested in the courts.  Consider that in 2017, the Sierra Club  announced that it was supporting Native American resistors of an oil pipeline crossing eastern Oklahoma.  If similar protests in South Dakota were supported by the organization and the protests turned violent and destructive, would the new law apply?  I'm certain the Sierra Club neither openly nor covertly supports violence, but if its sponsored demonstrations get out of control would the club be considered a "booster" of the mayhem?  Would the Sierra Club be considered an "agent" of its financial supporters, putting them in legal jeopardy?
     As compelling as these questions are, the larger point is how chilling an effect a law like this will have on those who legally demonstrate.  True to its intent, SB 189 will probably give potential activists second thoughts about gathering at protest sites, where passions can easily get out of control and, even if they don't, some incidental crowd management and damage repair expenses are likely to accrue.  Who pays for those?  As with its other question-raising elements, this dissent-stifling law is unclear and imprecise.  
     
     

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Governor Noem's Repudiation Of Hemp Production Is Irrational And Overly Precautionary

      South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has put her foot down when it comes to legalizing
No!
Because I Said So!
the production of industrial hemp in our state. 
Explaining herself to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader last month, Noem said that because we're ill-prepared to deal with the THC-tinged crop from a regulatory and enforcement standpoint, "we will be opening the door to allowing marijuana to be legalized in the state of South Dakota."  To arguments trying to persuade Noem that history, science, economics and even her own vote in Congress allowing for hemp's legalization all suggested otherwise, Noem's reaction was the executive equivalent of a steadfast, firm, parental "no, because I said so, and that's final." She vetoed the overwhelmingly supportive votes in our legislature allowing for industrial hemp production in South Dakota--and was able to make the veto stick because hemp supporters in the state Senate couldn't quite muster the 2/3 majority needed for an override.
     You'd have to have a hard heart not to appreciate Noem's protective nature, which I believe is sincere and, in its way, admirable. The part of it that doesn't quite fit is that she's going against the grain of her Republican party's commitment to free market forces determining what farmers should be able to plant on their own land.  This is especially enigmatic when you consider that as a Congresswoman she was perfectly fine with the notion of hemp legalization, which was incorporated in last year's Farm Bill. Of her role in its passage,  Noem said, "I was proud to lead the U.S. House of Representatives in passing the 2018 Farm Bill." At the time, I couldn't find any reservations that she had about the industrial hemp component in the bill, which makes her adamant opposition to the crop's development in South Dakota a little tough to figure.
     Making it even tougher to figure is that so many states in the American farm belt are okay with industrial hemp production.  A month ago Noem tweeted that legalization would "flood our health lab, strain law enforcement . . . and lead us down the path of legalized marijuana."  This doesn't square with the experiences of the vast majority of American ag producing states, including all of our immediate neighbors except Iowa.  These states are not only comfortable with the idea of adding industrial hemp to their ag product mix, they're getting quite the leg up on penetrating a rapidly growing market for hemp products, which is expanding by 14% a year and expected to reach nearly $11 billion by 2025. I'm surprised that Noem hasn't reached out to some of these states to find out how they've been able to incorporate the crop into their legal and regulatory infrastructures.   For a Republican dedicated to the essential GOP principle of allowing business as much freedom from central control as possible, Noem isn't making much sense with her inflexible opposition to hemp.  "No, because I said so" isn't much of a rationale for stopping farmers from raising a crop that looks to be a big winner in coming years.
   

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Trump And His Bizarre Threat Of Violence Against His Critics Gets A Reaction From Rick Knobe

     President Trump's bizarre warning in a Breitbart interview today that his military, police and biker supporters
Knobe
could get "tough" on his opponents was a musing that had some threatening overtones. 
Trump's gutter-level inclinations, punctuated by the not-so-veiled threat that "it would be very bad" got a swift response from former Sioux Falls Mayor Rick Knobe.  Knobe, who has also hosted a radio show for many  years in South Dakota, drafted a letter that he thinks South Dakota U.S. Senator John Thune should send to the President immediately.  Thanks to congressional longevity, Thune has ascended to a powerful position as Majority Whip in the Senate. A rebuke like this is probably what President Trump needs to get the message that opining about his supporters "getting tough" violates all the principles of a civil society to which Americans aspire.  Here's Knobe's suggested letter for Thune to send to the President:

Dear Mr. President,
I read with shock and dismay your interview with Breitbart news. In it, you state, "I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of 'Bikers for Trump'-I have tough people, but they don't play it tough-until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad."
Mr. President, I am a farm boy from South Dakota. Not used to big city ways of talking, but even I understand the strong implication of control and violence in your words.
Although I was not alive during the rise of Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, I have heard enough from my elders and read enough history to know that the words you have used are very similar in tone to those used by the three I mentioned above.
Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin rose to power, creating havoc in their own countries, by pitting citizens against each other and killing people who disagreed with them. They nearly destroyed the world as we knew it.
I have less than four years left in my term. As one of the ranking members in the Senate, I have supported the Republican party and you almost all the time.
Obviously, you have taken over the party. We have quietly allowed you to do that.
You will recall, I have publicly said more than once I wish you would stop using Twitter. Others have used much stronger language with the same message.
With the quotes attributed to you in the very conservative Breitbart, I now have to say, I can no longer support your administration.
I have children and grandchildren. Your words are frightening to me. The strong suggestion of violence from The President is unacceptable..
As you know, South Dakota is a very red state. You won here handily in 2016 and Republicans easily won state wide races in 2018. I am well aware that separating myself from you will come with a political price back home and no doubt in Washington.
Your words and actions are taking us in the wrong direction. We are not becoming "great again." We are weakening ourselves in country and our esteem world wide among our allies has taken a huge hit.
I realize you are popular with your base. However, that doesn't mean you are right.
I will stay Republican, I will serve out my term, but I will no longer vote You and Party first. I will vote my country, my children and my grandchildren first. They are much more important to me than going along with your herd.
Finally, Senator John McCain was a friend and mentor to me. We didn't agree all the time but there was and still is mutual respect. I am firmly requesting you stop denigrating his memory. It is beneath the office you hold.
Most Sincerely,
Senator John Thune of South Dakota


Move Over, South Dakota Farmers. Trump's Budget Does A Number On Our National Parks, Too.

