Thursday, July 11, 2019

South Dakota's Monolithically Conservative Government Wants To Enforce Intellectual Diversity In Our Colleges. You're Kidding, Right?

     Last Monday a South Dakota law titled "An Act To Promote Free Speech And Intellectual
Check Out All Those Orthodox Liberals
Makes You Want To Shudder, Doesn't It?
Diversity At Certain Institutions Of Higher Education" took effect. 
I'm not exactly sure what this law is intended to remedy, but in signing it, Governor Kristi Noem said "Our university campuses should be places where students leave their comfort zones and learn about competing ideas and perspectives,"  the implication being that the status quo falls short of meeting that standard, a situation that must now be remedied by the passage of this law.
     First off, regarding the status quo, I'm dubious about the need for this law.  Having hired a fair number of South Dakota public university graduates over the past decades, I've found them to be competent, level-headed, moderate in their political and ideological views--and reflective of a sound educational structure that trained them well and turned them into excellent models of engaged and productive citizenry.  If readers have had markedly different impressions of their SD public university hires, I'd love to hear from them--and doubt very seriously that I will.  Our colleges are doing their jobs and doing them well.  
     As much was effectively conceded by David Randall, director of research for the National Association of Scholars.  NAS is an organization that seeks to counter "liberal bias" in academia.  During deliberations over the bill, he told lawmakers that South Dakota was "not as far down the road" as other states, but that it was only a matter of time before orthodoxy of liberal ideology would reduce intellectual diversity.  Horrified by the prospect, senators passed the bill 26-7, representatives went for it 51-12.  Orthodox liberal ideology didn't stand a chance.
     More compellingly, neither did common sense.  This gratuitous and probably unenforceable statute can't be implemented because intellectual diversity can't be quantified and can't be defined.  For one thing, diversity of opinion exists within individuals, so how do you classify, say, an applicant with strongly held liberal beliefs about personal behavior and equally strong beliefs about fiscally conservative public policy?  Considering that the universities "must create hiring practices to ensure the composition of the faculty and administration reflects a broad range of ideological viewpoints," how does said socially liberal/fiscally conservative individual fit into an ideologically balanced faculty?  For another, who determines bias?  South Dakota's Republican-dominated government?  Please.  
    This law is a political statement by a legislature committed to controlling every aspect of public life with the heavy hand of government.  I remember when Republicans were repulsed by that notion.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Medals Of Honor For Massacring People At Wounded Knee? Pathetic, But South Dakota GOP Rep Dusty Johnson Seems To Be Okay With It.

     In 1890, there was a massacre of around 300 Lakota Indians (200 of them women and
Dead At Wounded Knee
Where's The Nuance?
children) by the U.S. Army at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota.  
The event has been well-documented.  There is general acceptance of the fact that Wounded Knee is a blot on our nation's history, so much so that in 1990, both houses of Congress passed a resolution on its historical centennial expressing "deep regret" for the incident.  But there's some unfinished business. Unresolved then and now is the matter of what to do about the Medals of Honor issued to 20 of the soldiers that took part in the bloodbath.
     Calls for rescinding those medals have been been coming forward since 2001 (maybe earlier, but I can't find any cites for those).  The latest is a bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives ("Remove the Stain Act") two weeks ago by Democrat Denny Heck of Washington.  As with earlier attempts at getting this done, Heck's initiative is finding some resistance, including a morally and historically equivocating effort at pushback by our South Dakota GOP  Congressman Dusty Johnson.
     Last week, with some irony, considering it was on July 4th, when we celebrate the freedoms of life, liberty and happiness that were taken away from hundreds of Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee,  Johnson told WNAX radio that rescinding the medals "would be an aggressive act."  He also said "there's a better, more nuanced, more facts-driven way for us to move forward."  Johnson seems satisfied that the Congressional resolution on the matter in 1990 acknowledges this "terrible error . . . this sin of our nation," and that the MOH controversy is a distraction that's keeping us from "moving forward."  Johnson won't be able to blow this off so easily.  For one thing,  it escapes him that those perpetrating this "sin" of our nation are still regarded as worthy of a medal that denotes "honor."  How can one be "honored" for committing a "sin," in this case a sin that continues to sear the memories of our country's Native Americans?
     This is the kind of moral equivocation that surfaces from a mind that thinks it understands
Get A Dictionary
the meaning of the word "nuance." 
"Nuance" is a valuable, if somewhat overused, word that suggests subtle differences in meaning and has a place in any number of political conversations.  In effect, it could be a substitute for a phrase like "I get what your saying, but there's more to it than that." But try as he might to force it into this conversation, Johnson's glib use of "nuance" can't apply here.  There's nothing about a massacre that can lend itself to a nuanced way of "moving forward." My grandfather and namesake John The Baptist was murdered a century ago in Ada Pazar, Turkey, for committing the crime of being a Christian. There's no "nuancing" a cold-blooded massacre. Johnson and his fellow apologists can continue to cling to their sorry justifications for what those soldiers did at Wounded Knee, but neither logic, history, nor a misuse of the English language can explain why the murderous fiends at that massacre should continue to be revered as recipients worthy of our nation's highest military honor.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Tanks On The Fourth? To President Trump They're Props. Meanwhile, Back In The Nam On The Fourth Of July, 1967 . . .

