Thursday, August 28, 2014

No Way Should Susan Wismer Withdraw From The EB-5 Hearings. No Way.

     Dem Representative Susan Wismer, her party's nominee for Governor, is making a mistake by trying to get out of her participation in the coming EB-5/Northern Beef  hearings in Pierre next month.  She's reluctant to appear, according to news reports, because her opponent in the election, Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, is likely to appear before the committee, creating what Wismer believes will be a distracting situation.  She has requested that the Republican chairman of the committee appoint a proxy in her place.  In her press release on the subject, Wismer stated, "if my campaign and membership on the committee creates a conflict, I’m more than willing to step aside during this meeting so South Dakotans can get answers without the meeting turning into political theater."  
     Kudos to Wismer for focusing on the committee's work and its search for explanations on how the fiasco occurred, but on balance I think she's making the wrong move.  Her political aspirations aside, Wismer is still an elected official with all the knowledge and responsibilities that go with that position.  I have no doubt that during her work on this matter, Wismer has learned some things that give her a particular set of insights that no proxy could possibly possess.  It's Wismer's job to bring that knowledge to bear on the hearings regardless of the political repercussions that will be an inevitable part of this process.  I'm confident that interested observors will be able to separate the essence of the hearings from the political dynamics they throw off.
     As to the political part, Wismer's withdrawal from the committee would be doing voters a disservice because she's got a great opportunity to get some substantive media face time as the election approaches.  Could there be a better way for voters to get the measure of her and Daugaard than in a face-to-face confrontation occurring during the routine work of government?  I relish the chance to watch them doing what we hired them to do, along with all the comparisons and contrasts that go with it. Given her underdog status, Wismer should relish it too.
    Besides all of which, this EB-5/Northern Beef debacle could use some theatrics to get its place on the public radar screen, where it belongs.   About the only way I see that happening is by disclosure, disclosure, disclosure.  Up to now, the mainstream media that I've seen have been satisfied to report, not investigate--or at least demand answers to basic questions about the fiasco.  If theater is what it takes to get our crusading journalists into motion, then theater it needs to be.  Wismer should be astute and attuned enough to understand all this if truth is what she seeks.  She need not be repulsed by "political theater."  She should welcome the spotlight . . . along with the possibility that it might do her campaign some good.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SD Dem Congressional Candidates Will Regret Their Opposition To Keystone XL

     South Dakota Democrats running for Congress have reason to worry about the Keystone XL issue, which in many voting districts will probably come front and center as November approaches.  (First off, a disclaimer:  I own commercial property that's close enough to the proposed route through South Dakota to gain something from the pipeline's construction.  The gain is marginal and limited in time to the construction phase--but gain it is.  Go ahead and attack me and my motives if you wish, but you'll be wasting your time. The issues I raise here are much bigger than my pipsqueakish interest in Keystone XL.) Yesterday's New York Times had a long piece about grain shipments being delayed in the Dakotas by a shortage of railroad cars created by the demands of oil production.  They're even screaming about this in Canada.  Meantime, my local contacts who raise winter wheat out here in western SD tell me that their recent harvest is piling up and can't get out of the area because of the rail shortage.  The political problem for Dems?  By November most of the state's row crops, principally corn and soybeans, will have been harvested and will join their sister harvest of wheat in stockpiles that can't be reduced.
    So why should Corinna Robinson (running for the state's lone congressional seat) and Rick Weiland (running for the U.S. Senate) be concerned?  Because just about everywhere I turn the blame for this backlog aims squarely at the opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline.  All of the interests I've contacted are convinced that KXL would alleviate the shortage of rail that's choking their businesses now.  I know that my good friend Cory Heidelberger, who runs South Dakota's best political blog (and I'm not just saying that) The Madville Times thinks this argument is specious, but on this one I think he's wrong.  Keystone XL opponents correctly note that most of the crude coming out of North Dakota will be shipped by rail even after Keystone XL, which is designed to move Canadian, not American crude, is built.  What that argument ignores is that the huge amount of rail traffic committed to moving Canadian oil now will be freed up because Canadian Pacific won't have to concentrate so many of its resources on the Canadian oil patch.  CP has a big presence in the United States. It can quickly divert its assets here, and will probably need to do so once those rail cars in Canada become superfluous.
     I had a brief meeting with Rick Weiland a few days ago and raised the issue with him.  His response to farmers' concerns?  "That's not true."  I didn't pursue the issue but pointed out that perception is what matters at this point--and I stand by that observation.  Robinson has a similar problem with this, mainly because her opposition to Keystone XL deals with issues that are not central to concerns of ag interests right now.  Both Weiland and Robinson will have a lot of trouble this Fall, when crops come in, convincing South Dakota farmers that their business needs are subordinate to larger national concerns, which may or may not have merit, depending on whose party line you favor.  That both candidates have effectively drawn a line in the sand on Keystone XL will deny them any political wiggle room--and will cost them, plenty.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

@Powertech/Azarga Uranium: Shady Isn't Bad Enough? Now You Have To Be Secretive?

