Saturday, May 31, 2014

Gosh. The Mayor Of Rapid City Is Playing Politics? Imagine That.

     According to the snippet I caught on the TV news last night, the  President of the Rapid City (SD) City Council, Jerry Wright, is "deeply offended."  Wow. The blurb had all the makings of a major story, you know, something seriously serious.  "Deep offense" is no trivial reaction so I paid close attention to the details that followed.  You can imagine my chagrin when I found out that the source of Wright's consternation was the fact that Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker has been publicly supporting two candidates running for county offices, igniting Wright's rather overwrought outrage. Wright went so far as to insist that Kooiker should have taken a leave of absence in order to play politics.  The headline on KOTA Television's story even says that Wright called for Kooiker's resignation.
     Then, in escalating Wright's reaction to the realms of the ridiculous, KOTA's story goes on to quote Wright as saying that Kooiker's actions are an example of "Chicago style politics."  Further stretching an already strained metaphor, Wright is quoted by the Rapid City Journal as saying "It smacks of machine politics. Richard Daley of Chicago is Sam Kooiker of Rapid City."  Come again?   At this point I can only laugh, based on my experience of having lived and worked in Chicago for about a decade, part of which was spent during the heyday of the "Daley machine."  From that perspective, I can tell you that Wright doesn't have a clue.  The Daley machine's ruthlessness when it came to retaining its hold on the political reins of Chicago (read Mike Royko's "Boss" for a great and well-documented depiction) were of an era and magnitude that Rapid City's local politicos will never live to see nor achieve.  
     Wright's political motivations are transparent enough, and I'm guessing that the general reaction among most observers other than his friends is similar to mine:  So what's the big deal about a Mayor of any city getting involved in local politics? I mean, this is news?  The real story is in gauging the effectiveness of the endorsements themselves.  Kooiker and his preferred candidates are running some risk by going through this process:  The Mayor's support can backfire because it could bring all the resentment that people may have against Kooiker to bear on his endorsees.  My guess is that the local media wouldn't have even picked up on Kooiker's activities (done via that most annoying of political gadgetry, robo-calling) if Wright hadn't made such a gratuitous fuss about it.
     The Mayor's involvement in all this is legal and tradition-bound.  Wright's ill-considered reaction, especially his call for Kooiker to take a leave of absence--even resign--is way overdone.  The ill will that was just created won't do the R.C. City Council much good now that the air has been fouled by this uncalled for political tantrum.

Interesting addendum (added on 6/1 @0930) and a very good point from one of my readers:  "Point well-taken, John. Unlike council chair Jerry Wright, I'm not so troubled by Mayor Kooiker's endorsing county candidates (his right as a voter) but his judgement in WHO he's endorsing for county office. Holding brash youthful opinions and wingnut credentials do not necessarily make for reliable administrators."    We need some discussion as to who the endorsees are and why Kooiker is supporting them so aggressively.  Readers?  

Friday, May 30, 2014

The House Of Representatives Tells The DEA To Lay Off Of State-Authorized Medical Marijuana Operations. Kristi Noem Objects. Does This Mean She Suddenly Likes Federal Overreach?

    South Dakota's Congresswoman Kristi Noem doesn't like the feds intruding in state affairs . . .except when she likes the feds intruding in state affairs.     Noem's repeated complaints about Federal agencies and the onerous burdens they sometimes place on South Dakotans probably have some merit and certainly have plenty of popular support.  A typical tirade against the EPA's wetlands rules, along with her critique of federal meddling in school lunch programs, both occurring last week, were consistent with her general stand for South Dakota's right and ability to tend to its own business without  interference from federal laws and authorities.
     Given that her "states' rights" worldview squares with the political currents of this deeply reddened Republican state, I was taken by surprise when I saw her vote against an appropriations measure involving the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) a few days ago.  The amendment would have prohibited the DEA from spending money to arrest state-licensed medical marijuana operators and patients, affecting 22 states and the District of Columbia.  I haven't found a statement (if one is out there, please post it in the comments here) from Noem explaining her vote against the measure, which seems like a clear line drawn between federal and state sovereignty. As it turned out, Noem cast a losing vote, as 49 Republican reps joined 170 of their Democratic counterparts to strip DEA's  power to intrude on state-authorized activities.  That makes 49 of her GOP colleagues who voted in favor of states wanting to make and enforce their own laws without interference from the federal government.
     To me this is a big win for states' rights, and Noem should explain why she opposed them in this stand-off.  If she's making a statement against legalizing marijuana for medical use, Noem has accomplished that by basically ceding to the federal government the authority to overstep state regulators and lawmakers on this issue.  How that differs from her position on, say, EPA enforcement and oversight when it comes to matters affecting South Dakota landowners in compliance with state laws and long-standing land use procedures is unclear to me. Adding to the confusion over where she stands on clashes between state and federal authorities, Noem also co-sponsored a bill last year (H.R. 3) that would have wrested final approval authority over the Keystone XL pipeline from the President and signed a letter to President Obama urging immediate approval of KXL on the basis of Nebraska Governor Heineman's state-level approval of the pipeline.  
     This is quite the breach of consistency.   I mean, when states want authority over land use measures, school lunches, and, no doubt, other matters, Noem supports the states' rights to do as they see fit--but when it comes to dealing with state-sanctioned marijuana use, she's all for federal intrusion.  This is a rather selective approach to state vs. federal jurisdictional conflicts.  Noem should explain the discrepancy.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memo to Mike Rounds And Other ACA-hating Pubs: Pay Attention To The Free Market That You Adore.

