Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Cutting Off Our Partisan Noses To Spite Our Ideological Faces

     Our South Dakota Republican U. S. Senators, along with conservatives everywhere, just got a bad taste of what an understaffed U.S. Supreme Court will create with Scalia's seat
Rounds (l.) & Thune
Aquiescent & Compliant 
empty.
Senior Senator John Thune and his junior colleague Mike Rounds, dutifully going alone with their majority leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican senators, have been fighting against their Constitutional mandate to advise and consent to President Obama's nomination (Merrick Garland) to fill the SCOTUS vacancy created by the recent death of conservative demigod Antonin Scalia.  When Scalia was on board, the court was generally regarded to hold a 5-4 edge in favor of conservative justices.  Since his death, the court's ideological balance has gone to 4-4, meaning that a split decision is in a legal limbo that leaves the lower court's decision intact.  

     In this particular case, the 8-person court divided evenly on a decision (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Assocation) over whether California public school teachers should be forced to pay union dues even if they didn't belong to the union.  The long-standing policy was that even non-members had to pay at least a portion of the dues because union collective bargaining efforts were responsible for the pay and benefits that all teachers, not just union members, receive.  Non-members objected to the policy because, even though they're exempted from paying a portion of dues that are dedicated directly to political activities,  they believe that the collective bargaining process itself, conducted as it is with public agencies, involves inherently controversial political choices.   Teachers are competing for tax dollars, which indeed puts a political slant on government decisions as to how to allocate those dollars.
     side with the plaintiffs, not the unions, on this one.  Being a teacher is not a sentence to 100% agreement with other teachers on how best to spend public money just because teachers are paid out of the public treasury.  That seems to me a principle that extends to many an organization that is involved in public policy-making and -implementation.  An example?  One does not need to be a compliant Republican United States Senator just because one is a Republican United States Senator. Political fealty is not the job description of a an elected official.  As I would bet most South Dakotans agree, independent thought and action are really okay, okay?  
     Given its precedent-setting potential, Friedrichs v. CTA will no doubt be refiled once SCOTUS is at full strength.  How long will that take?  You tell me. How Obama's nominee Garland
Here Come Da Boss
GOP Leader McConnell
(photo from wsj.com)
would have voted is impossible to assess, but Garland has long had a good reputation among Republicans and all the biographical data I could find on him make much of the high regard he's held in by his peers. There is no reason to distrust his judgement.  Having roots in California and knowing many teachers (my wife among them at one time) in that state, I know this issue has been festering for decades.  Win-or-lose, this was the opportunity for antagonists to get some final disposition on the matter.  Now we have to wait for who knows how long as the interminable political process puts a decision on hold.  

    Meantime we're stuck with a status quo that has long been anathema to conservatives. This is poetic justice for those like Thune and Rounds who believe that political considerations are the standard by which public business should be conducted--even if the public disagrees*  by a wide margin.**


*Go to page 13 of this WaPo-ABC news poll to find 63% believe the Senate should hold hearings on Obama's nominee.

**Go to page 8 of this CNN/ORC poll that finds 66% believe the Senate should hold hearings.
     
     

Friday, March 25, 2016

Kristi's Krazy Krusade . . .

