Saturday, June 27, 2015

I Love Rainbows. I Love People Living The Way They Want To Live. I Love That Love Is Gender-Neutral.



       I feel profoundly sorry for those who are disturbed by the SCOTUS decision legitimizing same-sex marriage.   South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley speaks for a lot of them when he said in reaction to the decision, "It has always been my position that the citizens of our state should define marriage, and not the federal government."  I suppose the attitude has some political value, but it seems to me a quaint and anachronistic appeal to states' rights that has been obliterated over time by the "Supremacy Clause" in the U.S. Constitution and the "Equal Protection Clause" in the 14th Amendment to that Constitution.  I don't get how same-sex partners in a consensual marital relationship should be treated any differently with respect to rights, benefits and protections than any other couple in a man-woman marriage.  These people pay taxes like everybody else. They're presumably bound by the same civil and criminal laws as everybody else.  They contribute in their own unique ways to their communities the same as everybody else.  So why does Jackley think their status as bona fide married couples should be subjected to scrutiny and approval by the state? The idea of it gets a rise out of my libertarian nature.  We're co-existing in a free country, folks.  Live and let live.
     The State of South Dakota expects same-sex married folks to participate in civil society with all the responsibilities that go with that participation. Considering that, where does the State of South Dakota get off denying them the privilege of calling themselves married?  Seems like Jackley should realize that if we expect these folks to bear the same burden of responsibilities as everyone else that we should give them the same status as other married couples, not regard them as a separate class of citizens.  Fair's fair, and Jackley's notion that South Dakota should be able to segregate in any way, shape, or form the very citizens it treats equally in every other respect is full of baloney.  
     Jackley may well have his personal and political imperatives in mind while publicly hand-wringing over the SCOTUS decision, but the reality is that the law of the land now relieves him of the burdens of dealing with the contentiousness of same-sex marriage considerations within the the State of South Dakota.  For that we should all be glad because it frees up our AG's time and energy to take up matters of real import in the pursuit of justice in this state.  
     

Friday, June 26, 2015

Brendan Johnson's Epic Fail In Rapid City

     Spent my lunch hour today at the Black Hills Forum And Press Club** monthly gathering in Rapid City.  The speaker today was Brendan Johnson (son of former U.S. Senator Tim Johnson), who appears to
Brendan Johnson
EB-5?  It's Not My Job
(photo from davidlias.wordpress.com
be the only serious chance for South Dakota Democrats to field a statewide candidate with enough recognition and political gravitas (thanks to his pedigree) to mount a realistic challenge to one of the entrenched Republicans in Congress or the statehouse in Pierre.  Clad in blue jeans and casual sport coat, hair cut to standards set by Gentleman's Quarterly, the trim and boyish Johnson set an easygoing tone, talking mainly about his recent stint as South Dakota's U.S. Attorney and a few of the issues (Human trafficking came up a lot) he had to deal with.  

     He rather abruptly ran out of steam, though, taking up only about half of his alloted speaking time.  His talk was descriptive, but essentially substance-less (unless you think a rundown of how a U.S. Attorney runs his office is substantive)--a quality that spilled over into his hurried switchover to a question-answer period, for which I was able to stay prior to leaving the meeting early due to a business commitment (aka having to make a living, lol).  I thought I'd give his moxie a test and see how he'd react to my Q about EB-5, the "cash for green cards" fiasco that involved a bevy of SD officials in recent years.  We know all about how federal authorities have taken a pass on indicting any of the state officials involved, but there are still many unanswered questions that could use exposure and examination.  So I posed the following question, paraphrased:  Forgetting about your prior position as U.S. Attorney, as a South Dakota resident are you satisfied with the State of South Dakota's investigation into the EB-5 matter? 
     A simple enough question it was, basically consisting of one South Dakotan talking to another. I made it clear that I wasn't interested in his approach to the affair as U.S. Attorney, but rather his opinion on how the State of SD's investigation of the matter has gone.  I was hoping for a straightforward response. I was rebuffed, but not particularly surprised, given his prior reticence about commenting on the brouhaha.  Johnson ignored my Q and went on and on about how he and others in his office had to recuse themselves, generally putting a rhetorical wall between him and EB-5, which we've all heard before.  No problem with that, of course, but I couldn't get any more out of him than that. The facilitators of the event wouldn't let me pose a follow-up, mainly on the understandable grounds that
Does SD Need To Take A Harder Look?
What SayYou, Brendan Johnson?
(photo from www.ksfy.com)
they wanted to spread the questioning opportunities around the room.  