    I haven't seen South Dakota GOP Senate Candidate Mike Rounds' inaccuracy-riddled ad about how Obamacare (The Affordable Care Act--ACA) will wreck Medicare of late.  Its pitch was meant to scare the bejeebers out of seniors by telling them that The Affordable Care Act would financially gut Medicare and leave oldsters in the lurch when it came to promised benefits being reduced because of changes in Medicare Advantage.  Of course, this notion was exposed early and often for the political hype that it is.  Even tougher for his campaign,  Rounds' hit job on ACA was made to look even more foolish when he lied about his involvement in implementing Obamacare right here in South Dakota. With good reason, those ads have disappeared and been replaced by a series of heartfelt blurbs by South Dakotans praising Rounds to the highest of political heavens as just the common-sensical, level-headed man we need representing the state in the U.S. Senate.  One member of his claque even claims that the state was in better financial shape when he left office than when he assumed it.
     Oooo-kay.  I'll set that canard aside for another post, but I'm still intrigued by the GOP's preoccupation with dumping the ACA.  The party's rhetoric is still festooned with ACA-hatred and the promise to repeal it, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Rounds campaign took up this foolish notion again at some point during the campaign.  I imagine that disdaining a program that he had a hand in mid-wifing is the glitch that might be silencing Rounds on the issue for now--but in general, Rounds should drop that whole idea like a bad habit, and I mean pronto.  It's going nowhere.
     Fact is, that holiest of Republican grails, the free market, is telling us that not only is ACA here to stay--it's likely to grow substantially in 2015.  None too surprisingly, insurance companies around the country, including South Dakota's Blue Cross provider Wellmark, are planning to enter the public exchanges created by ACA in every state.  Over the weekend, The New York Times published a piece about this, noting in its lead that "In a sign of the growing potential under the federal health care law, several insurers that have been sitting on the sidelines say they will sell policies on the new exchanges in the coming year, and others plan to expand their offerings to more states." 
     This is the surest indication  of one thing:  there's money to be made by selling insurance on ACA's public exchanges.  This is a watershed moment to the extent that insurers have been circumspect about entering markets through those exchanges because nobody had a sense of how the public would take to them.  It looks like this year's 8 million enrollees will expand by another 13 million in 2015.  The market has spoken, and Republicans should be respecting that fact, not fighting it.  
     Even the oft-repeated GOP mantra that ACA will cause rates to skyrocket next year is being challenged by analysts.  I think it's reasonable to expect a more crowded field of public exchange competitors to have just the opposite effect, with increases to slow substantially from their torrid paces of recent years.  Public exchanges are likely to grow and see more competition just because they provide an efficient means of buying insurance.  A long-time professional in the industry (sorry, no names, no genders) tells me that "most uninsured people do not have health insurance because they can not afford it, not because they don't want it.  Those that qualify for a subsidy can receive it only through an exchange.  However, as the law becomes more understood, many people with current individual policies will use the exchange if they are subsidy eligible.  And many people who are on their company policies will learn that having a Human Resources person 6 states away determining their benefits and premiums is now just stupid.  They can use the exchange for 'one stop shopping,' subsidy eligible or not."  
     This is why I think Republicans are fighting a losing battle in their anti-ACA campaign.  Market forces are stronger than political forces.  Republicans should just accept that.  You see how badly Mike Rounds tied himself up in knots with his hapless campaign against ACA.  I think it will be a party-wide disaster if Pubs continue beating on this dead horse.  

Saturday, May 24, 2014

News Flash For Religious Obstructionists: A Judeo-Christian Creator Gives Americans The Right To Pursue Happiness. And That Goes For Same-Sex Couples Who Seek Happy Marriages.

       What is it about unalienable rights that is so difficult to understand?  I mean, it says right there in our nation's Declaration of Independence that  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."  This is foundational stuff, probably as close to an axiomatic statement of America's identity and reason for existence as we'll ever see. Yet the struggle to deny certain subsets of Americans their unalienable rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" has been an unfortunate and painful pattern in American history from day one.
     Latest example?  The lawsuit filed against South Dakota by six couples--led by Mrs. and Mrs. Nancy and Jennie Rosenbrahn of Rapid City--last Thursday seeking recognition by South Dakota of their same-sex marriages.  The Rosenbrahn nuptials were recently performed in Minnesota and their marriage is deemed valid there. South Dakota--specifically a list of state and county officials who are named as defendants--will be represented in federal court by the state's Attorney General Marty Jackley.  Jackley's task is unenviable, as he'll be the mouthpiece for an historically doomed mindset that is already being shredded by federal courts throughout the country.
     That many don't like the notion of same-sex marriage because it conflicts with their religious beliefs seems to be the basis for most, perhaps all, of the hostility toward gay marriage in South Dakota.  Last night Pastor (and State Representative) Steve Hickey even held a special prayer session at his Sioux Falls church, apparently hoping to invoke the power of prayer as an aid to South Dakota's effort to sustain its gay marriage ban.  I guess I'm okay with that.  What happens inside Hickey's church is the business of the church itself, though Hickey's status as an elected official merits some community interest, which is what made the anti-gay marriage prayer session newsworthy in the first place. I only wonder why these religious folks, who always seem to be firm in their belief that our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles are so bent out of shape about people exercising their rights to "liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  After all the founders of our country specifically noted that those rights are endowed by their Creator.  And their Creator guarantees them access to happiness.   It doesn't get much more Judeo-Christian than that--so I guess it comes down to deciding what "happiness" is.   
     Are we to believe that those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds are the arbiters of what activities constitute "happiness?"  Apparently they think they are.  Unfortunately for them, it doesn't work that way.  The Declaration of Independence doesn't qualify "happiness" as definable or restrictive, and nobody from the religious community has yet to come forward and demonstrate how same-sex marriages harm the community.  Sorry folks, but the fact that you don't like something doesn't mean you're being harmed by it.  And therein lies the fatal weakness in the state's defense, which I believe is what has caused these bans to get overturned almost routinely these days.  The plaintiffs' insistence that there is effectively neither cost nor harm to the state is a compelling contention.  From the plaintiff's complaint in the South Dakota proceeding comes this:  The State will incur little to no burden in allowing same-sex couples to marry and in recognizing the lawful marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions on the same terms as different-sex couples, while the hardship to Plaintiffs of being denied due process, equal protection, and privileges or immunities is severe, subjecting them to an irreparable denial of their constitutional rights. The balance of hardships thus tips strongly in favor of Plaintiffs [parag. 159]. 
     Makes sense to me.  Is there a lawyer reading this who'd care to comment and show me how this argument is flawed?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Wishing Levelheaded Lowe Would Whip Wishy-Washy Wismer