Right, Those Other Programs Are A Waste
A Lot Of Federal Lettuce In This Word Salad
(photo from izquotes.com)
     Klever.  What else can you say? Kristi Noem is getting her re-election campaign (as South Dakota's GOP rep in the U.S. House of Representatives) underway with an appeal to fans of politics, basketball
and hypocrisy.  Pretty neat political hat trick that reveals much about her commitment to national Republican political rhetoric at the expense of her constituents here in South  Dakota.  Her zeal to shut down the government during a budget spat in 2013 virtually closed down the busy Fall tourist season in South Dakota's Black Hills and Badlands region, where the shuttering of national parks put our industry into a coma.  Then just last December she stood by with nary a word and voted for a spending bill that included the elimination of country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat products. That effectively put South Dakota's ranching industry into a serious competitive disadvantage by having to compete with imported meats that don't completely inform American consumers (favored by 93% of them, by the way) as to where their products are coming from. "Disgusted" stockgrowers notwithstanding, I haven't heard much from Noem's office about any substantive efforts to restore COOL--and I most certainly invite a recap of concrete actions, not rhetoric, to do so from her office.
     I also wouldn't mind hearing an explanation from Noem as to how her contempt for excessive federal spending hasn't deterred her ag business operations in South Dakota from grabbing subsidies by the boatload over the years.  Noem's family farm operation helped itself to $3 million from '95 through '08, just part of a massive transfer of money from federal sources to South Dakota's ag industry that in 2012 totalled $721 million--actually $1.2 billion if subsidized crop insurance is added. Of some note, Noem's husband sells crop insurance, making this a family affair.  That Noem is now running on a meme that disses federal over-spending is startling and surreal.  
     Complaining about federal assistance I'm not.  No doubt these programs could stand some pruning, but for the most part I understand that they're a way of life in the American farm economy. Apparently on this both Noem and I agree.  But Noem's acceptance of this status quo in the context of
Noem's A High Seed . .
. . In The Hypocrisy Bracket
( pic from kristiforcongress.com)
her general derision of much federal spending is ludicrous, considering that all she's doing is bowing to the notion that special interests control the federal budget.  It's especially noteworthy considering that the doyennes of American conservative political and economic thought, The Heritage Foundation and The Cato Institute, have strongly opposed farm subsidies.  
     You could argue that Noem is simply exercising the "Trump option," which means that even though she may not like the system, she has to take advantage of it to stay competitive.  As a businessman I'm okay with that.  As a political observer, though, I'd say Kristi Noem is talking through her hat when she says she wants to rein in a federal system that does nothing but dispense money to her and to South Dakota's principal industry.  She ought to be honest about it and admit that she likes her federal programs as much as a lot of other people in this country like theirs.
     

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I Like Bernie's Wall Street Transaction Tax Idea.

     I've been there and I've done that, so when I analyzed the Bernie Sanders plan to tax transactions in America's financial markets I brought some know-how into the project.  After
Wrong.  It's Not An Assault
It's An Infiltration
(photo from redbubble.com)
more than two decades of membership and affiliation with the country's leading exchanges (Chicago Board Options Exchange, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Chicago Board of Trade) I've listened to enough experts in the field (some would call them pros at these cons) to get a sense of how Sanders' idea would play, both politically and in the biz itself.  

     The plan is simple enough:  stick a small transaction fee on every trade in the stock, bond and the ultra-complex derivatives markets.  The amount that can be raised is in some dispute because it is based on the amount of trading done now, not the amount that would occur once the tax is in place, but there seems little doubt that over the course of a decade, the sum would be in the hundreds of billions of dollars.  Looking at the raw numbers and based on my trading floor and subsequent brokerage experience, I'd be very surprised if there were a noticeable dropoff in trading volume, which is the complaint voiced loudly by most opponents of the measure.  Using Sanders' proposed tax rates, the actual charge to a $1 thousand trade would range from 5 cents (that's on derivatives, using the notional--please don't make me explain "notional," lol**--value of the trade) to ten bucks for a bond trade.  
     It's true that high-speed traders, whose margins are paper-thin, might have to think twice before initiating their trades.  That's the segment of the market that's most likely to see a dropoff in volume, to which I say "good riddance."  Even the miniscule price tag attached to those trades by a transaction tax would slice into the thin price differentials on their trades. Those "flash" traders, who are here to stay, have created episodes of unredeemed bedlam in recent years (remember the "fat finger" selloff of a few years back?  Or the "flash crash?"), so any vehicle that discourages their participation (or at least reduces it) is fine by me.
     Outside of the high-speed crowd, though, I don't see a transaction tax doing that much damage to trading volumes and the liquidity that an active pool of speculators and investors create.  I don't want to get overly technical here, but I've always believed--and I think history supports this--that liquidity is an essential component of capital formation, which is the mother's milk
A Chance For The Community Chest
Dibs On The Race Car
(photo from timrusso.org)
of a growing, generally free-market society.  A similar tax is imposed on markets around the world, including some of the most active and profitable, like London, Singapore, Tokyo and Zurich.  I doubt that any of those markets has sustained a noticeable drop in liquidity or participation because of it. The United States had one from 1914 to 1966, a period of tremendous growth in capital.  

