Sunday, October 30, 2016

Along With Its Mine, Azarga Uranium Brings An Interesting Corporate History Into The Black Hills

     I've been leery of the corporate setup behind the uranium mine proposed for the southern Black Hills ("Dewey Burdock" familiarly, referencing its location near Edgemont) since
Should They Get On That Horse
And Ride Into The Sunset?
January of last year.  
That's when I filed a complaint against Azarga Uranium, the company developing the site, with its regulators the British Columbia Securities Commission.  BCSC has regulatory jurisdiction over the company's securities (AZZ.TO) because its stock trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The letter I filed detailed several misleading statements that Azarga had just made in a press release that might have caused investors and potential investors to believe that the process was moving along at a pace faster than it actually was.
     BCSC promptly sent me a form letter acknowledging receipt without further comment and opened a complaint file on the company.  I figured, okay, I did my thing, and doubted much would result. Then, wham, the following April, (and I don't claim credit, I'm just providing the timeline) a chastened Azarga released a statement saying that its Canadian regulators, BCSC, were requiring it to "retract," "clarify" and "remove" several statements from its public report ("Preliminary Economic Assessment") issued at the time.
    On the face of it, Azarga most definitely didn't pass the sniff test.  After official scrutiny, the BCSC saw it the same way.  AZZ.TO has been trading at about 20 cents/share, probably as a permanent denizen of the "penny stock" market.  If you have a broker, you can get an opinion on that
Great Advice
From The People Who Know
(from BCSC)
market from your brokerage firm.  I can tell you that I wouldn't touch it.
    What's intriguing about Azarga now is the status of its largest shareholder.  For the past couple of years, 24% of the company was owned by a Singapore-based firm called Blumont Mining, which in 2014 was targeted by Singaporean regulators and police for investigation of "trading irregularities." I don't know what came of that, but the company last March filed a statement detailing 3 straight years of losses, which is probably why it just unloaded its stake in Azarga to a subsidiary of arbitrage fund Platinum Partners LLP in New York.  And that's another story: Platinum
Partners is currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice after the arrest of one of its associates for wire fraud.  The firm is also liquidating.  How that will affect Azarga and its long-stalled hopes of developing its mine in the Black Hills remains to be seen. I'll watch and comment as things develop.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Kristi Noem Is Either Out Of Her League Or Out Of Her Mind

     South Dakota's lone Congressional Representative, Republican Kristi Noem came up with such an outlandish promise yesterday that you really have to shake your head at her
Noem Pitches Her Tax Plan
Voodoo Economics?  Hallucinatory Is More Like It
disconnection from economic reality.  
She actually told Sioux Falls' KSOO radio that if a tax reform package that she favors were enacted in the United States we'd see an economic growth rate of

"around 9.1 percent."  This is so stunningly ridiculous that you have to wonder if the Congresswoman even listens to herself or simply reads from a prepared script without thinking through the words that she's uttering.
     First off, a 9.1% growth rate in an advanced mature economy like ours is way beyond reach.  This is more than twice what Donald Trump claims he can achieve, and he wants to lower corporate taxes (to 15%) by even more than Noem does (to 20%).  Trump's draconian cut would at most, by even his reckoning, boost annual growth to 4%.  How Noem comes up with her flight into the fantasyland of 9% is something I'd challenge her to support.  I can comfortably say that no credible economist would back this up as a likelihood, much less a possibility.
     Just to get some grounding, I consulted with my favorite economist (my daughter Emily, who was trained in the field at UC Berkeley), who dismissed Noem's claim out of hand.  Emily notes that she "has yet to see a compelling example of where lowering taxes created that kind of growth."  Adds Emily, "the problem is that those kinds of models make incorrect assumptions about how people spend their tax savings.  Businesses tend to favor stable, solvent governments with good
When You Wish Upon A Tax Cut
infrastructure and educated labor pools, both of which require higher taxes to achieve."  

