Wednesday, September 11, 2019

South Dakota Farmers Have Already Been Hammered By Trump. Are Our Senior Citizens Next? Try Retiring On Negative Interest Rates.

     Move over South Dakota farmers. You could soon be joined by another class of our state's residents who've exposed President Trump's ineptitude on economic matters.  Trump's demand today for the Federal Reserve Board to cut interest rates to zero "or less" should have every retired (or nearly retired) South Dakotan depending on income from interest-producing investments on edge.  As U.S. bond yields have never gone negative since 1900, it's impossible to guess at what their effect would be if Trump were to get his wish--but as a boomer in good standing, I can understand why a lot of my peers would be wondering about how a bond portfolio supporting their lifestyles would produce the income they need if cash returns collapse.
Trump-o-nomics
First Our Farmers, Now Our Seniors
   Trump's hot-headed rhetoric on this issue ignores any concerns about what his ill-considered scenario would do to retirees.  Calling Federal Reserve Board members "boneheads" for not lowering already historically low interest rates sidesteps the consequences of Trump's demands.  What it comes down to from an investor's perspective is that Trump wants bond investors to sacrifice yield for safety.  At the same time, a younger, more borrowing-oriented generation of Americans would benefit from an ultra-cheap money environment.  The macro economic results short term might be good, but you have to wonder why Trump wants lower rates during what he claims to be "perhaps the greatest economy in the history of our country."  Given this year's GDP growth rate averaging an anemic 2.5%, Trump's fantasy-driven claim about the economy's greatness exposes his concerns about its fragility.  Trump's political motivation seems clear.  He needs to prop this economy up as we go into the 2020 election cycle, and if he doesn't get his way on interest rates, he can always pull out the "blame-the-Fed" card if the economy turns south.
     Meantime, you can add many South Dakota seniors to the roll of Trump-onomics' casualties, which already contains the names of thousands of our state's residents who happen to be farmers.  My worry is that as interest rates decline, seniors will start chasing more aggressive and riskier investments to prop up their declining yields. A recent CNBC piece titled "A Warning To Seniors If The Fed Lowers Interest Rates" puts the quandary in a nutshell, suggesting that older investors have to weigh the unnerving prospects of low interest rates occurring during a market upheaval. Trump's rash tax cuts for the wealthy have ballooned the federal debt to historic highs, both in real and relative numbers.  Now that the U.S. has to borrow money like crazy to meet its obligations and pay interest at unprecedented levels, the president wants some financial relief .  . . and he expects senior citizens who've been working and saving for their lifetimes to help bail him out.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Expanding Medicaid In South Dakota Means Expanding Opportunities Throughout The State

Here’s a pop quiz.  What Republican governor said expanding Medicaid in his state would be
South Dakota, 
It's Time To Get With The Program
an "innovative, fiscally responsible program" that would "improve outcomes, improve lives and improve the fortunes" of his state's residents.  Give up? I admit it’s a toughie. It was (then) Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who successfully expanded Medicaid coverage in 2015, adding more than 300,000 Hoosiers to the state’s pool of insured residents and reducing the uninsured rate by 41%.  Whatever you think of Pence and his politics, he ain’t no dummy. Pence's successor, Republican Eric Holcomb has said, "I've not seen a more successful program."
     So why are we South Dakotans dragging our feet on this? If we were to expand Medicaid, between 40 and 50 thousand of our residents would qualify for coverage. Even with the expense of running the program amounting to 10% of its cost, our state would get a net inflow of $3 billion from the federal government over the next 10 years. Governor Noem's predecessor Republican Dennis Daugaard (like Mike Pence in Indiana) could see what a good deal this is and subsequently created a plan a few years ago that would have expanded Medicaid in South Dakota.  The momentum for it was lost when Donald Trump became President, partly on the promise that he would dismantle the Affordable Ceare Act, which authorizes Medicaid expansion. Since Trump was unable to accomplish that task, expansion is still a great opportunity for South Dakota to extend Medicaid coverage to about 50,000 of its residents who earn too much to qualify for conventional Medicaid, but don’t make enough to pay for standard coverage.  As Governor Daugaard understood, this is a good deal for our state.  
And it’s a good deal on more than just the “healthy outcome” front.  The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that expansion has produced net budget savings among the states that have adopted it.  CBPP has found that higher-than-expected enrollments in some states have not harmed budgets and that “expansion continues to save states money.” There is probably also a positive macro-economic outcome that will accrue from all those federal dollars coming into our state, which should be a welcome boost as we slog through a minimal growth period created by the currently tough agricultural economy
Last January our Governor Kristi Noem flatly rejected Medicaid expansion, but common sense and the experience of other states should make her rethink her opposition. As Indiana and other states have found, waivers make it possible to tailor a plan that works locally. Noem should, like former Governor Daugaard, find a way to make this happen. A flat out rejection is irrational and it makes no sense to institutionalize irrationality.  

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Trump's Ethanol Waivers Are Punishing South Dakota's Corn Producers. Can Our Congressional Reps Provide Something More Than Lip Service About This?