No Words.

Operation Buffalo, 9th Marines
   July 2-14, 1967  

I was a radioman supporting these guys who got into one of the war's toughest tangles with North Vietnam's best.  I was part of a pool of replacement radiomen a few miles to the rear and was mounted up and getting ready to be choppered into this meat grinder, the scuttlebutt being that all the radiomen in the field were dead.  Thank God the enemy had been pushed back and we never had to join this battle, which gave rise to the 1st Battalion/Ninth Marine Regiment's nickname "The Walking Dead."

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Scyller Borglum's Campaign For The U.S. Senate Is A Breath Of Stale Air

     South Dakota state legislator Scyller Borglum (R-House, District 32, Rapid City) yesterday
She needs to dial for beaucoup bucks
drew some attention by declaring herself a candidate for South Dakota's U.S. Senate seat in 2020. 
Her primary opponent (among unannounced others, if any) will be incumbent Senator Mike Rounds, whose two-terms as Governor and first term in the U.S. Senate have made him a political juggernaut. His prospects for re-election are daunting enough.  During his tenure in the Senate, Rounds's campaign has raised $6.1 million, of which $500k is still on hand. He's already raised $600k during the first quarter of this year. Borglum, meantime, in her single successful run for a state house seat has raised, according to, a total of $6,300.00.
     After you let that sink in you have to wonder why on earth Borglum is doing this.  Strategically, I'd say her only chance is that Rounds, who is now dealing with his wife's struggle against cancer, may decide to call it quits.  That would throw the race open to all comers, including neophytes like Borglum, who probably will gain something in the recognition sweepstakes during her quixotic campaign.  But considering that the Rounds campaign has responded aggressively to Borglum's challenge, all indications are that Rounds intends to run in '20.  If so, Borglum might as well throw in the towel.  A one-term legislator with next to nothing for money running against a two-term governor and sitting senator who can raise millions?  Please.
    Her main campaign pitch is actually just about as hopeless as her financial situation.  From the piece in the Rapid City Journal that I linked above, it looks like she's appealing to those who think Mike Rounds hasn't hewed closely enough to President Trump's agenda.  Apparently, Rounds's siding with Trump more than 90% of the time isn't litmus-test worthy for the Trump-devoted Borglum, who admires "Trump's common-sense, conservative approach to the business of running America."  This is Trump-fealty at its most belligerent and ignorant, considering that Trump and his supporters have ratcheted the federal debt to "unprecedented levels," according to the Congressional Budget Office's long term projections published last week.  If this is Borglum's idea of a "common-sense, conservative" approach to business management, I'd say she's in a state of Trump-delusionality.  Bragging about Trump's management of the economy and stock market is something like bragging about George Bush's oversight of the housing market in 2006.  Does the common-sense, conservative Borglum know what a bubble is?
     If Scyller Borglum is the conservative she claims to be, she'd be crying foul about all the red ink that Trump and his tax cut have generated.  More broadly, she'd be aghast at the way Trump and his sycophants (Rounds included) have wrung core conservative principles out of the Republican Party.  Accepting excessive debt is just one of them.  Abandoning free trade for isolationism is another. Socialistic handouts to aggrieved industry groups like farmers comes to mind.  Borglum's uncritical embrace of Donald Trump isn't unusual in South Dakota, which has yet to see much "trickle-down" from the economy that she so admires: South Dakota's economy last year grew at less than half of the overall economy's already tepid rate.  But these realities matter little to the Stepford pols who adore Trump the way Borglum does, so her message is predictably repetitious and stale.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