     So, unless Mr. Johnson is willing to express his opinion--either here or elsewhere--on how the State of South Dakota has handled the investigation in EB-5, it looks like we'll probably never know.  What we do know is that he certainly has no interest in presenting himself as a crusader for truth and justice. Considering that at one point during the talk he described a stint in the U.S. House of Representatives as an exercise in banging one's "head against a wall," he seems intent on coming across as just a dedicated guy doing as well as he can at his newly acquired job in the private sector, which is where the moxie-less Johnson will no doubt perform well.  


**The Black Hills Forum and Press Club is a venture put together by Rapid Citians Bill Walsh and Stephen Wesolick.  It meets monthly for a luncheon and talk by a South Dakota public figure. Very lively stuff--suggest you check it out.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Ultra-Conservative Rushmore PAC Is Taking Credit For Allender's Win In Rapid City. Way To Get Sucked In, Kooiker-Haters.

     It's not really that big a deal to me, as I couldn't  get real enthused about either candidate in
This PAC Says It Helped Steve Allender Win
What Did It Do "Behind The Scenes?"
(photo from rushmorepac.org)
the just-concluded mayoral election in Rapid City.  
The incumbent Sam Kooiker, who got roasted a few times here made enough blunders and enemies during his two-term tenure to put his re-election to a third term in serious doubt.  Eventual winner Steve Allender had a cadre of supporters who just naturally admired his background as a police chief and liked his style and personality.  But a serious amount of his support also came from those who Kooiker just plain antagonized for any number of reasons, some of them related in my link above.  
     I know enough of these folks (sorry, no names, no genders), many of them unrepentant liberals, to believe that they must be galled. The fact is that Allender now seems politically connected to the conservative Rushmore PAC, which yesterday claimed that its "donations and technical advice" delivered "behind the scenes" helped to "make sure that the [Allender] campaign had adequate funding to get a message of growth out throughout the election." 
     Happy with yourselves, my liberal friends?  Throughout the entire campaign I got a sense that
Rapid City Mayor-elect Steve Allender
Why Did Rushmore PAC Help "Behind The Scenes?"
(photo from twitter)
the Kooiker-haters among you were so determined to throw Sam out of office that you'd be willing to vote for anybody who could present himself as a credible candidate, so along came Allender, who fulfilled your need to vote for the non-Kooiker in the race. And so, incidentally, came along the Rushmore PAC, which now has a foothold in Rapid City government.  

     Is this such a bad thing?  Hard to say.  The prosaic, if not altogether colorless, Allender will have his hands so full with the day-to-day demands of running the city that politics will for the most
part be a back-burner issue.  Just the same, you have to hope that what is now a connection to Rushmore PAC won't evolve into fealty and materialize as a mandate for staffing the city's administration with political apparatchiks who will form a network dedicated to pursuing the PAC's political values.  
     I invite Mayor-elect Allender to react to Rushmore PAC's chest-thumping about its role in his election.  Some commentary about just exactly what sort of "behind the scenes" role played by the PAC would also be welcome.  I'd also like to know why you and Rushmore PAC felt that your relationship had to be "behind the scenes" in the first place.  Mayor-elect Allender?  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Payday Lenders In The Hands Of An Angry God