     So what's up with the relentless program of granting ethanol mandate waivers to smaller refineries?
Supports?
The Premise Is Flawed
The Trump administration has exempted 31 American refineries from complying with the mandate and the ethanol industry is starting to feel the pinch.  For background, ethanol derived from corn is a legally required fuel additive, used as a way to reduce carbon emissions from automobiles.  No one doubts that demand for it has significantly increased corn production and supported corn prices for a couple of decades now.  Estimates about ethanol's impact on corn prices vary, but researchers uniformly agree that it has made a big difference in both price and production, with about 40% of our country's corn crop dedicated to supplying the federally-mandated demand for the product.
     Always controversial in terms of its efficiency as an emissions reducer, ethanol has long been subjected to criticism from both environmental and free-market constituencies.  Add to them the oil industry, which has long fought mandated ethanol because, well, it would rather your fuel be 100% gasoline.  This chorus of critics has been around for a long while now, but until Trump got elected, the EPA, which oversees ethanol policy, has been reluctant to create cutbacks in its production.  Much of it is political, of course, given that corn producing states wield enough electoral power to make a difference, as they did in 2016, when a swath of red was brushed across much of the farm belt, which went solidly for Trump--who carried South Dakota with 63% of the vote.
     But, as trade war-fatigued soybean producers found out, Trump's priorities don't put farmers very high up on his list of considerations. U.S. reps from this part of the country have been crying foul, but to little avail. Our all-GOP congressional delegation hasn't done much good.  Senator John Thune re-states the obvious,  complaining that "the oil lobby is strong" without criticizing the president that he's beholden to. His colleague Senator Mike Rounds co-sponsored a bill to make the waiver process more transparent . . . meaning what, I don't know.  Our Congressman, Dusty Johnson, called for an investigation into the process, though I doubt that Robert Mueller is available just now. Namby-pamby as these reactions are, I suppose the lip service plays well to some extent here at home. Have they stopped or even slowed down the waiver process? No. 
     For a genuinely outraged and politically courageous reaction, our federal reps should look across the border to Iowa.  Sounding off the way an elected official is supposed to, GOP Senator Charles Grassley has said, "Not only is the government not keeping its word but it also in a sense screwing the farmer."  The outspoken Iowan was responding to yesterday's news that the U.S.'s largest ethanol maker, POET, is closing its 92-million gallon a year plant in Cloverdale, Indiana.  A POET spokesman blames the closure on "mismanagement of the ethanol mandate."  Sioux Falls-based POET is also reducing production at half of its 28 plants scattered across 7 states. That's a lot of corn that won't be needed for the foreseeable future.
     Like it or not, ethanol is now a fixture in South Dakota's economy.  Chipping away at its existence with waivers may be baby steps, but the product has plenty of enemies, and they can do some long term damage to the producers who create it.  As to the farmers themselves?  They might consider re-evaluating the guy they put into the White House with so much gusto in 2016.
   

   

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Let's Play 20--Make That 319--Questions: South Dakota Governor Noem's Coy Ploy On Hemp.

        South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem continues her obtuse resistance to the development
No Matter How Hard She Tries
Kristi Can't Hemp Herself
of hemp production in our state. 
Apparently determined to delay South Dakota's entry into the fast growing market for hemp and its derivative products, Noem just handed a list of 319 questions to a state legislative interim committee that is studying the pros and cons of hemp farming and processing here. This may look like due diligence on the governor's part, but 47 states in this country probably had to address a similar set of questions and concerns and concluded that hemp cultivation is okay, either in commercial quantities, as pilot programs or for research purposes.  That Noem is reluctant to join that overwhelming majority may satisfy some need to project herself as her own woman, but to do so in the face of so much support for its production by both state and national farming interests makes her look like she's just plain stubborn.
     On a national level, you won't find a more comprehensive endorsement for hemp production than the American Farm Bureau's.  In the context of the withering international demand for soybeans, ABF calls hemp a "comeback crop"  that will "benefit farmers."  The National Farmers Union says hemp "is an untapped opportunity for American farmers" and has even developed a Hemp History Week "to make our voices heard in support of bringing hemp back to U.S. farms."  Responding here in South Dakota to Noem's laundry list of questions, farmer Lee Qualm (R-Platte), the House Majority Leader in Pierre, says "we're making this way more difficult than it needs to be." Qualm also told KELO-TV  that there was much "duplication" in the questions, that some were irrelevant, and that others had to wait for data from USDA and FDA in order to be answered.
     Meanwhile, as Governor Noem continues to stall on moving South Dakota forward into the fast-growing market for hemp, she risks losing a sizable share of it to the many states that are well on their way to getting their pieces of the action.  Along with many other forecastors, CNBC-TV believes that hemp will have a big place in industries as diverse as foods, beverages, cosmetics, paper, clothing and building materials.  Marketwatch believes the industrial hemp market will grow at a compound annual rate of 14%, reaching nearly $11 billion in 2025.  It notes that research and development activities are expected to have a positive impact on hemp production, bringing higher yields and better quality to the product.
     Hemp is happening, but Governor Noem remains unconvinced.  She says industrial hemp is "surrounded by many question marks."  That many of those questions have been satisfactorily answered in nearly every state in America is lost on Noem, who is determined to abandon South Dakota's potential to be in the forefront of one of American agriculture's most promising products in recent generations.
   