South Dakota Senator John Thune Hates Socialism. Just Hates It. Except, Of Course, When He Loves It.

     Talk about phony-baloney rhetoric.  Our Senator John Thune, that's the guy with the fixed scowl on his face who's always standing behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during photo-ops of Republican leadership in Congress, loves to bash the smithereens out of some recent proposals coming from Democrats by calling them "socialistic."  In recent weeks he
railed against "the Democrats' socialist Medicare-for-all plan," called the Green New Deal a "socialist fantasy," and generally lambasted the the idea of socialism to his utterly uncritical, softball-throwing interrogators at Fox News by asserting the old GOP canard that "the issue with socialist fantasies is that they sound good until you see the bill."
Thune, To The Right
Not Saying "Cheese"

     How a deficit-hawk like Thune, who pushed a GOP tax plan that has driven federal debt to historic highs, both in raw numbers and as a percent of the overall U.S. economy, could complain about bills coming due is brazen enough.  But to complain about proposals from Democrats and their supposedly negative effect on the federal balance sheet without any analytical back-up is dogmatic political pandering.  Consider Medicare-for-all. That the proposal needs more study is a given, mainly because there's no consensus about its effect on the U.S. economy, generally, and federal deficit, specifically.  Meantime, the status quo, awful as is, seems to be unacceptable on all fronts--except maybe for the health insurance industry--and demands a re-set.  Yes, spending for Medicare-for-all will be massive, but it needs to be looked at in context.  Currently, combined private and public healthcare spending is expected to reach $45 trillion by 2026, according the Dept. of Health and Human Services.  The U.S. spends, per capita, twice as much on healthcare as comparable countries do, but the outcome shows that we're not getting our money's worth.
     Medicare-for-all needs to be an option for consideration.  Too many responsible analysts say it's too good a deal to categorically reject. Getting some dubious political returns by bashing it as a "socialistic" scheme doesn't add to the conversation and only confirms that Thune isn't interested in responsible leadership, just cheap political rhetoric.  Certainly, after his party's stewardship of the budget's horrendous deficit, his concerns about racking up more bills are transparently sanctimonious and hypocritical.  More dismaying is his lack of understanding about what "socialism" actually is and how the principles of a socialistic organization are so important to the economy and well-being of his home state.
      We South Dakotans couldn't have much of a society if it weren't for the socialistic inclinations of our federal government.  Federal aid and grants amount to a third of South Dakota's state revenues, with vastly more sums of money coming in from D.C. than we send out as taxes, to the tune of about $1,400 per resident in 2017.  This is a distribution of resources that fits every definition of socialism I can find, and I don't see Senator Thune condemning it.  Further, his disdain for socialism also stops at the enforcement of the ethanol mandate, which forces distribution of a South Dakota-created product onto a market, whether the market likes it or not.  That's classic  "command economy" socialism, and Thune promotes it wholeheartedly.  He touts ethanol as a wonderful product that has done great things for the country, but knows that the country probably sees it otherwise.  How else to explain his conniption fits whenever there's talk of weakening or eliminating the mandate. If ethanol were such a great product, it wouldn't need to be forced on consumers. Thune fears a free market approach to ethanol and needs  the safety and assurance of a socialistic government's mandate in order to satisfy the political demands of his constituents.  Thune embraces socialism, his selective contempt for it notwithstanding.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

It's Official. He's Up For Re-election. Can South Dakota Stand Another Four Years Of Donald Trump?