     As a libertarian by nature I really wish these anti-payday lending crusaders would lay off
Awful?  Yes
But Whose Arrogance Can Save Us From Ourselves?
(photo from www.keloland.com)
and let people live their own lives.  
But I guess some folks have an irrepressible need to save people from their own choices. It's kind of dismaying. The high moral dudgeon that seems to be propelling the hatred of payday lenders in this state has unified some otherwise antagonistic elements into a formidable bedfellowship that should give the payday lending industry the shivers.  Speaking from the left, that doyenne of our state's liberal blogosphere, Cory Heidelberger, has long been railing against payday lenders and is an unabashed supporter of a proposed initiative to put them out of business by capping interest rates and other charges at prohibitively low levels, effectively shutting down the industry. Cory's usury-hating compadres, "South Dakotans For Responsible Lending," are behind the initiative, which is already facing its first legal challenge, no doubt as part of an organized effort by the payday loan industry to delay the signature gathering process.  That has to be completed by this November 1 to get the measure on the November 2016 ballot.  
     One of the prime movers of the initiative (the other is Steve Hildebrand) is District 9 State Rep and clergyman Steve Hickey.  Hickey's Cotton Mather-esque propensity to run our society according to his personal moral code flared up here last year when his letter to the editor of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader blasted South Dakota physicians and psychologists for not speaking out against the evils of homosexual sex.  Having gotten nowhere with that comical effort, Hickey has since turned his attention to the much maligned payday lending industry, blaming it for many of the financial ills endemic to a segment of our communities.  Hickey's displeasure with the whole set-up
SD Payday Lender Chuck Brennan
Rich Guy That People Like To Hate
(photo from www.argusleader.com)
is apparently aggravated by the fact that payday lenders make a ton of money.  That thundering bible-thumper of the 18th century Cotton Mather himself couldn't conjure up a more fire-and-brimstonish reaction, saying of the rich:  "Your very prosperity hurts you . . . you are every moment in danger of being seized by the formidable Justice of God for Eternal Burnings."

     Well heavens to Betsy.  What's a poor libertarian like me to do, now that our state's liberal elites have joined forces with one of its prime pulpiteers to gang up on a business that has left a lot of unhappy people in its wake?  Not much, I guess, except call attention to the fact that you can't legislate against people screwing up their own lives.  It's an unfortunate part of the process known as a free society.  I imagine that the evils perpetrated by the easy access to alcohol in our community are vastly more pervasive and socially costly than those created by payday lenders, but it's much easier to target the visibly rich profiteers in the latter industry, so off the moralists and nanny-staters go, smug in their self-righteousness and oblivious to the fact that they're doing away with a symptom, not a cause.  
     
     

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Welcome To A Walker Wonderland

    I hope the many South Dakota Republicans who serve in the state legislature aren't among
Walker's Supporters
So Hypnotized That They Can't Spell "Progressive"
(photo from conservativewatchnews.org)
those infatuated with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his bid (an announcement is expected later this month, per MSNBC) for the GOP presidential nomination. 
Considering that Walker is the heartthrob of the Koch Brothers and their uber-conservative followers, and further considering that so many SD reps make it a point to attend (on our dime, by the way)  Koch-supported American Legislative Exchange Council confabs around the country, a mutual-admiration society consisting of the Walker campaign and leading South Dakota Republicans is probably a natural confluence of political and ideological affinities.  

     No particularly noticeable endorsements or other indications of local support for any of the GOP contenders have surfaced, but those SD Pubs who are considering a public commitment to the Walker campaign should consider his track record as governor of Wisconsin before sealing the deal.  Walker, who shows up among the top 3 or 4 aspirants for the GOP nod in recent polls, presents himself as the "Reagan redux" candidate, and his union-busting "template" in Wisconsin has been cheered enthusiastically in conservative circles around the country.  Getting "Right To Work" legislation passed in Wisconsin is an astounding political and historical achievement, so Walker has earned all the conservative plaudits that are being heaped on him these days.
     That's okay to a partisan point, but busting unions aside, Walker's overall performance in Wisconsin is weak and worth examining before anybody here jumps on his bandwagon or coattails as the the '16 elections come into focus. For all that high-profile style of his, Walker hasn't  done much for his home state, other than drive it downward in terms of economic performance.  What caught my eye a day or so ago was Wisconsin's dead-last ranking among states in entrepeneurial activity by the widely-followed (it works with the U.S. Census Bureau and other statistical-gathering services) Kaufmann Index Of Entrepreneurial Activity, falling from 45th place last year.  More saliently, the state compares so
WI State Tax Revenues Under Walker
Why Do The Koch Bros. Like This Guy?
(graphic from bloombergview.com)
unfavorably in so many key economic indicators that the La Crosse (WI) Tribune a few months ago toted up an item-by-item contrast with its much more liberally run next door neighbor Minnesota.  Among other notable contrasts is that the cost of doing business in MN is 0.2% below the national average, while in WI it's 1.7% above. As to unemployment, MN's rate is 3.7%, WI's is 5.2%.  Meantime, Walker's reduction of tax rates has been followed by a state deficit of $2 billion, while Minnesota, which increased tax rates, has a surplus of $1.2 billion  These are particularly conspicuous contrasts, considering that WI and MN are probably as geographically and economically interchangeable as two states can be.