     Dems are facing a tough enough hurdle in their bid to wrest the Governorship of South Dakota away from Dennis Daugaard without having to fritter away a fair amount of time, energy and party resources on a primary race. If there ever were a cycle that could have used a unified candidacy from the get-go, this one would be it.  But no, pro-forma demands must be met, so now we have this:   Joe Lowe is contending for the nomination against Democratic Party insider Susan Wismer.  I say "insider" because the lavish rollout her announcement got from the state's Dem party leadership, with Lowe's participation mentioned with all the fanfare of an afterthought, smacked of an endorsement.  The dynamic, decisive Lowe, with decades of experience as an exec--both as an elected official when he was mayor of a medium-sized city in Orange County, California, and as an appointed official when he was in charge of South Dakota's statewide firefighting apparatus under successive Republican administrations--deserved better.  All due respect to Ms. Wismer, who I'm sure is a very nice person of impeccable character, I just don't think a CPA with some state rep experience behind her can do the job as Governor.  Nothing against accountants, but by training and probably by nature, their professional strengths are more suited to analytical, not executive, tasks.  They necessarily hedge all the time, needing lots of study and research before coming to conclusions.  This is a great and necessary skillset, but I just don't think it works for an executive.  In this primary chase it contrasts unfavorably with Lowe's nature and professional experience.
     It couldn't have been more clearly laid out than it was a couple of days ago at a meet-up of the two candidates in Brookings.  Reviewing an excellent and detailed, point-by-point recap by Toby Uecker in South Dakota's best political blog  The Madville Times, the stylistic and substantial differences between Lowe and Wismer on some major and contentious points came into sharp relief.  On  education funding, Lowe had a clear plan for raising more money.  Wismer's reaction:  "I can't work wonders, but the narrative does have to change out there."   My thoughts?  "Working wonders" is not a job requirement, but having a plan more concrete than trying to "change the narrative" is.  When it comes to uranium mining in the Black Hills, Lowe unequivocally stated, "this is just wrong."  Wismer's measured response:  "No, I'm not going to stand here and say I'm absolutely opposed to it, because I don't know enough about it."  Wismer's ambivalence does not become an elected official whose duties in the legislature required her to study this issue with some due diligence before voting for Senate Bill 158 in 2011, which removed state oversight of uranium mining and handed the authority over to the EPA.  Now all of a sudden Wismer doesn't know enough about it to offer a position?  Please. 
     You can review my link to Uecker's recap for a more detailed look at the contrasts I note.  In general you'll get a sense of Lowe's specificity and Wismer's reticence.  Some would argue that Wismer's taciturn style befits an executive who has to make important decisions that demand a great deal of study and analysis.  No argument from me there.  However, at a point in a campaign when voters are being asked to judge on the basis of policy and platform positions, candidates have to bring something concrete to meeting rooms with voters.  Education and uranium mining are not trivial issues.  Lowe gives them the respect they merit by addressing them head-on.  Wismer doesn't.  Should Lowe get the Dem nod, he'll take it right to Republican incumbent Dennis Daugaard . Wismer?  No way.  She's too much of a shrinking violet. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Powertech Uranium Investors Got Dem Ol' Bagholder Blues Again, Mama

     I'm no expert on in situ uranium recovery, which amounts to flushing water through the rock formations in the Black Hills and recovering the dissolved product, then re-flushing that contaminated water back into the ground.  Some contend that the re-flushed water, though eternally altered, is safe.  Many don't. Some believe that re-configuring the character of the pristine Black Hills by dotting it with uranium mining operations is good for South Dakota.  Many don't.  Some have thought the foreign company (Azarga/Powertech, known simply as Powertech here) with offices in Vancouver and Hong Kong is a sound investment.  Many, many, many have learned the hard way that it isn't.  Among them were those who bought the stock at better than $4.00/share in '07.  Then there was that bunch who thought they were stealing it for $1.50/share in '08.  And let's not forget those buyers who paid 50 cents/share between '09 and '11.  What they think now that Powertech stock is trading at 6 cents/share is probably unprintable here.
     That the company has destroyed a lot of investor equity over the years is a matter of record. That its persistent pursuit of permits to start its water-based in situ uranium recovery venture in the Black Hills has been the basis for the company's claims of better times ahead is obvious.  That some believe the effort is really a calculated manuever to do nothing more than drive up the price of Powertech stock is a reasonable conclusion.  This company lives in the "penny stocks" world, which is so loaded with disclaimers and warnings that most serious investors shun them.  NASDAQ itself issues a rather stern and unequivocal warning about these companies, which include stocks like Powertech, that can't even be bought through conventional means.  Ask your brokers about the much-disdained "pink sheet" list of stocks.
     And why does the conclusion that Powertech's main goal is to drive up the price of its stock by blowing smoke about the company's expectations seem reasonable?  Well, you have to look at the global market for uranium itself, which collapsed after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster a few years ago.  The price has fallen by more than half, which dealt a sharp blow to Powertech's prospects.  One local analyst (sorry, no names, no genders) tells me that the price of uranium is below the cost of mining it in the Black Hills.  If correct, then Powertech's reason to exist is all about getting some sort of a bounce in the price of its stock, which calls for a full frontal public relations assault by the company's touts.  Dr. Lilias Jarding of Rapid City, South Dakota,  has been so incensed by the company's efforts at doing so that she just fired off this letter to Canada's Securities Commission, complaining about the company's misstatements, which she believes are intended to mislead both the general public and potential investors in Powertech stock.  I think her concerns have merit, and I hope Canadian regulators look into this:

P.O. Box 591
Rapid City, South Dakota 57709 USA

May 8, 2014
Securities Commission
4th Floor, 300 – 5th Avenue S.W.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3C4

RE: Powertech Uranium Corp./Azarga Uranium Corp.
                Stock Exchange: TSX
                Stock Symbol: PWE
                CUSIP Number: 739369

Dear Securities Commission:
I am writing in regards to a pattern of misstatements made by Alexander Molyneux, the Chairman of Azarga Resources, which is in the process of merging with Powertech Uranium Corp. to form Azarga Uranium Corp.  Powertech is organized in British Columbia.  Mr. Molyneux has made these statements about its proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mining project, which would be located in Custer and Fall River Counties in South Dakota, USA.  His misstatements include:
1.       Statement at the Mines and Money 2014 conference in Hong Kong, China, which took place March 24-28 – http://vimeo.91522838 at 7 minutes and 23 seconds.  Mr. Molyneux says that Powertech’s Dewey-Burdock uranium mine project is the first to be permitted in the United States and says that the company’s customers are utilities.
The reality is that neither Powertech nor Azarga has any uranium customers at this time, as they have no contracts to sell uranium.  In addition, the Dewey-Burdock project has not been permitted.  At the time this statement was posted, the project had received no permits.  Since then, it has received its license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), but it has not received other necessary permits, including 4 state permits, 2 permits from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a potential permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, and permits from one of the counties in which its project would be located.  In addition, the NRC license is under a stay, and there will be hearings on it, beginning on August 18, 2014.  It could be argued that the company has only a provisional license at this time.
2.       Statement in an interview with Peter Epstein at –   Mr. Molyneux, again talking about the Dewey-Burdock project, says, “All the State hearings have been held and the State basically came back saying they would conclude their finding when the NRC is locked in, i.e., basically a conditional approval.”