     The Trump administration's disastrous gamble on the tax cut has forced him into
Trump Administration
Are You Paying Attention?
preparing a budget that shorts not only South Dakota's farmers, but our state's other principal economic driver, tourism, as well. 
Out here in the Black Hills/Badlands region, tourism is the number one industry, much of it built on our magnificent collection of some of the National Park Service's crown jewels.  Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Devil's Tower (just over the border in Wyoming), and two of America's most prominent caves:  Wind Cave and Jewel Cave. Together the natural and historic wonders make for a matrix that draws millions of tourists every year.
     Last year, the National Park Service budget was $3 billion. That was in line with incremental budget increases matching overall U.S. economic growth for the preceding 5 years.  Given that growth coming into 2019 has been at 2.9%, you'd expect the NPS budget to bump up by about that much in keeping with the overall trend.  But expectations are one thing.  Reality is another.  As with our fellow farmers in South Dakota, tourism operators in South Dakota will see the budget of their overseeing agency dropping by 15%.  This is actually pretty outrageous, coming as it does during a year of economic growth.  The explanation, of course, is depressingly simple.  Trump's bet on the tax cut increasing government revenues because of stimulated economic activity is a loser, big time.  Tax revenues for 2018 actually fell nearly 3% (about $80 billion) compared to 2017. You've already heard the horror stories about how our national debt has been ballooning to record levels as a result.  The administration has been forced to put the brakes on spending, essentially forcing us ordinary folks to foot the bill for tax cuts that have principally been aimed at the country's highest earners.
      So how much of this will be laid on the National Park Service?  Nearly $500 million, which is about a 15% cut that I would expect to be roughly spread across the system.  Operations, recreation and historic preservation expenditures, construction--all will be cut by tens of millions of dollars.  And then there's that deferred maintenance backlog of $11.6 billion.  The administration suggests that about $900 million of  the NPS budget per year be spent addressing needed repairs for the next 5 years, which won't necessarily cut it by the amount spent because additional repair items will be added to the list during the interim.
     This really isn't supposed to be happening in an era when inflation and economic growth more than justify a slight increase in the NPS budget.  Our National Park Service saw about 320 million recreational visitors in 2018, so we're not talking about government expenditures limited to a particular special interest group.  This is about all of us and our magnificent stretches of landscape and historic sites, of the limited chances for urbanites to connect with America's natural wonders, and the preservation of what everyone knows to be the best parts of our undeveloped expanses.  I call B.S. on Trump cutting back on maintaining them because his ill-advised tax cut for rich people didn't pan out.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Donald Trump And His Phony Love Affair With Farmers Just Got Exposed.

     Did you know that about $3.5 billion of federal outlays to the Department of Agriculture
Mmmm . . . 
So Far It's Going The Other Way
are regarded by the Trump administration as "reckless spending?" 
No?  Neither did I--but apparently the budget mavens that have drawn up President Trump's coming budget are convinced that it is. Ag producers all over the country--not just here in South Dakota--must have been amazed to hear that news, but that's the conclusion of Russ Vought, acting Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.  In presenting the budget for the coming fiscal year, Vought said the administration "has prioritized reining in reckless Washington spending," which means that the 15% cut in the USDA budget ($3.5 billion) eliminates what the White House considers reckless spending.
    Farmers, of course, would beg to differ.  To them the spending is essential, not reckless, and the proposed cuts would have a "devastating" effect on farmers.  I haven't found a reaction from South Dakota farm leaders yet, but their counterparts in other states are quick to respond, and with some genuine anger considering that the rural voting base was very good to Trump in 2016.  Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert said yesterday that the proposed budget cuts "would cripple farmers' vital risk management tools. Combined with critical funding cuts for conservation practices--it's devastating."  Gene Paul, Legislative Coordinator for the National Farmers Organization said of the cuts to crop insurance subsidies proposed in the budget, "crop insurance is probably more important now than ever because of lower farm incomes and tariffs put in place by the president.  Trump just doesn't get it."
     The cut in subsidies for crop insurance, from 62% to 48%, will be particularly tough to take.  Farm income in South Dakota has collapsed in recent years, falling about 80% since 2013Insuring against both natural and market disasters is an important order of business for many producers.  A lot of them must have taken the OMB's characterization of premium subsidies as "overly generous"  with a sense of betrayal.  Trump once famously tweeted "Farmers, I love you." I guess nothing says lovin' like cutting the support out from under farmers who've been financially strapped for years, and, while doing so, calling their federal assistance a function of "reckless spending" and "overly generous."  This is love?  Cupid himself must be shaking his head. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Will Trump Go Ahead With His Auto Tariffs? South Dakota Farmers Need To Brace Themselves