     Why the Koch brothers are plunking their money down on a glaringly noticeable loser like Scott Walker is for them and their followers to explain. We South Dakota Republicans can only hope that our prominent party leaders don't get mesmerized by the Walker mystique and help propel him to the GOP candidacy in '16.  I couldn't imagine successfully selling the Wisconsin model to the country as a whole.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Azarga (nee "Powertech") Uranium Cranks Up Its Hype Machine Again. My Column In Today's Rapid City Journal:


     Azarga (nee "Powertech") Uranium, is the company that wants to forever alter the composition of the ground water in the southern Black Hills.  Its in situ leach mining process results "in the impossibility of restoring natural groundwater conditions after completion of the leaching operations."  This is a creepy possibility that has roused some serious opposition around here. That the mine would also  disturb some sites of significant historical value is also a matter that has led a sizable group of interested parties (technically referred to as "intervenors" during the permitting process) to join forces with the environmental interests in trying to block the process.  
     Naturally, Azarga's fortunes, tied as they are to the successful development of this mine, have been deteriorating during the years that this brouhaha has been going on.  Company shareholders ("bagholders" might be a more descriptive term) have watched their stock, already pummeled by the Fukushima nuclear disaster and its destruction of demand for uranium during the aftermath of that Japanese catastrophe in 2011, evaporate into near-worthlessness during the past few years. The company's stock price of  nearly $2/share a couple of months after the Fukushima wipeout has since been steadily dropping, trading this past week or so at just over 30 cents/share.  
     All of which explains why Azarga has a tendency to over-hype the prospects of its permitting process.  Its puffery got so out of hand recently that Canadian regulators (Azarga stock trades in Toronto) forced the company to withdraw and rewrite a major disclosure statement last April to more accurately reflect the tentative, complex and time-consuming barriers to getting its final permits.  Regulators were effectively telling the company to drop the over-hype and give its investors and the general public a realistic picture of its prospects.
     But did that slow down the Azarga hype-machine?  Doesn't look like it.  Last month the company put out a press release regarding current developments in the process overseen by American regulators and blithely ignored a few impediments.  I mean, rosy scenarios are one thing, outright ignorance of material facts is another.  It ignored favorable rulings in favor of intervenors.  It characterized an "order" by regulators as a "request."  It claims that the "project is progressing toward a resolution," when in fact a resolution is very much in doubt. It omits mentioning that a new licensing condition has been added and it claims that a process "for resolving outstanding matters is in place" when in fact regulators have yet to develop such a process.  




Note to readers:  The above post appears in today's (6/1/2015) Rapid City Journal, which can't provide the links that are embedded here.  Following is a complaint letter submitted a few days ago to the British Columbia Securities Commission regarding the latest round of misinformation in Azarga's filing, which was dated May 1, 2015.  The letter is from Colorado accountant James Woodward, who has closely followed developments with
Azarga/Powertech for a number of years.  His excellent blog "Powertech Exposed"
 has a great deal of information on this company's activities, both in the field and in the boardroom:  

May 31, 2015                                                                                                                                         BCSC Inquiries British Columbia Securities Commission                                                                    Subject:  File #20150123-13143/Azarga Uranium Corp.  AZZ.TO