The reality is, first, that only one week of State hearings has been held by each of the Boards that sit on the company’s permit applications.  These are the Water Management Board and the Board of Minerals and Environment.  The Boards postponed further hearings until if and when the company received all its federal permits.  Given the facts that only a few witnesses were heard at each of these hearings and that each Board schedules hearings during only one week per month, the hearings processes are likely to go on for some time – again, if and when all federal permits are received.  Second, the hearings will resume not just after the NRC “is locked in,” but also after the EPA has given permits.  And third, the State boards did not say that they were giving the project “conditional approval,” but only that they were postponing the hearings.

3.       Statement in a press release issued on February 28, 2014, from Blumont Group Ltd., mentioning Molyneux as Blumont’s Chairman-designate, saying “Powertech’s Dewey Burdock project is the next In Situ Recovery (ISR) mine to be built in the USA which has the highest ore grade.  It is due for permitting in the next 90 days” 
The reality, as explained above, is that State hearings will not even resume until if and when all federal approvals are received.  And the State hearings will take a number of months – probably three to five.  As of today, it is still unknown when a decision might be made on the EPA permits.  Before that happens, there will be a public input period.  The NRC license, as explained above, goes to hearings in August.  Also to state in February that the mine would be built is a stretch, as none of the numerous permits had been received.

4.       Statement posted on February 26, 2014, by Tommy Humphreys titled “A New Uranium Junior to Watch” – which quotes Molyneux.  He is quoted, similarly to item 3, as saying that “Dewey Burdock is the next ISR mine to be built in the USA.  It has the highest grade of all potential projects, and is due for permitting in the next 90 days.”  My comments on item 3 cover this item, as well.
I request that you begin an immediate investigation into these misstatements and into Powertech/Azarga’s stock dealings.  The statements are clearly intended to mislead the public and particularly potential stock purchasers.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Lilias Jarding, Ph.D.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What A Bunch Of Dum-Dums. Powertech Uranium Thinks It's Dealing With The "Ogallala Sioux Tribe Of Eastern South Dakota."

     There's a reason that the words "arrogance" and "ignorance" are often interchangeable.  The Powertech saga in the Black Hills of western South Dakota is yet another example. First some background. Powertech Uranium (soon to be known as Azarga/Powertech due to a merger--I'll stick to Powertech here) hopes to begin mining uranium using a water-disturbing process called in situ (Go to the "environmental concerns" section of the link and note the phrase "unpredictable impact of the leaching liquid on the rock of the deposit."). The proposed location is an area in the Hills known as "Dewey-Burdock." The permitting process began several years ago, setting off a confrontation between the company and many local residents, including the native Oglala Sioux, whose ties to the Black Hills are measured in centuries.  After years of contention, the company finally received a go-ahead from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a little over a month ago, setting off much hoopla in its public-relations department even as it drew a yawn from investors, who've sold off the company's stock since the approval.  Powertech stock was selling at a puny 8 cents/share when the NRC announcement came out.  This morning it's trading at 6 cents, down by 25%--not so good for a company that greeted the NRC news with predictably overblown investor relations fanfare.
     As it turns out, the sell-off in Powertech tech stock came just ahead of the announcement on April 30 that the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) was placing a stay on the NRC license.   As yet, the results of a hearing on the stay aren't known, but it appears that not much will be done to move the process forward until further ASLB and State of South Dakota hearings are held in August, 2014.  The delay is based on matters involving historic and cultural resources that could be disturbed or damaged by Powertech's mining operation.  As the company notes in this just-issued response to the ASLB stay, the hold-up comes from petitions filed by opposing parties.  One party consists of a group of individuals that Powertech identifies as "intervenors."  The other is a group that a laughably inept and ignorant Powertech public relations official calls "The Ogallala Sioux Tribe of Eastern South Dakota."  How stupid and uninformed can these Powertech people be?  First, they don't know that there is no such place as "Eastern South Dakota," then they associate a non-existent tribe called "the Ogallala Sioux" with it.
     Please people, despite your corporate arrogance could you correctly identify your antagonists as the Oglala Sioux?  And while you're at it, turn on Google maps and note that while there is an eastern South Dakota, there's no such place as "Eastern South Dakota."  Meantime, Powertech's response to the ASLB stay notes that South Dakota's Augustana College catalog of historic sites "essentially completes" the required documentation needed for regulatory approval. My friends involved in the process are saying, not so fast.  A source (sorry, no names, no genders) close to the situation tells me that Augustana's  report is "clearly not complete" and that it merely consists of a "catalog of artifacts found" with no conclusions about the significance of either the artifacts or the religious importance of the proposed mining site to the Oglala Sioux tribe fighting the permit.
     These are basically some of the same issues that will be raised by the same parties in the State of South Dakota hearings slated for August, so whether or not ASLB lifts its stay isn't the end of the story.  No matter how hard Powertech officials try to convince themselves and the public that permitting is imminent (they claimed it would be done in 90 days last February), the delays just won't go away.  This company needs to be upfront about its prospects and the difficulties it's facing in getting this project done in the Black Hills.  Investors in its stock have already been burned badly enough.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Attention, Biz Community. Looking For A Good Investment? Consider Early Childhood Education. Talk About Low Risk And High Reward . . .

