Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming! Don't Say Guest Poster David Ganje Didn't Warn Us!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    To South Dakota from Russia with love
  How does the land of indefinite variety get caught up in these things?  South Dakota is making an international name for itself.  And South Dakota may be under attack. The state’s current Russia problem arises from the state’s longstanding practice of hospitality.  Now, without doubt hospitality is an honorable practice.  South Dakota welcomes aliens (anyone who does not speak the dialect and who does not appreciate chislic) as tourists and hunters.  As a kid hunting with my dad and uncle I remember them hosting exotic foreigners – a judge from Minnesota, a judge from Chicago and most curious of all – a judge from Arkansas.  
   Based on current news reports this hospitality toward foreigners continues in the state.  Consider the somewhat infamous, and now indicted, Russian lady who is criminally charged with conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent (one could read spy).  The native of Russia apparently came to the South Dakota to hunt, to lecture at the University of South Dakota, to set up a South Dakota company or two and may have also considered residency.  As a brilliant effort toward international relations she compared the climate of Siberia with that of South Dakota in an article written for fellow travelers.
    "My notion of the KGB came from romantic spy stories," Russian President V. Putin from a 2005 Washington Post article.  Are the Russians coming?  Well, yes in a manner of speaking they are already here. Just ask someone of German Russian heritage in the bustling metropolises of Hoven, Eureka or my hometown of Aberdeen.  But what about contemporary Russians?  Well, yes it appears they are also invading the state.  We must then look to historical precedent to address the recent invasion.  I refer to an important historical movie on the invasion of America by Russians. In that movie (The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming) Russians landed in America and were speaking to a local young American.
  Russian Lieutenant Rozanov: [thick Russian accent] “Very clever little boy. Very, very clever, to see that my friend and I are foreigners here, but of course not Russian, naturally. What would the Russians be doing on United States of America island, with so many animosities and hatreds between these two countries? It is too funny an idea, is it not? No, we... we are of course... Norweegans.”
Walt Whittaker: “Norwegians?”
Russian Lieutenant Rozanov: [nods] “On a small training exercise for the Nyaato countries...”
Comrade Alexei Kolchin:  “yes NATO”
  I see problems with this new invasion.  I am of German Russian heritage.  This publicity about Russia could give German Russians a bad name.  First off, the alleged Russian spy was not granted bail on her pending federal charges.  She is considered a flight risk.  If she makes bail she may seek sanctuary in one of the remote but well stocked hunting lodges located throughout the state.  It would be unfavorable notoriety for the state if the feds laid siege to a hunting lodge to recover the defendant - all in front of TV cameras.  That would not look good on the news.  One should seek clarification from state authorities on whether South Dakota is a sanctuary state. My second problem:  ongoing developments concerning the Russian lady, now in jail awaiting legal proceedings, may give anyone loosely associated with Russians a bad name, or at least bad karma.  South Dakotans of German Russian heritage should consider this.  I suggest that all those of German Russian heritage re-label themselves as Italians or Greeks.
  Like angels of mercy, have the Russians and their friends descended upon the state for the goodwill of all mankind?  Possibly.   In today’s world South Dakotans have much in common with the government of Russia except perhaps for language, democracy, freedom of speech, a legal system and certain morals.
  Is Russia trying to get access to political power through the people of Middle America?  When looking at the official Russian spy manual one reads a description of Americans from the middle of the country:  “They may be more provincial than coastal big city people. They may be a little more naive or innocent than coastal city people.  The less they know, the better they sleep.  Not to worry, sophisticated Midwesterners do not exist.”
  Is Middle America the soft underbelly through which Russian machinations are to be practiced?  Are state residents to become the new tool of foreign interests?  The intrusion of Russia into South Dakota is not to be ignored.  These people have a studied understanding of regional people in the U.S.  This is borne out by the movie I cited.  In the movie a keen-eyed Russian military officer states:
Officer Brodsky: [in Russian] Hey, look here. Wheat! American wheat!
Officer Hrushevsky: [picks up a handful and sniffs it; in Russian] That's not wheat you idiot! It's fertilizer.