     The most recent round of tax cuts, early on in the George W. Bush administration, produced nothing in the way of notable economic growth.  In fact, GWB's tax reductions in '01 and '03, were followed by one of the most calamitous economic debacles in history.  Why and how Noem comes up with the assumption that her notion of cutting taxes will lead to unparalleled levels of economic growth is something I'd like to see her explain. Given the looney-tunes magnitude of her claims, I doubt that Noem can make a serious case.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Brazilian Fresh Beef Shipments Began Arriving In The U.S. Last Week. So What's Up With Country Of Origin Labeling, SD Congressional Delegation?

     Good news for Brazil.  The country just offloaded its first cargo of fresh beef at the Port of Philadelphia, 3,000 tons of it, soon to be followed by similar shipments during the next several
Brazilian Beef Offloaded
In Philly Last Week
months.  Bad news for South Dakota cattle producers.  That's beef that will push aside the product they'll be marketing during the same period.  Even worse news for the U.S. trade deficit.  The Brazilian deal will only add to the $1 billion/year difference between beef we export ($5.2 billion/year) and the beef we import ($6.2 billion/year).  In a piece titled "Trade Deals Keep Getting Worse", the National Cattlemen's Beef Association journal "Beef" piles it on, complaining not only about the deal itself but adding some cautionary language about safety issues as well.

     In the meantime this is happening against the backdrop of one of the worst price selloffs in the history of the U.S. cattle market.  Slaughter-ready cattle that were fetching $1.70/lb liveweight just two years ago are now trading at a bit over a dollar.  This is catastrophic, and the news that our imports of beef just grew substantially only makes the situation tougher to accept.  Meantime, our South Dakota congressional delegation (Thune, Rounds, Noem, Republicans all) don't seem to have much to say about the matter.
     I just googled all 3 of their names with the words "beef imports" and came up with one solitary link:  it reported that they all stood idly by last winter and let Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) die on the vine.  It happened during a budget negotiation in Congress when repeal of COOL was slipped into the final bill, no fanfare, no eulogy, no nothing affixed to the closure.  The repeal was needed to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling that found COOL to be an illegal protective trade barrier, so out it went.  
     Meanwhile, South Dakota cattle ranchers have to cope with awful prices and no explanation as to how one of their principal marketing advantages is no longer around to help
Who Wants To Know?
We All Want To Know
That doesn't even take into consideration that 90% of American consumers  favor labeling food products with their countries of origin. In general I favor free (and obviously fair) trade, but I don't get how free trade should deny me the chance to find out where my cut of beef came from before I buy it.  I'm willing to wager that just about everybody in this country feels the same way.

     As decisions like these are resolved at the federal level, you have to hope that somebody, anybody, who represents South Dakota in the United States Congress will speak up about this.  My many friends in the cattle industry and my family as consumers are stakeholders.  We want these labels and we want to know why we can't have them.  


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

My Recap And Voting Plans On SD Ballot Measures This Year

Image From The Aberdeen American News
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Good luck going through all 10 of the ballot measures in South Dakota next month.  They can be complicated and confusing.  Here's a recap with my voting intentions:  

  Amendment R:  NO.  This empowers the state legislature to determine who will govern our public technical institutes.  According to the Attorney General they’re currently governed by the state Board of Regents.  This Amendment dismantles the status quo and authorizes the legislature to come up with a new scheme.  I can’t support a measure that will blindly entrust the legislature to come up with a plan.  Uh-uh.  I want to see the plan first. 

Amendment S:  NO.  It extends victims’ rights beyond those already guaranteed by current statute.  I go with the overwhelming rejection by the SD State Bar Association at its meeting last June, which found the measure to be unnecessary, redundant and costly.

Amendment T:  YES.   This measure will turn legislative redistricting over to a multi-partisan independent commission and do away with gerrymandering (and even the possibility of it) by the legislature once and for all. 