     President Trump may soon be going into tariff-mode again, and our state's farmers should
And Lousier Prices
For Farmers
be ready for the aftermath. 
South Dakota's ag producers have already experienced the backfire effect of President "Tariff Man"   and his poorly thought out trade war tactics, (And yes, they are poorly thought out.  Consider that nearly a year after playing chicken with our trading partners, the U.S. trade deficit hit a 10-year high in 2018, including the largest deficit in history with Trump's principal antagonist, China.)  Despite the futility of this endeavor,Trump appears determined to go on tilting at windmills that don't exist with a lance that he doesn't even possess. If he does impose a new set of tariffs, American farmers as usual will be the first to feel the pain when retaliatory tariffs punch back at U.S. farm exports.
     Trump's current consideration for a wave of tariffs is focused on automobiles.  Last month the U.S. Commerce Department sent Trump a report that could "unleash steep tariffs on imported cars and auto parts." The report conforms with the dubious principle of "national security" that Trump can invoke according to a trade law that was passed in 1962.  The notion that our national security is impacted by imported automobiles is absurd and has no basis in history or fact. But that doesn't seem to deter President Tariff Man. Nor does the uniform opposition to the auto tariffs by business groups around the country.   "The President's inclined to do it," said Iowa GOP Senator Chuck Grassley a few weeks ago. The recently submitted Commerce Department report to the White House is a prelude to action by Trump.
     What this means for South Dakota's ag industry is potentially ominous.  Analysts at the widely followed Agri-Pulse news site conclude that "U.S. car tariffs threaten to add to ag retaliation woes."  Considering that Japan and the European Union will get hit hard by Trump's auto tariffs, American farmers could face another financial clobbering if retaliatory tariffs are slapped on them in response.  The U.S. sells about $34 billion in ag products to Japan and the EU, and another $7 billion to South Korea.  The EU has already said retaliation would be swift.  Two weeks ago EU trade negotiator Cecilia Malmstrom wouldn't specify targets, but said "it could be cars, it could be agriculture, it could be industrial products--it could be everything.  And we will do that."
     If your knee-jerk macho response is "go right ahead," you weren't paying attention when Trump played this sort of brinksmanship with China.  If the President had a clue about how trade deficits work and what they mean in the big picture, his gambit might be worth a try.  But we've already seen how ineffective it's been, generally. With respect to the ag sector, it has been disastrous.  We South Dakotans have to  hope that our Congressional delegates can make the White House understand that trade warfare puts our farmers on the front lines--and doesn't do other Americans much good either. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

South Dakota's Legislative Session Has Been A Dud.

     So what's up with South Dakota's elected officials and their do-next-to-nothing legislative
Tired Approach
Hasn't Accomplished Much
session that's about to conclude for the year? 
Don't Governor Noem and our GOP-saturated legislature know that South Dakota's economy has been struggling to keep pace with the national economy for the last few years?  The Minneapolis Fed noted last December in its year-end round-up of the region  that our state's GDP has been "slow growing," and that it hasn't been able to keep up with the national economy since around 2015.  Our GDP by mid-2018 was exactly where it was in mid-2016, while the U.S. grew at about 6% during the period.  Considering that our population has been growing by about 1% a year, we've actually been going backwards on a per-capita basis.
      No doubt a lot of this reflects the collapse in farm income that we've experienced during the past 5 or so years, which the Fed duly notes.  But as this has been a years-long situation--only aggravated by the tariff wars started by President Trump--it has been dismaying to see the lack of reaction from our state's economic development team. Governor Daugaard couldn't get the economy to budge.  Then, correctly observing the situation, our incoming-Governor Noem last December  noted that "South Dakota does a lot of things right, but our economy needs a renewed focus."  The words were appropriate, the deeds, not so much.  Noem has governed during a legislative session that is focused on a myriad of social and political issues like transgender rights, looser gun laws, centralized oversight on public school curricula, proper displays of our state flag, and voting rights.  But economic development?  So far it seems limited to a struggle between the legislature and Governor Noem on  starting up a hemp production industry this year.
     Noem's official website doesn't provide much specificity when it comes to economic development plans.  It touts the state's small size as a feature that gives us a "nimble . . . responsive . . . innovative" approach to economic development, but it lists nothing in the way of specific initiatives, unless creating a framework to pay for the costs of controlling demonstrations at pipeline constuction sites falls into the category of economic development.  The Governor's Office of Economic Development has an adjunct to Noem's site, but it touts many of the same over-used and under-effective assets (low taxes, fiscal responsibility, hard workers, among others) that haven't done much to juice up our state's economy in recent years.
     As Noem herself said, we need a "renewed focus."  She and the legislature need to understand that the "low tax" pitch isn't enough to entice outside capital to come into our state.  The public relations consequences of our legislature's fixation on social issues are also something to consider.  South Dakota--especially here in my home turf of the Black Hills--is indeed a great place to live.  But as a place to invest one's capital, one's earning potential, one's economic future?  We haven't been able to cut it and the rest of the country is leaving us behind.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Score One For Reality. South Dakota GOP Congressman Dusty Johnson Says No To Trump's Phony National Emergency. Will Our Senators Follow Suit?

     A fair amount of logic and a certain amount of political courage propelled our
Thune, Rounds
Is It A Real Emergency?
congressional rep Dusty Johnson (R-SD) to join a handful of his Republican peers yesterday in the U.S. House of Representatives to renounce President Trump's declaration of a national emergency at our border with Mexico. 
The measure was a resolution to stop Trump's initiative in its tracks.  It carried in the House by a 245-182 tally, with Johnson and 12 other Republicans joining the Democratic majority in a rebuke of Trump's usurpation of power.  If the president gets his way, he can unilaterally divert already-appropriated money from various sources to fund his long-promised wall between the United States and Mexico.  That money was designated to be spent by Congress on other projects, so Trump's switcheroo effectively subverts Congressional authority as laid out in the U.S. Constitution.  Dusty Johnson correctly begged to differ with Trump on his proposal and signaled "not-so-fast" with his vote.
     Johnson clarified his position in the statement he issued yesterday.  Noting that he "has reliably voted with the President on border security and the border wall," and that "there is still work to be done," Johnson dismisses the notion of an emergency declaration as the means to accomplish the President's task.  "It's the wrong approach," Johnson goes on, adding that he "remains committed" to "fighting ever-expanding executive authority," and that "separation of powers is a central American value."   In a pragmatic conclusion, Johnson sees Trump's declaration as a precedent-setter that could someday lead future presidents to declare emergencies over other contentious issues like gun control or climate change. Johnson is right not to open this can of worms and its unknowable consequences.
     But, admirable as Johnson's commitment to logic and Constitutional principle is, he also deserves a nod for political courage.  Representing a state that went 63 percent for Trump in 2016, Johnson had to make a difficult vote knowing that it would alienate a sizable number of South Dakotans.  I've already seen some crude epithets tossed at him on social media, and I'm sure he can expect more. Johnson probably has to mollify a lot of those folks by going along with the pretense that Trump's wall is needed in the first place.  Most Americans don't want it, and neither does a group of 58 former high-ranking security experts who've served Presidents for the last 4 decades.  Johnson knows that, but those facts are probably as irrelevant as they are germane, so "let's pretend" is still part of GOP mindset in South Dakota when it comes to Trump's wall.  Dusty Johnson will continue to support it. 
    Meantime--and this is one great big "meantime"--in the Senate, our GOP Senators Mike Rounds and John Thune are about to vote on the same resolution.  Considering how they've both taken exception to "power grabs" by President Obama in years past, they're both on the record as Constitutional adherents when it comes to executive authority.  Though dependably Republican, Rounds has already spoken out about his concerns regarding Trump's emergency, mainly focused on the precedent it creates.  He pretty plainly sees it the way Dusty Johnson does.  Senator Thune has remained mum.  His job as Majority Whip makes him the ultimate party man in the Senate.  His fate is to live in an alternate universe that is shaped by partisan needs, not objective observation and logical considerations.  I'd guess that his prior antipathy to executive power grabs by the Obama administration will become immaterial as he ponders Trump's declaration, but then, who knows?  The absurdity of Trump's gambit may dawn on our senators, at least long enough for them to carefully watch the public reaction to Johnson's vote.  I'm betting it will turn out to be positive overall, and that Rounds and Thune will conclude that the young upstart got it right, after all. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Re: Trump's "National Emergency." Will South Dakota's Congressional Reps Get Real Or Will They Play "Let's Pretend?"

