Tuesday, September 29, 2015

OMG! Man Bites Dog! Sun Rises In The West! Daugaard Wants To Accept Medicaid Expansion!

     Well shut my mouth and call me cornpone.  It looks like after years of being harangued by
Hello, Governor Daugaard?
Try Calling 1-800-Medicaid Expansion
(photo from dennishouse.tv)
logic and common sense, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard is finally taking the plunge and offering a potentially workable deal that would expand Medicaid into South Dakota.  Though he's "never said never" to Medicaid expansion according to Daugaard's son-in-law and spokesman Tony Venhuizen, the claim that Daugaard's intent has always been "finding a plan that works for South Dakota" comes right out of the standard PR playbook as a euphemism for "waking up and smelling the coffee."  Though Daugaard has in the past left the door open a crack for expansion, there doesn't seem to have been much effort made toward crafting "a plan that works for South Dakota," at least that I'm aware of. And if there has been, I'd say Daugaard's vacillation over the years would make Hamlet seem resolute.

     The deal that Daugaard wants to strike would expect the feds to pony up more funding for the Indian Health Service so that IHS doesn't have to continue tapping into Medicaid for payment, some of that money coming from SD state resources.  If that turns out to be a dealbreaker it would amount to saying (in Cory Heidelberger's concise conclusion over at Dakota Free Press) "if Uncle Sam doesn't take care of Indians, we're not going to take care of 48,500 other South Dakotans."  I'll chime in with Cory's assessment:  "nuts to that."  
     I think Daugaard has finally reacted to the economic realities of the situation.  It probably has taken a funding crisis like the one South Dakota is in right now for the governor to understand the
economic aftereffects of Medicaid expansion.  The economy has been sluggish and continues to
compare unfavorably with all but 10 other states in the country.  Meantime we have a teacher salary problem of epic proportions and have had to jack up taxes to fix our long ignored highway infrastructure.  So all of a sudden, the powerful financial numbers that are provided by Medicaid expansion must look awfully tempting to a state administration that must be scrambling to find new sources of money or some kind of economic boost.  How the deal provided by Medicaid expansion can be ignored at this point seems illogical and inexplicable.  The non-partisan South Dakota Budget And Policy Institute looked at this a couple of years ago and concluded that federal dollars coming into our state would amount to billions (with a "b") and cost the state millions (with an "m"). That's a pretty good trade when you consider that the inflow of Medicaid money will rollover in the state's economy a few times, generating local and state taxes like crazy.  
     No doubt there are some vestigial pessimists about Medicaid's future in the ranks of South Dakota's political leadership, mainly because expansion is tied to the Affordable Care Act, which is still the subject of partisan hatred by many Republicans.  My guess is that they fear the political consequences of first giving Medicaid to nearly 50,000 South Dakotans and then trying to snatch it away by repealing ACA. Considering that ACA has survived every legal and political challenge it's faced thus far, the prospects of it going away get dimmer by the year.  And even then, if it goes away, it goes away.  We'll just be stuck with re-instituting the status quo.  In the meantime, a ton of money will get heaped on South Dakota.  I'm glad to see that Governor Daugaard is finally making a real effort at collecting it for us.  

Here's Something Worth Considering:

     Also, here's a Rand Corporation 2013 analysis that concludes "states would do best to expand Medicaid"  (added 10/1/15 @ 0749)

Friday, September 25, 2015

It's All Uphill From Here, Paula, But You've Got The Moxie And The Spirit. I Wish You Well.

     Just spent 45 minutes with Paula Hawks, who will likely be the Democratic nominee for
Paula Hawks
She Thinks She Can, She Thinks She Can
(photo from www.drgnews.com)
SD's lone U.S. House seat next year. 
Running against incumbent Republican Kristi Noem, who began the year with $800,000 cash after raising $2.4 million for her run against Corinna Robinson in 2014, will be incredibly tough for Hawks, the Democratic state rep from Minnehaha County.  She told me today that her first campaign finance report, coming soon to a political blog near you, isn't going to amount to much, mainly because she's just started her fundraising program.  According to her, it's going to take between $1 and $1.5 million to mount a campaign against Noem, who will probably have no trouble raising substantially more than that.