     I can see implementing this tax in stages instead of the all-at-once method pushed by Sanders as a way of gauging its impact and revenues.  I can also see some vigorous discussion about how the money would be put to work. There could be more compelling uses for the dough than providing college educations for everyone. What I can't see is letting the idea fall by the wayside because those forced to pay the tax are complaining to high heaven about it.   Seeing how well it works elsewhere and knowing it's been in place here with benign effect, I would love to see it given a try.


**For a quick definition of "notional value," go here.
     
     

Thursday, March 17, 2016

SD Senators Thune And Rounds Are Playing Politics On Obama's SCOTUS Nominee. Do They Wonder Why The Trump Wrecking Ball Is Demolishing Our GOP?

     Anybody wondering how Donald Trump could suddenly emerge and become the scourge of my Republican Party need only look at the wussiness our SD Senators are showing on the
Thune And Mitch McConnell
Which One Represents South Dakota?
(photo from dailysignal.com)
Supreme Court nomination.
John Thune and Mike Rounds are the perfect paradigms of the "all talk, no action" catchphrase that practically defines the contempt shown to our leadership by Trump, much to the resounding endorsement that Trump's campaign has been getting by enough Republican primary voters to put him on track to be the party's nominee in November.  

     Both of these tools of national Republican Party politics are completely ignoring their responsibilities to represent us South Dakotans by blowing off the prospect of even meeting with the President's nominee for the court vacancy. It's ironic that both these Stepford Senators make a big show of their attachment to our region's values, Thune through his affiliation with Heartland Values PAC  and Rounds via his campaign rhetoric about being "most in line with South Dakota values."  In both cases, I think this categorical rejection of any consideration of Obama's nominee Merrick Garland  for SCOTUS is utterly unrepresentative of South Dakota values as I've seen them displayed.  Some outstanding South Dakotans I've come to know are keenly reflective and aware, looking at all sides of situations before reaching decisions. Unlike our Senators and their brush-off of Garland, they never say no to a proposition (or appointment) without close examination. How can anybody know if Garland is fit for the Supreme Court without vetting him first?  A priori rejection is supposed to be a South Dakota value?  Please.  The  people I know who most consistently espouse South Dakota values are successful entrepreneurs and professionals who independently examine and analyze their options before coming to conclusions and decisions.  That, to me, is the essence of successful decision-making and leadership.
    I also contend that the approach is the essence of the South Dakota way of doing things, the most defining value of all.  How that jibes with the yes-men we sent to the Senate is a mystery to me.  Thune in his statement issued yesterday claims that "the American people deserve to have their voices heard" on this nomination.  That's ridiculous because the process insures that Americans have their voices heard.  A President elected by the people and charged by Article Two in the U. S. Constitution (". . . he SHALL nominate," with "shall" being the controlling word in this compound verb) to make this appointment with the "advice and consent" of the Senate, a body filled with elected officials, does not fall short of Thune's standard for what the American people deserve.  If Thune and the rest of the Senate don't think Garland makes the SCOTUS cut, so be it.  The American people have had a hearing, loud and clear, via their elected reps.  
     Fact is, Thune got sent to the Senate on the expectations that he'd do his job, not jawbone with rhetoric cleared by GOP Central.  It's a shame that our senior senator is making himself such
Why Is This Man Laughing?
Mike Rounds Misquotes The Constitution
(photo from argusleader.com)
a prototypical archetype of the "all talk, no action" politico that has brought on the rise of Trump. Thune should stand aside, let the nomination go through its Constitutionally-mandated process, and show us South Dakotans that he represents our most valued principle, independent thought.  