        President Trump's illusory declaration of a National Emergency at our southern border
Thune, Rounds, Johnson
Will They Side With Reality Or Pretense?
puts the spotlight on South Dakota's all-GOP congressional trio, Representative Dusty Johnson, Senator Mike Rounds and Senator John Thune. 
I know my adjective "illusory" packs a  skeptical punch, but it's more than subjective. A couple of days ago a powerhouse gathering of former national security experts--58 of them--representing both parties, issued a joint statement saying "there is no factual basis" to support Trump's declaration of a national emergency.  The signers are a roster of the highest ranking security officials that have served Presidents of both parties during the past four decades, and I defer to their collective judgement. 
     There is no national emergency.  It's a political sham that's forcing the President and his loyalists to play "let's pretend" in order to satisfy Trump's probably unfulfillable campaign promise to wall off our southern border and have Mexico foot the bill.  The experts aren't buying it, and neither is the American public. Two major national polls in the past few weeks show that the public disapproves of Trump's emergency gambit by more than 60%--one of them by a factor of more than 2-to-1. 
     The emergency is a dumb idea and possibly a dangerous one if you consider its consequences.  As the vote on supporting it in Congress approaches (possibly already done in the House of Representatives as you read this), our delegation from South Dakota won't be just voting on the issues of the fabricated emergency.  They'll be voting on a precedent-shattering decision by the executive branch to ignore the will of the legislative branch and spend already appropriated money without prior approval from Congress.  The compelling Constitutional issues will eventually be sorted out through the courts.  But for now, supporting the executive's power to do that on the basis of a unilateral declaration of an "emergency" opens a mega-can of worms that should give Johnson, Rounds and Thune some serious pause. 
     It might well be politically mandatory for our congressional delegates to go along with the pretense of an emergency.  But going along with an effort to subvert one of the basic tenets of our system, i.e., the separation of powers?  That would be intellectually repugnant and contrary to the principles of how our democratic republic is supposed to function. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Republican War On Local Control Of Our Schools Seems To Be Going Well In South Dakota

     Meddling in our schools has been a priority for South Dakota's Republican-dominated
This Is The Statehouse
Not The Education Commissariat
legislature this year. 
Transgender-phobia has led lawmakers to push a bill (HB 1108) that bans "instruction in gender identity or gender expession" in grades K through 7.  They're working on a bill (HB 1066) to add a civics test requirement for high school graduation.  They unsuccessfully pushed (HB 1051) for a special badge to be given to students who showed proficiency in civics education.  They effectively killed a bill that would lead to more federal funding of local pre-K programs because, as Republican Speaker of the House Steve Haugaard (R-10) told South Dakota Public Radio,  he believes that  the council created by the bill would add to a pre-K structure that is "really a transformational approach to instilling a Socialist agenda into the system."  On that last item, I'd challenge Haugaard to present some information countering the raft of supportive data about the benefits of pre-K education. SDPB notes that a Minneapolis Federal Reserve Board study shows decreases in crime and welfare payments to those who have had a pre-K education.  The non-partisan Rand Corporation finds a wider range of academic and social benefits--along with economic returns--derived from pre-K education. I'd also love to see how he connects pre-school with a "Socialist agenda."
     These efforts are driven by Republicans who believe that their peculiar notions of what should and should not be taught in our schools ought to be determined by a central authority.  That they're acting on that impulse and still calling themselves Republicans typifies the most hypocritical aspects of the modern GOP, a party that once defended individual and local control of our social institutions--schools being paramount among them.  Heck, the 2016 national Republican Party platform states explicitly that "Parents have a right to direct their children's education" and that the Party "supports a constitutional amendment to protect that right from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies."  The GOP platform goes on to say that it "calls for parent-driven, choice-based accountability at every stage of schooling."
       Those precepts go a long way back.  In fact, they've been Republican dogma for as long as I can remember and remained so at least through the GOP's 2016 platform.  The compelling questions are:  Since when did  Republican state officials in South Dakota determine that they know best when it comes to curriculum decisions?  Since when are they capable of making sweeping judgements about the nature of pre-K programs that brush aside credible research and experience? Since when did they break with the essence of Republicanism, which celebrates and defends local and individual control?  And why has the GOP broken its promise to preserve and defend the "rights of parents to direct their children's education?"
      Republicans need to go back to square one and rewrite their platform.  It could also use a new title:  "Manifesto" would probably fit.
   

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Governor Noem's "Next Big Thing" Is One She's Overlooking. It's Hemp.