      Corinna Robinson in 2014 raised a fraction of what Hawks thinks it will take to run her campaign during this cycle.  Robinson, who got 33% of the vote raised about $150 thousand in 2014, which goes a long way toward explaining why she lost to Noem by about a 2-to-1 margin. I'm guessing that as this cycle's challenger, Hawks will fare better in the fund raising derby because she's already an elected official in South Dakota with a more established network of friends and contacts. Robinson, who had a brilliant military career that spanned a couple of decades before coming home to run for Congress, was hampered by the fact that her long absence from South Dakota gave her too much of an outsider's persona, which became glaringly apparent in her few debates with Kristi Noem. Bright and promising as she is, Robinson just couldn't quite match up, nuance for nuance, with issues that Noem understands through and through, simply because Noem's lifelong presence in South Dakota put her in contact with them on a continuous basis. 
     Hawks won't be at a disadvantage on that front. As a high school science teacher, daughter of farmers in the eastern part of the state, wife of a rancher from Faith, she probably knows the ins and outs of South Dakota as well as anyone, particularly when it comes to matters involving the same
agricultural community that spawned Kristi Noem.  During our visit I probed Hawks on issues like country of origin labeling, medicaid expansion, defunding of Planned Parenthood, ethanol, the Keystone pipeline, meatpacker concentration and a few others.   She was responsive and knowledgeable.  As an elected official, Hawks knows how to engage the public.  Most appealing to me is that she really didn't come across as an ideologue with a fixed and inflexible approach to any of
SD Dems Can Relate
(photo from pokingsmot.net)
the topics we discussed. I have no doubt that during her forums with Noem, Hawks will come across as conversant on any subject that comes up and reasonable about her position on it. 

     There's not much more to expect from an elected official. Given all the built-in political and financial disadvantages that Hawks is willing to confront, her campaign will be a long shot.  But her knowledge of the issues, her upbeat persona, her million-dollar smile . . . well, there's a realistic chance that she'll catch fire. We all saw what a breakthrough debate performance can do for a candidate last week on the national stage, when Carly Fiorina came from the back of the pack to challenge for the GOP presidential nomination.  Hawks has it in her to do the same thing here and I'm glad she's giving it a go.

Re: The Harney Peak Name Change. C'mon, Pubs, Put Your Thinking Caps On. This Is A Win-Win.

     First off, let's think about the phrase "cultural tourism."  Now let's think about the phrases
Black Elk (1863-1950)
Symbolic And Representative
(photo from www.bbc.uk)
"missing the point" and "reflexive reactions." I 
know it isn't a common attitude among all
Republicans, but after looking over the chorus of complaints about the proposed name change of Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak in the unabashedly Republican website Dakota War College, I realized that the moderator and many of his respondents are missing an important consideration in this re-christening.  The contemptuous tone of the moderator, who sarcastically wonders if supporters of the name change will "advocate for giving away the Black Hills next" is reinforced by the criticisms cranked out by many of the commenters. The unifying theme seems to be that the status quo is perfectly okay and that this idea represents a gratuitous concession to political correctness.
     Given that I know the facts regarding Harney and his behavior toward Indians in this region, I reject the "politcal correctness" stream of arguments and call it instead a concession to "common decency." You can make your own judgements about Colonel William Harney's treatment of the native population in Nebraska just south of the Black Hills . . . I call it mass murder and believe his name has no place on one of the most significant mountains in the United States.  
     But--at some risk of sounding crass, avaricious, mercenary and just plain greedy (all of which I probably am, lol)--I see the name change as a great boost to South Dakota's overall tourism marketing schemata.  Having had interests in the tourism business sector in the Black Hills and Badlands regions for many years now, I think I know something about what sells around here, and believe me, History is perhaps our most important commodity.  Known as "cultural visitation" in the trade, you can bet that marketing our culture and history is a major force in South Dakota's appeal to the millions of visitors we get out here every year. Tribal business interests are wise to this opportunity and have every reason to support this renaming.
     This is why I think changing the name of the mountain from "Harney,", which, obnoxious
Black Elk Peak?
I Can See It
(photo from www.summitpost.org)
as it is,  has no place in the popular consciousness, to "Black Elk" would make for such a shrewd and market-driven decision.  
Don't think for a minute that a change like this wouldn't be welcome in all quarters of South Dakota's tourism industry. We all know what "Crazy Horse Mountain" has done for our industry.  Focusing on "cultural tourism" has been an ongoing effort for years now, and bringing in the wonderful tribal legacy that practically defines our "old west" heritage here is a major part of this initiative. Black Elk himself, a world-famous figure, is already immortalized here by having a huge wilderness area in the Black Hills named for him.  Crowning that honor by having his name attached to the highest peak in the hills seems a natural extension of the accolades he's already received.  I would be willing to bet that most tourism business operators in this region would love to see the name "Black Elk Peak" on maps and photos of our region and probably support the idea of the name change from a marketing perspective.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Uranium Mine Rep Hollenbeck To Be A No-Show At Now-Cancelled Rapid City Forum. Claims "Litigation". I Call BS.