   

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

More Incarceration Hasn't Done Much Good. It's Time For South Dakotans To Think About Prison Reform

     We're kidding ourselves if we believe upping the number of inmates in our prisons will
We Spend More On Prisons
And This Is What We Get?
deter crime in South Dakota. 
In 1977, South Dakota housed about 500 inmates.  By 2017 that number increased to 3,900, a 750% jump, which is 30 times the rate of our population's growth.  Are we supposed to feel safer as a result?  Not particularly.  Citing data from the state Attorney General's office, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader last year noted that "violent crime outpaced population growth" during the period 2008-2017, when South Dakota's population increased by 8% while violent crimes went up by 29%.  Arrests during the period 2009-2018 increased by 36%.  Reaching back to 2000, an FBI-compiled index composed of property and violent crimes per 100k population shows a gain of 3.4% through 2016.
     If our decades-long rush to imprison people is spurred by our urge to punish them, we've probably succeeded.  But if keeping our state safer is part of the plan, we've failed.  And an expensive failure it has been.  The National Institute of Corrections says that in 2017 South Dakotans spent $20 thousand a year per inmate in our state's prisons.  More prisoners + more money = more crime is an equation that makes no sense.  It's time to come up with a smarter approach.
     South Dakota's American Civil Liberties Union has just published a plan that should be considered.  Whatever your political inclinations and attitudes toward the ACLU may be, they should be set aside for a moment while you consider the practical, essentially non-partisan elements of this proposal, called "Blueprint For Smart Justice."  The blueprint's overall theme is to replace incarceration for many non-violent (including drug abusers) prisoners with locally developed counseling and assistance programs designed to change their behaviors.  The aim is to cut our prison population in half, which at $20k a prisoner will make for some sizable cost reductions that can either be passed on to taxpayers or spent on some productive ventures like infra-structure repair and development, education, enhanced internet access--you name it.  Given the fiscal and social failures of the status quo, I think the ACLU is on to something.  This approach needs to be given a chance.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Of Guns, Tariffs, And Toledo, Ohio. Where Art Thou, South Dakota's Congressional Delegates?

    Where has South Dakota's congressional delegation been hiding these days?  They've gone into "keep mum" mode while Americans are being slaughtered by high-powered firearms.  At the same time, they're helplessly mute in the face of the the financial catastrope that has befallen their state's sizable ag industry, which has stood by and watched President Trump's tariff-obsessions ruin our important market in China.  Senators Thune and Rounds haven't said much, and neither has Congressman Johnson. What gives with the silent treatment?                                                                                                                                                                                                                              When it comes to the murderous rampages of recent days, maybe the most disheartening
Thune, Rounds, Johnson
Ideas, Gentlemen?
aspect came when President Trump, reading carefully from a teleprompter, offered prayers to "those who perished in Toledo, Ohio." 
Missing the killing zone of Dayton by 150 miles, Trump continued his long association with muffed facts, in this case adding a dimension of indifference to his carelessly written condolences to the victims.  That he chose to blame white supremacy, video games and mental illness for Dayton and the nearly simultaneous massacre in El Paso only adds to the President's inability to correlate facts with conclusions.  If it were all about the issues he raised, there would be a simultaneous epidemic of similar massacres around the globe because, as Hillary Clinton just noted, mental illness and video games "are in virtually every country on earth."  White supremacy, ugly as it is, has been a factor in some of these rampages, but many of the incidents were set off by other causes.    Those causes are not unique to the United States, yet ours is the only country that seems to have been struck by this epidemic.
    Why?  Because as Clinton added, "the difference is the guns."  Having toted and used an M-16 for more than a year at the DMZ in Vietnam during my stint in the Marines, I'm familiar enough with its killing power.  I wish that weapon and others like it were banned altogether, but they're here to stay, and in sizable numbers, apparently well into the millions .  My beef, though, isn't so much with the weapon as it is with expansion of its killing potential, mainly abetted by the use of high-capacity magazines.  The madman in Dayton was able to fire 41 rounds in 30 seconds using such a magazine.  I've seen internet ads for magazines that hold 100 rounds. This seems ridiculous in any context, including sport-shooting, hunting and self-defense.  Even the "well-regulated" militia that is the cornerstone of the 2nd Amendment's guarantees on the right to bear arms could function effectively if all its rifle-bearers were armed with much smaller magazines. We Marines in Vietnam got along with magazines that had a capacity of about 15-20 rounds. I'd like to know what South Dakota's congressional delegates have to say about this.
     And while Thune, Rounds and Johnson are putting together some thoughts about the social and economic costs of high-powered weapons and oversized magazines, I hope they'll pen something about the disaster descending on our state's many farmers.  Our men in D.C. have been awkwardly silent about how Trump's tariff war just escalated--particularly the part where China has summarily banned all imports of American farm products.  American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall calls it a "body blow" to thousands of farmers and ranchers in this country, who are being helped through this crisis by the largesse of American taxpayers, to the tune of $28 billion during the past couple of years. My guess is that our congressional threesome will offer up some standard political rhetoric acknowledging and decrying the status quo without offering much in the way of proposals to change things for the better.  They're bereft of ideas, ditto for their party leadership.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Trump Sets The Tariff Whip To Farmers Again. The Scars Might Not Heal.

