Monday, April 16, 2018

Taxing Internet Sales Isn't That Good A Deal For South Dakota

     The internet sales tax case that South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley brings to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) this week will be a game-changer if Jackley prevails.  As things stand now, many online retailers charge no sales tax on purchases made by South Dakotans, resulting in a loss of $50 million a year in revenues to the state. This has been a two-pronged dilemma because even as the State of South Dakota is missing out on those revenues, our in-state brick-and-mortar retailers have to compete against their internet-only counterparts at a built-in disadvantage. 
I'm Dubious

     That sounds like a losing proposition, all right, but my problem with the AG's effort is that I'm dubious about South Dakota coming  out a winner if SCOTUS sees things Jackley's way. 
Jackley says that "we're fighting for Main Street businesses, we're fighting to give those Main Street businesses that even playing field."  Considering that South Dakota in 2017 had retail taxable sales of $11 billion, the state is giving up a 9% slice of business to the internet, about $1 billion/year, extrapolating from the revenue loss claimed by the State.  Nobody knows how much of that $1 billion in internet sales would be recovered if South Dakotans shopped locally based on the sales tax differential being eliminated.  A 2017 study done by accounting industry giant KPMG, finds that online shoppers list convenience, ability to shop 24/7, ease of price-comparison, and better prices  among their top four reasons for buying on the internet.  No doubt the sales tax savings plays into pricing decisions, but other reasons are also powerful drivers when it comes to consumer purchases.  I think it's reasonable to figure that adding sales taxes to online sales will redirect some business to South Dakota retailers, but a substantial amount of online sales will remain a significant part of consumer behavior just the same. It's probably a pipe-dream for Jackley and the rest of our government officials to contemplate a significant surge in local retail sales if SCOTUS sees things our way on this.  Online shopping is here to stay, and in a big way.
     More problematic is the effect that a successful outcome in our lawsuit will have on start-up ventures in South Dakota.  Every retailer with online aspirations will be forced to deal with the myriad of state and local tax issues confronting internet purchases. The expenses for potentially costly audits and sophisticated software that's able to navigate through this jungle is so high that Andy Pincus, speaking on behalf of eBay in the case, says "for small businesses on tight margins, these costs are going to be fatal in many cases."  I question whether South Dakota's small business culture will be able to evolve and grow in an environment that favors bigger and better capitalized competitors in larger states.
     Meantime, I wonder how Marty Jackley and his campaign for Governor in the coming GOP primary can square this lawsuit with his pledge to keep taxes low.  Stripped of all the "level playing field" rhetoric, Jackley's proposing a tax increase on South Dakotans.  The scramble for more revenues for our cash-strapped state has missed too many potential consequences that in the short-run will cost residents money and in the long run leave us limping in the competition for sales in the modern retail environment.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Guest Poster Sam Hurst Lets Me Share His Core Principles That Can Make For A Winning Democratic Message In November

Sam Hurst is a Rapid City writer and television news producer.  His latest book "Rattlesnake Under His Hat:  The Life And Times Of Earl Brocklesby" is a terrific account of a legend in the Black Hills tourism industry.  