     I admired South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem's eagerness to set out on an
Big Time Support
From Farmer-Legislators
entrepreneurial quest during her first speech as Governor last month. 
She recalled Governor Bill Janklow's push to get South Dakota into a leading position in the financial services sector and said her economic development office would try to pinpoint targeted industries and seek to bring the most innovative of them into South Dakota.  For a state whose economy consistently lags behind the nation and is generally behind our immediate neighbors--our economy was ranked #51 by Business Insider in 2018--we have our work cut out for us.  Pitching our dead last status to companies that are thinking about moving here is an onerous task.  Finding "the next big thing," as Noem suggested she would do in her speech, is an elusive pursuit in a high-tech, highly industrialized world that seeks infrastructure and a labor pool filled with masses of skilled workers.  Sioux Falls and maybe Rapid City excepted, we don't have either.  That we don't is one of South Dakota's most compelling charms, of course, but that doesn't mean we can't grow.  We can, and we can do so while retaining our identity as a state with plenty of space, fresh air and the outdoors-oriented culture that comes naturally with those assets. 
     Noem's commitment to hunting and bagging "the next big thing" on the economic landscape is a worthy enough pursuit, but her sights are misdirected.  In keeping with our state's  comparative advantages, she should be looking at hemp production and processing.  Her objections to development in South Dakota are connected to hemp's biological relationship to marijuana, which has been shown to be insignificant in terms of THC (the stuff that gets people high when they ingest marijuana).  Hemp contains .3% of the  compound, while marijuana contains more than twenty times that much. While in Congress, Noem voted for the last Farm Bill, which gives the nod to hemp production, and here in our home state, the South Dakota House of Representatives just voted 65-2 to legalize hemp production.  That's huge on the face of it, but considering that so many of those reps come from rural, farming districts, their solid support says something about their understanding and awareness of hemp's market potential.
     In 2017, hemp product sales totalled $820 million in the United States.  Projections for the market to grow by 14% a year point to sales of $10.6 billion by 2025.  This market is preparing for some explosive growth, which will happen with or without South Dakota's participation.  In seeking "the next big thing," Governor Noem is missing an opportunity that is right under our noses.  From a bigger picture perspective, our soybean industry may well be in for a permanent slowdown based on issues evolving from tariff wars and Chinese reduction of its huge demand for American soy products.  An excellent evolution for farming in this country is to move a substantial segment of the industry away from food production to industrial production, particularly to industries that can build up domestic demand, as hemp seems likely to do.  Noem has said that South Dakota isn't ready for hemp, a point on which 65 out of 67 state representatives beg to differ.  She should listen to these knowledgeable, farming-oriented officials.  Hemp isn't waiting for South Dakota, and chances are that "the next big thing" will have materialized and passed us by while we're all waiting around to get ready for it.

Friday, February 15, 2019

What Will South Dakota Senators Thune And Rounds Say About Trump's Make-Believe National Emergency?

      South Dakota's GOP Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds are probably at some sort of
Rounds, Thune
Is It Really An Emergency?
political crossroads. 
President Trump's executive order declaring a national emergency at the Mexican border will put their experience with executive orders to a test of strength between reality and party loyalty.  Trump issued the order today in an awkwardly self-contradictory and ultimately self-defeating way by first claiming an emergency exists and then asserting that he's doing something about it by choice.  Considering that an emergency is defined as "a serious, unexpected and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action," Trump's casual declaration that he "he didn't have to do this" pretty much obliterates any claims to the border situation being an "emergency."
      That obvious and widely derided flaw in Trump's logic wasn't enough to convince the President that he'd made a rhetorical blunder of historic proportions.  The order remains in force. It's a joke, of course, but now our Senators Thune and Rounds will probably have to make their feelings about this order public, because the whole "national emergency" endeavor is bound to get tested in Congress.
      In the past, during the Obama administration, both South Dakotans had some tough things to say about Obama's use of executive orders.  Thune once blasted President Obama for proposing, via the use of an executive order, that businesses doing federal contract work disclose their political contributions.  Thune called it "an overtly political move to circumvent Congress."  Tsk, tsk.  Can't have that, can we Senator?  There's certainly nothing political about Trump's executive order, and it most certainly isn't an attempt to get around Congressional restrictions, is it?  We'll soon know if Thune's contempt for Obama's executive order matches his feelings toward Trump's
     Ditto for our junior senator, Republican Mike Rounds.  He was critical of President Obama's proposed executive orders regarding gun control in 2016, but more germane is his experience as Governor of South Dakota.  He encountered a real emergency in 2009 when propane became critically short.  He suspended federal regulations that were slowing deliveries by declaring a state of emergency.  Rounds didn't intone that "he didn't have to do it."  The situation was urgently important and he did what he had to do.  This contrasts vividly with Trump's musings about the pseudo-emergency at the Mexican border.  I hope that Senator Rounds recalls and understands the difference between the reality of his encounter with an emergency and the make-believe scenario that Trump is creating to satisfy his base.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Our South Dakota Senator John Thune Is Too Quick To Write Off The "Green New Deal."

