Tuesday, July 17, 2018

South Dakota's Republican Leaders Are A Complacent Lot

    What is it about the idea of bold leadership that makes South Dakota's Republican
What Does SD's GOP Have
Against Elephants?
officials run for cover?
  On the state level there's a bridge between the functions of management and leadership that I don't think has been traversed since, like him or not, Bill Janklow was governor about 20 years ago.  Last Monday Governor Dennis Daugaard was celebrating the state's $17 million surplus--South Dakota's seventh consecutive year in the black--by claiming that a structurally balanced budget "was my number one priority when I took office and it still is as I finish my term as Governor."   I don't get how the modifier "structurally" has any relevance in a state where ongoing revenues are impossible to predict, given the volatile nature of the commodity markets that dominate our state's agriculturally-dependent economy. Laudable as it may sound, Daugaard's commitment doesn't mean much in a state that has had a balanced-budget amendment in its Constitution since 2012.  Basically, Daugaard is congratulating his administration for adhering to the state constitution.  Rather than sending his lame-duck governorship off with gratuitous fanfare, a requiem for Daugaard's years in the statehouse seems appropriate.  Consider that on a per capita basis, South Dakota's GDP growth has persistently lagged the nation and the region.  Daugaard gets some credit for navigating the revenue shortfalls that have plagued this state in recent years, but on providing the strong and visionary leadership it takes to advance South Dakota's economy forcefully enough to keep up with the rest of the country, he rates a "meh."
     On the federal level, the situation is much the same.  Our GOP trio of Kristi Noem in the U.S. House and Mike Rounds and John Thune in the Senate are mired in complacency.  They seem helpless to do anything about the looming financial catastrophe that will strike South Dakota farmers as President Trump's trade war unfolds.  Noem meekly said recently that falling commodity prices "are very concerning to me."  His Trump-deference in full view, Mike Rounds was on Meet The Press last week telling Mike Todd that South Dakota farmers "need to share and continue to share their concerns."  A month ago John Thune was belaboring the obvious by telling Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross that a trade war would have a "harmful effect" on farmers.  Apparently, expressing concern and telling farmers they have to speak up for themselves is the closest the three of these can come to pushing for congressional action that might offset President Trump's potentially ruinous trade shenanigans. As for Republican Congressional candidate Dusty Johnson, he's part of the do-nothing cabal.  He told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader last week that "congressional involvement, at least at this time, is going to inject more politics into it."  To Johnson fending off the collapse of farm commodity prices is a political event, to be shunned by our state's elected officials . . . "at least at this time."  So when is the "right time" to act?  Johnson doesn't have a clue.  The wussiness goes on.   Our congresspeople need to live up to their job description as "representatives."  Their wordplay hasn't stemmed the financial slaughter occurring in our ag sector.  Political intimidation from the Trump administration has paralyzed our federal reps.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In South Dakota, We're All Soybean Farmers

     The South Dakota Farm Bureau doesn't have much in the way of moxie these days.  Its president, Scott VanderWal was on KELO-radio last Friday acknowledging the devastating potential of President Trump's tariffs on our state's corn and soybean farmers.  He sounded the appropriate call for alarm by noting that "if we disrupt trade like we are now with the farm economy in poor shape . . . it's going to be economically devastating."  The prospect of farmers selling this year's crop at prices a good fifteen to twenty percent lower than what markets were expecting last Spring, just before Trump's trade war-fixation turned into policy has walloped South Dakota's farmers.
     "Devastating" was certainly the right word to describe the situation, but that's where the
SD Farmers Talk Soybeans To China
August, 2017
strong language ended. 
The logical follow-up to VanderWal's alarming prognosis would seem to have been a call to action but what we got instead was a call to timidity.  He said South Dakota's farmers need to make their voices heard in Washington, "but we have to be careful how we do that because he (Trump) doesn't respond to attacks very well, or perceived attacks." That squeamishness is probably the reason our politically wimpish congressional delegation hasn't been more forceful in criticizing, if not altogether condemning, Trump's tariff gambit.   Maybe it's just me, but it seems like a much more muscular response to the president's threat of financial devastation to South Dakota's farmers is in order.  With Trump, vapidity won't get it.  If the Farm Bureau's approach to the financial armageddon predicted by VanderWal were limited to its members, there wouldn't be much reason for the rest of us South Dakotans to stick our noses into their business.  But as we've heard relentlessly for the past few years, persistent softness in farm income has hurt the state's overall economy.  To a real extent, all of us in South Dakota are farmers, dependent as we are on the condition of our crops and the money they bring in to the state.
     South Dakota's current soybean crop has experienced a $500 million paper loss since last Spring's market peak.  That's a lot of pain for a small state like ours to absorb.  We all have a stake in this.  What's more, the need for getting through to Trump about the "devastating" potential of his trade policies isn't just a short-term thing. There are long-term urgencies to contend with.  Agricultural media have been bursting with news about how China, the world's largest soybean importer, is making it a national policy to build domestic supplies by subsidizing its farmers heavily and seeking new suppliers, including Russia, to replace an American source that has suddenly turned toxic in a geo-political sense.  Considering that about half of the U.S.A.'s annual soybean harvest of 4 billion bushels is exported and that two-thirds of those exports go to China, we're talking about a serious game-changer here.  Even if China's rapacious demand for soybeans forces the country to take a while before it weans itself away from American supplies altogether, we run the risk of this game of tariff-chicken becoming a catalyst for changes in Chinese buying behavior that in turn creates a new network of suppliers for Americans to compete against. In that scenario, the downward pressure on prices will be persistent and painful.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