 As the mid-term elections approach, my greatest fear is not that Donald Trump will swoop into a congressional district and rally his troops for an agenda of concentrated wealth, racism, and global bullying. My greatest fear is that Democrats will not use this historic opportunity to resolve their own internal conflicts and develop a unified ECONOMIC policy with broad appeal to the American people. So I
Hurst
offer a caffeine-induced exercise, a Sunday morning puzzle if you will. What is the Democratic economic message for 2018 and 2020, in ten core principles or less? Can it be expressed in a five-minute stump speech by everyone running for city council or U.S. Senate? And, can it be the foundation on which the base of the Party vets its candidates?
The premise of this exercise is that these would be CORE economic principles, not a laundry list of all the things that are important to Democratic voters, or specific constituencies. A young Latina Dreamer running for office in south Texas will have a different focus than a farmer in North Dakota. A working class vet of the Iraq War, running in western Pennsylvania will see things differently than a Yale-educated Millennial attorney in San Francisco. There are critical values that candidates will want to express that rise from their own personal experiences: think police abuse, DACA, #MeToo, LGBQT identity themes. There are tried and true cultural issues that Republicans will use to bait Democrats: think gun control, abortion, bathroom access, the war on Christmas. There are also important issues that seem obvious: controlling the power of mega-banks, making world trade responsive to workers and the environment, challenging China, human rights, the war on terror, immigration, money in politics, gerrymandering, mass incarceration, food and agriculture. There are a hundred VERY IMPORTANT policies that Democratic candidates might individually choose to run on, but this exercise is about the core unifying economic principles of the Party that can be expressed as universal themes, in a short stump speech.
As I approach the 2018 election, these are my eight bottom line principles that define who/what makes a Democrat. There are obvious synergies, both between these eight principles and between these eight and dozens of other issues I am interested in. If a candidate is afraid to defend these principles from the podium, she/he just ain’t a Democrat as far as I am concerned.
1. Universal Medicare Option. Every American citizen, regardless of age or economic status should have the opportunity to enroll in Medicare. This is NOT free health insurance. It will be expensive, but the more broadly the costs are shared the less it will cost each individual. It will protect the freedom to choose your own doctor. Medicare is vastly more efficient, and its health outcomes are more effective, than the current system based on private insurance (especially as the Republicans systematically dismantle the already weak ObamaCare system).
The current system of private insurance and employer mandates is onerous on private enterprise. It traps workers into jobs that they hate but cannot escape because they cannot risk losing coverage. A Universal Medicare option would unleash the innovation economy, entrepreneurialism, and higher quality health for our citizens. If voters are afraid that Medicare-for-all will stifle innovation in surgical techniques, pharmaceuticals, or diagnostic technology, then we should invest in the training of physicians and university-based research. Subsidizing private insurance and mega-hospitals has nothing to do with innovation or quality of care. Finally, we cannot control our debt or the shrinking security of the middle class until we remove the artificial economic cost of private health insurance.
2. Community-based public schools. Public schools are the lynchpin of community stability. If there is any value that the Founding Fathers were unified about, it was the importance of free, public education. Teachers/school staff are the foundation of the American middle class. A $5,000 increase in teacher pay is one of the most effective ways to inject economic stimulus into local communities. It is teachers who buy homes, buy shoes for their children, and participate in civic life. Teachers are the “human capital” side of the American infrastructure.
Teachers who are poorly trained and underpaid are as much a danger to society as a rusted bridge. Our economy is based on innovation that takes place at a wicked fast pace. The days of a worker spending his/her entire career with one company or using one skill-set are long gone. The only answer is to promote a culture of “lifetime learning” in the context of community-based public schools. My own preference would be to emphasize early childhood education. Others favor technical education. Others favor university-based research. These are legitimate ideas. But the core principle is that community-based public schools are the institution best suited to promote citizenship, critical thinking, technical education, opportunity, and diversity. The crisis of public education flows directly from the conservative, racist reaction to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision of the Supreme Court. Community-based public schools are, therefore, an entry point for a national commitment to confront racism, segregation, housing discrimination and poverty.
One of the most important grassroots movements today is taking place among teachers in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and other RED states on behalf of public schools. It is also worthy of note that these grassroots teacher movements are led by women.
3. Smart-infrastructure. President Trump’s policies on coal and oil are the desperate attempt of a 70 year old man to reinvent the horseshoe. A new generation of Democratic leaders must view infrastructure spending through the eyes of the computer revolution and smart technology. If the idea of “infrastructure investment” is to repair highways, schools, airports, the electric grid, river levies, ports, and transit systems using the old technologies of the 20th century, we will have miserably failed. No infrastructure project should be undertaken that does not integrate the digital revolution, smart technologies, wind, solar, conservation, into its footprint. The days of filling potholes with asphalt, because that’s all we know how to do, are over.
4. Science-based decision-making. One of the great limitations of human evolution is that we have evolved to respond quickly and decisively when a lion attacks us out of the grass. We run, or we fight. If we are smart, we walk through the grass in groups and avoid situations where we are forced to face danger alone. But we have not evolved to respond quickly and decisively to a lion that will attack us in twenty years. Science allows us to see into the future and to understand the challenges of the future. This will require a massive public investment in research universities.
Climate change is the most critical global issue facing humanity. It can only be dealt with at the intersection of education, infrastructure, global investment, and personal sacrifice. The Greenhouse Effect, and the physical and chemical principles that explain it, are a five-minute, 8th grade science lesson. Every Democratic candidate, regardless of the office they seek, should be required to call a middle school science teacher and have the principles of the Greenhouse Effect explained to them in terms that can then be repeated to a lay audience at a county fair. This would be the bare minimum expectation. In framing the problem of climate change for a political campaign, Democrats should combine the tremendous threat with the tremendous opportunity. There are, quite literally, hundreds of jobs in the coal industry and millions of jobs in the industries that must be developed to combat climate change. At this point in the development of geophysical and atmospheric science, any candidate who cannot articulate the fundamental science of climate change in two minutes, and then list all the opportunities, is NOT A DEMOCRAT.
Climate change is global and both a tremendous threat and tremendous opportunity, but the struggle to restore science also intersects with education, health care and global epidemiology, technology, AI, and hundreds of other aspects of public policy. In the 21st century, public policy without science is a prescription for economic defeat.
5. Addiction—The Apollo Mission of the 21st Century: Democrats should advocate a massive national investment in unlocking the science of addiction. We are in the middle of an opioid/heroin epidemic. But we have struggled with the social and economic consequences of drug addiction and alcoholism for centuries. Addiction is a public health problem, not a crime or personal responsibility problem. It is an economic issue of central importance to the security of the population and our communities. We have squandered billions of dollars trying to arrest and incarcerate our way to victory in the drug war, against all scientific evidence. Addiction is at the heart of worker productivity and unemployment, domestic abuse, the uncontrolled (expensive) expansion of our prison populations, international relations with Mexico and Latin America, and runaway health expenses. We still do not entirely understand the science of addiction, or have proven therapeutic and rehabilitation strategies. Addiction crosses all racial, gender, class, religious boundaries.
5. Expand Social Security: Democrats have been so focused on defending security against Republican efforts to destroy it, that they have allowed Republicans to frame the battlefield and they have put their head in the sand when it comes to the demographic revolution (particularly life expectancy) taking place in the nation. This is, in large part, a result of the age of Democratic leadership in Congress, who continue to frame the problem of the social safety net in New Deal terms rather than 21st century terms. Social Security should be solvent, responsive to changing life expectancies, and the wide-ranging ability of individuals to pay into the system. Republicans see these reforms as the first step in abolishing Social Security. Democrats should see these reforms as the first step in expanding the safety net and making pensions and other Social Security services more sustainable. In the future, Americans will live even longer. They will be more mobile, have many jobs/careers, and will work longer. Ask a Millennial if they plan to work for 25 years, retire at 65, and receive a pension for 30 years? A Universal Medicare Option should also be seen as part of the reform of Social Security.
6. Marshall Plan for Latin America and Mexico: Rather than destroying our relationship with Mexico and Latin America, by demonizing and stereotyping their cultures, we should look upon our relations with Latin America as the primary focus of international policy, and international investment. We have our deepest historic relations with Latin America. Latin America is a massive trading partner, and as nations develop it can be even larger. Good relations are essential to solving our intractable problems with immigration. Our historical relationship with Latin America is fraught with imperialist intervention. Our imperial history toward the region, including dozens of military interventions, is a reality that our own citizens are woefully ignorant about, but a 12 year old on the streets of San Salvador can list all the times the United States has invaded a Latin American nation. Creating a new framework for relations will require patience and determination and persistence, especially in the aftermath of the Trump presidency. But it is folly to believe that the United Stats can be economically stable, or can solve its immigration problems without having a new policy in the hemisphere.
7. War is economically destructive: We cannot bomb our way to stability in the Middle East. War is the single most economically destabilizing part of the federal budget and national debt. What would our economy look like if we had used five trillion dollars over the last decade to invest in the economic integration of Latin America into a healthy hemispheric economy, built 21st century schools, and infrastructure based on wind and solar, rather than building bombs, missiles, and the long-term expense of caring for wounded soldiers? Would we have found any fewer weapons of mass destruction? Would Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria be any less stable? Energy Independence should mean independence from the ancient hatreds of desert tribes. All manner of special interests hide behind the cliché of “national security,” but we have lived too long with the conceit that Halliburton’s and Exon’s profit is our national security.
My standard for going to war is very simple. Every member of Congress should hold town halls, and ask this simple question: “Is this war so important to the national interest that you would be willing to have your son or daughter killed on the battlefield?” If the American public is willing to send our own sons and daughters to the battlefield, it is a war worth fighting. If, on the other hand, no one in the audience can even point to the war zone on a map, perhaps it is the wrong war. In the name of global security we have created massive insecurity. In the name of national security we have systematically destroyed our economic security.
8. Progressive Taxation: The fatal flaw in Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign was to describe his policy prescriptions as “free.” Free health care. Free college. For middle class taxpayers Sanders rhetoric sounded like a mind-numbing prescription for government debt. This is a society built on sacrifice, not free stuff.
A Universal Medicare Option will not be free. Public Schools are not free. College tuition should not be free. Social Security is not free. EVERY American should be expected to pay for the social safety net. If all a person can afford is a dollar. Then they pay a dollar. But the correlate to that principle is that the wealthy benefit the most from our national infrastructure, resources, and system of laws. Therefore, the wealthy individuals and corporations should pay their fair share. The idea that the middle class should pay to support the “job creators” is (as President Bush, I, explained quite vividly) VOODOO ECONOMICS. Taxation should be progressive, and the decision to raise or lower taxes in any given economic environment should be flexible rather than an ideologically rigid, blunt instrument, for the wealthy to de-construct government services and programs.
So, friends, let the conversation begin. Add, subtract, find synergies. But remember…these are core principles.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Kristi Has A Kredibility Problem. It's Called The Federal Debt.