       What the much-discussed "Green New Deal" lacks in specificity is more than made up
Thune Disses The Green New Deal.
Whoa, Senator.  Not So Fast. 
for in audacity. 
It's a double-feature that presents two epic visions on the grandest of scales for the United States, both of which command consideration, but on separate platforms.  One phase of the GND is dedicated to climate change, the other to a massive social/economic reorganization that would guarantee jobs, higher education, universal healthcare and housing.  Taken together, our Senator Thune's characterization of it as a "socialist fairy tale," probably reflects a realistic view of the GND's chances of adoption.  It's just too big, too much, too soon. 
       Rather than brush the whole thing off, though, Thune would have better served his constituents in South Dakota by at least considering GND's impact on our rural state and how we might gain something by the climate-change aspects of it.  South Dakota stands to benefit greatly from a transition to renewable energy sources in the general quest to improve the climate and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  Analysts at the McClatchy News Service have noted that ag producers throughout the Plains and the Midwest have been having a tough go of it in recent years.  Low commodity prices, falling land prices, growing numbers of bankruptcies--all of them in the context of rural economies shrinking in the midst of political and economic uncertainty.  South Dakota has been part of that process.  The Minneapolis Fed reports that farm income in South Dakota has fallen by an astounding 80% since 2013, from $3 billion a year to just $700 million in 2018. 
     Senator Thune is aware of this trend.  Going forward, there's no reason to expect the situation to improve.  Even a restoration of soybean sales to China would just bring us back to pre-tariff supply and demand fundamentals, which weren't so hot and kept prices generally low through the downtrend that began in 2013.  Some audacious changes, much like those in the GND, should be considered in a state with as much potential in the growing market for renewable energy, which oil giant BP believes will grow by 400% during the next twenty years.  Wind power in particular has plenty of room to grow in South Dakota, which ranks behind 5 of our 6 contiguous neighbors in that sector.  Same goes for bio-fuels, which are finding new users all the time, as foreign buyers are moving into the ethanol market. 
     Climate change skeptics notwithstanding, it's pretty obvious that the switchover from fossil to renewable fuels is a fact of life.  Senator Thune shouldn't be so quick to write off the Green New Deal's potential for giving South Dakota a boost in our country's quest for an energy policy that fits modern and changing realities. 
   

Monday, February 11, 2019

Noem's Campaign Won't Pay Up For Services It Received From The City Of Sioux Falls.

     Sioux Falls resident Sheryl Johnson is plenty miffed, and with some good reason.  She wants to know why her city's taxpayers are on the hook for the twenty thousand bucks it took to provide security for President Trump's fundraising visit last September, when Trump stopped by to help then-gubernatorial candidate Kristi Noem raise money for her campaign.  Trump's visit was limited to people who could pay the required $500 per ticket just to get in.  Those with deeper pockets were allowed to cough up another $5k to take a pic with the Prez.  There was nothing public about the visit, but the cost of tailing and securing Trump's travel from the airport to the fundraiser and back was borne by the City of Sioux Falls.
Johnson
If the City has tried to recover its costs from the Noem campaign, the effort must have been half-hearted at best.  South Dakota state law (codified statute 12-27-20) is pretty clear when it forbids "the expenditure of public funds to influence election outcomes."  You'd think a bill from the city to the Noem campaign is consistent with the law, considering the nature of Trump's visit, but apparently the city hasn't tried to recover its cost for services.  This is where Sheryl Johnson steps in.  Johnson unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for her District 11's house seat in the state legislature last Fall, losing in a close race that saw her falling just 4 points shy of capturing one of the two seats that were contested.  With a history like that, you might say that Johnson has a political ax to grind, but after looking at the facts it seems clear that it's a legitimate ax and it's well worth grinding.
     Johnson filed a complaint about this with the South Dakota Secretary of State a month ago, and it got enough attention to attract a look-see by our state's Division of Criminal Investigation.  The Noem campaign responded with a classic blow-off, noting that "there was of course a cost associated with this work like there is everywhere the President travels and we are thankful for the city's commitment to being a good host."  In other words, get lost.  KSFY-TV tried to get a response from the city, which wouldn't do an interview because of the ongoing investigation.  A spokesman did note that the City of Sioux Falls wouldn't get "bogged down on purpose of a travel," whatever in the heck that's supposed to mean.
     Your guess is as good as mine, but I think it means something like, I wish you would go away.  To Johnson's credit, she isn't going anywhere.  To Sioux Falls' credit, it has citizens who aren't afraid to speak out and do something when public officials are using public resources to keep themselves in charge.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Bring Back Grass Roots Democracy In South Dakota, Where Supposedly "Under God The People Rule."

     South Dakota Senate Bill 157 gets its first hearing in our state senate on Monday, February
See Where It Says
Under God The People Rule?
11. 
In legislative-ese, it would "revise and repeal certain provisions regarding petitions for ballot measures." The description is disarmingly compact, considering the bill itself would have a lot of impact. SB 157's main purpose is to reverse some democracy-diluting activities of South Dakota legislators in recent times.  It would strike and revise the language of several statutes governing the petitioning process.
  During the recent past our state's initiative and referendum processes have gone through some changes that make these "direct democracy" efforts cumbersome and complicated.  That isn't right.  Yes, there's some frustration in a system where initiated measures  ("initiatives") and referrals of existing law for popular consideration ("referendums") can produce some lengthy ballots come election day.  And certainly, in a small state like South Dakota, out-of-state campaign dollars can go far when national interest groups try to use our state as an electoral experiment for their pet issues.  Those annoyances can mount during election cycles, but trying to winnow the process down by making petitioners jump through hoops made of red tape only discourages what should be the ultimate aim of a democracy, the unfettered power of its people.
     A complete rundown of the bill's many sections is too long to go through here.  The South Dakota Legislative Research Council's publication of it lists 11 sections, many with several subsections.  Some examples of what SB 157 aims to reverse include rescinding the forced requirement for petitioners to hand out personal contact and pay information.  The new bill stipulates that petitioners merely make that information available on request.  It also relieves petitioners of the need to provide the state with a slew of personal information, including library cards and utility bills, length of time at current and recent addresses, and even the residential status of hunting and fishing licenses.  This is an overabundance of information that really doesn't have much to do with the aims of their petitions.                                                                                                                               
       Another section reverses the requirement that each ballot question be restricted to a single subject.  While single-subject proposals may be an appealing idea at first glance, there's a rub. As the Rapid City Journal noted in its editorial last year opposing single-subject ballot issues, "many concepts require many parts to function."  RCJ used the First Amendment to the Constitution as an example.  It contains numerous subjects. A ballot issue can be equally complex, and forcing each part of it to be voted on separately is unreasonably cumbersome and ultimately restrictive, considering the time and expense needed to create a separate ballot issue for each of a law's many parts. These and other petition-squelching elements make for a status quo that is a hindrance, in need of some streamlining in order to revert to the original aims of citizen participation in the law-making process.
 