Amendment U:  No.  This thing pretends it puts an 18% limit on interest rates, but the “limit” can be ignored if both the lender and borrower agree to higher, unlimited rates.  This “limit” is more like a suggestion and this amendment is more like a joke. 

Amendment V:  YES.  This amendment will eliminate party labeling in primary and general voting on state and local elections.   Party affiliation won’t be disclosed on ballots, meaning that elected officials won’t be beholden to their respective parties when it comes to functioning as our representatives.  That I like.

Initiated Measure 21:  NO.  Unlike the phony-baloney Amendment U, this measure does put a real cap on interest rates, limiting them to 36%.  It’s intended to put payday lenders out of business in South Dakota because they can’t survive with that lending cap.  I don’t like payday lending, but there are a lot of things I don’t like in a free society.  I just think IM 21 is too much government intrusion into the private marketplace. 

Initiated Measure 22:  NO.  A toughie.  I like the elements of government reform in it, including restrictions on lobbying.  I don’t like that it creates a public-financing-of-campaigns component.  Never mind that we have better things to do with the $12 million taxpayer-funded campaign chest.  This measure forces me to let others allocate public money toward candidates that I may abhor.  No way.

Initiated Measure 23:  YES.  It’s about non-union workers benefitting from wage and working conditions negotiated by unions.  I think it’s reasonable to expect those workers to pay their share of the cost of getting their wages and bennies via union negotiators.  They don’t have to pay full dues, but can reasonably be expected to cough up their share of what it took to make their wages happen.

Referred Law 19:  NO.  This will reject a law that passed the legislature making it tougher for independent candidates to clear the primary hurdle and make the general election.  Besides shortening up the time frame for petitions to get enough signatures, it won’t let you stray outside your party on a nominating petition, which essentially restricts your voting rights.  No fair, no way, no-no to this stinker. 

Referred Law 20:  NO.  This will eliminate the minimum wage for workers under 18.  We raised the minimum wage to $8.50/hour by a solid majority during the last election.  There was no age distinction.  Legislators are trying to tweak the will of the voters by removing that minimum for young workers.  This is flat out age discrimination and should be rejected. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Former U.S. Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD) Weighs In On Our Chance To End Gerrymandering In South Dakota. Big Fist Pump To You, Senator Pressler.

Vote YES on Amendment T to Thwart Party Bosses

By: Senator Larry Pressler

(Note from John:  Apologies for the formatting)

     I believe we are at a critical turning point in the history of South Dakota. TheThis year we have the opportunity to decide on ten ballot measures on election day. These measures will shape the
future of our state for generations to come. Recent nationwide news stories in the New York
Senator Pressler
Times and others discussing these ballot measure show that the entire nation is watching, once
again, what we do on election day in South Dakota.This November, I will be voting YES on Constitutional Amendment T. I have looked at it and it isthe most important vote you will cast on November 8th. Why is Amendment T so important? Every ten years, the South Dakota Legislature is
responsible for re-drawing voting maps in order to adjust for shifts in population. The goal of
the redistricting process is to ensure that the state is divided into relatively equal
competitiveness. Just how this is done and who is responsible for the process is left up to
members of the South Dakota legislative bosses. Constitutional Amendment T will change that
by putting redistricting in the hands of an impartial committee of registered voters. Presently,
we have a gerrymandered state legislature, and whoever’s party is in power adjusts the districts
to lock in complete control in the interest of the party, not necessarily of the people. These
party bosses carve the lines of the districts in order to keep their party in control. We must
reform that in order to shift the power out of the hands of incumbent politicians and into the
hands of the voters of South Dakota. Amendment T establishes several constitutional safeguards for voters. Amendment T bans theuse of political party identification and incumbency to manipulate voter maps. It requirescounties and neighborhoods be kept in the same district whenever possible. It requirescommittee members not hold public office three years before or after being selected to the
commission. And, Amendment T gives South Dakotans a 30-day public comment period to
express their comments and concerns on potential voter maps. Amendment T takes the power
out of the hands of “party bosses.” After the voting maps are drawn, they are in effect for ten years. By manipulating a line here or there, the outcome of multiple elections is affected. Party bosses with an interest in the outcome should not have that kind of power.  In order to curb corruption and hold politicians accountable, we need to pull back the curtain of secrecy on drawing the legislative maps in South Dakota. We need to create a fair and balanced process because voters should be choosing their politicians, not the other way around. Amendment T improves the way we draw voting maps in South Dakota. It puts voters like you back in charge of elections. Join me and thousands of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats in South Dakota and Vote YES on Amendment T this fall.