From The Z To Belle Fourche, An Old Warrior Remembers

     On the Fourth of July I'll be marching proudly with a contingent of Marines in the Belle
Immigrant Milking Cows
Turner County, SD
Fourche parade
.  So many pungent ironies will be running through my mind.  Fifty one years ago on the Fourth I was a radioman near the Demilitarized Zone in Vietnam, about to get airlifted into a desperate fight nearby, the scuttlebutt being that I was replacing one of the many  radiomen in the field that were dead.  I cursed the war.  I cursed Lyndon Johnson.  I cursed the Halls of Montezuma.  Not yet twenty, I knew I was going to die.
     But it wasn't meant to be.  Enough air cover came in to drive the enemy back to their sanctuary in the Z (short for DMZ, aka the Demilitarized Zone), where we couldn't chase them, allowing the hostilities to come to a pause.  I got reprieved.  Though there were plenty of fights before and after (OMG, you should've seen September 3, 1967, at Dong Ha.  OMG.), that particular engagement, where I never even came within shooting range of the action, scared me the most.
     It was a tough way to become a citizen of the United States, but become a bona-fide, card-carrying American, I did.  Having come over from the shambles of post-war Europe in 1950 with my parents and baby sister, I probably was naturalized along with them a few years later.  Just to make sure, though, I enlisted in the Marines to pick up an automatic naturalization via that route.  For all these many years since then I never gave the fact of my naturalized status a second thought.  Then along came Trump.  I just about couldn't believe it when he made a point last February about  wanting an immigration policy that favored educated and skilled emigres.  If that were the policy back when I checked in at Ellis Island, my barely educated family of eastern Mediterranean (Greek and Armenian) "po' folk" would have been locked out.  And that would have been a shame, because, all modesty abandoned, I doubt that a more proudly American family could have been nurtured by this country, native born or not.
     More specifically, I doubt that the state of South Dakota could have turned out a more productive and contributing family.  I often wonder if most South Dakotans know how many immigrants are a part of the modern fabric of this state.  According to the American Immigration Council, twelve percent of our state's manufacturing workers are immigrants.  Ten percent of our state's building maintenance workers are immigrants.  Turkey processors in Huron now employ several hundred ethnic-Karen refugees from Myanmar.  Given the nature of the work, I'm sure many of these people don't have education and skills levels that would conform to an immigration policy that shuns the untutored.  According to the AIC, nearly 60% of South Dakota's immigrant population has a high-school diploma or less, the "or less" faction making up about 35% of the new arrivals.  Keeping these people out of South Dakota's labor pool would make a tight situation even worse for employers who chronically struggle to deal with our labor shortage.
     And, writing as the son of those in the "or less" category, the children of these families stream into the general population with educations and ambitions that have made this country what it is. Sorting out the good from the bad is one thing, a mandatory thing,  but to deny the U.S.A. its historic source of energy by being overly restrictive about who gets to enter this country is a rejection of a success story that is the American experience.