       Talk about chutzpah.  Kristi Noem in 2010 ran and won as a conservative Republican for her seat as our South Dakota Representative in Congress and has been there ever since.  Riding   the fiscally-conservative "Tea Party" wave of those years, Noem ran on a promise of reducing the country's federal debt and getting Washington's "reckless spending" under control.  In a family-themed  television spot she promised to work on reducing each of her children's $42 thousand share of the country's debt.  Now, six years later, Noem's promise turned out to be empty political rhetoric.  She worked on something, all right, but it was the exact opposite of what she promised her South Dakota constituents. Now, despite her glaring failures in Congress, she's arrogantly courting them in her run for Governor.
Um,
I Don't Think So

     Since 2011, when the GOP took control of the House of Representatives (Constitutionally delegated with "the power of the purse"), the federal debt has vastly surpassed the levels that existed when Noem took office.  That $42 thousand obligation her kids faced when she was sworn in has swelled to more than $62 thousand now.  Just as disturbing, if not altogether ominous, is that as a percent of our country's GDP, our debt has gone from 91% in '11, to 105% now.  Somewhat more galling to South Dakota's ranching community is that in one of her "throw in the towel" votes (the Omnibus Spending Bill in December 2015), Noem simultaneously eliminated Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat products imported into the United States.  Noem's "yea" on that one broke faith with two of her long-standing principles, conservative budget management and support for COOL.  She had been lauded by South Dakota stockgrowers the previous year for supporting them on this issue, but when it came down to political brass tacks, she turned her back on many of our state's ranchers.
     The COOL rejection was actually part of a complicated trade issue involving the World Trade Organization, which was reason enough for Noem to vote "no."  But acquiescing to yet another budget-busting spending bill?  Noem just went along to get along, the heck with her promises to her South Dakota supporters, who now have much more debt burdening them and their offspring, and their offspring's offspring, and so on, ad infinitum. 
     Meantime, her current status as a budget buster hasn't changed much despite her claims of "conservatism" in the primary.  After a full year of GOP control of Congress and the White House, U.S. borrowing this year will be at an 8-year high, with deficits running about $100 billion higher than last year.  What happened to Noem's commitment to getting this kind of spending and debt level under control?  She's mum, and with good reason.  Failures of this magnitude speak for themselves.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

South Dakota's All-GOP Congressional Trio Are Milquetoasts When It Comes To The Trade War

     South Dakota's all-GOP congressional trio is a little late to the party, but it seems to have finally dawned on them that the Trump administration, which they've unswervingly supported
Rounds, Thune, Noem
If It's Okay With You, Mr. President,
We're Concerned
up to now, may just be one of the worst things that ever happened to South Dakota. 
Both Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds joined with Representative Kristi Noem in recent days to express some misgivings about the game of tariff-chicken that Trump is playing with China.  After listening for months to candidate and then President Trump relentlessly reeling off his contempt for  trade deals that have been profoundly beneficial to South Dakota's farmers for decades, our congressional reps uniformly say they are "concerned" that their leader actually followed through on his contempt for our trading relationship with China.  Given the possible consequences, "concern" seems a little soft by way of reaction.  I'd prefer "outrage," but that's just me. 
     Right now the President is consumed with his need to redress grievances that seem to be of his own making.  Our trade with China in recent decades has been a bonanza for American farmers, considering that a third of the soybeans grown in the United States are sold to China to the tune of $12 billion a year.  We also sold China a little over $1 billion of pork last year.  South Dakota's share of that $13 billion total amounts to about $1 billion, pretty good money coming in to a state with a little over 800,000 residents.  As both soybeans and pork are on a list of goods that China says it will tariff by 25%, you can see why farm organizations are aghast at the prospect, so much so that they have gotten the ears of our state's federal reps about the imminent economic dangers posed by this trade showdown. Why these elected officials couldn't see this coming and start speaking out forcefully before now is probably a function of their political fealty to a president who is either unaware or doesn't care about what happens to South Dakota's economy. 
     Meantime, why aren't these so-called Republicans sounding off against a President who has long since jettisoned his party's historic commitment to free trade?  The right-wing rabble rousing Ann Coulter is so disgusted with Trump that she just called him "a shallow, lazy ignoramous" and counts herself "a Former Trumper."  Even the reliably Republican billionaire Koch Brothers have broken with Trump over this, using a spokesman from their Americans for Prosperity organization to say that "tariffs and protectionism are bad ideas that tax American consumers and hurt American industries when countries retaliate." 
     South Dakota could use a voice in Congress as strong as that of Nebraska's Republican U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, who didn't mince his words.  Sasse isn't merely "concerned," he's furious, saying Trump's plan "will light American agriculture on fire . . . this is the dumbest possible way to do this."  We could use a fighter like that for South Dakota. You can't get through to President Trump via nuance. 
   

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Trump Makes Mexico Great Again