     No doubt a lot of South Dakota Republicans were plenty happy last night when President
Say, What?
How About Just Making Them Solvent Again?
Trump officially announced that he was running for re-election. 
Trump carried this state with 63% of the vote in 2016, pretty much in keeping with Trump's overall landslide in this country's rural precincts, which went more than 2-to-1 in his favorDuring the campaign, Trump declared "there's a war on the American farmer," promising to cut taxes on family farms, and calling them the "backbone" of America.  Trump even recently tweeted "I LOVE YOU" to America's farmers, but after two awful years in the commodity markets, I imagine that farmers are now taking his avowals with some skepticism.  Trump's professions of love have turned out to be  rhetoric. Our Governor Kristi Noem said last February that South Dakota's economy has has been "devastated" by Trump's trade wars. This state lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues during Trump's tenure in the White House. Considering how South Dakota's economy as gone into a stall during the past couple of years, mainly caused by the disastrous trade policies that Trump has put into place, you have to wonder if our state's voters will go with the Trumpian flow again next year.
     During his typically self-aggrandizing style that is unabashedly ignorant of facts, Trump last night claimed that the U.S. economy is "the envy of the world" and that "the American Dream is back."  The first claim is ludicrous.  According to the International Monetary Fund, global economic growth in 2018 was 3.7%.  The United States couldn't even make 3%.  So how are we the envy of the world?  Trump should envy the world and wonder why his economic policies can't even get the U.S. up to speed with the rest of the planet.  As to the "American Dream" being "back," I'd say the "American Nightmare" is more like it when it comes to economic conditions on the farm.  Dependent as South Dakota is on its agricultural base, our state's economy in 2018 not only couldn't keep up with the world, it grew at less than half the rate of the already tepid U.S. rate (1.3% vs. 2.9%).
     Given that Trump has failed to deliver on his promises to the rural population that dominates South Dakota, what is the basis of his appeal in this state?  Ken Blanchard, a political science prof at Northern State in Aberdeen last Fall was paraphrased in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader as saying "Trump has remained popular in South Dakota because he has been willing to spar with the political elite, including the media" and that "Trump is a voice for rural Americans who feel they've been insulted by politicians and media elites."  Emotional gratification can be quite the driver in political behavior, but once the thrill of it all has subsided, I hope rational considerations and expectations drive voting decisions next year.  One four-year term with this charismatic demagogue is long enough to feel good about ourselves even as we're losing the farm.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Hemp: An American Product For American Consumers. Think About That And Trump's Agenda, South Dakota Lawmakers. .

     I hope it won't take long for our Governor Kristi Noem to get up to speed on the potential
Governor Noem, 
It's Time For South Dakota To Get Aboard
for hemp production in this state. 
We're getting left behind in the rush to develop this product because of Noem's irrational, intransigient, obstinate and ill-informed rejection of hemp as part of South Dakota's mix of crops that our farmers can produce.  Considering that when Noem was in Congress she voted for the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's list of controlled substances and put it under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, her veto, as our Governor, of a bill allowing for its production in this year's legislature doesn't make much sense.  Noem has said that she has "very real concerns" that because South Dakota doesn't have the "regulatory" and "enforcement equipment and dollars to do this correctly we will be opening the door to allowing marijuana to be legalized" in South Dakota.
     This reasoning doesn't wash.  For one thing, she didn't seem to have these reservations when she voted in Congress to move hemp away from the DEA's oversight authority to the USDA.  For another, hemp production is quickly being legalized in almost every state in the country, with Iowa and Texas joining the list in recent weeks.  Law enforcement authorities in these and other states aren't expected to have much trouble distinguishing hemp from its psychoactive cousin marijuana.  It's hard for me to accept Noem's concern that South Dakota's law enforcement procedures and technology are so antiquated that we can't keep up with other states in making sure that commercial hemp isn't really marijuana in disguise.
     Meantime, we're getting left in the dust in the race for supplying the rapidly growing market for hemp-derived products in this country.  Last year's $1.1 billion market will nearly double to $2 billion in 2022.  Farmers are seeing some excellent returns on their hemp acreage, ranging from profits of $130 to $730 an acre, according to a recent study at Cornell University.  Certainly one of the main appeals of moving South Dakota into the hemp market is that prices are based on domestic, American demand, unlike the Chinese-dominated export market for soybeans that has become a political football in recent years.  In that context, Governor Noem's unsupportable refusal to allow hemp production in our state actually goes against her enthusiastic endorsements of President Trump's general agenda to generate American demand for American products.  What could be more consistent with that policy than raising hemp for our growing domestic market?
     South Dakota needs to get with the program and make itself one of the most prolific hemp-producing states in a country that's more than ready to consume it.  