     Just when it looked like the grain markets (well, wheat and corn, anyway) were getting
Great Again?
I Don't Think So
back to a normal footing--thanks to weather-related shortages that have driven buyers aggressively into the market--along comes President Trump this morning with another useless tariff increase. 
Not having figured out that the Chinese aren't about to cry uncle and give in to Trump's tariff fixation, the President today announced that he's slapping a 10% duty on another $300 billion worth of Chinese products coming into our country, effective September 1.  The effect on farm commodity markets?  About what you'd expect.  Wheat and corn sold off sharply, only adding to some recent selling pressure that has brought them down 10% or so from their recent peaks.  As to perenially struggling soybean prices, they got hammered from their already historic lows to the kinds of price levels they haven't seen in nearly a decade.
     With a wider domestic and foreign market base, corn and wheat farmers may weather this storm, but for soybeans this is worrisome stuff.  Well into a second consecutive crop year with an export-dependent market that has seen foreign purchases dry up, American farmers must be coming to the realization that China has found a way to get by without buying huge quantities of product from the United States.  Mitigation payments ranging from $15 to $150 per acre, nationally, and probably somewhere in the middle of that range for South Dakota's producers, are a temporary help, but soybean farmers are far from relieved.  A week ago President Trump crowed that "farmers are starting to do great again.  The $16 billion China replacement money didn't exactly hurt!" American Soybean Association Vice President Bill Gordon's reaction?  "To say we're doing great would probably be an overstatement.  These markets are definitely suppressed due to tariffs."  Happily, the mitigation payments haven't silenced farmers, who know a financial bandage when they see it.
     The cash payoff to farmers not only didn't buy their silence, it made the Chinese position all the more stark and ominous.  If Chinese policymakers were hoping that financial pain in the American farm belt would push Trump to ease off on his tariff mania, the cash payoff from D.C. proved them wrong.  Trump is perfectly willing to support farmers, no matter how badly their markets get clobbered.  That probably leaves the Chinese with one practical option:  kiss off American farm products altogether.  China Daily as much as said so when it concluded last June that "U.S. soybeans will lose their Chinese market if the U.S. administration doesn't give up its unilateral policies."  The difference between trade wars and real wars is that in a real war we don't inflict  damage on our own people.
   

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

In God We Trust

     From the Washington National Cathedral.  The Constant Commoner stands aside:




Have We No Decency?  A Response To President Trump



The escalation of racialized rhetoric from the President of the United States has evoked
responses from all sides of the political spectrum. On one side, African American leaders have led the way in rightfully expressing outrage. On the other, those aligned with the President seek to downplay the racial overtones of his attacks, or remain silent.
As faith leaders who serve at Washington National Cathedral ¬– the sacred space where America gathers at moments of national significance – we feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough?
As Americans, we have had such moments before, and as a people we have acted. Events of the last week call to mind a similarly dark period in our history:
“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”
That was U.S. Army attorney Joseph Welch on June 9, 1954, when he confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy before a live television audience, effectively ending McCarthy’s notorious hold on the nation. Until then, under the guise of ridding the country of Communist infiltration, McCarthy had free rein to say and do whatever he wished. With unbridled speech, he stoked the fears of an anxious nation with lies; destroyed the careers of countless Americans; and bullied into submissive silence anyone who dared criticize him.
In retrospect, it’s clear that Welch’s question was directed less toward McCarthy and more to the nation as a whole. Had Americans had enough? Where was our sense of decency?
We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society.
This week, President Trump crossed another threshold. Not only did he insult a leader in the fight for racial justice and equality for all persons; not only did he savage the nations from which immigrants to this country have come; but now he has condemned the residents of an entire American city. Where will he go from here?
Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.
These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.
When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.
As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over. We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation. We must say that this will not be tolerated. To stay silent in the face of such rhetoric is for us to tacitly condone the violence of these words. We are compelled to take every opportunity to oppose the indecency and dehumanization that is racism, whether it comes to us through words or actions.
There is another moment in our history worth recalling. On January 21, 2017, Washington National Cathedral hosted an interfaith national prayer service, a sacred tradition to honor the peaceful transfer of political power. We prayed for the President and his young Administration to have “wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.”
That remains our prayer today for us all.
The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar BuddeBishop of the Episcopal Diocese of WashingtonThe Very Rev. Randolph Marshall HollerithDean of Washington National CathedralThe Rev. Canon Kelly Brown DouglasCanon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Reality Bites. Hypocrisy Bites Harder. What Happened To Your Precious Fiscal Conservatism, South Dakota Senators Thune And Rounds?