     As we market and finance nerds like to do, I was scanning currency trading charts a few days ago and noted a move in the Mexican Peso to the upside that should be of interest to all
Strong Peso?
Muy Bueno Para South Dakota
(from NY Times)
South Dakotans. 
Why should we care?  Well, mainly because our neighbors to the south continue to represent a major market for South Dakota's agricultural production.  A strong currency is the surest sign of a stable economy with decent prospects for growth.  Investment banking giant Goldman Sachs agrees,
noting that the Peso "is one of year's best performing currencies" and "likely has more room to rise."  Why?  Because it's all about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
     Considering everything--"everything" being the nonstop vitriol that President Trump has thrown at NAFTA since before he was elected--Mexico's resilience has been remarkable.  I believe it bodes well for South Dakota's prospects in terms of maintaining a profitable relationship with our customers south of the border.  Mexico is the 2nd biggest buyer of South Dakota's exports, mainly consisting of meat and farm goods, to the tune of nearly $400 million a year.  Trump's main vehicle for punishing Mexico because of his misunderstanding of our trade balance with that country has been NAFTA, which came into being in 1993.  He has repeatedly threatened to drastically renegotiate the deal or walk away from it altogether.  Currency traders, by buying Pesos as a vote of confidence in Mexico, think this is more talk than action.
     The NAFTA treaty is in a renegotiating phase right now, and it shouldn't come as much of a surprise if the final agreement has some politically face-saving cosmetic rearrangements that the Trump administration will tout as one of its "wins." And the occasional politically-driven outburst against it can be expected.  But a drastic overhaul or total dissolution altogether?  Not very likely.  President Trump himself just begged off his hardline stance, telling CNN Money a month ago "I'm leaving it a little flexible . . . there's no rush."  Read another way, I think the President means that he's come to realize what a great deal NAFTA has been to big segments of the American economy and that making a hasty decision about it would be headstrong and fruitless.  South Dakota ag producers should certainly breath sighs of relief if the status quo with Mexico remains relatively untouched.  Considering that Trump's "no rush" declaration is based on a negotiating timetable adjusted to suit this summer's Mexican presidential election, American farmers can take any real NAFTA readjustments to be on hold, probably through the current crop year.
     As we come into our own congressional elections in November, the White House also knows that a radical change in NAFTA will anger some important constituencies.  CNN Money notes that "millions of jobs in red states like Texas and Arizona depend on free trade."  The Farm Bureau says that nearly 9% of South Dakota's jobs (about 40 thousand) are NAFTA-dependent.
     Given all this, it's no surprise that prospects for Mexico's economy and currency are good this year.  Better yet, South Dakota stands to benefit as the Trump administration sets rhetoric aside and focuses on reality.
   

Monday, March 26, 2018

Cutting Class Is Cutting Class

     Easy as it is to admire the aims of last week's high school student walkout in Rapid City (SD), I can't get myself to endorse an interruption of classroom time as part of the process.  By okaying
I'm With Ya
But What About Trig?
the action, I think our school administrators dropped the ball on this one.  Having spent my undergraduate years at UCLA during the late '60s, I'm no stranger to student demonstrations and their effectiveness when coordinated with similar actions across the country.  And chances are that the national and local school walkouts last week probably did a lot to raise the country's consciousness of how passionately many of these young people feel about curbing firearm violence.  But to make that point by disrupting the educational mission of our schools?  Nope.  Not the right way to go about it.
     First off, classroom-interrupting demonstrations might get the public's attention for the short-term, but they're no substitute for the tougher and more time-consuming commitment required to effect real change. Taking time away from classroom studies to make a public point is actually a pretty easy way to show your sympathy for a cause.  Taking time away from your activities outside the classroom to get something done in our communities is far more challenging and far likelier to yield material results.  For example, last weekend's national demonstrations consumed time and resources from every participant and probably were much more effective as a way of showing the levels of commitment that it takes to stem gun violence in America.  I'd challenge the participants in the school walkout to take some weekend or after-school time to get their points across, both by demonstrating and actually getting involved in the grunt work of our political process, which they'll ultimately learn is the way things get done in this country.
     Thoroughly considered as the decision was to allow the walkout, the final approval by school authorities was misguided.  The American Civil Liberties Union concurs.  ACLU staff attorney Esha Bhandari says schools are within their rights to intervene and even punish students if "the demonstration is going to be disruptive to the learning and educational mission of the school."  Administrators failed to honor their "contract" with taxpayers that require them to dedicate classroom time to teaching, which is what public funds support. Political- and social-reform activities cutting into that time is a drastic diversion from the mission of our schools.  More troubling, the precedent set by permitting this walkout could be a tough one to ignore should students demand replays in pursuit of other causes, worthy as they may be.
     And, of course, that's the crux of the matter.  "Worthiness" is in the eye of the beholder.  With respect to the walkout, there is no doubt that a sizable contingent of taxpayers believe that the demonstrators were way off base, seeing it as a call for more gun control.  Former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum probably represented that view last weekend when he said students should "find their own way to prevent violence in schools."  I think Santorum missed the point of the event, but he brought out the walkout's political aftereffects.  School administrators should have seen this coming and allowed for student participation in an on-campus activity that would have ultimately been a learning experience without taking away from classroom time.
     

Friday, March 16, 2018

Can A Pro-Life Democrat Win In South Dakota? Billie Sutton Wants To Know

     Can a "pro-life" Democrat succeed in South Dakota politics?  We'll find out in November.  Much as the Republican stranglehold on South Dakota state politics has resulted in a state with the calcified political and economic environment that I've often discussed and documented here, the Democratic Party's self-contradictory plan to upend the status quo seems more like a dream than a hope.  Why self-contradictory?  Because the party's "white knight" is Senator Billie Sutton, who will be the Democratic nominee for Governor in the coming election.  Sutton has a great biography and plenty of experience, but his "pro-life" voting record while in the legislature stands in defiance of one of the Democratic Party's articles of faith, that women should have the right to abortions.  The Party's 2016 platform states that "we believe unequivocally that every woman should have access to quality reproductive healthcare services including access to safe and legal abortions."
Howdy, Ma'am
Now About That Uterus Of Yours

     Sutton has shown over the years that he rejects that tenet of his party's core beliefs.  In 2013, he voted for a House resolution urging the United States Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade and "overturn its decision."  In 2016 he voted for an "informed consent" law requiring abortion providers to give patients information that South Dakota's chapter of the pro-choice organization NARAL calls "biased counseling."  Cory Heidelberger's Aberdeen-based blog Dakota Free Press has created a table of Sutton's votes that gives the nominee an 80% pro-life voting record during the period 2011-2017.  South Dakota Right To Life was so impressed by Sutton's consistency that in 2016 they rated him 100 and gave him an "A" for his work in support of its agenda.
     Counter-intuitively, these numbers must sit pretty well with South Dakota's establishment Democrats.  Indeed, state party Chairwoman Ann Tornberg has advertised herself as pro-life, though  I've never known her to make reproductive rights an issue in dealing with party business.  Obviously, within party ranks it isn't a make-or-break issue.  There's probably even some sub-surface hope that on the basis of Sutton's pro-life agenda a fair number of Republicans seeking some political reform might feel comfortable voting for him.  That could well materialize, but I think it will come at some significant cost to Democrats in November because most social issues-driven younger voters will be turned off by Sutton's anti-choice agenda.  I haven't found South Dakota-specific numbers, but on a national scale, Pew Research has found that young adults (18-39), by a 2-to-1 margin believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The next older group (30-49) agrees by a margin of about 3-to-2.
     If these results are close to how South Dakota's younger voters feel, Sutton probably has a problem. Question is, will this attitude be expressed with enough intensity to make a difference at the polls?  Maybe, maybe not.  My experience tells me that among a fair number of passionately committed young voters, it will be.  I doubt that a large contingent of Dems would reject him outright, but believe that many will respond to him with a collective "meh."  Given the party registration gap between Democrats and Republicans (30% vs. 46%), on the enthusiasm front Sutton needs more, much more.
   