got an e-mail yesterday from the organizers of the Black Hills Forum And Press Club that
In Situ Mine In Crow Butte, NE
What Azarga Wants To Do In The Black Hills
(photo from rapidcityjournal.com)
this Friday's luncheon has been cancelled.  
The meeting was to be a "debate" between Rapid City attorney Bruce Ellison and Azarga Uranium spokesman Mark Hollenbeck.  The scheduled topic was the proposed in situ uranium mine that Azarga wants to develop in the southern Black Hills, with Ellison speaking against it and Hollenbeck supporting it.  Azarga's process alters the chemical composition of the region's groundwater forever.  As you can imagine, Azarga's reassurances notwithstanding, a lot of folks, me included, are uncomfortable with the process.  They have organized and built an anti-uranium mining coalition that is officially recognized as "Consolidated Intervenors" by federal regulatory authorities.  The Intervenors succeeded over the years at forcing delays in Azarga's permitting process that has put the project years behind its original projections.  At one point in 2014 the company claimed that "facility construction is tentatively set to begin in 2015," a fiction that has long since been set aside. The company is now looking for permitting issues to be resolved at the end of 2016, a projection that seems as dubious now as their 2015 prediction did a year ago, considering that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission just put an indefinite extension on its review of Azarga's application.

     Anyway, all this was scheduled to get aired out during a two-hour session on Friday, but Mark Hollenbeck, per an e-mail I received (more specifically, it was forwarded to me and what
The Clean Water Alliance
Why Won't The Miners Talk To Us?
(photo from www.facebook.com)
looks like several hundred other people) from Bruce Ellison, organizers told Ellison that Hollenbeck couldn't appear "due to pending litigation."  
Ellison calls Hollenbeck's explanation "specious" on two levels, the first being that Hollenbeck is not a party to any litigation, but an employee of a party (Azarga) who has testified about his knowledge of the proposed mine.  I don't get that one, either, but I do get the second point that Ellison makes, which is that the referenced litigation involves the geological/environmental aspect of in situ mining itself.   Here's the full text of the e-mail (note that "Lilias" is Lilias Jarding, who heads up the Clean Water Alliance:  "
The discussion of the impacts of proposed ISL uranium mining in and affecting water resources in the Black Hills was cancelled after Hollenbeck claimed he could not be part of such a discussion due to pending "litigation."  I told the organizers that this was specious as Hollenbeck is not a Party to any litigation CWA is involved in, but an employee of a party who has already testified under oath about his "knowledge" of AZARGA/Powertech's proposed ISL mine NE of Edgemont.  Hollenbeck's claim of "litigation" as a bar to his participation in the short forum was further specious since it was not about CWA's challenges to permit applications proceedings, but the geological/environmental aspects of ISL mining.  And, Hollenbeck may have agreed to participate if someone other than me represented the protect the water side.  Unfortunately, Lilias was unable to be my substitute.

I told one of the organizers that to cancel the forum on the basis that "fairness" required cancellation since one "side" refused to participate, gave those who would risk water resources for personal economic gain, control over whether the community heard anything about or discussed the issue.   Seems unfortunate that this collection of young professional in our Black Hills community which gathers to discuss local issues, will to date, not have an important discussion about water."