     Thank you for allowing me to serve and to represent you in the United States Senate for 18
years. Together we were able to accomplish so many important things for South Dakota and I am proud of our record.

Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD) served in the US Senate for 18 years (3 terms). Prior to his election to
the US Senate, Pressler, also a Rhodes Scholar, served two terms in the US House of
Representatives. He was the first Vietnam veteran elected to the US Senate. While in the US
Senate, he served as Chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committees. He
was also an active member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He was the principle author of the
Telecommunications Act of 1996 and of the “Pressler Amendment,” which limited foreign countries from using the USA to develop nuclear weaponry.  Senator Pressler and his wife Harriet have one daughter and four grandchildren and reside in Gregory County, South Dakota.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"SD A Leader In Uninsured" My Column In Today's Rapid City Journal

Rapid City sure has a long way to go when it comes to matching up with the rest of the country in health insurance coverage. Fact is, we are downright awful when it comes to
uninsured rates, a fact that I hope works its way into the electoral conversations among the aspirants
for office in West River precincts during the coming weeks.
Yours Truly
Using data from the excellent financial and statistical work put out by Wallethub, you can see that Rapid City — and most likely the surrounding metropolitan statistical area — fares badly (abysmally might be a better word) when it comes to the extent of our uninsured dilemma.
I hope that our legislators will consider the enormity of the problem as they mull expanding Medicaid coverage to a sizable pool of South Dakotans, about 50,000, who fall into a "coverage gap" based on making too much to qualify for conventional Medicaid, but not enough to afford coverage in plans created by the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
We need this coverage if Rapid City is to have a chance at improving on its unfavorable status as a health-insurance desert in a country full of cities that measure up far better than we do.
Wallethub notes that in a country where the overall uninsured rate is 8.6 percent, Rapid City ranks 444th in a pool of 548 American cities at just under 14 percent. And where most of those cities saw their uninsured rates go down, we watched ours increase by a percentage point, placing us in 541st place. Our children's uninsured rate (15 percent) ranks us at 537th. Among small cities, we come in at 198th. As a whole, South Dakota ranks 18th highest with its uninsured rate at 10 percent.
For a state that is constantly scrambling to maintain a labor force that can keep up with any hope of economic growth, so much so that last year Gov. Daugaard dedicated a statewide effort to address and fix the problem, one of the issues seems pretty self-evident to me.
We have a low-wage state where a lot of working people can't make enough to afford health insurance. Given a situation like that, why would we expect younger workers, many of them merging into the labor force at entry-level wages, to remain in or relocate to South Dakota? As acute as the labor shortage is here, you'd think our elected officials would make every effort to bring health insurance opportunities into the state.
Yet, the collective recalcitrance over expanding Medicaid into South Dakota remains. I think the people who are fighting this thing are so consumed by their hatred of everything Obama that they simply will not consider bringing one of his health-care program's opportunities into our state despite its obvious appeal.
For crying out loud, Mike Pence brought Medicaid expansion into Indiana when he was governor. I doubt that there's a more dyed-in-the wool conservative than Pence, who was willing to set aside political obtuseness in favor of fiscal common sense.
Our Gov. Daugaard has had a similar epiphany. I hope a corresponding enlightenment descends on our Legislature at next year's session.
John Tsitrian is a Rapid City businessman and freelance writer. You can read more of his commentary on his To see the study,

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Here's Paula Hawks' Statement On Trump and Kristi Noem. I Hope Noem Responds:

U.S. House candidate Paula Hawks released the following statement regarding Representative Kristi Noem's support for Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.