Officer Brodsky: [in Russian] Fertilizer? You mean manure? Cow...
Officer Hrushevsky: [in Russian]  Yes !
  Should these developments be of ongoing concern in the state?  Is South Dakota obligated to erect a wall around its border?  A good number of sophisticated U. S. politicians and leaders proudly had their picture taken with the alleged Russian spy.  She was also invited to give a speech at the University of South Dakota.
  Everything has a moral if only you can find it.  Here the moral is to be aware that Russians may have infiltrated South Dakota society.  There are practical remedies for this situation.  A longstanding rule based on experience tells us that when one is approached by a Russian bearing favors, giving advice, or offering to do good, you run for your life in the other direction while holding tightly to your wallet.  I anticipate local stores in the state will now do strong sales in running shoes.
David Ganje of Ganje Law Offices in Rapid City, South Dakota, practices in the area of natural resources, environmental and commercial law.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Patriotism Doesn't Pay The Bills.

      The underwhelming reaction among farm groups to the news this morning that the Trump
Are American Farmers Winning Yet?
The Trump Bailout Won't Do Much
administration is doling out $4.7 billion to producers hurt by low prices comes as no surprise. 
It's the first payment of the $12 billion that the White House will give to American farmers to make up for their losses created by Trump's commitment to wrecking trade deals that up to now have been a bonanza for farmers in this country.  In making the announcement about this first payout, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, "Farmers cannot pay their bills with simple patriotism."
     Perdue's condescending observation assumes that farmers are willing patriots in the gratuitous "trade war" that Trump drafted them into.  This is total baloney, of course, as agriculture groups have been resoundingly opposed to the tariff tit-for-tats that Trump initiated.  Of the price collapse that has occurred in the soybean and corn markets, American Soybean Association President John Heisdorffer said last Spring "we have been warning the administration and members of Congress that this would happen."  Farm groups have been kicking and screaming about this for many months, and now that their predictions have come expensively to pass the Trump administration suddenly calls them "patriots?"  Give me a break.
     More financially to the point, this measly payoff that the administration is handing out strikes me as a combination of hush money and charitable aid.  Of the former, I guarantee it won't hush up our ag producers, and of the latter, it isn't enough to make anybody close to whole.  Sounding off from the get-go, National Corn Growers Association President Kevin Skunes said
"this plan provides virtually no relief to farmers" after pointing out that the program allocates $96 million to corn farmers, who collectively stand to lose $6 billion during the course of this debacle.  Soybean farmers stand to get $3.6 billion of the dole-out, but that won't even cover half their total loss of about $9 billion that the recent market plunge has cost them.
     It looks like South Dakota's share of the corn and soybean relief money will cover maybe a third of the $1 billion that has been lost by the state to the tariff wars.  Our Congressional delegation hasn't said much about this payoff, but Missouri Republican Senator Ray Blunt has had the courage to speak out, saying "no farmer is going to come close to being made whole" by these payments, which aren't much of a short-term fix.  Nor do they come with any long-term hope, much less promise, that the Trump administration is working to keep our lucrative foreign markets open to American farmers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Trump Is Coming To South Dakota. Good Luck With That, Pubs. He Might Be More Of A Liability Than You Think.

     President Trump will be making a campaign stop here in South Dakota at some unspecified
Trump Coming To SD?
He's Got Some 'Splainin' To Do
date ahead of the November election. 
No doubt a lot of our state's Republicans are cheering, but all considered, he may not be the white knight that Kristi Noem, the GOP nominee for Governor, or Dusty Johnson, the Republican chasing after the state's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, are hoping will show up.  Trump sure didn't do much good in Wyoming yesterday, where the man he endorsed, Foster Friess, lost in the GOP governor's primary by more than 6 points.          Mind you, Trump carried Wyoming with nearly 70 percent of the vote in 2016.  The President's promise to restore coal fell on welcoming ears in that state, the nation's largest producer of coal, producing four times more than second-place West Virginia.  A couple of days ago Trump even scaled back Obama-era coal emission standards, which you'd think would give him and his man Friess all that much more of a boost in the primaries.  And maybe it did.  Without the Trump-assist, Friess may have fallen by an even wider margin. 