        "Unsustainable" is the word about federal budget deficits that will live in infamy when
What, Us Worry?
South Dakota GOP senators John Thune and Mike Rounds get their records reviewed by history. 
As their political paramour President Trump concludes a deal with Congress that raises the deficit ceiling this year and alleviates yet another shutdown threat, the United States will push its federal debt to levels unseen since World War II.  The silent acquiescence of Thune and Rounds isn't so shocking, considering their unwavering fealty to President Trump, but their blatant hypocrisy is gag-worthy just the same.
      Thune's abandonment of his principles regarding fiscal discipline was gaudily displayed by his cheerleading rhetoric about the 2017 tax cut.  Ignoring conclusions from the Congressional Budget Office about the the deficits created by the cut, Thune kissed off his own warnings about "unsustainable" deficits and his credo "that every South Dakota family must live within a budget, and I continue to believe the federal government should do the same." As we've seen, Thune's rhetoric has proven to be pure political buncum, as sagging revenues from the tax cut--not spending that was generally in line with expectations--are the cause of our budget shortfalls.   
    Mike Rounds has proven to be equally adept at ignoring his own principles about federal fiscal responsibility.  On his website, Rounds says that "with an $18 trillion national debt that threatens to destroy our economy, budget issues are a top priority of mine."  Considering that he hasn't said a peep about how the tax cuts he supported look to push the national debt to $22 trillion and expand it to "unprecedented levels", you'd expect Rounds to be scrambling to find ways to cut spending as an offset to the fiscally disastrous tax cuts.  But with the budget deal just concluded, the urgency of the situation is alleviated and Rounds will continue to go along with a situation he once decried. 
     Meantime, just when the heck is the benefit of all this illusory tax cut-stimulus going to trickle down to South Dakota, senators?  Our state's economy is growing at just a fraction of the already so-so national rate.  And now we get word that state budget analysts are projecting a second consecutive revenue shortfall for fiscal 2020.  State Revenue Secretary Jim Terwilliger blames it on "lots of uncertainties and challenges in the ag sector."  I blame it on the poorly thought out trade and fiscal policies coming from the Trump administration and many of its unprincipled enablers, including John Thune and Mike Rounds. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

SD Senator Rounds, Patriotism Is The Last Refuge Of Scoundrels . . . And A Senator Who Hasn't Done Much For His State's Economy

     Our U.S. Senator Mike Rounds just went on a chest-thumping twitter harangue about how "we South Dakotans are patriots."  This Marine Corps veteran of the war in Vietnam wasn't aware that we needed Rounds (who never served) to remind us that we're patriots. He felt compelled to tell us anyway, but the reason was self-serving.  His call for patriotism was driven by political compulsion, wrapped up as it was in a package of words that insisted
Senator Rounds
Rhetorical Garbage
we need to stand "for our country, our flag, and with Donald Trump."  Including a call to support Trump as one of his three pillars of patriotism is the kind of rhetorical garbage that Rounds is reduced to dispensing these days, but there isn't much else about the past couple of years that our Senator can sell to South Dakota voters. 
     South Dakota's anemic economic performance since Trump came into office is a matter of record.  The latest exposure of our state's tepid economy came last week, when the Bureau of Finance and Management disclosed that state revenues for the year that just ended (on 6/30) were well short of estimates.  Broader economic measures have been disappointing also, particularly in comparison with how South Dakota has been doing relative to the national and regional economies.  More specifically, our ag economy has been hammered by Trump's tariffs. Tourism has been no great shakes, either.  Recreational visits to Mt. Rushmore are down 20% so far this year, following a 5% decline for all of 2018.  Badlands National Park's pattern is similar.  You can imagine how merchants in Keystone and Hill City, the two towns most closely associated with Mt. Rusmore, must be feeling after last May's taxable sales were down 20% and 10%, respectively, year on year.  Bad weather probably had something to do with it, but the overall trend is not our friend.
     With an economic track record like that going for him,  it's no surprise that all Senator Rounds can come up with on his twitter feed is an appeal to patriotism.   His full tweet had something to do with standing up against "professional resisters," whatever that's supposed to mean, but resistance to the status quo, whether done by "professionals" or amateurs, is what has always propelled the United States forward.  Next time Rounds comes up with a nebulous phrase like "professional resisters," I challenge him to identify what he means and who they are.  I doubt he'll have much to show.  As to patriotism, spare me the lecture.  If Rounds thinks the concept includes blind worship of Donald Trump, our senator has lost contact with history and how this country and its long traditions of resistance, reaction and reconciliation have fulfilled our destiny with greatness.
   
   
   

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Trump's Racist Tweets: The Death Rattle Of A Dying Culture. Thanks For Speaking Out, SD GOP Rep Dusty Johnson

       Try to imagine the aggrieved soul-in-chief in the White House striking back at political
"Nativist, Xenophobic, Stupid"
But Not "Racist?"

opponents who are white by telling them to go back to their own countries.   
After telling four non-white Congresswomen to go back where they came from, Trump and his supporters are claiming that Trump's tweets were not racist, with the adminstration's virtual house organ Fox News saying, in apologist Britt Hume's words, that they were "nativistic . . . xenophobic . . . counterfactual . . . and politically stupid."  Hume went on to add that "they simply do not meet the standard definition of racist."  I wasn't aware that there is a standard definition of "racism,"  which, like beauty and obscenity, probably lies in the eye of the beholder, but on this one it looks like all but a handful of Trump's closest allies can see the racism in the President's nativistic, xenophobic, counterfactual and politically stupid utterance.  I'll buy Hume's tortured absolution the next time I hear Trump complaining about a white Anglo-Saxon congressional opponent by telling that rep to go back to Scandinavia if he/she doesn't like it here.  A lot of beholders like me can see right through the President's racist intent.
     Though he carefully avoided the word "racist" in his criticism of Trump's tirade, our South Dakota GOP Congressional Rep Dusty Johnson was quick enough to criticize the President.   Johnson yesterday told KELO-News that the President's remarks were "inappropriate" and the "wrong way to communicate."  By contrast, up to now, South Dakota's two GOP Senators, Thune and Rounds, haven't said a peep about their political paramour's ignorant comments.  Until something is forthcoming, we can take their silence as approval.  My bet is that two carefully worded remarks that haven't got a scintilla of a value judgement in them will eventually emerge from their respective PR departments. 
     Meantime, President Trump's rant reveals the desperate paranoia that I believe is in the hearts of many white folks of Anglo-Saxon (and other European) origins in America's heretofore white-dominated society.   We Caucasians are on the way out as the most populous race in the United States.  By 2050, whites will be less than half the U.S. population, our numerical domination likely to disappear forever.  Trump's voice is the equivalent of a fist raised in symbolic but ultimately futile defiance against the tide of history.  He and his followers will have about as much luck as ancient classicists who bemoaned the sweep of Christianity over Europe, or the Luddites who tried to head off the industrial revolution, or the fin de seicle Victorians who couldn't accept the demise of the British Empire, or we Americans who got taught a lesson about the limitations of our power in Southeast Asia.  History happens, and it's happening now.  Trump can try, but he'll never forestall it.
        