     Senator Rounds comes up even shorter, actually having the gall to misquote the Constitution.  In his statement issued yesterday, Rounds, reciting from a letter sent by Mitch Mconnell to the President, claims that the Constitution says that "the President "may" nominate judges of the Supreme Court."  This is such an awful misrepresentation of the Constitution that it calls Mike Rounds' competence into question.  As I noted above, the Constitution is clear.  The President "SHALL" nominate, Senator Rounds.  It doesn't say he MAY nominate.  Get it?  There's a difference between "shall" and "may."  Obama is only following through on his Constitutional mandate.  It would be nice if Senators Rounds and Thune would stand up for themselves and us South Dakotans and do the same.
     
     

Monday, March 14, 2016

SD Rep Conzet Wants Us To Wait And See How Things Work Elsewhere Before South Dakota Decides. Okay, Let's Apply That Standard To Medicaid Expansion

     When Republican Kristin Conzet recently arose from her seat in the state legislature to rebuke a family that had the temerity to live in South Dakota she set an interesting standard for
Putting It Off?
Plain Ridiculous.
our state's collective decision-making process.  
Conzet at the time was informing this family, which was urging legalization of a cannabis-based medication that controls the epileptic seizures of their toddler, that they could move to any one of 39 other states where such medications are legal. The "tough cookies" approach was heartless, insensitive and ignorant (WebMd last year cited work that showed significant drops in seizures using liquified marijuana), but it was common enough among her fellow reps to cause the legalization measure to fail.  

      Though that fight isn't over and will eventually be won by those who use objective science (there are plenty of other studies supporting WebMd's optimism, some more, some less, but all seem positive) as the basis for introducing new medications into the state, Conzet did bring up a point that's worth pursuing.  Claiming that the bill was "not for South Dakotans" because "we're different cats . . . we have to wait and watch the rest of the country . . . we sit back and pause and we make decisions . . ."  Conzet celebrates our collective reluctance to lead and takes pride in being a follower.  Not much to brag about there, but using that as a basis for making decisions important to the state, I suggest we embrace that principle and apply it to the coming decision about expanding Medicaid.
     On that basis we're foolish not to use Conzet's cat-like approach and check results in states
Conzet
that have expanded Medicaid.  
By making it available to about 50 thousand otherwise uninsured South Dakotans who earn too much to much to qualify for existing Medicaid benefits but not enough to purchase conventional medical insurance, we have a "gap" of uninsured in this state that depend on the kindness of our social safety nets to take care of their healthcare needs.  After coming out against Medicaid expansion for "able-bodied adults" when addressing the program a couple of years ago, Daugaard has finally accepted the simple reality that Medicaid expansion makes sense for South Dakota.  Apparently Daugaard's conditions for acceptance have been met and it looks like our state's legislature is likely to consider expansion in a special session later this year.

     Applying Conzet's wait-and-see principle, let's take a look at Colorado's results since Medicaid was expanded there in 2014.  The results are in and they're good.  A study that was conducted by the Colorado Futures Center at Colorado State University found, among other gains: because of Medicaid expansion a full percentage point has been added to the state's GDP, household incomes have increased by more than 600 bucks/yr, and that the state's general fund will incur no increased expenses associated with Medicaid expansion.  The authors of the CSU study conclude that
Tell 'em, Gov.
It Just Makes Sense
(photo from ksfy.com)
"in addition to providing health insurance to nearly 400,000 Coloradons, expanding Medicaid has proven to be a fiscally sound decision."  Looking farther afield, Ohio expanded Medicaid under Republican Governor John Kasich, also with positive results, including a $2.5 billion economic boost, vastly improved healthcare and a significant reduction in uninsured residents.

     These results are just too compelling to ignore, so much so that we South Dakotans are looking kind of foolish in being so late to come to the Medicaid expansion table.  There's no question that Daugaard has looked around and seen the healthcare and economic benefits that come with expansion.  Now if only Conzet and her fellow cats would accept reality that expansion is a good deal, I imagine we'll all come out purring.  


Addendum (added 3/14/16 @ 1245):  In the comments section below, 3500Mom posted the url for a site that notes New Mexico is having budgetary problems with Medicaid expansion.  Here's the Albuquerque Journal piece from 3/5/16 that the site draws its information from.  I'm adding a piece by a New Mexican last November who contends that expansion there has been a good deal.  You can read that here.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Wow. From Denial To Destiny. A Daugaard Transition For The History Books.