      Of course, any comparison to the Trump-effect in South Dakota has to consider that the President didn't go to Wyoming to stump for Friess, whereas he'll be making a personal visit here.  That difference aside, though, there's a more compelling comparison to be made between the two states.  Basically it's an economic one.  For all of Trump's efforts to revive and restore coal mining in this country, the industry is still lagging, hurt by changing technologies that make competing, mainly natural gas, energy sources a better deal for many power producers.   A study by the University of West Virginia's Bureau of Business and Economic Research concludes that production will stabilize short-term "but will erode gradually over the next couple of decades."  All of Trump's horses and men will never put the coal industry back together again. 
     It's no surprise, then, that Wyoming GOP voters didn't respond strongly enough to Trump's endorsement of Friess to carry him over the top.  In South Dakota's coming general election, the central economic issue is probably the soybean industry and how badly it's been devastated by Trump's obsession with a trade war.  If that doesn't change soon, soybean prices--which are at there lowest since 2009--will be the object of a lot of attention as November draws near.  As it stands, prices are about 20% below what they were when Trump was elected, a level that will cause about a $500 million loss to soybean farmers in South Dakota.   In a state with just over 800 thousand residents, that's a tough loss to absorb. 
     Given all that, South Dakotans will probably lose a lot of enthusiasm for Donald Trump, who won this state with more than 60% of the vote.  As with Wyoming, Trump's economic promises haven't materialized here, at least in our economy's all-important agricultural sector.  And as with Wyoming, it wouldn't surprise me if his support during the coming campaign doesn't amount to much--or even turns into a liability for the Republicans he's trying to help. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Kristi Noem Should Do Herself A Favor And Skip Every Debate With Billie Sutton

     So it came out this morning that Republican gubernatorial candidate Kristi Noem, running
Sutton, Noem
against Democrat Billie Sutton for South Dakota's top job in the statehouse, accepted a measly two invitations to debate her opponent. 
In reaction to the news, Sutton gleefully announced that he has accepted invitations to a total of ten debates, and is in the process of scheduling five more.  Noem's reaction?  About as lame as it gets.  Her PR people have said that she's already participated "in nearly a half-dozen forums during this year's race for governor," as if we're supposed to be impressed by a gubernatorial hopeful making it to less than one pubic forum a month during an election year. 
     Since Noem won her primary June 5, I see that she turned up at a few parades, where appearance matters and, by circumstance, substance is avoided.  As things are developing in the race, this may actually be the central strategy of Noem's campaign.  She already flunked her first test as a candidate capable of addressing a major issue, namely education, when she declined an invitation from the Associated School Boards of SD, School Administrators of SD, and SD Public Broadcasting to debate school policy last August 10.  This was a profoundly revealing rejection, because I can't think of a public setting where differences in education policy can be more directly compared and contrasted. 
     Considering that unlike Noem, Sutton was eager and ready to debate the issue, Noem's refusal to meet up in that venue is tantamount to a concession that she can't get specific about her plans for education in this state.  Her website states that Noem "is committed to balancing the needs of families, teachers, administrators and taxpayers," but amazingly fails to list students among those who have needs.  The running theme about education in her website is about developing students who will discover "in-demand jobs" and graduate with "job-ready skills." I guess this means stressing vocational training, a view that needs some explaining and expansion. Unfortunately, by ducking the August 10 confab, Noem missed an opportunity to clarify her thoughts. 
     Then again, her decision to skip the event may have had more calculation to it than meets the eye:  there's a lot of risk to getting on the same stage with a popular and gritty contender whose biography has a storybook quality to it.  Noem will compare unfavorably to Sutton on a personal level and no doubt has good reason to keep joint appearances with him at a minimum. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

South Dakota's Farmers Are Not A "Bargaining Tool."