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Upgrading Security At South Dakota's Governor's Residence Is An Okay Thought . . . But $400k For A Fence? Sounds More Like A Bill For Barricading A Compound

     In a state where "frugality" is practically the official byword when it comes to setting
Our House
Is A Very, Very, Very Fine House
public policy, the recent story that South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is looking into fencing off her official residence to the tune of four hundred thousand dollars comes across as extravagant and maybe even a bit self-indulgent--if not altogether self-aggrandizing.   
Looking around the internet, I find that the national average for installing chain link fencing, including a gate, comes to around $10/linear foot plus installation.  Installed, 200 feet of fencing should cost about $3 thousand.  At 14,000 square feet, (I haven't been able to find the outside dimensions) the governor's residence will require more than that, of course, but just plain fencing will cost a fraction of the amount that the governor's office is talking about.  Adding some extra touches for security should be considered, but at a price tag of $400 thousand?  Seems a bit much.  South Dakota's State Engineer and the Bureau of Administration are "reviewing security needs" but final decisions have yet to be made.
     There is some need to review security at the residence.  According to a story on the proposal in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader last week, break-ins have occurred at governors' residences in Michigan, California, Wyoming and Louisiana during the past couple of years.  It seems reasonable that the presently un-fenced South Dakota residence should have some sort of barrier around it, but security consultants can probably find ways of adequately protecting Noem and her official residence that won't cost the kind of money being mentioned.  A scan of available home security systems and their costs comes up with an array of designs that cost in the hundreds of dollars to install and require monthly charges ranging from $15 to $35.   What our state officials are contemplating to get to a price range of nearly a half-million bucks is hard to imagine, but it will take some convincing to make me believe that our governor needs more than the kind of security that can be bought by most homeowners in South Dakota for price tags that are probably negligible when charged to the state's budget for facilities like the governor's residence.
     Considering the cascade of natural disasters that have occurred in South Dakota in recent months, taking $400 thousand dollars off the top of the state's budget for an overblown security system is insenstive and cavalier. Noem should order a sturdy fence, a good and basic security system, some night lights that keep the place lit up 24/7--all the stuff that most pragmatic commercial and residential property owners do routinely--and live in her home with a sense that she's probably as secure as she'll ever need to be.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Trump Increases Soybean Production . . . In Russia.