     I just finished reading Joe O'Sullivan's excellent piece on pre-K education in this morning's Rapid City Journal.  The story is about pre-school programs in Rapid City and the sparsity of them throughout South Dakota.  I was reminded of a time many years ago when I took my firstborn--she was three--to a local school district program called "Daddy And Me" every Saturday morning for a semester. Very engaging stuff, quite helpful in developing cognitive, thinking and social skills.  Little Jennifer got a lot out of it too. (Okay, spare the rimshot--I couldn't resist.)  All in all, it was an unqualified success and sold me on the notion that kids that age can use all the organizational inputs they get in a structured, educationally-proven setting.  O'Sullivan makes the same point in his piece, which is loaded with ample documentation supporting the benefits of Early Childhood Education.
     Unfortunately for South Dakota, the piece also calls attention to the fact that we are one of just 10 states that don't have a state- or federally-funded pre-K program.  In that part of the discussion, O'Sullivan notes that several of the 10 program-less states are either developing or studying a pre-K plan, which will likely reduce SD to one of just a handful of states without one.  I think this is a bad deal for South Dakota, and I'm actually speaking as more than a parent and grandparent now--I'm looking at it through my businessman's eyes.  What caught those eyes in the RCJ piece is a notation that Indiana is looking at this via a study group sponsored by the state's Chamber of Commerce.
     Huh?  What's the C of C doing, sticking its profit-seeking nose into something as pedagogically arcane as pre-school education?  As it turns out, Indiana's biz community is just going along with a national trend of business honchos and organizations--including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce--that is lobbying quite hard for Early Childhood Programs.  Here's what Proctor and Gamble's former CEO John Pepper just had to say about it:  "The return on investments make early childhood education what we call in business a No Brainer. And the role of business is obvious.  We have to reach the legislators."  I could load this post up with similar testimonials, many from equally high-profile business types, all of whom are seeking the same thing--a community of workers and consumers whose first-class education and training will benefit the economy to the max.  
     I suppose we can call that goal an expression of civic virtue that cuts across political and economic lines--a nice high-mindedness that should make all of us feel better about ourselves while pursuing it.  But I'll notch it down to a level that's quite a bit more prosaic, even crass, as I appeal to my fellow business types on this basis:  a good ECE program will result more dough for all of us.  Pepper, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, numerous other business leaders--none of them see this exclusively through the prism of altruism.  As successful entrepeneurs they know that a sound economy makes for good profits. That's why the business community is unified in support of pre-K programs.   
     South Dakota may be pinched for the money it takes to develop a program like this just now, but spreading its implementation out over a decade, as West Virginia is doing, gets the ball rolling in the right direction.  I hope somebody at the Rapid City and other Chambers of Commerce takes note and puts some study and thought into getting behind pre-K programs all over the state.  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Will Mike Rounds Ever Get It Right When It Comes To The Affordable Care Act? You Can Run From Obamacare, Mr. Rounds, But You Can't Hide.

    I stand corrected.  Yesterday's post about Thursday night's GOP debate on Public TV noted that a point of contention came when former Governor and clear front-runner Mike Rounds was charged "with being complicit in developing Obamacare because he had worked on a panel studying healthcare reform with then Democratic Senator Tom Daschle."  I noted that "Rounds claimed that he had 'never worked with Daschle' on Obamacare."  Then I prematurely blew it off by saying "I'm not sure this can be verified."  Turned out I was oh-so-wrong on that last point, a major one considering that the Rounds campaign says the candidate "couldn't sleep" over the Affordable Care Act because of what Rounds claims it can do to Medicare, namely gutting it and hurting seniors like Mike Rounds' dad in the process. Though the claim itself has been discredited by Politifact, the Rounds campaign continues to press it.  Naturally, being identified with the implementation of ACA in South Dakota doesn't look real good on the resume of someone whose claim to a United States Senate seat is based in large part on his contempt for it.  It's no surprise that Rounds categorically denied his participation in ACA's entree into South Dakota.  But, like Rounds' spurious claim that "Obamacare" will hurt seniors receiving Medicare benefits, the former Governor's contention that he had nothing to do with developing it for South Dakota has been challenged and discredited by the facts.  
     In a post this morning at South Dakota's best political blog The Madville Times, my good friend Cory Heidelberger ran some information provided by candidate Stace Nelson that shreds Rounds' claim that he had nothing to do with a panel involving Tom Daschle and the ACA.  First, to quote Rounds in the debate, he said, "Tom Daschle and I have never served on a joint committee to implement ObamaCare."  Is this an unequivocal denial?  I'd say yes. 
Is it true?  You decide.  In a Rapid City Journal article dated February 11, 2011, reporter Kevin Woster wrote:  "Rounds said Friday that he has joined a task force affiliated with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle has been a co-leader in health care reform work since 2008 . . . Daschle said Friday that he welcomes Rounds to a bipartisan effort he considers crucial to health care reform. 'It is the only way this will ever work," Daschle said. "Our primary purpose is to explore how states can move forward in providing health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. I am delighted to be working with Gov. Rounds on this' " [Kevin Woster, "Former Gov. Rounds Joins Health Insurance Task Force," Rapid City Journal, 2011.02.11].    I don't know about you, but I would have to say that Rounds lied in the debate.  
     Now that Rounds has been exposed as being complicit in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act that he publicly deplores--to the point that in one of his videos he trots out his own dad as an audio-visual aid in order to emotionally empower his antagonism toward ACA--I trust that he has made the appropriate explanations and apologies to his family.  (And please, Mr. Rounds, don't tell me to leave your family out of this.  You're the one that brought them in.)  Next step would be to explain to voters that he was for Obamacare before he was against it, then hope that his standing in the campaign might merit a bit of the respect that it just lost.  


Friday, May 16, 2014

Re: Last Night's GOP Senate Debate. It Was An Exercise In Redundancy, Rounds Wins By Default.

     It was pretty much a dispiriting performance all the way around.  I give Rounds the win just because the rest of the field came across as pretenders, not contenders.  Sharing a mutual contempt for Obamacare and a hackneyed determination to fix things in Washington failed to propel any of the candidates into "stand out" status, so there isn't much of a reason to expect a change in the polling dynamics that have Rounds far ahead.  I was hoping for more, especially as I believe Rounds' lead has more to do with name recognition and the natural political inertia that comes from his management, lackluster as it was, of South Dakota's affairs during his two-term tenure as Governor.  This is why I give him the win by default.
     There was one amusing aspect of Rounds' presentation.  I noted that a couple of times, maybe more, Rounds insisted that with respect to the federal government, it was time for South Dakotans to "take it back."  That stole a march from Democrat Rick Weiland's  campaign for the Senate seat with its "Take It Back" slogan, a ploy that, if it wasn't, should have been plotted by Rounds and his advisors, because it will have the effect of diluting the Weiland message.  If Rounds successfully co-opts it as a theme, it looks like we'll have a match-up in November between two campaigns vying for the same goal:  taking back Washington, D.C.  I gleefully envision a debate between Rounds and Weiland centered around who will do the better job of "taking back" D.C.
     As to any points of contention, there were a few clashes, mainly in the way of attacks on Rounds during his stint as Governor.  To the charge that Rounds was complicit in developing Obamacare because he had worked on a panel studying healthcare reform with then Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, Rounds claimed that he had "never worked with Daschle" on Obamacare.  I'm not sure this can be verified, but that's probably irrelevant as there was no follow-up in the debate, which effectively neutralized the the charge.  Rounds also successfully deflected  the claim, which he can't deny, that some of his "balanced" budgets"  as Governor occurred because he dipped into state reserves.  His retort? State law required a balanced budget.   Again, no follow-up, which put the subject to rest.  I get the sense that not many voters will care about this.  Some will see it differently, but my take is that it didn't really do Rounds any damage.
     Lackluster as the presentations were, the debate did clarify that the primary race is more about stylistic than substantive differences.  On the bigger federal issues like debt and Obamacare, the candidates were unified, condemning over-spending by the government and vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  The consensus on the recently passed Farm Bill was that our Republican delegation to Congress did a great job on it, even if it is still festooned with the SNAP (food stamp) component that takes up 80% of its cost, a singularly contemptible aspect of the bill to South Dakota's Republican reps.   Oh, well, nobody's perfect.  That none of the candidates could be singled out for bringing a unique perspective or set of principles into the race made this debate--the whole GOP primary season, actually--an exercise in redundancy.  This is why I think the most well-known candidate, Rounds, wins it by default.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Governor Daugaard Touts Job Growth In South Dakota. Meh. It Really Hasn't Been So Hot. It's Time To Get Real About Medicaid Expansion And Job Growth.