     As this event has been scheduled for at least a month, probably longer, and the "litigation" referenced has been in the works for probably much longer than that, I have to be skeptical about Hollenbeck's reason for cancelling. Considering the amount of heat that Azarga has been taking over this mine, the company's appearance at this high-profile forum would have been a great opportunity to present its case to a large and involved group of Black Hills residents.  Why they chose to pass it up is their business, but from my vantage point it looks to me like they're backing away from public scrutiny.
     I invite Hollenbeck or any other spokesman from Azarga to set me straight if I'm wrong.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Time For Non-Partisan Primaries In South Dakota? Makes Sense To Me.

     The growth of Independents and others unaffiliated with the two major parties in South
Drey Samuelson
I Think He's On To Something
(photo from argusleader.com)
Dakota is a fact that is probably self-explanatory.
Since 2006 their numbers have grown from around 14% of total registrations to around 21%, which is a pretty stark statement about the growing disenchantment among South Dakota voters (consistent with national trendswith our 2-party system as it's evolved in the past decade.  I know out here in the western section of the state, many of us "west river" voters, like me, probably reflexively register as Republicans because in this GOP-dominated region, primaries are effectively the general election.  Whoever bears the big "R" in the general is so likely to win that the real chase is among Pubs.  

     Meantime, some talented and potentially effective Dems get lost in the Republican shuffle. I'm tired of that.  I'd love to see a primary system that does away with party affiliations and just gets some politically unaffiliated candidates into the primaries who can run on the basis of who they are as individuals, not who they are as surrogates for party machines.  This is why I'm so supportive of my good friend Drey Samuelson's efforts to create just such a scheme.  Drey was retired Senator Tim Johnson's (D-SD) Chief of Staff.  He has teamed with well-known Democrat Rick Weiland to bring to life an initiative that would change South Dakota's Constitution-bound primary election system from one that is party-differentiated to one that is party-blind.  
The Rise Of Independents
Not Just An SD Thing
(graphic from www.gallup.org)

     This is a system consistent with the way things are done in Nebraska.  It's also a set-up used in municipal elections that's common to 20 out of the 30 largest cities in the United States. The method recognizes that competent delivery of government services isn't a function of party affiliation. And when it comes to deliberation over policy, I think lawmakers freed of partisan commitments can make decisions based on criteria that have little or nothing to do with the whims and desires of their party bosses. Can you imagine a government based on sound, rational principles of good government and fiscal policies--not on pandering to party and special-interest dictates?  I can.  Uphill battle that it may be, this initiative, still in the signature-gathering process, provides something to ponder for those who are restless about politics as usual in South Dakota--along with a chance to do something about it.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

I Get On My Knees And Pray . . . Colin Powell Won't Get Fooled Again

     South Dakota's congressional delegation has been going through some essentially academic
Colin Powell Laying It On In '03
Yeah.  Weapons Of Mass Destruction.  Yeah, Right.
(photo from cbsnews.com)
pro forma political contortions over the Iran nuclear agreement, which, dubious as I am about it, is essentially a done deal. All three of our reps (Sens. Rounds & Thune, Congresswoman Noem) have been opposing it, with some good reason, considering its oversight and verification standards seem lax (I mean, Iran gets 24 days to prepare for an inspection of any of its research and development sites . . . this is supposed to make us feel like we're on top of things?  How come the deal doesn't have "anytime, anywhere" inspection procedures?) and that the deal basically "amounts to a postponement of Iran's nuclear ambitions."  I concede that I've only read summaries of the deal, so here it is in all its glory--I invite you to go through it and allay, if not altogether contradict, my concerns. 