      What's up with Powertech/Azarga Uranium suddenly clamming up?  Apparently the company is in possession of some information regarding the aftereffects of its proposed mining operation in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota, but won't release the data to the public.  The August 9 piece in the Rapid City (SD) Journal notes that "Powertech President Dick Clement said Friday the information was "insignificant" in terms of how the uranium process at the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine would actually work,"  to which I can only say, buh-loh-ney.  First off, I think the public should be judge of its significance.  Second off, if it's so damn insignificant, why the reluctance to disclose it?  This rather cavalier approach to dispensing what could be material information smacks of stone-walling and a lack of respect for the citizens of South Dakota.  As a law-abiding, tax-paying resident of this state, I insist on knowing what this hidden data is all about.  Are you paying attention, state and federal regulators?
     This company's actions regarding the permitting process of its mining venture in the Black Hills, known as "Dewey-Burdock" because of its location, just keep getting curiouser and curiouser with each passing news release. As if last year's abrupt write-off of its centerpiece mining venture in Colorado wasn't a bad enough blow to the company's credibility, its subsequent financial dealings that created its current incarnation (merging what was then Powertech, Inc. with Azarga Uranium in a deal that took place this year) raised some interesting questions, the first of which was why on earth its chief exec, Alexander Molyneaux, lied about the progress of the company's permitting process regarding Dewey-Burdock.  The second was, why on earth wasn't Molyneaux called on this by securities regulators in Toronto, Canada, where the company's stock is listed?  
     The third question?  It's the one that raises suspicions of shadiness.  What's the story on Blumont Mining of Singapore, which has emerged as the most significant entity in the company's structure?  Blumont has been targeted by Singaporean regulators and police officials for investigation after a collapse in its stock price last Fall that wiped out billions of dollars of shareholder equity.  All of Blumont's records dating back to January, 2011, have been seized as part of the investigation.  It's common tie with Azarga?  Mr. Alexander Molyneaux, who has already been exposed as a liar regarding the Dewey-Burdock permitting process.  
     I'll be the first to extend a presumption of innocence regarding the Blumont investigation.  But I'll also be the first to call for some consideration of this company's status with regard to its security regulators and inform South Dakota's public  that we're dealing with a company that has a history of sudden write-downs and share prices that abruptly obliterate stockholder equity.  These are facts.  You can draw your own conclusions.  I've already drawn mine.  Get these people out of South Dakota.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Prairie Populist Promises Specifics To Go With The Thematics.

     A few weeks back I took Democrat Rick Weiland and his campaign for the U.S. Senate to task for being absorbed with its populist themes at the expense of policy specifics.  My piece got the Weiland campaign's attention and stimulated a response.  Here is Weiland's reply:

I want to thank John and The Constant Commoner blog for another thoughtful piece on the race for the United States Senate.  We do need more discourse on what South Dakota’s US Senate candidates will introduce and fight for in Congress and less pretty political ads and other platitudes.
In fairness, I have tried to talk about policy a great deal during this campaign.  In fact, my entire campaign is built around a policy idea, instead of a platitude – enacting real campaign finance reform that ensures our electoral contests reflect the will of the majority of citizens instead of Big Money’s campaign contributions.  I proposed improving Obamacare by allowing all Americans, of any age, to buy into the Medicare program to provide real competition for big health insurance companies.  I’ve backed legislation and held a conference call with reporters to discuss the idea of allowing young people with higher interest rate student loans to re-finance them at 3.86%, a figure established in a rare bipartisan compromise last summer.  I’ve proposed strengthening country-of-origin labeling so South Dakota families know where their meat comes from.  I strongly opposed the new EPA guidelines on the renewable fuel standard (RFS).  I came out against renewing America’s intervention in Iraq.  I have proposed eliminating the federal government’s EB-5 program.  I introduced the idea of a pledge asking for our current Congressional delegation and all of our Senate candidates to promise never to shut down the government or threaten defaulting on our Treasury debt obligations.  
In keeping with our effort to talk about real issues – beginning next week, I am going to propose a series of policy ideas as I make my way across the state a second time and I am going to post these position papers on my website.  Our state needs a vigorous discussion of the issues and I will do my part to help make sure this happens.