     One front of President Trump's "so easy to win" trade war has had a victor, but it isn't the
Does He Know Beans About Trade?
United States. 
Recent news reveals that, among other countries, Russia is now stepping in to take advantage of the situation, which is all about soybeans.  Last February the Wall Street Journal accurately dubbed Russian soybean farmers "the surprise winner from the U.S.-China trade spat." America's nearly decapitated soybean industry, maimed badly by China's refusal to resume the huge volume of purchases that sustained American farmers for decades, now sits on the outside looking in as China turns to other sources for supplies.  While the Trump administration tries desperately to mollify American soybean farmers with a second straight year of direct cash payments to partially make up for the losses sustained in the farm belt because of Trump's obstinate devotion to a fruitless trade war, the American soybean industry looks like it may be headed for a fall from which it will never recover.
    The President's erratic, on-again/off-again, pronouncements on the progress of trade talks with China have accomplished one thing:  nobody knows what to believe when Trump speaks up about the trade war.  If Trump's frequently self-contradictory statements are a negotiating tactic, they don't seem to be doing American soybean farmers any good. Soybean prices are the lowest they've been since the Great Recession a decade ago and a third lower than they were just 5 years ago.  Since 2014, bean prices have fallen by $4/bu.  Multiply that by South Dakota's annual harvest of 270 million bushels and you have better than a billion dollar loss of revenues to a state of well under a million people.  It's little wonder that our state's economy has been stagnating of late, last year growing at less than half the rate of the United States overall.
      A resumption of  American soybean sales to China would help turn those numbers around.  Since the start of the trade war, annual sales of our beans to China have fallen by 85%, to less than 4 million metric tons.  The Chinese appetite is voracious, and considering food imports are of the essence when managing a population the size of China's, the need for secure supplies have to be uppermost in the minds of Chinese officials.  That they've been developing other sources, particularly Brazil, has been well known, but the recent Wall Street Journal report indicating that Russia is about to become a significant supplier should add to the anxiety in America's farm belt.  Last Fall The Iowa Agribusiness Network reported that Russia is selling 2.5 million acres of arable farmland to Chinese buyers "in a bid to replace the U.S. as China's most reliable soybean supplier."
Though some remain skeptical about Russia's capacity to become a world class soybean exporter, all should note that the scramble to fill the Chinese market is underway.  American soybean farmers and their elected representatives need to get moving on the quick settlement to the trade war they keep insisting should happen.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Banning Abortions Doesn't Work, Says Guest Poster Emily Tsitrian. Reducing The Need For Them Does.

     Abortion is like the death penalty. Two squeamish political issues facing modern
day society that seem to originate somewhere in the soul, and generally never shift without deep introspection, triggered by either a life event, spiritual exploration, or cultural norms.

For that reason, we really need to examine these issues through looking at return-on-investment related to what sorts of policies empirically reduce abortions, which I generally think most people agree is a reasonable shared goal.
     Abortion bans Do. Not. Work. and disproportionately affect communities of color and those living in poverty. Those with resources will always find a way around these bans, and I'm guessing any one of us knows someone who has taken matters into their own hands at some point. Not a pretty thought, and I'll spare you the details of how this is done, but I'm sure some googling or thinking back to your friend from middle school who strangely disappeared for a month then came back will spark your imagination.
    To reduce the underlying need for abortions (most effective), try the following:
1) make reproductive healthcare universal and accessible. empirically shown to reduce abortions. Period.
2) invest in anti-poverty policies. as communities move up the economic sphere, abortion rates decrease as bearing children becomes easier financially.
3) make sex education universal. it's horrifying how many young adults actually don't understand how human reproductive biology works, and abstinence-only approach has shown to be wildly ineffective.
Finally, if you insist that life begins at conception (not going to argue here, nobody's mind gets changed) and are looking for ways to reduce the rate at which you believe losses of life occur, abortion bans get you very low ROI. Here are some policy ideas to prioritize instead:
1) universal access to healthcare. we can debate how to get there until the cows come home, but you will achieve so much more lives saved by getting people to a damn doctor's office than the hypothetical ones "saved" by these bans.
2) climate change. Climate change is projected to create a humanitarian crisis like we've never seen before, and the clock is running out on our ability to intervene before it's too late.
     My point is that my own personal opinions (or yours) on the morality of abortion aren't going to change and these debates usually devolve into identity politics which doesn't usually produce results or open minds. However, I think anyone can agree that reducing abortions is generally a good thing, and that if we're optimizing for lives saved (not arguing a fetus is a life or not here, but for the sake of the argument let's say that it is), abortion bans are a poor use of political capital and resources and do not achieve the desired result of reducing human suffering.

Emily Tsitrian was born and raised in Rapid City, South Dakota.  She is an honors graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (2011, Economics) and is the implementation manager of a San Francisco-based health information services company.  She is also my daughter.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Mueller Report And Our Congressional Delegation. How 'Bout Them South Dakota Values, Thune, Rounds, And Johnson?

