Thursday, October 31, 2013

C'mon, man. The fight over Keystone XL is all about enviro-symbolism, not enviro-substance.

     What else can you conclude after reading a study done by the Congressional Research Service (http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42537.pdf) completed last March that calculates the pipeline would add the miniscule sum of anywhere between 0.06 percent to 0.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions per year?  In a long New York Magazine piece by Jonathan Chait that came out this week, Chait contrasts this with what he calls a much more pressing need to reduce emissions via EPA mandates at American power plants that environmentalists say would cut greenhouse gas production by 10% in this country, or about 30 times as much as would be produced by Keystone.
     Yet it's Keystone XL that draws all the attention and the big demonstrations.  I don't recall ever seeing a march on Washington by enviro-activists devoted exclusively to demanding new emission standards for power plants.  In the meantime, plans for running the pipeline through South Dakota and neighboring states remain on hold while the Obama administration continues to grapple with the political elements that are holding up a long overdue final resolution on the pipeline.
     And as this is going on, do we hear a peep about plans to implement new emission standards on power plants?  Not much in the way of enviro-agitation on that front.  On another, probably just as sensitive a matter, enviro-concern is real and needs to be addressed, albeit on a more localized level.  This one is all about accidents, spillage and subsequent contamination.  I attended the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission hearing on Transcanda's proposal for Keystone XL a few years ago and listened to a lot of concerns that were raised and reasonably addressed.  Transcanada's contingencies, safeguards and reaction plans were thoroughly laid out and passed muster with the Commissioners and, I gathered, the affected landowners who would deal directly with the issues.  As to the question about whether tar sands-derived crude oil would make leakage more likely, the National Academy of Sciences, in a report issued last Summer (http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=18381) says no to that concern.
     So why the delay in reaching a decision?  I think it's obvious that political considerations are holding sway over practical and operational ones.  In the meantime, efforts at making much more significant inroads on gas emissions via stringent power plant regulations aren't getting the attention they merit, lost as they are in the noise over Keystone XL.  South Dakota stands to gain from the pipeline's construction and maintenance, as does the entire country.  I hope our congressional delegation starts pressing the White House for a decision once and for all. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

There's A Whole Lotta SDGOPSenatePrimary Shakin' Goin' On

     What was that about watching sausage-making and politics?  Regarding what is turning out to be some intriguing and spirited pre-Primary jockeying among Republicans that might be vying for the vacating Senator Tim Johnson's U.S. Senate seat,  my good friend Cory Heidelberger who runs South Dakota's best political blog, The Madville Times, just put together an intriguing piece about the money- and influence-go-round.  Quoting Cory:

"The Rounds for Senate campaign paid Republican blogger Pat Powers $2,136 for advertising during the third quarter of 2013. According to Rounds's Q3 FEC report, Team Rounds paid Powers's Dakota Campaign Store $636 on August 17 and $1,500 on September 27.
The Rounds-enriched Powers natters away this morning about Rounds's impressive campaign war chest but declines to mention his own appearance in the FEC report. Power pages through his (forgive me, Rounds's) opponents' FEC reports and razzes Stace Nelson but praises Annette Bosworth, which fits perfectly with the Rounds camp strategy of weakening their greatest threat by puffing up non-contenders.
I've previously written about the caution with which we should read Ken Santema's blog posts about the U.S. Senate race in South Dakota, given that he is an official member of Rep. Stace Nelson's official and sprawling statewide campaign team. Santema has been transparent about his preference for Nelson in the Senate race. Santema makes this support clear by contributing $250 to Nelson's campaign (as reported on Nelson's Q3 report to the FEC). His bias is open, honest, and unbought.
Meanwhile, Pat Powers has adopted a fa├žade of neutrality in the GOP primary. He has rebranded himself on his blog and Twitter as @SDSenate2014, a clearinghouse for "reporting" on the highly watched Senate race.
Let us be absolutely clear: Mike Rounds is paying Pat Powers for advertising in this campaign. A politician advertising on a political blog is not by itself news. I've run advertisements for candidates, some whom I've supported, and some who wouldn't necessarily get my vote. When I have run such ads, I've made clear where I stand.
Pat Powers isn't doing that. He's pretending to be neutral while taking thousands of dollars from the one candidate whom his posts favor. That payment and poorly faked neutrality together call into question the reliability of any "analysis" Pat Powers offers on the Republican Senate primary in South Dakota.
p.s.: I have not caught mention of any other bloggers, myself included, in the FEC Q3 reports. But Rounds's Q3 report shows that he pays slimy campaigner Dick Wadhams gets $3,500 a month for advice."