     Glad to have been part of the noise.   Eventually, reality bites hard enough to get some attention, so when I joined the chorus of outrage over low teacher salaries in South Dakota, I think my two cents
Daugaard Signs Teacher Pay Bill
Cue In Etta James:  "At Last"
(photo from kelo.com)
added something to the value of the momentum that was building.  That was back in 2013 when TCC first started up.  It was frustrating to come up against the institutionalized indifference to the deplorable salary situation that South Dakota's heroically dedicated teachers were contending with.  I remember being spurred on almost exactly two years ago when Governor Daugaard's office, confronted with some clear data showing how badly things were going on the salary front, dismissed the idea out of hand.  

     Daugaard's son-in-law and communications director Tony Venhuizen was particularly insensitive and uninformed about the situation.  He offhandedly blew off the matter by telling the Rapid City Journal that the low salaries were okay because just weeks before, Governor Daugaard "mentioned in the state of the state address that South Dakota has the lowest cost of living."  That was in early 2014, and the premise that SD is a cheap place to live was just as inaccurate then as it is now. Along with others (Cory Heidelberger at Dakota Free Press comes immediately to mind), this blog  repeatedly called attention to studies that uniformly showed South Dakota to be about in the middle of the American pack when it comes to cost of living.  That only aggravated the awful status of South Dakota's teachers as just about the lowest paid bunch of pros in the business.
     Frustrating as it was to get repeatedly dismissed and ignored, those of us clamoring for better teacher pay finally got the most important ally of all: reality.  When it became obvious that the teacher shortage in South Dakota was reaching critical mass, so much so that a crisis was in the offing, Daugaard finally responded with his "blue ribbon" task force to investigate the situation, which gave institutional imprimatur to the notion that teacher salaries had to rise.  The task force recommended a hike in sales taxes to raise the money needed to increase teacher salaries to levels that are reasonably competitive with those in our surrounding states.
     The result materialized today with Daugaard signing the education funding bill, much wrangled over in the legislature but ultimately successfully resolved.  Raising the money via sales taxes is not the best way to go in a state that already has a sales taxation system that is one of the most regressive in the country.  I think the funding should be subject to reconsideration, probably as
She Works Hard For The Money
She's Finally Getting What She's Worth

(photo from argusleader.com)
part of a package of tax reforms that would even out the tax burden in this state, but for now, the immediate problem has been contained. There will be time enough during Daugaard's remaining tenure to address the need for some revolutionary changes in South Dakota's tax structure.

     That Governor Daugaard has been willing to make history by lifting our teacher salaries to competitive levels unheard of in decades says much about his capacity to defy the status quo. Taking on a calcified taxation system that punishes the lower classes and rewards the rich will perhaps be even more daunting a task, but considering that the retiring governor has nothing to lose politically, he's in a situation to promote and provoke fairness.  Even more loudly than duty, history calls.  
     

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dear Representative Conzet: Like It Or Lump It Is Not The Idea Behind Representative Democracy

      Republican Representative Kristin Conzet of Rapid City doesn't care much for the medical cannabis bill that was just killed by the South Dakota legislature.  I supported it (SB
Conzet
Don't Like It?  Move.
(photo from sd.gov)
171)
 