   

Saturday, February 2, 2019

What Is It With These Republican Meddlers In The South Dakota Legislature, Anyway? They're Coming Across As Glorified Control Freaks.

     For belonging to a political party that has always crowed about its commitment to local
Another Great SD Teacher
Lay Off, Legislators
control of local affairs, South Dakota Republicans in Pierre sure like to spend a lot of time pushing for exactly the opposite. 
Now these glorified control freaks want to force our teachers into a state of classroom paralysis by forbidding them to make any utterances to their students that smack of value judgements about political and historical subjects.  House Bill 1113 purports to be a measure that codifies teaching behaviors consistent with "ethics and responsibility" in our state's public schools, but it is the most jumbled up mess of nebulous language you can possibly imagine.
     Need an example?  Try this. Section 5 of the bill forbids teachers from introducing "into any class any controversial subject matter that is not germane to the topic of the course being taught."  This is rhetorical craziness on a pretty grand scale.  Do the writers of this bill understand that words like "controversial" and "germane" are utterly subjective and can't be codified?  For example, if I'm teaching a class in government do I have to wonder if I can bring up subjects like climate change, tariffs, or abortion rights?  Are they "germane?"   Another section of the bill forbids me from advocating "for any issue that is part of a political party platform at the national, state or local level."  If facts matter, I'd be compelled to introduce factual data on a subject, and if those facts lean toward one side or the other on a "controversial" subject, am I "advocating?" Try to imagine the can of worms that would open up if somebody accused me of a code violation. 
     The South Dakota Education Association underscores the absurdity of this bill and its incomprehensible mandates, "which would make it almost impossible to teach U.S. History or government."  Saying "the bill is written so broadly that if a U.S. History teacher made a positive comment about President Lincoln, he or she could be fired," SDEA adds that "aside from being overly broad, [HB 1113] probably wouldn't meet constitutional muster."  Of more compelling concern for local districts and school boards, SDEA believes that the bill could put schools in legal jeopardy. 
     School boards are already burdened with concerns about operational and curriculur issues and don't need to be saddled with a set of mandates like the ones imposed by HB 1113.  Its sponsors should have some faith in the already established means by which parents can complain to their local school administrators if they don't care for what's being taught to their children.  The heavy hand of government is something the GOP has always railed against.  So how come some of the party's state reps are advocating for it now? 
   

Guest Poster David Ganje Analyzes A South Dakota County's Wind Farm Ordinance

The anatomy of a South Dakota wind farm ordinance
Campbell County South Dakota is in the throes of a proposed wind farm
Ganje
ordinance that inadequately addresses its temporary nature and the legal emergency which would justify its passage.  The county, similar to other areas in the state, is considered a good location for wind energy development.  Wind energy development does not come to us as free as the wind.  The conversion of wind energy requires infrastructure on or close to property of county residents.  Wind energy development has a direct effect on property owners, the economy and  the county.
For six months or so Campbell County government studied a possible wind farm ordinance.  It did this without public hearings on the terms or language to be found in an ordinance.  A few days ago the county proposed an ordinance without public input from interest groups or from residents, whether pro or con, regarding legal language proposed in the 99 page ordinance.   The proposed ordinance was written, as it were, in a closed room with no windows.  Democracy certainly gives every elected county official the right to be his own best adversary, but I submit there is a better way.
I will outline some of the problems with the proposed ordinance later in this opinion piece.  But first I will say a few words about economic development.  I want to dissuade any snap-judgement readers from embracing an opinion that I am anti-development.  I am not.  My clients are not.  I am a third generation businessman.   I have had the privilege of representing natural resource developers in my practice.  I will advise readers:  I represent landowners.  Neither my clients nor I, however, are opposed to wind farm development.  I made this point to the county in the very beginning of the process.  I reported to the county straight up that ‘we are not the enemy.’  We meant it- we still do.  This mattered little to the county – it went boldly forward, did its own negotiating with itself, and wrote a proposed temporary and emergency ordinance without public hearings on the ordinance terms or conditions.  A single hearing for the commissioners to approve the 99 page ordinance is scheduled for February 7th.
Zoning laws have been around since the early twentieth century with the goal of managing growth and protecting property rights and values.  The extent to which a zoning ordinance helps or hurts a community is directly related to how much thought, review and sweat equity goes into its creation.  The proposed ordinance is in considerable need of thought, review and sweat equity.  As long as the writing of zoning ordinances is not arbitrary and capricious and as long as ordinances do not violate fundamental property rights and state statutes, zoning should be supported.
Let us review some of the proposed ordinance terms.   A more complete analysis and review of the proposed ordinance can be found at the county auditor’s office where my written memo to the county commissioners is on file.  Or, the memo can be accessed through a blog/article on my website:      https://www.lexenergy.net/     The comments in this opinion piece do not cover all the matters concerning the ordinance.  In 2018 Campbell County and its landowners were approached to host a new wind farm.  The county thought it wise last summer to write a zoning law regarding wind farms.   Fair enough.  Wind farms have their pros and cons.  And a zoning law addressing wind farms is intended to balance the good things, the risks and the bad things.  How would the Campbell County proposed ordinance effect the county?  I will discuss some issues.
  1. Decommissioning Plan.  The ordinance has no requirement that a decommissioning plan be included with a permit application.  At the time of approval of any permit application the county would be absent information on how a developer would dismantle a wind farm when and if that becomes necessary.  The U S Department of Energy suggests that a model ordinance  describe, at the time of permit application, the anticipated life of the wind  project, the estimated decommissioning costs, the method for ensuring that funds will be available for decommissioning and restoration, and the manner in which a project would be decommissioned.
  2. Not a Temporary Ordinance.  The proposed temporary ordinance is not a temporary ordinance under South Dakota law.  The proposed ordinance is a fully integrated planning and zoning ordinance covering a good number of subjects wholly unrelated to a wind energy project. 
  3. Unsupportable Setbacks.   The setback provisions in the proposed ordinance are unsupportable and inadequate.  My memo to the commission discusses this critical issue in detail.  The county gathered no public input and provided no studies or analysis on how it arrived at setback language and terms.
  4. No Road Haul Agreements.   The proposed ordinance does not protect county roads.  The ordinance does not require a common written road haul agreement to be signed by a developer and the county under which a developer repairs any damaged roads. 
  5. No Site Plan Filing.   The proposed ordinance has no requirement for filing site plans and engineering drawings at the time of a permit application.  At the time of county approves a wind farm permit the county would not have a developer’s site plan and engineering drawings.  This is inadequate site plan review.  A U S Department of Energy model ordinance suggests that a permit application should include a site plan showing the planned location of all wind turbines, property lines, setback lines, access roads, electrical cabling and other matters and include the location of structures and properties. 
  6. No Insurance Requirement.   The proposed ordinance has no general liability insurance requirement covering property damage and bodily injury for the construction, operation and dismantling of a wind farm.  Further, the proposed ordinance has no provision naming the county itself as an additional insured which would provide insurance coverage to the county.
  7. No Wind Industry Standards.    The proposed ordinance does not require that a developer conform to wind industry standards for construction, safety, operation and demolition of a wind farm project, other than some limited requirements for aircraft safety.  It is a puzzlement that the proposed ordinance requires industry standards for other types of non--wind projects but provides a free pass for a wind farm project.
Alarm bells are what you get when reading the fine print in a proposed law, calamity is what you get when you don’t address the errors in the law.
David Ganje of Ganje Law Offices practices in the area of natural resources, environmental and commercial law