     For all the intra-party intrigue, though, to me the race is still about who can best protect this seat from being influenced by the Republican Party's death-wishers, aka the Tea Party.  Former Governor Mike Rounds' comments (albeit after the fact) about the futility of  the Tea Party-orchestrated U.S. Government shutdown and near default on the federal debt give him the inside track as far as I'm concerned, so for now--I like Mike.  This doesn't mean I can't go into "I used to like Mike" mode.  I intend to stick with the candidate who will be utterly committed to South Dakota's, not the Tea Party's, best interests.  That mantle is still up for grabs. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Will somebody please pass The Farm Bill? Thank you.

     What gives with all the delays in the Farm Bill?  Apparently there is a cabal in the House of Representatives, mainly consisting of mutant Republicans who are identified with the Tea Party that seem plenty incensed over the fact that about 47 million Americans are using food stamps these days.  They're so mad about this that they want to strip food stamps away from the Farm Bill that's been under review for the past couple of years. They want to separate it out so that the program can be politically manhandled and stripped of $40 billion of funding over the next decade. The resulting legislative standoff has been an irritant within the country's ag community for a couple of years now, a  problem that has suddenly grown acute for the ranching industry in western South Dakota, which needs disaster assistance provisions in the Farm Bill right now, considering the mega-damage that was done during the early October blizzard.
     The mystifying aspect of all this to me is just why people are so mad or surprised about the surge in food stamp usage these days.  The U.S. Census Bureau calculates that nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty (as of 2010), a deplorable number that hasn't been helped by the economy-stalling tactics of those darlings of the Tea Party in Congress who never miss an opportunity to scare the bejeebers out of the country by playing chicken with the federal government's  fundamental financial and administrative operations. Shutdowns, debt limits, fiscal cliffs, sequesters--this is getting ridiculous.  It certainly isn't doing anything to change the fact that 46 million of us are poor by definition--so why on earth is anybody shocked to learn that about that same number of Americans use food stamps in order to eat a decent meal every day?
     More to the political point, why aren't the powerfully collective voices of the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union being heeded when they say they unequivocally oppose splitting the Farm Bill?  As a practical matter, getting a comprehensive bill passed makes planting and marketing decisions possible, especially just now as the next crop year is about to begin.  And as a fact of economic life, taking that much ($4 billion a year) food purchasing power out of the market is a financial detriment to the industry--a reality that has to come home to a state like South Dakota  and serves as a reminder that the whole food stamp program has historically been a win-win for both consumers and producers. 
      We should welcome the news that congressional reps in both houses will be taking up the farm bill again next week and remind our delegation that a unified bill is in the best interests of South Dakota. 
    

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Surrealism and the GOP's mismatched parts

     Pondering my response to "jerry" who posed the following question to me over at South Dakota's best political blog, Madville Times, the word "surreal" kept coming up.  "jerry's" question:  "How is it that the Republican party, a party that prides itself on being able to form legislation that is business friendly, could wind up with such a bunch of absolutely ignorant people with no savvy whatsoever about how business operates?"  My answer is, I don't get it either.  One day we're seeing a party that holds up, among other things, payments to millions of people (both in and out of government) who live from paycheck to paycheck, next day we're seeing this party singing "Amazing Grace" in unison, in Congress, completely oblivious to the financial pain they were unleashing on so many Americans.  Then soon after, these people, who are committed to maintaining a business- and free enterprise-friendly environment for the great economic engine that is the United States, voted by a huge majority within their own caucus, 144 in toto, to force the United States Treasury to default on its debt obligations, which, if cooler heads hadn't prevailed, would have set off a global financial armageddon that was sure to raise interest rates on the lifeblood of every business:  money.  See what I mean by surreal?  Salvadore Dali himself couldn't have painted a political landscape with more mismatched elements.
     How did this come to pass?  My thinking is that it had to do with the spending excesses of the G.W. Bush administration, which properly enraged the GOP's conservative elements who themselves were wondering why this government was building up deficits recklessly, their qualms basically justified by the crash and subsequent recession of '08 and '09.  Enter the Tea Party and its hold on a big enough chunk of GOP officials in Washington to have the political leverage to call some shots.  Trouble with all that is that the shot-calling is a one-note reiteration:  cut spending, cut spending, cut spending.  Never mind anything else, just cut spending.  That would be nice except that real life is more complicated than that, real political life infinitely more so. 
     Now this party that has traditionally identified with Main Street, Wall Street and all the business centers between and beyond is the party that creates one crisis after another, completely undoing the very environment in which American business has always thrived:  stability.  The contradictions are stark, the incompetence, glaring.  I suggest that the next time they make a public show of singing Amazing Grace that these Republican mutants reverse the main lyric:  "I once was found, but now I'm lost."
     