and even though I knew it didn't stand much of a chance, the thought of having some discussion about South Dakota being the 40th state to allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes seemed appropriate. The debate was really pretty good overall, but it was marred by opponent Conzet's "like it or leave" approach to the bill's supporters, in this case a family whose toddler's epileptic seizures are controlled by a compound containing cannabis.  If you go to 6:51 of the debate link you'll hear Conzet tell people that if they don't like South Dakota's status as a place where medical marijuana is unavailable, they can move to any one of the other 39 states where it is. As she put it, speaking directly to supporters who testified that they needed this widely accepted medicinal treatment, they have "thirty nine other options."
     This is bunk and Conzet should apologize.  Telling residents who want to change a law in their own state that they should leave if they don't like the status quo is pretty cavalier and insensitive stuff.  First off, with respect to the effectiveness of marijuana/cannabis it seems clear that some conditions are affected favorably by the drug, though the jury is still out when it comes to many others. On that basis I'm okay with legalizing it as medicine.  Heck, there are plenty of drugs with a history of mixed success  that are approved for sale in South Dakota and just about everywhere else.  Adding cannabis to that list won't be a particularly noteworthy breakthrough.
     Still, given the association between marijuana and other illegal drugs, I can understand the reluctance of our legislature to move forward with this bill. This year's effort definitely won't be the last, and in time I'm confident that South Dakota will get with the general program and join with the vast majority of other states by eventually legalizing medical pot.  Actually, I have little doubt that we'll eventually go the Colorado route and legalize marijuana altogether.  As to Conzet, her stern
Wow, Man
The Stuff Makes You Healthy, Too?
(photo from appolicious.com)
lecture about getting out if people don't like it is a silly and ineffective way of dealing with changing attitudes and increasing knowledge about marijuana.

     As a stakeholder in South Dakota, I certainly have no intention of leaving the state because I don't like the way certain things are handled.  Despite legislators like Conzet, who have a fixation with the status quo,  many South Dakotans understand that society is organic. Evolution persists. Just the same, opposing substantive changes is perfectly okay and natural. It's also a good way of putting those changes to a test. But condemning those who support them to self-banishment?  No way.  You don't resolve a debate by tossing out your adversaries.   
   

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Join The Holy Orgy Kama Sutra, SD Legislators** Or Not. You Won't Legislate It Away.

     Probably because for some of you, obsession with sexual behavior drives your lust to control it via stupid and intrusive legislation.  This just came up in SD's legislature with Senate
Why Not?
The SD Legislature Is In Session
(photo from wordpress.com)
Bill 72
,
which would "prohibit the abortion of an unborn child who is capable of experiencing pain and to provide a penalty therefor."  In original form it passed the Senate, then passed the House in amended form, so it's back in the Senate, where the amended version is being considered.  It's all happening as I write, but it will probably clear the Senate in its House-revised form.  If it does, Governor Daugaard should veto this clunker.  

     For one thing.  the purported "substantial medical evidence" that backs this bill is far from settled.  Section 1 of the bill says that according to that "evidence," a fetus is capable of experiencing pain at 20 weeks.  The collective mendacity of the bill's sponsors on that point is amazing, to the extent that I'm calling them on it--and calling them liars for not disclosing the full body of research and opinions on this. Exhaustive studies recorded by the Journal of the American Medical Association conclude that "evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester."  JAMA's conclusions were delivered in 2005.  More recently, in 2013, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concluded that "the statement 'substantial medical evidence recognizes that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization' is not accurate . . . fetal perception of pain is not likely before the third trimester."
     Cherry picking medical studies that are not supported by the country's leading medical authorities is outrageous enough, but presenting this legislation as some sort of pushback to sexual behavior is disgusting.  That it comes from Republicans like Representative Scott Craig, who represents parts of Pennington and Meade Counties is all the more obnoxious, considering that
SD Legislator's Nightmare
Tell 'em, Janis
we Republicans are the party that enshrines personal rights and freedoms.  Does Craig think personal sexual behavior is exempt from that GOP principle?  Not if you listen to his overwrought speech in favor of SB 72 that denounces our "sex-crazed" society.  You can check out his Cotton Matheresque bombastry at 59:04 of the House discussion on this bill.  The phallus must stand tall in some people's imaginations.

     This bill's premise is a lie.  This bill's attempt at controlling people's behavior is intrusive, if not altogether futile.  It exposes the sex-obsession of elected officials and their need to gratuitously impose their moral standards on the rest of us.  If anybody's sex-crazed, it's the people pushing this unnecessary legislation. 
  