"We have called upon Representative Noem to disavow Donald Trump several times this campaign. She has refused. Nothing has changed about Donald Trump's behavior. The only thing that's changed
Paula Sounds Off
now are the poll numbers. Frankly, even if Noem were to repudiate Trump, it would show Noem's true colors. It has never been about electing the best nominee to lead the country. Her choice has been dictated by party loyalty above all else. Party loyalty might get you a seat on fancy committees in Washington D.C., but it also risks electing a racist 
misogynistic scumbag who literally endangers the fabric of democracy. This is a question about judgement. For me, it was enough to reject Trump when he called women dogs, when he called women pigs, when he told women they looked better on their knees. Is there really anything different about Trump's recent statements other than the disgusting
What Say You, Kristi?
nature in which he brags about sexually assaulting women? These aren't South Dakota values. As I said earlier this year, excusing Trump's behavior by pointing to something you are against isn't leadership. I'd appreciate hearing what about Secretary Clinton's agenda is more offensive or disappointing than electing a racist to the Presidency of the United States. People can have reasonable disagreements about tax policy. Those disagreements shouldn't be equated with using fame to sexually assault women. I urge Kristi Noem to reject Donald Trump and explain in great detail what she actually supported about Trump in the first place.  We deserve an answer."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Column On South Dakota's Tax Unfairness In Today's Rapid City Journal

Considering all the hoopla over tax policy that has dominated the national political conversation in recent days, I'm surprised that none of that talk has filtered down to the
Yours Truly
South Dakota level yet.
Our primeval tax system, one of the most regressive in the United States, is overdue for some analysis and political discussion. As far as I know, none of the Democrats running for office in this state has made tax reform much — if any — of an issue, probably because they're terrified of having to utter the two most reviled words in South Dakota's political vocabulary: "income tax."
Yet, any discussion about fairness in taxation in this state has to conclude with an unavoidable reality. Our outsized reliance on sales taxes as South Dakota's principal revenue stream needs to go. Eighty one percent of our state's tax revenues come from sales taxes. Compare that to Minnesota's 42 percent, Nebraska's 47 percent and North Dakota's 30 percent.
Structural differences among the states can account for the disparities, but it doesn't change this fact: South Dakota depends on a much larger share of the earnings of lower- and middle-income residents than it does on the money made by those in the higher-income brackets.
The non-partisan, non-profit Institute On Taxation And Economic Policy says that in 2015, South Dakota had the fourth most regressive tax system in the United States. Poor and middle-income residents paid, respectively, 12 percent and 8 percent of their earnings to state and local authorities, while the wealthiest paid less than 2 percent.
The unfairness is self-evident, yet the "official" South Dakota position seems to be that the status quo, meaning no income tax, is one of our state's most compelling assets.
Last spring in his pro forma message to graduating high school seniors, Gov. Daugaard added a pitch to remain in South Dakota, telling them that "without an income tax ... you can keep more of the money you earn," not mentioning that they'd be paying a higher share of their incomes in sales tax than their prospective employers would.
USA Today took note of the fact that no income taxes are irrelevant to South Dakota's status as a place to work last year when it wrote that we're the 8th-worst state in America to make a living, adding that we're the second lowest average-income state in the country.
Looking at it as an employer of many years standing, I haven't seen much enthusiasm for our no-income tax status among people who want to stay or relocate here to make a living. Our state's chronic labor shortage is acute. Using our “income tax” pitch as a siren song for workers is delusional. It hasn't worked.
Meantime, the inequity lingers on. We need to air this situation out, and this election cycle is a great time to do so. I hope challengers will start raising this issue during the next few weeks and use it as a prod against incumbency and the status quo, which has failed to do the job of insuring fairness among our taxpayers.
John Tsitrian is a Rapid City business