     After my review, I can't fault anybody for being leery of this deal, and I support our federal reps for trying to put the brakes on it.  One of my main concerns about the political chatter created by this brouhaha is that supporters of the agreement are leaning heavily on General Colin Powell's assessment of it as "a pretty good deal."  That's what he told Meet The Press the other day and his comments have been moving with the force and speed of a prairie fire in South Dakota.  This to me is amazing, considering how Powell's duplicitous presentation to the United Nations at the advent of the Iraq war in 2003 gave so much credibility to the Bush administration's ill-conceived causus belli for sending our troops into that expensive and interminable quagmire.  
    A couple of years ago, the Huffington Post's exhaustive and comprehensive recap of Powell's activities and utterances during the rhetorical build-up to the war included phrases like "unambiguous lies," "fabricated evidence," and "deception by omission." The HuffPo piece, written by Jonathon Schwarz, is titled "Lie After Lie After Lie:  What Colin Powell Knew . . . And What He Said." Schwarz concludes that Powell has "never been held accountable for his actions and it's extremely unlikely he ever will be." That's somewhat of an understatement, considering that Powell has not only been given a pass for his egregious lapse of judgement, but has risen to the the status of an informed and influential authority on this generation's dealings with another power in that part of the world, Iran.  Powell may indeed have it right with respect to the Iran nuclear deal, but I can't trust the judgement of someone who was so easily duped by the minions of another White House that was using him as political window dressing for its schemes.  If Powell has made a point-by-point response to the HuffPo piece, I haven't seen it, but will welcome and post it here if provided to me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            As to the terms of the deal, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said at his swearing-in two years ago that "transparency is the key to opening a new chapter of mutual trust."  Truer and
President Rouhani Wants "Transparency"
So How Come It Isn't In This Deal?
(photo from www.deliberation.info)
more realistic words have never been spoken, which makes me wonder why the deal denies transparency to potential inspectors of Iranian facilities by giving Iran nearly a month to get ready for inspection. It's easy to utter the word "transparent" but infinitely more difficult to deliver on it.  

     Meantime, if I need to heed the words of a phalanx of retired generals and admirals who have taken the time and trouble to sound off on this deal, I have some at hand.  Here's a list of 190 and their jointly signed letter in opposition to the agreement.  Their collection of backgrounds and expertise strikes me as much weightier and more informed than Powell's, a general who has already shown himself to be a willing part of a scam that cost this country plenty.  I know it's too late to stem the inertia built into the approval of the Iran deal, but I'm glad that unlike the virtually unquestioning support that the Iraq war got, we have a solid bloc of federal reps that are on the record as saying "not so fast." 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

You Can Help Support The Name Change Of Harney Peak To "Black Elk Peak"

     My good friend Katrina Wilke posted this on my facebook timeline. You can go down a 
couple of posts and read my thoughts about the need for removing General Harney's name from one of the most significant mountains in the United States. Harney's actions against an Indian
The Mountain Itself
It's Time For A Re-Naming
(photo from rapidcityjoural.com)
encampment at Blue Water Creek in Nebraska in 1855 were murderous and treacherous.   There is no good reason to honor Harney by naming the highest point of land between the Rockies and the Pyrenees after him. Though I think there's room for some discussion about what the new name should be, I strongly support the effort to get this name change underway.  Here's the note from Katrina: 

    Please send your comment to the US Board on Geographic Names in support of the Harney Peak name change by 9.30.2015 .
Please accept this as my strong support for Harney Peak, South Dakota's name change, to BLACK ELK PEAK.
Harney is highly offensive to me/us and/or all our Indian brothers and sisters who are forced to pray in the Black Hills. This is in the shadow of the highly derogatory meaning of the name Harney and the atrocious military acts that are associated with his name on that sacred, but desecrated peak.
Thank you for doing what is right in the spirit of reconciliation for all Americans, by removing his name for a more appropriate name.
full name

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Cool Conference Coming Up In Rapid City Next Month

    My good pal Eric Abrahamson just gave me a heads-up about a conference he and his
organization The Black Hills Knowledge Network (the resources of which I frequently use for this blog) are putting together in Rapid City next month.  
It's set for October 7-9 at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and looks to be a gathering of of some ultra-knowledgeable people considering many aspects about the future of South Dakota.  

     There's a registration fee of about a hundred bucks (less if you want to attend a few, but not all, the sessions), which probably isn't a whole lot more than the cost of a night out on the town these days. For the money you'll get three days of insights, information and forecasts from a gathering of the best brains in the business.  I'll be there, at least for parts of it. You can get background and registration info here.