**Apologies to MacDermot, Rado & Ragni and their musical "Hair"

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Kudos To The South Dakota Ag Community For An Excellent Pro-Environment Initiative

     Looks like the South Dakota legislature is lining up pretty solidly behind a bill that will
The Big Sioux River
Time To Start Cleaning It Up
(photo from sdpb.org)
incentivize row crop (think corn and soybeans) farmers to let land abutting rivers, lakes and streams to go back to its natural state.
About to go to the full House for consideration and vote, Senate Bill 136 has already gotten unanimous approval in the state Senate and both house Ag and Natural Resource committees, awaiting only some discussion and a final vote tomorrow (3/7) afternoon in the House.  It's hard to see it doing anything but passing easily, if not unanimously.

     The bill will let farmers who decide to participate convert a 50-foot wide strip of land that abuts a waterway back to its naturally grassy state.  In return, their respective county assessors will deem that idled acreage to be "non-cropland" and assess it at rates significantly lower than "cropland."  Using corn farming as a guide, my good friend Cory Heidelberger has done some of the arithmetic on this in his excellent blog Dakota Free Press and informs us that every mile long buffer strip consists of 6 acres, meaning a corn farmer getting average SD yields will give up 900 bushels of product, or, at current prices, $3600 in sales.  Not knowing how much of that is net, nor how much the property tax break in the relevant counties would be, I'm guessing the tradeoff won't amount to much, considering the average farm size in SD is 1400 acres. Going by averages (shaky, I know, but it does provide some context), that average SD farm should produce more than 200 thousand bushels of corn for $800 thousand.  
     As to the state's loss of revenue, Heidelberger tells me that if the entire 419-mile length of the Big Sioux River in SD went to buffer land, the loss of property tax revenue would amount to $122 thousand.  Other buffer-zoned acres throughout the state  would add more, but considering the overall sum of property and other taxes generated by South Dakota's $25 billion ag industry, the amount seems trifling.
     Given the enthusiastic support that SD's ag-friendly legislature is giving this bill it seems
Lots Of Work To Do Here
SB 136 Will Help
(map from wikipedia)
reasonable to figure that most affected farmers will opt-in to the program.  
It won't cost much and it will give farmers a public-relations bonanza.  The whole point of the initiative is to create a natural barrier or filter between farms and their adjacent waterways, reducing the amount of contaminants that flow into the water. If there's some pushback in the legislature from ag groups that might lose a few checkoff dollars (the amount paid by farmers to their organizations to promote their product--the corn checkoff is 1 cent per bushel sold), those groups need to get their their institutional heads examined.  The loss of all the cropland adjacent to the Big Sioux River would cost the Corn Growers Association about $6 thousand, a trifle compared to the nearly $8 million they get every year from South Dakota farmers.  The Big Sioux's history of bacterial pollution makes it an excellent target for this kind of consideration--a few thousand bucks is a cheap price to pay for a good effort.

      South Dakota and its farmers have come up with a great plan here.  The ag industry is showing some real resolve by pushing it through.  
     

Friday, March 4, 2016

Two Bits, Four Bits, Six Bits, A Dollar! All For Trump U. Stand Up And Holler!

     And hollering they are, "they" being a bevy of students claiming they were scammed by
Student With Cardboard Cutout Of Trump
They Were Promised A Pic With Trump
(photo from nro.com)
D
onald Trump and his for-profit venture into the groves of academe, "Trump University." Actually, the enterprise was never a licensed university and had to change its name in 2010 to "The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative," but either way, the tale is one that should give potential students some reason to think through a decision to get an education from for-profit schools.  As for Trump and his venture, to watch him last night, standing there in the Fox News debate claiming that the Better Business Bureau had given his institution-of-lower-learning an "A" rating without mentioning that its latest rating is a "D-" makes me wonder how anybody can take this self-aggrandizing megalomaniac seriously.  Taken to another level, Trump's venture was so blatantly obnoxious that the New York State Attorney General in 2013 filed a $40 million lawsuit against the operation for "engaging in persistent fraudulent, illegal, and deceptive conduct."  
     I give Trump and his cohorts the benefits that come from due process.  But I do so while noting that there is now a little cottage industry within the legal community that seeks to jump on the litigation bandwagon created by enough students to file two class-action lawsuits against Trump's venture.  The deep-pocketed Trump set himself up for this one, but at the same time provides an object lesson about for-profit institutions and the problems that some of them have created for their students and the country as a whole.  The "student debt crisis" that makes so much news nowadays has been disproportionately fueled by students borrowing money to attend for-profit institutions.  In 2000 the amount of debt owed by students attending these schools was $39 billion.  In 2014 it was $229 billion.  The Brookings Institution released a deep study of this last September, which found that in 2000 only one for-profit school was among the top 25 institutions where students had the most
Default Rates
Not Pretty
(source: U.S. Dept. of Education)
student loan debt.  By 2014, there were 13 for-profit schools among the top 25.  