Thursday, July 11, 2019

South Dakota's Monolithically Conservative Government Wants To Enforce Intellectual Diversity In Our Colleges. You're Kidding, Right?

     Last Monday a South Dakota law titled "An Act To Promote Free Speech And Intellectual
Check Out All Those Orthodox Liberals
Makes You Want To Shudder, Doesn't It?
Diversity At Certain Institutions Of Higher Education" took effect. 
I'm not exactly sure what this law is intended to remedy, but in signing it, Governor Kristi Noem said "Our university campuses should be places where students leave their comfort zones and learn about competing ideas and perspectives,"  the implication being that the status quo falls short of meeting that standard, a situation that must now be remedied by the passage of this law.
     First off, regarding the status quo, I'm dubious about the need for this law.  Having hired a fair number of South Dakota public university graduates over the past decades, I've found them to be competent, level-headed, moderate in their political and ideological views--and reflective of a sound educational structure that trained them well and turned them into excellent models of engaged and productive citizenry.  If readers have had markedly different impressions of their SD public university hires, I'd love to hear from them--and doubt very seriously that I will.  Our colleges are doing their jobs and doing them well.  
     As much was effectively conceded by David Randall, director of research for the National Association of Scholars.  NAS is an organization that seeks to counter "liberal bias" in academia.  During deliberations over the bill, he told lawmakers that South Dakota was "not as far down the road" as other states, but that it was only a matter of time before orthodoxy of liberal ideology would reduce intellectual diversity.  Horrified by the prospect, senators passed the bill 26-7, representatives went for it 51-12.  Orthodox liberal ideology didn't stand a chance.
     More compellingly, neither did common sense.  This gratuitous and probably unenforceable statute can't be implemented because intellectual diversity can't be quantified and can't be defined.  For one thing, diversity of opinion exists within individuals, so how do you classify, say, an applicant with strongly held liberal beliefs about personal behavior and equally strong beliefs about fiscally conservative public policy?  Considering that the universities "must create hiring practices to ensure the composition of the faculty and administration reflects a broad range of ideological viewpoints," how does said socially liberal/fiscally conservative individual fit into an ideologically balanced faculty?  For another, who determines bias?  South Dakota's Republican-dominated government?  Please.  
    This law is a political statement by a legislature committed to controlling every aspect of public life with the heavy hand of government.  I remember when Republicans were repulsed by that notion.  
    
    

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Medals Of Honor For Massacring People At Wounded Knee? Pathetic, But South Dakota GOP Rep Dusty Johnson Seems To Be Okay With It.

     In 1890, there was a massacre of around 300 Lakota Indians (200 of them women and
Dead At Wounded Knee
Where's The Nuance?
children) by the U.S. Army at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota.  
The event has been well-documented.  There is general acceptance of the fact that Wounded Knee is a blot on our nation's history, so much so that in 1990, both houses of Congress passed a resolution on its historical centennial expressing "deep regret" for the incident.  But there's some unfinished business. Unresolved then and now is the matter of what to do about the Medals of Honor issued to 20 of the soldiers that took part in the bloodbath.
     Calls for rescinding those medals have been been coming forward since 2001 (maybe earlier, but I can't find any cites for those).  The latest is a bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives ("Remove the Stain Act") two weeks ago by Democrat Denny Heck of Washington.  As with earlier attempts at getting this done, Heck's initiative is finding some resistance, including a morally and historically equivocating effort at pushback by our South Dakota GOP  Congressman Dusty Johnson.
     Last week, with some irony, considering it was on July 4th, when we celebrate the freedoms of life, liberty and happiness that were taken away from hundreds of Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee,  Johnson told WNAX radio that rescinding the medals "would be an aggressive act."  He also said "there's a better, more nuanced, more facts-driven way for us to move forward."  Johnson seems satisfied that the Congressional resolution on the matter in 1990 acknowledges this "terrible error . . . this sin of our nation," and that the MOH controversy is a distraction that's keeping us from "moving forward."  Johnson won't be able to blow this off so easily.  For one thing,  it escapes him that those perpetrating this "sin" of our nation are still regarded as worthy of a medal that denotes "honor."  How can one be "honored" for committing a "sin," in this case a sin that continues to sear the memories of our country's Native Americans?
     This is the kind of moral equivocation that surfaces from a mind that thinks it understands
Johnson
Get A Dictionary
the meaning of the word "nuance." 
"Nuance" is a valuable, if somewhat overused, word that suggests subtle differences in meaning and has a place in any number of political conversations.  In effect, it could be a substitute for a phrase like "I get what your saying, but there's more to it than that." But try as he might to force it into this conversation, Johnson's glib use of "nuance" can't apply here.  There's nothing about a massacre that can lend itself to a nuanced way of "moving forward." My grandfather and namesake John The Baptist was murdered a century ago in Ada Pazar, Turkey, for committing the crime of being a Christian. There's no "nuancing" a cold-blooded massacre. Johnson and his fellow apologists can continue to cling to their sorry justifications for what those soldiers did at Wounded Knee, but neither logic, history, nor a misuse of the English language can explain why the murderous fiends at that massacre should continue to be revered as recipients worthy of our nation's highest military honor.
   