Monday, January 28, 2019

Keep Transgender Issues Out Of South Dakota's Grade Schools? Good Luck With That

    An all-Republican cadre of South Dakota state reps has decided to defy  the traditional
Forbid The Subject?
Good Luck With That
GOP mantra about local control of our schools, once again.  
 To their effort at gratuitously forcing more civics education in our schools, to which our professional educators have said "no thanks," eleven Republicans have co-introduced a bill (House Bill 1108) that will tell our public educators how to deal with transgender issues in the curricula of South Dakota's schools through grade seven.  Actually, the bill stipulates that the schools won't deal with the subject at all.  The bill's wording is unequivocal:  "No instruction in gender identity or gender expression may be provided to any student in kindergarten through grades seven in any public school in the state."  
     The bill is clear enough, but it can't possibly be adhered to or enforced.  Transgender issues have become such a commonplace aspect of community life that there's no way curious grade schoolers won't bring it up during the everyday give-and-take that takes place in our elementary school classrooms.  We raise our kids to be aware and conversant about matters of social and political life and train our teachers to introduce children to the world around them as a matter of basic educational interaction.  How on earth can teachers shield their young charges from the often hotly discussed matters of sexual identity that routinely pervade conversations in our media?  This bill betrays ignorance of what goes on in a typical classroom every day.
     What's funny is the idea that kids won't pick up information about the subject because it's banned in their schools.  Legislators pushing this are disconnected from reality.  Any parent knows that their kids are plenty hip to what's going on in the world.  They already probably know more about the subject of sexual identity than their parents do.  We'd be doing kids a favor by presenting the facts to them in clear, straightforward ways.  You can seek to keep it out of school curricula, but institutionalizing a ban on such instruction is a waste of time.  I'd like to see the school where some administrator is peeking into classrooms to make sure transgender issues aren't being brought up.  They tried that once with evolution.  Didn't work then, won't work now.
     Like it or not, the world is evolving into a place where my generation's norms about sexual activity and identity are being overrun by modern values. Shunning them as subjects forbidden from discussion by central authorities is no way for a democratic republic to conduct its management of our schools.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Guest Poster David Ganje Discusses Wind Farm Ordinances

Proposed Campbell County (SD) wind farm ordinance

Last July and August  the Campbell County Commission considered
Ganje
the issue of a Campbell County wind farm ordinance, and the county’s lack thereof. Now on its return from hibernation and a few days ago the Commission has placed a proposed ordinance on the table in an attempt to cram down approval of a 100 page ordinance on very short notice to the public.  To not hold public hearings, to silence public input for six months, and then to schedule one quick hearing is a tactic one does not expect in a democracy There have been no public hearings, no listening meetings, no cracker barrels, no public county tours by the county-hired ordinance experts. Nothing. The only scheduled and approved public hearing will be on February 7th.
Why the rush to get wind farms legalized when the county elected officials had over six months to study a wind farm ordinance, to seek public input, and to exchange ideas about a new ordinance? I had recommended to the commission last August that several formal and informal public meetings should be held. I encouraged the experts hired by the county to come to the county and hold listening meetings. None of this happened.
I think back to a recent land rights and property rights problem in northeastern South Dakota. That question was how to manage public access to private non-meandered waters. This was a consequential issue for many county governments, landowners and farmers. These waters were not regulated by the state. Controversy was prevalent concerning access to these so-called public waters. There were questions regarding property rights, hunting and fishing rights, and the effect on the local economy. The state legislature realized these were significant economic and property issues for several counties.
Similar to that property rights problem, the proposed wind farm ordinance will have a significant effect on the property rights and on the economy of Campbell County. These issues should not be crammed down on landowners and farmers on just a few days’ notice and with only one public hearing. The state legislature held two full day hearings for a similar enactment. The legislators then took out time to tour the specific effected areas. This was followed by public debate and further hearings in various committee meetings. The process took some time. The lawmakers were careful. There were numerous opportunities for the public to provide its input. That is not at all how the proposed ordinance is being managed by Campbell County in this matter.
I am now obliged on behalf of my good clients to stand up, salute, and quickly review 100 pages or so of the proposed ordinance and its legalese — all on short notice and at the commission’s convenience. What about the convenience of Campbell County’s landowners and farmers?
David Ganje of Ganje Law Office practices in the area of natural resources, environmental and commercial law