      South Dakota's Governor Dennis Daugaard is mighty proud of the "thousands of jobs" created in South Dakota since his inaugration in 2011.  You can see him touting it in his campaign's  youtube video, which was posted on the Dakota War College blog site (go to the 60 second spot)  where it was posted this week.  Overall job growth in South Dakota has been steady since the trough of the "Great Recession," but as the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress notes in a report just issued, there has been a sharp downturn in SD job growth during the most recent 12 months as compared with the twelve months that ended in March, 2013, by a factor of 25%.  The report also notes a loss of 400 jobs during March, 2014, alone.  The trend is not favorable to Daugaard and makes me wonder:  why is this man bragging?
     The fact is, predicted job growth in South Dakota is expected to lag far behind the rate of national growth.  In 2012, the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation reported its projections for the decade ending in 2020 and found that SD would gain jobs at about a 9% rate, compared to a 14% rate nationally.  The report notes that because South Dakota didn't lose jobs during the recession at anything close to what the nation did as a whole, there were fewer jobs to recover since the economic tide turned in 2010, explaining the slower rate of overall growth in job numbers.  I suppose that where you set your baselines has a lot to do with making excuses or providing explanations--pick your poisons, but the conclusion is that South Dakota won't be adding jobs at anywhere near the national pace for the rest of the decade.
     More telling in the SD Labor Department's report about our state's job expansion through the rest of the decade are the two industries that will gain the most.  Ambulatory care services and construction are the two leaders, and the factors explaining the growth in those areas are really endemic to South Dakota, having little to do with Daugaard's leadership.  Ambulatory care is expected to increase because of the state's aging population, while construction gains will occur because of the continuing shift of populations from rural to urban areas in the state.  On a subjective note, I see that some manufacturing gains are likely to occur in the west end of the state as the North Dakota oil boom has set some oilfield service equipment businesses into locating operations in the Rapid City/northern Black Hills region.  Nothing wrong with that, but the gains don't have much to do with policies set in Pierre by the governor's office.
     If Daugaard really wants to do something about jump starting job growth in South Dakota, he'd reconsider his decision on Medicaid expansion and welcome it to South Dakota.  Common sense should tell us that the $2 billion windfall created by accepting the federal offer will provide the state with a serious economic boost.  Though I haven't been able to find any South Dakota-specific studies or projections on how expansion will affect our state's economy (Does the University of South Dakota have an Economics Department capable of researching these kinds of issues?  I can't seem to find one.) I did check around--and came up with a somewhat parallel situation.  Mainly, I was looking for a "net-receiver" (in terms of the money gained from the D.C. over the money sent to D.C.) mostly rural state with a strong natural resources and tourism-based economy that is having political issues regarding Medicaid expansion similar to South Dakota's.
     That state is Maine, which incidentally also has an Ellsworth-like tie to the "military industrial complex" via the Bath Iron Works, where some American warships are built.  In a recent Bangor Daily News piece titled "Get Real On Job Growth and Expand Medicaid", the dollars and job gains are plain to see.  As with South Dakota, expansion in Maine has been politically stymied--for no apparent good reason other than partisan opposition to the Affordable Care Act.  A deeper economic examination lays out the numbers more specifically (click on its pdf link--very interesting stuff).  I think the benefits to Maine's economy would virtually parallel the gains that could be made here in South Dakota.  That the political fight continues to drag on here seems dumb to me.  It's time for some pragmatic, not political, consideration of Medicaid expansion to take place. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Memo To South Dakota Workforce Summiteers: Low Taxes Aren't Much Of A Come-On When Recruiting Out-of-Staters.

     Governor Daugaard's declaration last January that labor force development would be one of his top priorities in 2014 led to his formation of a series of "workforce summits" to be held throughout South Dakota this year.  Whether they turn out to be an election year sideshow or actually produce some substantive ideas and action remains to be seen.  Of one thing I have no doubt.  When it comes to discussions of how to successfully recruit out-of-state workers, South Dakota's non-existent personal and corporate income taxes will be brought up as a potential enticement to out-of-staters we're hoping to recruit.  That ancient canard (along with the phony one about SD's low cost of living--we're actually in the middle of the pack when it comes to COL)  has been used since as long as I can remember as an excuse for our low wage scales and a reason for out-of-staters looking for new digs and opportunities in South Dakota.
     Turns out, though, that low state taxes aren't given as much of a reason for Americans who relocate to other states.  The Center On Budget And Policy Priorities just produced this study, heavily dependent on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service, that concludes "State Taxes Have Negligible Impact On Americans' Interstate Moves."  Of acute interest to South Dakotans is a table based on IRS data that shows during the period from 1993-2011, South Dakota had a net out-migration of a bit more than 5,000 families.  It might have been more but for the tax climate in South Dakota, but it's clear that despite our absence of income taxes, South Dakota hasn't been able to attract more families than it loses.
     Fact is, that despite all the vaunted benefits of our no-tax system in South Dakota, including that oft-cited ranking about our "number one business climate," economic growth hasn't been anything to write home about.  Per the CBPP study, from 2002-2011 among the "nine states without a personal income tax, [economies grew annually] an average of 5.2 %, [while they] grew 8.2% in the nine states with the highest income taxes."  You really have to conclude that based on population and economic data, having no income taxes in South Dakota hasn't been a particularly productive asset when it comes to moving this state forward.  It's little wonder that Governor Daugaard is now scrambling to find an adequate labor force to supply even the relatively modest growth needs of South Dakota.  In the meantime, Daugaard should consider that according to the study, "primarily low- and moderate-income households, not high-income households, are migrating to states without income taxes."
     It's still about services and infrastructure.  Workforce summiteers should note an interesting "heads-up" produced in the report for states that are thinking of significantly reducing their tax burdens, thereby hoping to stem their out-migrations:   "If deep tax cuts result in significant deterioration in education, public safety, parks, roads and other critical services and infrastructure, these states will render them selves less--not more--desirable places to live and raise a family."  Interesting. Obviously, South Dakota can't contemplate cutting taxes that don't exist in the first place, but the study does call attention to services and infrastructure as primary considerations when it comes to desirability.
     That South Dakota consistently shows up in the top tier of states in most "quality of life" rankings I see is a very nice thing, but doesn't get the job done when it comes to attracting workers.  We continue to lag in the "show me the money" department when it comes to wages, both regionally and nationally, and our education rankings have been historically low, particularly when it comes to teacher salaries.  It's hard for me to see how a lack of income taxes can trump salary and education considerations when a family contemplates moving to South Dakota.  By themselves, lower taxes do not make an attractive home state, and it seems clear that they aren't much of an incentive to draw in the people that we need to move South Dakota into a more dynamic gear when it comes to economic growth.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pubs Just Got Whacked On Another Anti-ACA Talking Point. Meantime Mike Rounds Is Obsessed With Scaring Seniors About It.