    
    

    

Dear Congresswoman Noem: About that back pay for furloughed workers . . .

       . . . I see that federal workers who were furloughed during the shutdown will receive back pay for the days they missed.  That seems reasonable enough to me, but I'm wondering, is there any way that private sector workers who were effectively furloughed by the loss of business incurred during the shutdown can get their back pay too?  My lodging business was down somewhere between 30%-40% during the shutdown of National Parks in western South Dakota, so naturally my housekeeping staff lost a proportionate amount of pay due to lack of available work.  As you were an instigator of the shutdown and a proponent of extending it, I feel you have some responsibility for the financial discomfort incurred as a result.
     The loss of revenues dedicated to my fixed expenses and some operating costs (utilities, primarily) will also affect my bottom line, of course, but I'll be able to deal with them and ask for no assistance in meeting those obligations.  However, as my payroll is directly dependent on work created by tourists occupying rooms, I think it's only reasonable that as long as the U.S. government is caring enough to extend salaries to federal workers affected by the shutdown that privately employed workers receive the same consideration.
     Please feel free to contact me through the comments section of this blog regarding this matter.  Thanking you in advance, John Tsitrian.  
          

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Congresswoman Noem Sold Us Out

     Really, it's hard for me to accept the fact that South Dakota Congresswoman Kristi Noem abandoned any commitment to the economic well-being of her constituents by voting no on the House resolution that passed last night, October 16, which keeps the United States Treasury solvent for a few months and re-opens the U.S. Government itself, also for a couple of months.  It's probably impossible to come up with the full negative economic impact of the recent shutdown on western South Dakota's tourism economy and its rollover effects into the general economy, but a good picture will emerge when sales tax revenues from the Black Hills and Badlands region are posted, generally a couple of months from now.  Some of my peers in the lodging industry are circulating numbers that show drops of anywhere from 30% to 50% for the shutdown period itself, with smaller but still noticeable losses for the few days immediately preceding the shutdown.  In her pursuit of a much larger, if chimerical, agenda of undoing the U.S. government's duly passed and Constitutionally-sanctioned healthcare reform law, Congresswoman Noem is apparently willing to inflict some serious economic pain on her fellow South Dakotans, a notion that I find abhorrent, considering her constituents' best interests should be the main priority in her work as our representative. 
     By going this route, Noem and her fellow naysayers seem to have given up using the power of intelligent and passionate persuasion to convince the country that the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) should be tossed aside, and instead are using the gimmicks associated with legislative manuevering to starve it of funding.  That serious economic damage (nationally, to the tune of $24 billion during the 16-day shutdown, per Standard & Poor's) and a possible global economic catastrophe are the upshots of this strategy seem to be irrelevant  to  Noem and her political allies in Congress. Writing as a former Chicago-based bond and options trader (I was a member of the Chicago Board Options Exchange from the late '70s to the early '90s) with some insight into how the global economic superstructure is interconnected, I'd have to say this approach, if successful, would be a pyrrhic victory at best.  De-funding Obamacare by selling out the nation's economy doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to me, and I wonder if Congresswoman Noem has the intellect and education to see how that particular set of dots connect. 
    That she apparently lacks compassion for the plight of everyday South Dakotans who've experienced some shrinkage in their paychecks thanks to the shutdown Noem and her cohorts engineered and were willing to extend into the uncharted waters of U.S. Treasury default is a given.  That the Congresswoman hasn't come up with a cogent explanation as to why economic suffering among her constituents justifies her politically quixotic aim of undoing Obamacare is a mystery.  I get her fixation on the big picture.  What I don't get is her disregard for the little one--that landscape consisting of the working folks in South Dakota who've just paid a serious price for Noem's intransigence. 
     