   

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Tanks On The Fourth? To President Trump They're Props. Meanwhile, Back In The Nam On The Fourth Of July, 1967 . . .

   
No Words.





Operation Buffalo, 9th Marines
The DMZ
   July 2-14, 1967  



I was a radioman supporting these guys who got into one of the war's toughest tangles with North Vietnam's best.  I was part of a pool of replacement radiomen a few miles to the rear and was mounted up and getting ready to be choppered into this meat grinder, the scuttlebutt being that all the radiomen in the field were dead.  Thank God the enemy had been pushed back and we never had to join this battle, which gave rise to the 1st Battalion/Ninth Marine Regiment's nickname "The Walking Dead."















Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Scyller Borglum's Campaign For The U.S. Senate Is A Breath Of Stale Air

     South Dakota state legislator Scyller Borglum (R-House, District 32, Rapid City) yesterday
Borglum
She needs to dial for beaucoup bucks
drew some attention by declaring herself a candidate for South Dakota's U.S. Senate seat in 2020. 
Her primary opponent (among unannounced others, if any) will be incumbent Senator Mike Rounds, whose two-terms as Governor and first term in the U.S. Senate have made him a political juggernaut. His prospects for re-election are daunting enough.  During his tenure in the Senate, Rounds's campaign has raised $6.1 million, of which $500k is still on hand. He's already raised $600k during the first quarter of this year. Borglum, meantime, in her single successful run for a state house seat has raised, according to Followthemony.org, a total of $6,300.00.
     After you let that sink in you have to wonder why on earth Borglum is doing this.  Strategically, I'd say her only chance is that Rounds, who is now dealing with his wife's struggle against cancer, may decide to call it quits.  That would throw the race open to all comers, including neophytes like Borglum, who probably will gain something in the recognition sweepstakes during her quixotic campaign.  But considering that the Rounds campaign has responded aggressively to Borglum's challenge, all indications are that Rounds intends to run in '20.  If so, Borglum might as well throw in the towel.  A one-term legislator with next to nothing for money running against a two-term governor and sitting senator who can raise millions?  Please.
    Her main campaign pitch is actually just about as hopeless as her financial situation.  From the piece in the Rapid City Journal that I linked above, it looks like she's appealing to those who think Mike Rounds hasn't hewed closely enough to President Trump's agenda.  Apparently, Rounds's siding with Trump more than 90% of the time isn't litmus-test worthy for the Trump-devoted Borglum, who admires "Trump's common-sense, conservative approach to the business of running America."  This is Trump-fealty at its most belligerent and ignorant, considering that Trump and his supporters have ratcheted the federal debt to "unprecedented levels," according to the Congressional Budget Office's long term projections published last week.  If this is Borglum's idea of a "common-sense, conservative" approach to business management, I'd say she's in a state of Trump-delusionality.  Bragging about Trump's management of the economy and stock market is something like bragging about George Bush's oversight of the housing market in 2006.  Does the common-sense, conservative Borglum know what a bubble is?
     If Scyller Borglum is the conservative she claims to be, she'd be crying foul about all the red ink that Trump and his tax cut have generated.  More broadly, she'd be aghast at the way Trump and his sycophants (Rounds included) have wrung core conservative principles out of the Republican Party.  Accepting excessive debt is just one of them.  Abandoning free trade for isolationism is another. Socialistic handouts to aggrieved industry groups like farmers comes to mind.  Borglum's uncritical embrace of Donald Trump isn't unusual in South Dakota, which has yet to see much "trickle-down" from the economy that she so admires: South Dakota's economy last year grew at less than half of the overall economy's already tepid rate.  But these realities matter little to the Stepford pols who adore Trump the way Borglum does, so her message is predictably repetitious and stale.
   

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

South Dakota Senator John Thune Hates Socialism. Just Hates It. Except, Of Course, When He Loves It.