     Do you suppose Republicans at some point during this mid-term cycle will figure out that bashing Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act--ACA) isn't going to work for them?  After getting their clocks cleaned on the GOP's fatuous claim that enrollee numbers would fall way short, only to see sign-ups actually exceed the President's projections, Pubs next  got their political gluteus maximi handed to them when their prediction that 500,000 jobs would be lost were rebutted by news that over a million jobs have been created since ACA's inception last November.                                                                                     Now comes news today that Republicans just got trounced by reality again.  A week or so ago Pubs in Congress predicted that only 67% of ACA enrollees would pay their first month's premium, further pursuing their lame effort at deflating both claims and expectations of success for the nation's new healthcare law.  Well, Charlie Browns of the Republican Party, I guess Lucy pulled the football away again.  From a report in Yahoo Finance this morning, three of the nation's largest health insurers--Aetna, Wellpoint and Blue Cross Blue Shield's multi-state operator Health Service Corporation--just reported that somewhere between 80%-90% of their new customers who enrolled through Obamacare have paid their first month's premium.
     Face it, fellow Republicans, bashing ACA hasn't been much of a strategy.  You'd think that message would have sunk in by now, but no, right here in South Dakota we get to watch GOP Senatorial candidate Mike Rounds trotting out the oldsters in his  family as props for his own disingenuous claim that Obamacare will take serious money away from Medicare, causing cuts that will harm seniors.  What . . . a . . . crock.  According to Rounds, ACA will have to support itself by taking $700 billion away from Medicare, thereby depriving his dad and millions of other Medicare-dependent seniors of necessary healthcare.  The notion is ludicrous.  I'm a Medicare enrollee and I know that my benefits won't be cut by a dime because of ACA.
     The fact is, that so-called "cut" is actually a projection of savings that will accrue to a small segment of Medicare called Medicare Advantage.   So sensible is the objective that both parties had a way of achieving it prior to the last Presidential election.  In an explanatory piece,  the Washington Post notes, "here's what everyone agrees on:  [Paul] Ryan and Obama include the same cuts to the Medicare program itself.  So if you're an insurance company participating in the Medicare Advantage program, you're getting the same cut no matter who wins the election."   
     Mike Rounds is running against a long term phase-in of Medicare Advantage savings that his own party endorsed and proposed as recently as 2012.  This is actually pathetic and in no way resembles the "common sense South Dakota" approach to doing business that he promises to take to Washington if elected to the Senate.  If scaring seniors with half-, no, fully-baked, misrepresentations of the effects of ACA is the standard by which Rounds' campaign intends to move forward, I'd say he'll have his hands full when he faces up to the kind of grilling he'll get from his intra-party challengers during their SDPB gathering next week.  Then there's the passionate and articulate Democratic contender Rick Weiland to deal with if Rounds makes it to the general.  Then there are the voters themselves, South Dakotans who understand the difference between common sense and common baloney.

Addendum:  There are two relevant sections of the Affordable Care Act that should give seniors some sense of security about their continued Medicare and Medicare Advantage benefits, which are guaranteed:


    (a) Protecting Guaranteed Medicare Benefits- Nothing in the provisions of, or amendments made by, this Act shall result in a reduction of guaranteed benefits under title XVIII of the Social Security Act.
    (b) Ensuring That Medicare Savings Benefit the Medicare Program and Medicare Beneficiaries- Savings generated for the Medicare program under title XVIII of the Social Security Act under the provisions of, and amendments made by, this Act shall extend the solvency of the Medicare trust funds, reduce Medicare premiums and other cost-sharing for beneficiaries, and improve or expand guaranteed Medicare benefits and protect access to Medicare providers.


    Nothing in this Act shall result in the reduction or elimination of any benefits guaranteed by law to participants in Medicare Advantage plans.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Prairie Populist Pushes Back.

     A few posts back I took a critical shot at Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland's populist campaign, mainly because the politically overdramatized theme that this country is an oligarchy doesn't really square with reality.  I mean, the notion that an "oligarchy," which by definition is a unified bloc of individuals and institutions whose common theme is self-perpetuation, doesn't exist in the United States.  My piece noted that rich and powerful elites in the U.S. are fragmented into numerous components and individuals, each with a unique agenda.  Fact is, they often fight each other, many of them pushing political policies that are as favorable to the common folk as they are to the elites. Take a look:  For every Sheldon Adelson there's a Warren Buffet, for every Koch Brother there's a George Soros.  I could go on.  This is why I find Weiland's campaign falling short. 
    As you can imagine, Weiland found my analysis falling short too.  Here's his reply, sent today.  It's titled "Big Money Is Real:"

You Constant Commoners out there in Rapid trade some of the most thoughtful ideas coming out of South Dakota these days.  It's a frequent treat for me to log on for some adult thinking after a day dueling with the kinds of hormonal thinkers who frequent the War College.
I must, though, take mild exception with your leader’s recent post, "The problem with populism, Rick Weiland style."

John's argument is that my battle with "big money" ignores the fact that "big money" is not a monolith.  That, of course, is technically correct.  Soros, Koch and Adelson all actually exist.  But John extrapolates from that obvious fact that my campaign for the Senate, "is really missing the boat." 

Sometime around our nations 200th birthday the hard right invented the welfare queen as a symbol for its belief that, after 35 years of New Deal policies, their nation had gone too far in seeking to accommodate and empower the poor.   They new full well that "the poor" were not some "monolithic, unified political juggernaut," bent on defrauding hard working rich people of their well earned rewards.    But their "Great Communicator" synthesized what they believed was the overall effect of two generations of attention to the needs of the poor and the lower middle class into a powerful symbolic "person."  That successful synthesis has changed American politics and public policy for two generations.