                                                                                                                                                                             Dear Sir/Madam: I would like to submit the following complaint regarding issuer Azarga Uranium Corp. (“Azarga”), ticker AZZ.TO. On May 1, 2015, Azarga filed a news release about an initial decision by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (“ASLB”) regarding seven contentions raised by intervenors in a proceeding on a Source Materials License for the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium project in South Dakota, USA. The news release includes several materially misleading statements and omits material information on the ASLB’s decision and the permitting status of the project. These deficiencies violate securities legislation requiring an issuer to disclose material facts and to make timely disclosure of material changes relating to its material mineral properties.                                                                                                       The following statements are misleading: 1. The title of the news release is “US Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Partially Dismisses Contentions Against Dewey Burdock Uranium Project”. The title is misleading since it mentions only dismissed contentions and omits the ASLB’s favorable rulings on certain contentions raised by intervenors. The ASLB ruled in favor of the intervenors on two contentions, ruled in favor of Azarga and NRC staff on five contentions, and added a license condition that is favorable to intervenors. 2. In the fourth paragraph, Azarga asserts that “the ASLB requested additional consultation between the NRC staff and the Oglala Sioux Tribe.” (emphasis added) The ASLB’s 2 decision was not a request, but an order. The ASLB found that, with respect to analyzing the environmental effects of the Dewey Burdock project on Native American cultural, religious and historic resources, the NRC staff did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. The ASLB ruled the NRC staff did not conduct the required meaningful government-to-government consultation with the Oglala Sioux Tribe (“the Tribe”), and ordered the NRC staff to conduct such consultation. 3. In the sixth paragraph, Azarga CEO Alex Molyneux is quoted claiming “that a process has been put in place to resolve the outstanding matters.” Molyneux is presumably referring to the ASLB’s order that the NRC staff shall file monthly reports with the Board on its progress in addressing the outstanding issues in the two contentions relating to consultation with the Tribe. This is simply a reporting requirement, not a process to resolve the outstanding issues. Such a process must still be developed as the NRC staff initiates government-to-government consultation with the Tribe. The NRC staff and the Tribe must still negotiate the details of a tribal field survey, including the area to be surveyed, survey methodology, and financial compensation, to name a few. If historic, religious, or cultural resources are identified, the NRC staff and the Tribe must agree on a process for evaluating such resources, as well as determining and resolving potential adverse effects from the project. Azarga’s statement that a process has been put in place to resolve the outstanding matters is simply false. 4. In the same paragraph, Mr. Molyneux asserts that permitting of the project is “progressing towards a resolution”. This statement is misleading and lacks the specificity investors need to evaluate the actual permitting progress of the project. Azarga still has numerous permitting hurdles to overcome before the project can be developed: a. The ASLB’s partial initial decision has been appealed to the NRC’s Commission by Azarga, NRC staff, the Tribe, and the Consolidated Intervenors. 3 b. The parties will likely seek judicial review of the Commission’s decisions in federal court. c. If the ASLB’s partial initial decision is upheld, the NRC staff and the Tribe must conduct government-to-government consultation, including a field survey and related evaluation and mitigation efforts. d. The following federal permits must be obtained: i. Class III Underground Injection Control Permit and Aquifer Exemption from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ii. Class V Underground Injection Control Permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency iii. Plan of Operations from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management iv. Section 404 Permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers e. The following permits must be obtained from the South Dakota Department of Environment & Natural Resources: i. Large Scale Mine Permit ii. Ground Water Discharge Plan for land application of treated wastewater iii. Water Right Permit for the Madison Aquifer iv. Water Right Permit for the Inyan Kara Aquifer v. National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System surface water discharge permit The only permit obtained so far is the NRC-issued Source Materials License, which is the subject of the ASLB’s partial initial decision. Azarga makes brief mention in its news release that permit approvals are needed from the Environmental Protection Agency and the “South Dakota Department of Natural Resources” [sic]. But Mr. Molyneux’s statement that permitting is progressing towards a resolution is misleading, vague, and incomplete, and fails to disclose the true status of the project’s permitting.  5. Azarga omitted any mention in the news release that the ASLB amended the license by adding a new license condition. The license condition requires Azarga to attempt to locate and properly abandon all historic drill holes located within the project’s wellfields. This is important since Azarga argued during the ASLB’s proceedings that improperly plugged historic drill holes are solely responsible for leakage between adjacent aquifers, in contrast to leakage caused by faults, fractures, and other geological characteristics. An operator must conduct pump testing and demonstrate confinement in an aquifer before the NRC staff will authorize production. Although Azarga had agreed in its license application to plug such drill holes, the NRC staff failed to include a specific requirement in the license. The action by the ASLB to add this license condition should have been disclosed by Azarga, and failure to do so renders the news release materially deficient. Due to the numerous deficiencies, Azarga should be required to withdraw the May 1 news release and issue a news release correcting the aforementioned misstatements and detailing the true permitting status of the proposed Dewey-Burdock project. 