   
   
   

Monday, March 12, 2018

How Long Can South Dakota Endure Self-Flagellation? Expand Medicaid Already.

     South Dakota's persistent refusal to expand Medicaid is the political equivalent of self-flagellation.  How many "red" states have to successfully take advantage of this good deal before our political class realizes that we're getting left behind on this?  The program itself provides eligibility for Medicaid to state residents who earn too much money to qualify for medicaid under current guidelines but not enough to pay for conventional health insurance.  Healthinsurance.org estimates that about 60,000 South Dakotans would qualify under the program, which would be funded by the federal government to the tune of 90%.   That represents some big money, amounting to a bit over $2 billion dollars that our state will leave on the table over the next decade if we continue to reject this great deal.
Works For Montana
Why Not South Dakota?

     Our mostly reddish state neighbor Montana expanded Medicaid in 2016, and economists there are calling it an unqualified success.  Cory Heidelberger's excellent Aberdeen-based blog Dakota Free Press calls my attention to it. Montana analysts conclude that the hundreds of millions of federal dollars that have been sent to the state have, according to University of Montana economists, "added thousands of jobs . . . and significantly boosted the state's economy."  The UM economists further note that the economic boost has been strong enough to "pay for Montana's share of the jointly funded health program."  Putting numbers on it, the university's Bureau of Business and Economic Research says that Medicaid expansion has resulted in "the creation of 5,000 jobs and $280 million in personal income each year."
     How long do we have to wait for South Dakota to seize this opportunity?  I've heard some arguments that we can't depend on the federal government to keep up its part of the bargain, but that contingency can be addressed.  Arizona's ultra-conservative Governor Jan Brewer signed on to expansion in 2013, but with a "circuit breaker" caveat calling for an automatic halt to the program if federal reimbursements decrease.  Virginia, Florida, New Mexico and Ohio have the same option in their programs.
     I've also heard objections to giving benefits to those who won't work for them.  Mike Pence addressed that issue when he was governor of Indiana, requiring beneficiaries to pay premiums into health savings accounts (those delinquent by six months are kicked out) and make co-pays for inappropriate emergency room visits. That skin-in-the-game approach certainly dovetails with the work ethic that is the pride of many South Dakotans. Governor Daugaard himself noted in a RCJ column last June that  "South Dakotans understand the value of work because working hard has been instilled in us by our ancestors."
     Another core element of South Dakota values that we need to incorporate is common sense.  Senator Mike Rounds repeatedly touted "South Dakota Common Sense" as an attribute that he wanted to take to Washington during his Senate campaign in 2012.  So now we should ask, isn't it plain common sense to see the benefits of a deal where South Dakota gets nearly ten times the return on its money, especially when there is a built-in cancellation clause if the feds don't live up to their end of the bargain?  Tens of thousands of hard-working South Dakotans stand to benefit while the overall economy gains something as a result.  It's time to move ahead with this.
   
   

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Farmers Are Waiting For The Tariff Repercussions To Take Hold

     After a couple of months of decent rallies in commodity prices, South Dakota's farmers had reason to be optimistic about this year's crops.  Then came President Trump's tariff announcements last week, and suddenly everybody sobered up.  More on that later, but first off, the improvement in crop prices hasn't been about supply/demand fundamentals, which haven't changed much in recent months.  Instead, producers can thank the stunning volatility in the stock market for their good fortune. Analysts are generally saying that institutional investors are pulling substantial cash out of stocks and moving it into commodities.  This is a "lock in your profits" trade, as the big gains since the election of President Donald Trump have given investors plenty of reason to take profits out of historically over-valued equities and put them into real-world products, particularly wheat, corn and soybeans.  This is, after all, the stuff of life.  Even that proto-anticapitalist Vladimir Lenin once said that "grain is the currency of currencies" as he made sure that one of the Red Army's first priorities during the Russian revolution was to steal stockpiles of grain.
Say Goodbye?

    Running for a safe haven during volatile times is a long-standing trading strategy. Given the quirky nature of policies that are coming out of a White House defined by volatility and chaos, it's no surprise to see the gambit coming into play of late. But much as they love the nice upside bounce in prices, farmers saw their markets react with serious concern at the end of last week when Trump's sudden announcement on steel and aluminum tariffs made the news.  Wheat prices in particular got clobbered.  The reason?  Nobody knows how the rest of the world will react.  If Trump's tariffs do indeed get set into motion next week, it's likely that our trading partners will respond with retaliatory tariffs of their own.  Trump seems to welcome that scenario by saying "trade wars are good and easy to win."  Meantime, our farmers, who depend heavily on foreign markets, are out in their fields wondering if retaliatory tariffs will apply to them.  This whole thing is a cloud hanging over the American farm industry.
     With good reason, the Belle Fourche (SD)-based Tri-State Livestock News writes that farm leaders reacted to the tariff news with "fear and horror." TSLN reports that the American Soybean Association and U.S. Wheat Associates jointly stated that "we have repeatedly warned that the risks of retaliation . . . set by such a policy have serious potential consequences for agriculture."    Wheat prices are particularly sensitive to intense foreign competition and stand to take a shellacking if there's a retaliation from our foreign customers. That explains the huge drop in wheat prices the day after Trump's tariff announcement.
     Most surprising to me is that ag producers are themselves surprised by this turn of events, considering that Donald Trump campaigned consistently on his pledge to put the United States into protectionist mode when it came to foreign trade.  Trump's well known support in the farm belt (he carried South Dakota with 62% of the vote) suggests that voters either weren't listening or simply didn't believe he'd actually pull a stunt like this.  As farmers go out into their fields engaged in their Spring planting activities the next few weeks, they'll be wondering if a world that up to now has been eager to buy their production will soon be saying "no, thanks."

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Does Marty Jackley Want Businesses To Move Into South Dakota Or Doesn't He?