     We're talking about debt burdens amounting to billions of dollars, much of it guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Education.  Last year's abrupt closure of the for-profit Corinthian College group stuck thousands of students with $3 billion of debt.  In the meantime, many ongoing institutions are promising much more than they can deliver when it comes to job placements.  I have an acquaintance who went to a bartenders college that counted him as having been placed in his field when he got a job as a clerk in a liquor store.  Really.  From his story I concluded that getting an education in a for-profit institution is a caveat emptor venture:  expensive schooling with little to show for it except a mountain of debt is the risk, and it's all to common.   Let the buyer beware.
     We have several for-profit colleges here in South Dakota.  As far as I know, they're fine schools. One acquaintance with a government job in Washington got an advanced degree in public administration from one of them. Another, who interned with me when I was brokering and feeding cattle now has a successful meat processing business. No doubt there are many similar stories. But enough nightmares like the Corinthian and Trump ventures are out there to justify some skepticism about the industry--which should make potential students cautious enough to examine, examine, examine before signing on the dotted line.  

     

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Even If You Intentionally Waffle About The KKK, You're Better Than A Democrat--So Says SD Senator Mike Rounds

     I mean, how else do you parse SD Senator Rounds' comment about Trump's hedge or
Why Is This Man Laughing?
Rounds Just Emabarrassed His Home State Of SD
(photo from argusleader.com)
misstatement about Ku Klux Klansman David Duke's recent accolades about Donald Trump?

 First off, about a week ago, former KKK grand wizard ("Grand Wizard?"  What a bunch of laughable morons.) David Duke told a radio audience that "voting against Trump is treason to your heritage."  Not sure exactly what he means by "heritage," but given the KKK's historically racist and nativist sentiment, you have to figure he's talking to a market that consists of white supremacists.  That's an assumption reinforced by the quick denunciation of the KKK by GOP leaders in the House and Senate a couple of days ago.  
     As to Trump himself, the favorite to capture the Republican nomination for the presidency doesn't seem to be so sure.  He made an offhand statement about disavowing the implicit endorsement shortly after Duke's remarks, but when quizzed repeatedly about them on a Sunday talk show last weekend, Trump wasn't so quick to disavow and denounce.  He said he "knows nothing about David Duke" and "white supremacists" and that he needed to do some "research" on the subject.  
     Personally, I think Trump is full of it, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt when he claimed later that he had a "bad earpiece" and didn't completely understand the questions.  It really doesn't matter that much in the context of what I heard our Senator Mike Rounds say about the subject.  The general tenor of Rounds' remarks, per his office's explanation, were to note that Trump
KKK In Rapid City, SD (1920s)
Is Waffling About This OK With Rounds?
made a "mistake" by not disavowing the KKK, and that Trump's reaction was "unfortunate."  That part is up for interpretation, but Rounds' zinger is the part where he says that even if Trump's waffling was done "intentionally--and I don't think he did, I think he just made a mistake--they're still going to do a better job with him there than if you had Hillary or Bernie in his place."  

    How are we supposed to take Rounds' remarks in any way other than in which they were delivered?  Senator Rounds thinks that wavering, equivocating, vacillating (or any other way you want to say "waffling") about people and organizations like David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, which are built on foundations of racial, ethnic and religious hatred, can still make you a better president than your Democratic counterparts.   Rounds has just managed to give "blind partisanship" a name much worse than it already deserves.