    For a while there, South Dakota Republican candidate for Congress Dusty Johnson put
From Cory Heidelberger
At Dakota Free Press
some distance between himself and President Trump when it comes to Trump's passion for tariffs.  
Last May during his primary fight Johnson differentiated himself from his GOP opponents, who strongly supported Trump's trade policies, telling the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that "government should be cautious" when it comes to trade agreements, and that "access to international markets for South Dakota producers is critical."  The Argus-Leader went on to note that Johnson said he would push back on those who would aim to pass trade policies that could cause problems for South Dakota producers.  At about the same time, Johnson, in a Rapid City Journal op-ed piece complaining about my treatment of him in my column there, stoutly declared "I would ask the President to keep these markets open to the best . . . row crops in the world--South Dakota's."
     But, revealing the dependable Trump-enabler that better suits his compliant nature, the full-of-it Dusty emerged. Johnson just did a one-eighty on his misgivings about the tariff war that Donald Trump has declared.  In an interview published yesterday by the Madison (SD) Daily Leader, the candidate who would "push back" against policies harmful to South Dakota's farmers and at least "ask the President" to keep markets open to our farmers, fell into line with the White House.  According to Johnson, Trump is most likely using tariffs on imported goods as a bargaining tool.  Never mind that collapsing soybean prices are part of the bargain.  Said Johnson, "I'm hoping that will mean better things for producers and manufacturers."  In the heart of row-crop country, Johnson effectively told farmers there that they are bargaining tools for President Trump's trade gambits, as useful as pawns on a chess board.  The two dollars per bushel that markets have shaved off the price of soybeans since they became Trump's "bargaining tool" amounts to an eighty dollar hit on every acre. You have a thousand acres of soybeans?  You just lost eighty grand.  For South Dakota's soybean farmers in total it comes out to half-a-billion bucks.  Some "push back."
     Johnson correctly noted in the Daily Leader piece that the United States is still a principal supplier of high-quality soybeans to the world, and in this incredibly high stakes faceoff with China, that status might get us through, short-term.  But long term?  A much different outcome seems likely now that China and the rest of the world understand that the American bargaining chip dubbed "soybeans" can be produced elsewhere on this planet.  The most common story threading through agriculture media around the world is the pace at which China is becoming more self-sufficient in food production, even while it develops new suppliers elsewhere.  Just as America's dangerous and foolhardy dependence on foreign oil supplies set off a massive effort for our country to finally become self sufficient in energy production, China will take the same approach to soybean production.  We're stupid to let this happen, and Dusty Johnson is an unwitting political tool for going along with it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Warehousing People In South Dakota's Prisons Isn't Working

     It's just crazy how South Dakota's prison population has grown so rapidly during the past
40 years.  In 1977, our state's total prison population was about 500 inmates while today it is more than 3,900, a 750% increase.  That represents a growth rate more than 30 times our state's overall population increase during the same period.  It's also more prisoners per capita than every state we border.  Retired South Dakota circuit judge and current Democratic candidate for the state's Congressional seat Tim Bjorkman wrote a study for the University of South Dakota's Law Review ("A State In Shackles:  The Effect Of A Dysfunctional Childhood On Crime And Imprisonment"), published in 2017, that documents these and a trove of similarly grim facts. 
     That our community at large needs to be protected from a fair number of criminals, namely the violent, is self-evident enough, but more than half the state's male prisoners and 75 % of the female prisoners are there for non-violent crimes.  Quoting liberally from Bjorkman's study, two-thirds lack a high school diploma, and about 90% suffer from a substance disorder, many of those with a co-occurring mental disorder.  A substantial number grew up fatherless and in poverty, and many--including more than half the women--are childhood abuse survivors.  Subjecting these people to mass incarceration doesn't seem to be much of an attempt at confronting what is essentially a social problem, not a crime wave that demands more prison space than ever.
     Setting aside the altruistic impulse to help these people for a moment, consider the cost of housing and caring for nearly 4,000 prisoners every day.  In 2014 (most recent number I could find from South Dakota's Department of Corrections) it cost $54.00 a day to incarcerate an inmate. That comes out to more than $70 million a year--and we're just talking about the state prison system, not country or other local jailhouse facilities.  If most of those prisoners, say 60% extrapolating from Bjorkman's numbers, are non-violent, you have to wonder if the money used to imprison them wouldn't be better spent trying to get these troubled people some help. 