      Last week's resounding vote of confidence by the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce at its annual Business Day gathering in Pierre only reinforced what I've been sensing all along.
Jackley
But Will They Love Him Tomorrow?
This state's business community is pretty much solidly behind South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley's candidacy for Governor, giving him 60% of its support, compared to an anemic 23% for his chief primary rival Congresswoman Kristi Noem.  The balance went to the Democratic candidate Billie Sutton.  This, of course, is about as unscientific as the straw poll at the South Dakota State Fair last summer that gave Jackley a 58% to 41% margin over Noem, but the numbers are facts that have to give Jackley's campaign plenty of reason to cheer.
     But confident as I am about Jackley's chances, my status as a businessman makes me wonder about the cross-purposes in his campaign.  From the "Hometown Initiative" that Jackley released a few days ago, the candidate says that he wants to give "our young people the opportunities they need to remain in the state" and aggressively recruit "employees from outside the state" in order to "retain South Dakota's best and close the worker shortage."  This is great rhetoric, but I don't get how it squares with Jackley's unequivocal support on a couple of issue that are likely to turn off the very people he's trying to attract.  Jackley's support for gender-exclusive use of school bathrooms probably has plenty of backing from voters here, but promoting a law to that effect in South Dakota would have disastrous consequences for his plan to retain and recruit the best people into our state as a way to bolster and advance our economy.  There are just too many companies and institutions that will have nothing to do with a state that discriminates against its transgender residents.  Look at how quickly North Carolina repealed its ill-conceived anti-transgender bathroom law when the NCAA threatened to take its basketball tourneys away from the state because of it.  Corporate boycotts have become a fact of life for states that codify laws restricting the rights of their LGBT residents, so if Jackley wants to impose his values on bathroom access he runs the risk of costing the state some serious money and opportunities.
     Same goes for Jackley's support for one of the National Rifle Association's pet causes, "constitutional carry," which okays the holding of a handgun, either concealed or openly, without a permit.   Along with my M-16, as a radioman I also toted a .45 during my 13 months as a Marine in Vietnam.  I have good reason to get a little nervous about the idea of just anyone getting a handgun off the shelf without a permit.  That restrictions are by-passable doesn't mean they should be tossed.  I'd be concerned about South Dakota getting a reputation as a shoot-'em-up state now that NRA-boycotts are getting commonplace in the corporate world.
    Jackley's dilemma is a tough one:  if supporting the business community and enhancing economic development are his primary goals, he has to court a national market that can find South Dakota and its codified values all too easy to reject, conspicuously. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Kristi Get Your Gun.

     Perversely, the most telling aspect of South Dakota's Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem's campaign for governor this year is what some of the state's most conservative leaders
Kristi Noem
She Can Still Ride Horse
are saying about outgoing Governor Dennis Daugaard. 
In dissing Daugaard's lack of support for their agendas, Rapid City Representative Lynn DiSanto (whose legislative efforts at loosening the state's gun law restrictions have hit a brick wall when they reached the governor's office) last month told the Brookings (SD) Register that "conservative legislators . . . just have to ride out Governor Daugaard's last remaining year . . . I think that Daugaard has pretty clearly shown his colors." Ed Randazzo of the state's Family Heritage Alliance, which has supported transgender-targeted bathroom legislation that has also failed to get a pass from Daugaard, added that if either Noem or her main primary opponent SD Attorney General Marty Jackley becomes governor "we think that the governor's office will be more receptive to our issues."
     It looks like "gun rights" and "family values" conservatives in South Dakota will be getting wooed aggressively by Noem during the primary campaign.  Her official video sets the tone.  She asserts that she's "pro Second Amendment" and concludes with a fetchingly tongue-in-cheek touch: "I can still ride horse.  I can still shoot a gun.  What else do you need in South Dakota?"  Adorably condescending as it is, the line compresses the essence of her appeal.  She's one of us and we're all nice people who work hard, shoot straight, and love the land, right?  More pointedly useful is Noem's commitment to social values embraced and promoted by South Dakota's Family Heritage Alliance, which calls her "a longtime and faithful supporter" of the organization's Christian conservative agenda.
     Voters who are focused on conventional, secular issues like the economy and government operations won't find much on Noem's website.  Looking for them elsewhere I found a recent interview with KSFY television that revealed both substance and vision.  Actually, she nailed it on one front:  South Dakota's "brain drain."  Noem notes that many of our young people "get through college and leave for higher paying jobs."  Obvious as it is, it's nice to hear a politician acknowledge the fact.  Noem wants to turn that trend around by aggressively courting businesses to come to South Dakota, upgrading our technological infrastructure, melding biotech with our ag sector and expanding county-specific developments in the vast rural sections of  the state.           
     These are themes she needs to push.  Noem's already well-established Christian conservative creds won't be enough to take her over the top.  They certainly didn't help her at the state fair in Sioux Falls last summer, where Noem's main primary opponent Jackley won a straw poll with 57% of the vote to Noem's 41%--unscientific, yes, but an eye-opener just the same.  Kristi Noem would be smart to reach out to secular voters and get their attention by stressing accelerated economic growth.  That "brain drain" issue is one that will hit the mark in a lot of homes in this state.                              

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Small Bump In South Dakota Sales Tax Revenues Does Not An Economic Turnaround Make

     The hopelessly reactive nature of South Dakota's Republican leadership to the news that state sales tax revenues are slightly better than planned (maybe "prayed for" is a better phrase)
Governor Daugaard
Expenses Are Way Up Here
Tax Revenues Are Way Down There
is symptomatic of the budgeting stasis that has characterized state government during Dennis Daugaard's tenure as governor. 
The 1.9% improvement over Daugaard's downwardly revised projections toward the end of last year seems to have provoked a collective sigh of relief in Pierre.  Daugaard greeted the news by saying that last December there was "little hope" that the revenue shortfall could allow for even inflationary increases in funding for education, Medicaid providers, and state workers.  Now Daugaard is telling the Rapid City Journal that there is "certainly hope" but that "time will tell."  Indeed.  Going into his eighth and final year as Governor, Daugaard's wait-and-see posture remains unshaken. Unaddressed is the need for dynamic and pro-active leadership when it comes to finding ways to goose South Dakota's economy to at least the point where we can keep up with the growth rates of our immediately neighboring states, not to mention the U.S. as a whole.  As noted here before, South Dakota's per capita growth through 2016 has fallen far behind the rest of the country during Daugaard's tenure in Pierre.  Complete 2017 data have yet to be released, but considering that SD's personal income growth during Q2 and Q3, 2017 were 44th and dead lastrespectively,in the country, I doubt that we'll see much improvement in our standing when the final numbers for 2017 come out in March.
   Meantime, as to those higher-than-expected sales tax receipts that have ratcheted up the hope level in state government (House Majority Leader Lee Qualm says his mood is "guardedly optimistic), I'd say the news should be an embarrassment to those who see some hope in them.  The South Dakota Department of Revenue discloses that 2017 taxable sales for the state were just 1.05% higher than in 2016.  That would be half the relatively modest 2.1% national inflation rate for the year.  Being guardedly optimistic about revenues that can't even keep pace with inflation is a measure of the impotence of our state's leadership when it comes to moving South Dakota's economy forward.
     Considering that the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects a decline of nearly 7% in U.S. farm profits during 2018, I don't see our ag-dominated state's financial fortunes improving much during this last year of Governor Daugaard's tenure.  USDA's projections expect the lowest farm income since 2006 to materialize this year, which only highlights the failure of South Dakota's leadership to create broader economic opportunities and take advantage of those that already exist.  For example, the irrational rejection of the billions of dollars that would have materialized by expanding Medicaid comes to mind right away.
     There are others, and they're worth exploring.  As we bid adieu to Daugaard, we have a chance to check them out in the context of what his contending field of  replacements have in the way of economic development ideas.  I'll do a 3-part series on just those issues and my take on how Kristi Noem, Marty Jackley and Billie Sutton plan to address them starting next week.
    