     

Friday, October 11, 2013

This is rich. We can run Mt. Rushmore from right here in South Dakota.

     Besides the obvious embarrassment that South Dakota's congressional delegation should be feeling about the fact that their fed up constituents figured out a way to run Mount Rushmore National Park with their own money and resources in spite of the federal government shutdown, our elected federal officials might consider contemplating the magnitude of the precedent that has just been set.  If it's this easy to turn over the operations of a federally owned and operated facility to state and local private interests, why just stop at a national park?
     Apparently there doesn't seem to be much Constitutional or statutory hindrance to turning some federal operations over to states and the citizens within those states, as the ease of the operational transfer of Mount Rushmore didn't take more than a few days to accomplish.  Ownership is another matter, of course, and it does give the federal government a lot of leverage when it comes to making sure that local managers don't carry things to marketing extremes.  Just the same,  letting states and localities, in partnership with private interests, come up with the money to run federally owned assets seems like a promising idea from the start.  It's probably reasonable to expect operations similar to the well-run and profitable Custer State Park in South Dakota's Black Hills to emerge.
     For one thing, locally designed operations are probably likely to fit area needs better than federally mandated procedures.  I have no doubt, for example, that if state and private interests were to operate Mount Rushmore in perpetuity that marketing innovations will develop in a way that would lead to a significant increase in visitation.  Same would hold true for, say, the ferret re-introduction program occurring in the National Grasslands adjacent to Badlands National Park, a woefully under-promoted venture that would have a great deal of potential for adding visitors to the region.  Getting some local public-private management of the Grasslands would probably develop some ideas in that regard, as well as adding some profit-oriented ideas for marketing the Grasslands as visitor destinations in their own right. 
     Obviously, given my background and business pursuits, I'm oriented to tourist visitation issues, no trifling interest considering that tourism is South Dakota's second largest industry.  But I think the potential for the concept of getting more local control of operational issues at federal installations is worth considering.  If the federal government's shutdown lasts long enough for the South Dakotans primed to operate Mount Rushmore to develop a track record, my guess is that the concept will be thought of as an idea whose time has arrived.  Now if that doesn't jolt our elected federal officials into realizing that this shutdown may be touching off a revolution of sorts, nothing will. 
    

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Memo to Rep. Noem and Sens. Thune and Johnson: Thanks for nothing.

      Because of your intransigence and this subsequently stupid shutdown, I've had to cancel what would otherwise have been a productive workday for the housekeeping staff at my motel in western South Dakota.  Looks like tomorrow will be a similar story.  And the day after tomorrow?  Maybe you folks can tell me.  Talking around the trade, there are many hundreds of hard working South Dakotans who depend on the paychecks created by visitors to our shuttered national parks who AREN'T GETTING PAID.  Sorry I had to use caps, but apparently you seem to have missed this point, and if you didn't, I must ask, just who is it that you represent as you go about your duties and responsibilities in Washington?
     As for you, Representative Noem, I recall your constant mantra about it being time for an "adult conversation" regarding the issues involving South Dakota and this country shortly after you were elected.  Is this version of fingerpointing and rhetorical blame-gaming supposed to be your idea of that valued "adult conversation" you were promising to deliver?  It can't be, and considering that you and your counterparts in the House of Representatives can't put together a continuing resolution to fund the government without adding on demands related to your political agendas that have nothing to do with day to day functioning of our national parks, I'd like to know, just who are the adults in your chamber that are supposedly conversing like grown-ups? 
     Some readers of this blog recently gave me the what-for for suggesting that federal funding of the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery in Spearfish should be discontinued.  May I suggest that this absurdly cavalier and insensitive shuttering of our national parks is an example of why I wish the federal government would leave those facilities to local governments and/or private entrepeneurs to operate?  I note that Custer State Park, with its contract operators, is running as smoothly as ever.  Crazy Horse mountain near Hill City, which famously doesn't take a nickel of federal largesse, is open for business.  The Cleghorn Fish Hatchery in Rapid City is wide open for visitors who can see the operation first hand and get an excellent overview of the facility in its visitor center.  But Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Wind Cave?  Sorry to say they're closed because stubborn and inflexible elected officials, including those from South Dakota, just can't get it together in D.C.  Meantime, my employees will come up short this month, as will my business's bottom line, as will South Dakota people and enterprises throughout the Black Hills/Badlands region.  You call this representation?  Please.