2014 is almost exactly as far removed from 1976 as 1976 was from 1929.  Today we are reaping the whirlwind of two generations of public policy attention myopically focused on the needs of the wealthy and the powerful for policies that allow them to unleash their talents and ambitions with full force in our economy.  Those talents and ambitions are in fact a formidable force for progress.  I do not in any way agree with those who believe you can confiscate their fruits and your economy will walk away unharmed.

But after two generations in which the ideas of the rich and powerful have routed those of the middle class, the result has been predictable.  What began as an unchaining of productive genius has congealed into protection of raw power and already earned big money.  What at first helped the inventor starting out in the little garage market his or her inventions, to the immense benefit of our economy and our public, now helps the inventors grandsons and granddaughters amass unheard of riches with ponzi schemes of negative value to the public, or simply send their billions offshore, while head start programs are shuttered because their billions go untaxed. 

Big money is an understandable public symbol for the kind of people, and the kind of thinking, that have dominated American public policy for the last two generations.   

Warren Buffet understands big monies total triumph in public argumentation perfectly when he says, "There's class warfare all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

I'm sure Mr. Buffet has met Mr. Soros, and knows full well of the wide range of opinions within the billionaires club.  But Mr. Buffet also understands the bottom line, and knows that the actual, factual distribution of wealth is the bottom line.  Because he studies statistics, and thus knows the real economic and political world perhaps more accurately than any other human being now alive, Warren Buffet can see that "big money" has seen it's share of our nation's wealth rocket up in lock step with its share of the money with which politicians get elected.  He understands the bottom line never lies, and that the bottom line today is that close to 100% of the increase in America's total wealth over the last 30 years has gone to the wealthiest and most powerful 1% of Americans, while the other 99% of us have gotten next to nothing.

Unless you can argue that the free market economy has changed so fundamentally over the last 30 years that this result is a fair reflection of open competition, a ridiculous assertion on the face of it, Mr. Buffet feels there is only one conclusion possible, the one he presented in his famous class war quote.

I agree with Warren Buffet.  I believe the bottom line proves that the "big money" big foot against which I am campaigning hard not only exists, but is the fundamentally incorrect and unfair set of policy assumptions which must be slain before we can hope to right our course. 

It is not true that the right to buy politicians is big monies free speech right.

It is not true that granting tax free status to offshore profits, and billionaires grand kids piggy banks, or bundling bad mortgages, helps spur productive economic growth.

The results of these untruths, propagated by our refusal to challenge the ascendant political myths of big money, are stunting our economy and defrauding our middle class. 

Like Seymour's plant in Little Shop of Horrors, their myths have been allowed to grow unchecked for far too long, and they must be pruned.

That is why I am campaigning against "big money." 

As Warren Buffet understands, the people and ideas that phrase synthesizes have gotten mightily greedy.  As Ronald Reagan would well understand, labeling them is absolutely necessary to be effective in the world of public communication.

The thinking of Buffet and Reagan, each a much wiser man than I, is the basis of my campaign against "big money."  It is a base with which I am quite comfortable.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Read The Bible, Reverend Hickey. It Says A Lot About Minding Your Own Business.

     Apparently the phallus stands tall in Steve Hickey's imagination.  Hickey, the South Dakota state legislator and pastor of a church in Sioux Falls, authored a disingenuously gratuitous Facebook post  a couple of days ago decrying the Sioux Falls Argus Leader's refusal to print this letter to the editor, which is aimed at "board-certified" doctors in South Dakota, asking them to weigh in on the matter of the safety of men having anal intercourse. Hickey's letter refers to the anal canal as a "one way garbage truck."  Hickey's "concern" about the safety of the practice is apparently limited to male  participants, as he claims, because homosexuality is about to become a "front page topic" in South Dakota "for the next few years."  Apparently, men and women engaging in the practice, having done so for eons (Shakespeare makes a sly reference to it in Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio muses about it in Act 1, Scene 2with no particularly personal or epidemic consequences, is either ignored or overlooked by Hickey. Anal penetration is a long-standing sexual activity that probably doesn't merit any more than the usual cautionary practices that should be applied to all sexual encounters.  I'll bet Reverend Hickey knows that even the missionary position has its risks.
     So why does Hickey single out males engaging in the activity for public scrutiny by board-certified South Dakota doctors?  I doubt that he can answer that question.  His preoccupation with homosexuality has been evident in his legislative record, having, for example, just failed as a prime sponsor of a bill, that would excuse shop keepers from serving homosexual patrons if it offended their religious beliefs. But what up until now has seemed like mere preoccupation has flowered into an obsession, considering his poorly thought out insistence on limiting his concerns about anal penetration to men, completely ignoring its long history as an activity engaged in by heterosexual couples.  Slapping back at Hickey's implication that homosexual activity "is not good for the body or mind," is board-certified physician Kevin Weiland of Rapid City, whose televised rebuttal unequivocally rejects the notion that there is something inherently unhealthy about homosexual sex.
     Surprising to me about all this is that the Reverend Hickey seems to have lost touch with some pretty clear admonitions in the Holy Bible against meddling in other people's affairs.  For starters, there's Proverbs 26:17--"Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own."  Then Peter weighs in: I Peter 4:15--"But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters."  Consider that Peter puts meddling in other people's affairs right down there with the transgressions of a "murderer, thief, or evildoer."  Get that Reverend Hickey and like-minded supporters?  Though I think I've made my point, I'll throw in one more.  Here's Paul in his first letter to the Thesallonians 4:11--". . . study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you."  
     Going forth and spreading the word is a Christian imperative that I've long admired and supported.  I believe Reverend Hickey and his congregation are committed to living Christian lives and sharing the blessings of their spiritual bounty with others.  It's self-evident that these folks regard homosexuality as a sin. Its emergence as a socially acceptable and legally protected activity is abhorrent to them.  Hickey acknowledges as much by noting in his Facebook diatribe that "our religious community [is] leading on these moral issues." And therein lies the breakdown of the process. "Spreading the word" is one thing, "forcing it on others" is another.  Life in a Christian society is all about individuals making choices, not having their choices made for them, as Hickey's version of an oppresive Christian culture would do.  Lot's wife didn't have to look back at Sodom.  She chose to--and suffered the consequences.  That's the Bible's ultimate parable about choice, and it is lost on Hickey and his followers.  Why can't they see that?