Respectfully submitted, /s/ James B. Woodward James B. Woodward P.O. Box 599 Wellington, Colorado 80549 USA

Further note to readers (added 6/3 @1452):  I encourage and invite friends of Azarga and/or company officials to respond to this and other posts I've put up here regarding this company. Posts can either be submitted through the comments section or e-mailed to me at the address on the right side of the page at the end of the bio column.  I will cut and paste the posts and publish them "as is,"  the only stipulation being that the commentary must pass the "do I want my grandma to read this?" test.        

Monday, June 1, 2015

Forget It, Jake. It's Chinatown.

     The federal authorities, i.e., the FBI and the U.S. Attorney have closed  the case on South
No Longer A Federal Beef
Will The State Of SD Care?
(photo from www.ksfy.com)
Dakota's infamous EB-5 imbroglio.
EB-5 is the federal "cash for green cards" program that South

Dakota used to obtain investment financing from well-heeled foreigners who would fork over $500 thousand in exchange for permanent residence in the United States, the money going to private sector investments in hopes of creating jobs. Given all the fees attached to the program, some pretty hefty sums of money were raised  through it here in South Dakota, where it began as a state-operated venture then was somehow transferred from the state to a private individual named Joop Bollen. This was an expensive change of course, costing the State of South Dakota as much as $120 million according to an analysis by the Washington D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.  
     That's a lot of dough for a small state like South Dakota.  I've seen the figure questioned but not challenged by any facts or analysis.  Overstated or not, though, the loss to South Dakota has to have been substantial, and it generated a lot of coverage and conversation during last year's election campaign.  Today's announcement by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney closes out the prospect of federal involvement in the case--and given the superficial investigation conducted by the South Dakota Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee last Fall, there probably isn't much appetite among our locally elected officials for prying into this thing with much more than the pro forma sham of an investigation they conducted in 2014, during which, to show the committee's lack of zeal, they allowed Bollen to submit written answers to written questions. A bunch of Perry Masons
And Lets Not Forget, Joop Bollen
Getchur Green Cards Here!

(photo from iiusa.org)
our legislators were not.

     So before this deftly constructed scheme to transfer millions of dollars from the State of South Dakota to a privately run organization created and headed by Bollen gets swept entirely under the rug, a few questions remain.  I'll raise some of them in the same order as my good friend Cory Heidelberger has in his excellent blog Dakota Free Press. Heidelberger's work on this has been persistent and thorough, and as he lays it out,  all South Dakotans should wonder 1) how Joop Bollen, who began the program by working for Northern State University, was able to walk away from NSU with all the books and records connected to EB-5, material that belonged to the state, not to him; 2) how Bollen was able to "win" the contract to operate the EB-5 program on a no-bid basis, with Bollen's major source of compensation coming not from the paltry $45 thousand/yr he was charging South Dakota but from the enormously lucrative fees generated by investors to him for his management work; 3) how Bollen essentially signed the contract creating this set-up with himself on behalf of the state; and 4) how Bollen attempted to smooth over some legal entanglements by submitting a brief for  the state without telling his superiors.
    There's more, much more to be learned, of course, but institutionalized indifference to the millions of dollars that were directed away from South Dakota to the schemers who pocketed the money will probably keep a lid on the flow of fresh information.  You might get discouraged but you might also remember:  this is the government that we elect.  There are politically productive ways of channeling your frustration.  Barring that, you might as well forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.