Sunday, February 4, 2018

And Just Like That, The Deficit Explodes: The Saga Of Our Spend And Borrow Republicans

     The phony-baloneyism of the GOP's persistent mantra about the need to contain federal
Rounds, Thune, Noem
See No Debt, Speak No Debt, Hear No Debt
deficits was suddenly exposed last week. 
The stock market nosedived, with the Dow Jones Industrial average falling more than a thousand points (about 4%).  I don't think it was a coincidence that the market sank during a week in which President Trump's State of the Union speech ignored mentioning the budgetTrump had good reason to lay rhetorically low because it turns out that the United States Treasury is going to have to sell nearly twice the bonds that it did last year in order to finance government operations, much of the reason being a shortfall in revenues "due to sweeping tax cuts," according to the widely-followed financial website Marketwatch.com.
   I spent a little over a decade ('78-'89) as a member/floor trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange, and learned very quickly that rising interest rates are the fastest way to put the brakes on a bull market.  Considering that the United States Treasury is probably the biggest single borrower of money in the world, the need to raise a trillion dollars more than it did last year has already affected interest rates, pushing them higher, and probably will continue to do so for the rest of the year.  It's little wonder that President Trump chose to ignore the subject altogether last week.  The financial markets weren't quite so oblivious, of course, pounding stocks and bonds unmercifully throughout the week.
     Meantime, our GOP reps in Congress have dropped their hypocritical tirades against expanding federal deficits.  Representative Kristi Noem once voted to shut down the entire government as a statement against increasing federal debt.  Senator John Thune on his website has said "our country is on an unsustainable fiscal path."  Senator Mike Rounds in 2016 sounded alarms over federal debt, saying we're in "for a grim future . . . if we don't rein in spending . . . and address our $18 trillion dollar debt."
  So how did these three follow up on their respective crusades against increased federal borrowing?  By completely ignoring the holy grail of Republican dogma against out-of-control budgets and voting enthusiastically for a tax cut that has already sent this year's borrowing requirements skyrocketing.  So tough is the situation that Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling by late March in order to make interest payments on U.S. Treasury notes.  This will present our heretofore debt-averse reps in Washington with the exquisitely uncomfortable prospect of thinking about the unthinkable, i.e., increasing federal red ink.
     Our reps had plenty of advance notice about this.  The Congressional Budget Office itself warned about the tax cut increasing deficits by more than $1 trillion.  But did our congressional delegation care?  Not much.  They made some history-defying supply-side noises about increased economic growth creating more tax revenues, but now that the financial rubber is hitting the fiscal road, the United States Treasury can't depend on that political voodooism to materialize.  It's planning on a boatload of borrowing needs this year.  As that transpires, South Dakotans can plan on higher interest expenses as we compete against our own government for money.
   
   

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Knothead With A Law Degree

     Mark Mickelson, the South Dakota lawyer and state rep from District 13 (think Sioux Falls and surroundings) doesn't think much of non-lawyers trying to amend the South Dakota
Mickelson
The Scourge Of Knotheads
state constitution. 
He thinks they're "knotheads," complaining that he's "sick and tired of reading about some knothead . . . that doesn't have a law degree presupposing he knows constitutional law" using the initiative process to amend our state's constitution.  So what's the "sick and tired" lawmaker doing to change the situation?  Something so blatantly against the American way of doing things that Mickelson's efforts are proof positive that lawyers can be knotheads too.
    Mickelson, in his quest to expunge "knothead-ism" from the electoral process wants the state legislature to fix things to his liking.  How?  By restricting the ability of South Dakota voters to amend their own constitution.  He submitted House Joint Resolution 1007 to the House State Affairs Committee last week.  It's a resolution that leaves it up to our state legislature (by majority votes in each house) to decide on constitutional amendments that can be presented to voters.  The existing initiative process, which lets voters decide on amendment proposals through the petitioning process, would no longer exist.  Only lawmakers, not ordinary citizens, will be permitted to place amendments on the ballot.
    This is not only arrogant and presumptive--it exposes Mickelson's tin ear.  Why?  Because if it clears the legislative and executive hurdles in Pierre, his HJR 1007 will be decided on by voters next November--and only a knothead would think that voters will compliantly agree to a restriction of their own rights at the ballot box.  Consider the dynamics of Initiated Measure 22 and its aftermath:  IM 22, the government-and-finance-reform initiative, passed by a 53% majority in 2016.  It was then emasculated by the legislative and executive branches before it even got its final test in the courts.  So outraged were many South Dakotans that a similar effort (Constitutional Amendment W, which I support) with self-preservation smartly built into it will be on next November's ballot. It has as good, if not a better, chance of passing than IM 22.  Neither of these initiatives would have come into existence if Mickelson's brave new world of restricted ballot access were in place. Both measures express a clear yearning by South Dakota voters to retain control of their constitution.  I doubt that most of our state's voters will look kindly on an attempt to cede that control to the government.
     And if that isn't enough for a thumbs down on this democracy-constricting endeavor, consider the larger U.S. Constitutional issue at play here.  In knothead-digestible terms, it restrains free speech.  In its podcast on Mickelson's efforts, RCJ last October quoted a Common Cause spokesman who said the initiative's chance of passing constitutional muster is between "slim and none."  Mickelson is undeterred, telling RCJ "it's likely to be challenged.  I think we win."
     Whoopee.  Who can relish the thought of the State of South Dakota arguing for its authority to deny state residents the right to initiate amendments to their constitution?  Has Mickelson forgotten that in South Dakota, "Under God, The People Rule?"