     Talk about phony-baloney rhetoric.  Our Senator John Thune, that's the guy with the fixed scowl on his face who's always standing behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during photo-ops of Republican leadership in Congress, loves to bash the smithereens out of some recent proposals coming from Democrats by calling them "socialistic."  In recent weeks he
railed against "the Democrats' socialist Medicare-for-all plan," called the Green New Deal a "socialist fantasy," and generally lambasted the the idea of socialism to his utterly uncritical, softball-throwing interrogators at Fox News by asserting the old GOP canard that "the issue with socialist fantasies is that they sound good until you see the bill."
Thune, To The Right
Not Saying "Cheese"

     How a deficit-hawk like Thune, who pushed a GOP tax plan that has driven federal debt to historic highs, both in raw numbers and as a percent of the overall U.S. economy, could complain about bills coming due is brazen enough.  But to complain about proposals from Democrats and their supposedly negative effect on the federal balance sheet without any analytical back-up is dogmatic political pandering.  Consider Medicare-for-all. That the proposal needs more study is a given, mainly because there's no consensus about its effect on the U.S. economy, generally, and federal deficit, specifically.  Meantime, the status quo, awful as is, seems to be unacceptable on all fronts--except maybe for the health insurance industry--and demands a re-set.  Yes, spending for Medicare-for-all will be massive, but it needs to be looked at in context.  Currently, combined private and public healthcare spending is expected to reach $45 trillion by 2026, according the Dept. of Health and Human Services.  The U.S. spends, per capita, twice as much on healthcare as comparable countries do, but the outcome shows that we're not getting our money's worth.
     Medicare-for-all needs to be an option for consideration.  Too many responsible analysts say it's too good a deal to categorically reject. Getting some dubious political returns by bashing it as a "socialistic" scheme doesn't add to the conversation and only confirms that Thune isn't interested in responsible leadership, just cheap political rhetoric.  Certainly, after his party's stewardship of the budget's horrendous deficit, his concerns about racking up more bills are transparently sanctimonious and hypocritical.  More dismaying is his lack of understanding about what "socialism" actually is and how the principles of a socialistic organization are so important to the economy and well-being of his home state.
      We South Dakotans couldn't have much of a society if it weren't for the socialistic inclinations of our federal government.  Federal aid and grants amount to a third of South Dakota's state revenues, with vastly more sums of money coming in from D.C. than we send out as taxes, to the tune of about $1,400 per resident in 2017.  This is a distribution of resources that fits every definition of socialism I can find, and I don't see Senator Thune condemning it.  Further, his disdain for socialism also stops at the enforcement of the ethanol mandate, which forces distribution of a South Dakota-created product onto a market, whether the market likes it or not.  That's classic  "command economy" socialism, and Thune promotes it wholeheartedly.  He touts ethanol as a wonderful product that has done great things for the country, but knows that the country probably sees it otherwise.  How else to explain his conniption fits whenever there's talk of weakening or eliminating the mandate. If ethanol were such a great product, it wouldn't need to be forced on consumers. Thune fears a free market approach to ethanol and needs  the safety and assurance of a socialistic government's mandate in order to satisfy the political demands of his constituents.  Thune embraces socialism, his selective contempt for it notwithstanding.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

It's Official. He's Up For Re-election. Can South Dakota Stand Another Four Years Of Donald Trump?

     No doubt a lot of South Dakota Republicans were plenty happy last night when President
Say, What?
How About Just Making Them Solvent Again?
Trump officially announced that he was running for re-election. 
Trump carried this state with 63% of the vote in 2016, pretty much in keeping with Trump's overall landslide in this country's rural precincts, which went more than 2-to-1 in his favorDuring the campaign, Trump declared "there's a war on the American farmer," promising to cut taxes on family farms, and calling them the "backbone" of America.  Trump even recently tweeted "I LOVE YOU" to America's farmers, but after two awful years in the commodity markets, I imagine that farmers are now taking his avowals with some skepticism.  Trump's professions of love have turned out to be  rhetoric. Our Governor Kristi Noem said last February that South Dakota's economy has has been "devastated" by Trump's trade wars. This state lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues during Trump's tenure in the White House. Considering how South Dakota's economy as gone into a stall during the past couple of years, mainly caused by the disastrous trade policies that Trump has put into place, you have to wonder if our state's voters will go with the Trumpian flow again next year.
     During his typically self-aggrandizing style that is unabashedly ignorant of facts, Trump last night claimed that the U.S. economy is "the envy of the world" and that "the American Dream is back."  The first claim is ludicrous.  According to the International Monetary Fund, global economic growth in 2018 was 3.7%.  The United States couldn't even make 3%.  So how are we the envy of the world?  Trump should envy the world and wonder why his economic policies can't even get the U.S. up to speed with the rest of the planet.  As to the "American Dream" being "back," I'd say the "American Nightmare" is more like it when it comes to economic conditions on the farm.  Dependent as South Dakota is on its agricultural base, our state's economy in 2018 not only couldn't keep up with the world, it grew at less than half the rate of the already tepid U.S. rate (1.3% vs. 2.9%).
     Given that Trump has failed to deliver on his promises to the rural population that dominates South Dakota, what is the basis of his appeal in this state?  Ken Blanchard, a political science prof at Northern State in Aberdeen last Fall was paraphrased in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader as saying "Trump has remained popular in South Dakota because he has been willing to spar with the political elite, including the media" and that "Trump is a voice for rural Americans who feel they've been insulted by politicians and media elites."  Emotional gratification can be quite the driver in political behavior, but once the thrill of it all has subsided, I hope rational considerations and expectations drive voting decisions next year.  One four-year term with this charismatic demagogue is long enough to feel good about ourselves even as we're losing the farm.