     That conclusion dawned on our state's elected leadership in 2013,  when Senate Bill 70 (the Public Safety Improvement Act) was signed into law by Governor Daugaard.  The bill passed with strong bi-partisan support. It was based on the premise that only those prisoners who had to be sequestered for the public's protection should be incarcerated, while the rest would receive community supervision and treatment, paid for by the money saved from not imprisoning them.  Some early successes weren't sustained, though, and by the end of 2017, the prison population was back to that 3,900 level.  Bjorkman notes that there were concerns "among many who work with the court system that the state has not fulfilled its promise to provide enhanced treatment and supervision for offenders."  I haven't been able to find any analyses on the implementation of SB 70 and invite a response from state government officials to Bjorkman's critique.  Meantime, our prisons are as crowded as ever.
     South Dakota's American Civil Liberties Union has recently decided to call attention to this problem in a unique way.  Janna Farley, ACLU Communications Director.  announced a few days ago that the organization is putting up billboards in Sioux Falls and Rapid City proclaiming "People, Not Prisons."  Considering that Governor Daugaard and a bi-partisan legislature supported just that concept with SB 70 five years ago, it seems like a message that shouldn't have to sold to the general public.  What gives on that front, Governor? 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Yeah. Tax Cuts Pay For Themselves. Yeah. Right.

     Memo to South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune:  Your contention that Trump's
Thune, Rounds, Noem
Why Are These People Laughing?
tax cuts will pay for themselves was nutty in its projections last December and just as nutty now that the bills are coming in. 
More than halfway into the first year of President Trump's fantasy-driven scheme that you wholeheartedly supported by claiming that "even a modest amount of economic growth could cover the cost of this bill," the facts are saying otherwise.  Our junior senator, Republican Mike Rounds, echoed your party's line on the subject, claiming the increased growth created by the tax cut would "grow the economy at a faster rate," thereby creating enough new revenues to reverse steady increases in the national debt. In late 2016 our Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem actually made the fatuous claim that the Republican tax reform package would result in an economic growth rate of 9.1 percent.  Yes, she really did.   According to this GOP-scripted scenario, the 4% GDP growth that Republicans have been whooping it up about  (slightly better than "modest," at least for the most recent quarter) should have created a gusher of government revenues.                                            But has it?  Nope.  CNBC reported yesterday that "tax and withholding payments from individuals and corporations so far this year have come in about $17 billion below the same point in 2017."  The result is that the Congressional Budget Office is now projecting the federal deficit to hit nearly $1 trillion next year and reach $1.5 trillion by 2018.  These annual deficits continue to add to the overall federal debt of more than $15 trillion, which is still at ultra-high post-WW II levels in relation to the nation's economy.  Financing that debt has continued to grow, even as tax revenues are declining.  What on earth our congressional delegation was thinking when they collectively made their rosy predictions is the story of political intimidation overwhelming established reality.  Both history (Reagan's tax cuts nearly doubled the federal debt, GW Bush's increased it by a third) and a huge majority of the nation's leading economists warned about the negative effects of the tax cuts.
    Meantime, the cost of servicing all this debt has been steadily putting upward pressure on interest rates.   Reflecting the frustration a lot of us are feeling about this, Greg Valliere of the mega-investment firm Horizon Investments, said in his note to clients last week "booming economic growth has not been sufficient to lower the budget deficit.  In fact, the deficit and Treasury borrowing are headed sharply higher, and virtually no one in Washington seems to care."  South Dakota's congressional reps, who often complained about the "unsustainability" of federal debt prior to Trump's election, seem cowed into silence and submission now that they and their Republican cohorts have only worsened the situation.  If President Trump is indeed the "King of Debt" that he once claimed to be, Senators Thune and Rounds, along with Congresswoman Noem, are his compliant vassals.