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

From the South Dakota Legislature's Department Of Dumb Bills

   
      There's a way for elected officials in South Dakota to deflect attention away from their utter failure to confront, much less solve, the issues and problems that have been building up during the last few years.   The long-tried and -true method is to push legislation that satisfies emotional needs and biases, grabs media attention, usually gets absolutely nowhere, and fritters away government and taxpayer time and resources.  Along the way some really dumb stuff comes up in Pierre during the annual January-through-March session while long-standing issues get shorted and problems remain unsolved.
     Problems, for example, like the persistent and apparently endemic shortfall in sales tax revenues, low wages, stagnant economic growth and the labor shortage should be consuming our elected officials almost nonstop during the session.   And for some, they do.  Governor Daugaard tried to set the course for substantive legislative activity in his annual addresses this Winter, but it looks like we'll have to endure another season of silliness and irrelvance from too many of our reps in the legislature who have other agendas in mind. Cory Heidelberger's excellent, Aberdeen-based blog Dakota Free Press is a good source for a running recap of bills as they materialize--and some doozies are among them.  Examples:
     Rapid City's District 30 Representative, Republican Tim Goodwin, wants to test legislators for drugs in his House Bill 1133.  A scan of the bill itself confirms that it has no chance of passage
as it doesn't contain anything in the way of methodology, and leaves enforcement nebulously up to
Representative Goodwin
Drug Test 'Em All
the "presiding officer of the house to take appropriate action."  This is supposed to become law?Goodwin and his co-sponsors are trying to make some sort of good-for-the-goose-good-for-the-gander statement about mandatory drug testing, but it's a waste of time.

     Meanwhile, from the other end of the state, Sioux Falls District 13 Representative, Republican Sue Peterson,  wants to throw people in jail for a year and fine them $2 thousand dollars for improperly displaying the South Dakota state seal.  Her House Bill 1102  would punish anybody--inside our outside of government--for displaying the seal in any manner that doesn't conform with it's state-approved appearance.  The bill particularly notes that the words "Under God The People Rule" must be included.  This is
Representative Peterson
Jail Time If You Don't Mention God
blatantly unconstitutional coercion.  Peterson and her co-sponsors know it, but it curries some favor with their religiously-driven constituents, so by gum they're for it.  Another waste of time.
     District 19  (east of Mitchell) Senator Stace Nelson wants to amend the state constitution to change the age and gender make-up of the South Dakota militia, which includes the National Guard and some sort of undefined, unorganized and nonexistent "militia." The plan is to make the ranks all-inclusive, with no upper age or gender limits.   His Senate Joint Resolution No. 2 would fit a state-developed force if one ever came into being, but it would also effectively tell the National Guard what its enlistment standards will be.  Good luck with that. Considering that the median household income in two
Senator Nelson
The SD Militia Needs You
of his district's larger towns, Tyndall and Salem, are well below the state figure (6% below for Salem, a whopping 38% below for Tyndall) Nelson might consider spending more legislative time on improving the economic situation of his constituents
     While Nelson, Peterson and Goodwin are pursuing their pet agendas I'd like to know their ideas for, say, reversing the persistent shortfalls in state sales taxes.  And how they could turn their fixes into legislation.  And what they would do about the labor shortage.  And then there's Medicaid expansion, university tuition, alternative energy development . . . and then, and then, and then.  We're looking for policy and we're getting distractions.
 
   

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Howcum South Dakota Isn't Getting A Piece Of This Trump-Ignited Economic Wonderfulness?

     This morning the Dow Jones Industrial Average shot up 300 points, right through the 26,000 line, and momentum looks unstoppable.  The bull fever contagion is spread by the corporate tax cut and boosted by the collective realization that Trump's "trade war"  rhetoric during his campaign and early on in his presidency has softened, if not disappeared altogether.  This morning his Chief of Staff John Kelly even called Trump's bombast on the border wall and immigration "uninformed," politely re-stating the oft-expressed notion in this blog and so many others that the Prez is generally clueless about the reality behind his rhetoric. Given that there's at least one adult in his inner circle, I hope this means that Trump won't be upsetting the status quo and that the forward motion of an economy he inherited from President Obama will continue for a while.  With the boost it just got from the tax bonanza handed to corporate America, things look pretty good for a bit.
Rounds, Thune, Noem
So Where's The Beef?

     Which is why I'm wondering why South Dakota has yet to get a piece of this action.  For one thing, the wellsprings of our state's economy, grain and livestock production, have yet to get a price boost from a marketplace that is showering corporate America with good will and ever-increasing value.  South Dakotans are being left behind.  Grain and livestock prices since Trump's election are at best about even, while  stock averages are up anywhere from 15 to 20 percent.  State sales tax receipts have fallen below expectations, forcing lower take-home pay for South Dakota's employees, who are double-whammied by that news and higher prices created by inflation.   As to the rest of our state's residents, things aren't much better.  During the third quarter of last year, South Dakota's personal income growth was dead last (after being 44th worst the preceding quarter) in the country at a tenth of one percent compared to a national figure 7 times higher.  Our immediate neighbors outpaced us by anywhere from 3 to 7 times more growth.
     South Dakota's three-member congressional delegation, Republicans all, should come out and say something about this.  Congresswoman Kristi Noem and Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds all shared a common theme during their respective campaigns, one heard perpetually in this state from congressional aspirants.  In a nutshell they promised to make sure that South Dakota's priorities would be forcefully represented by their presence in Congress.  That they all support Trump's presidency and belong to the majority Republican party in Congress should have given them even more visibility, stature and power when it comes to representing our state.  Yet here we are, a year after Trump's inauguration, going nowhere fast. While the rest of America celebrates and Wall Street is on an orgiastic rave, South Dakota's economic performance and outlook make us look like wallflowers at best, utterly uninvited at worst.
     Actually, I'm only using the Trump presidency as a starting point because of all the economic hullabaloo attached to its first year.  Going back even further, let's say to the start of this decade, our people in D.C. have been duds when it comes to any improvement in South Dakota's economic fortunes.  The default explanation that grain and livestock prices are to blame doesn't work because during the decade we've had episodes of explosively high, record breaking prices in crop and cattle markets.  Meantime, our GDP per capita has actually declined from 2011 to 2016 (latest number available, though our last-place to nearly-last-place personal income performance in 2017 suggest little improvement is on tap for this year).  The rest of the nation, including our immediate neighbors have fared much better.  If these congressional reps are supposedly pounding their respective tables in Congress and demanding some voice for South Dakota, how come we're getting so far behind the rest of the country? Even more dismayingly,  how come we can't keep up with our surrounding states? 
     I have no doubt that our reps and their p.r. pogues can pull out lists of all the wonderful things they've done for the state.  Unfortunately the net results, economically, don't yield much to be proud about.  South Dakota went 62% for Trump.  When do we get something to show for that kind of support?