     With so many of its contents redacted, Volume 1 of the Mueller Report was actually a
Preach It!
Thune and Johnson Are Right There
With Ya
faster--if occasionally non-sequential--read than I'd expected. 
But even with many of its choice bits hidden, the report  has a "let's face it, Trump has to be impeached" quality to it.  There's too much to recap or condense here, but just one episode makes you wonder if commitment to the rule of law in D.C. has gotten so watered down as to be nonexistent.  It comes in the part where Trump told his lawyer Don McGahn to lie on the record about being told to fire Mueller.  Testifying about this to the Senate, Attorney General Barr said, "well, that's not a crime." 
     To that, I'd say the AG is nuts.   Common sense tells me that the President's behavior was obstructive, and Trump's effort to fool the justice system should be enough to call the President on the Congressional carpet.  But apparently there are enough politically-driven reps of both parties in Congress to hesitate over the issue of impeaching the President for (among other things, read the report) telling his subordinate to lie.  And how do South Dakota's congressional reps feel about the matter?  These people have long claimed they champion "South Dakota values."  Congressman Johnson last February even made it a point to boast that "our leaders may change, but our core South Dakota values don't."  Whether the values our congressional delegates treasure and promote are actually South Dakota-specific is debatable, but there's no doubt that "telling the truth" is probably high on the list of the "core" values that Thune, Rounds and Johnson claim to uphold. 
     So what have our value-embracing reps been saying about the Mueller Report?  Enough to rate several gags on the hypocrisy meter.  Thune, pretending to be a legal scholar and analyst, says that "there is no provable obstruction."  Does the senator need to be schooled on the fact that there's a third branch of government--the judicial--where judgements like that are supposed to be rendered?  Hundreds of former federal prosecutors are on the record as saying they would indict Trump on the basis of alleged actions detailed in the Mueller report, including the McGahn incident.  Does Senator Thune know more about the law than these people do?  The senior senator from South Dakota is in over his head and should heed the experts, not his political wishful thinking.  As to South Dakota values, what about them, Senator? 
     And speaking of South Dakota values, how does our junior Senator Mike Rounds see the impeachment thing?  Rounds' classic utterance on Trump's family values a couple of months ago, when he said that Trump paying hush money to a porn star proves that the Prez loves his family, is a real doozie from someone who's so proud of his state's values.  Basically, Rounds is such an unquestioning loyalist to Trump that you already know you can't expect much of an opinion on the impeachment matter.  Searching for one, you won't be disappointed.  Googling turns up nothing, a point about him that I covered here a couple of years ago in a piece I titled "Mike Rounds And The Mastery Of Nothingness." 
     As to Congressman Johnson, all that I could find was a commitment to read the Mueller report.   Speaking a few days after the report came out, Johnson said he doubted that it would change many minds, but that "facts matter."  Given the boatload of facts that are in the report, it would be nice to know how much they matter to Dusty Johnson.  So far the facts seem to be a minor annoyance to our state's federal reps, who swoon over South Dakota values when appropriate but freely abandon them when political necessity dictates. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

South Dakota Congressional Reps To Trump: Our Farmers Need "Equitable Short Term Relief." But Is It Equitable? And Will It Be Short Term?

      With a tone that swings between ingratiation and urgency, South Dakota's all-GOP
If You Say So
congressional trio, Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds, and Congressman Dusty Johnson, today sent a letter to the White House seeking financial help for their state's beleagured farmers. 
The jointly signed letter was sent to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and begins with a supplicating acknowledgement that  "a resolution of our trade dispute with China is our top priority." Then the reps immediately beg for mercy from the financial pain inflicted on South Dakota farmers by the trade war.  "Equitable short term relief" is how they put it.
     "Equitable" is a tough word to use in this scenario, because, as a synonym for "just" or "fair," it ignores the fact that South Dakotans, amply forewarned about Trump and his dangerous predilections toward trade wars, voted for him in huge numbers just the same.  Trump carried the state with 63% of the vote.  Now that all the predictions of financial nastiness-- mine  (in 2015 I said that Trump would be "a complete freakin' disaster for South Dakota") among many others-- have materialized, South Dakotans are asking the source of their pain for relief, all of it paid for by American taxpayers.  I support help for our farmers, big time, but equitable this is not.  Taxpayers have already gotten what amounts to a sizable tax increase thanks to Trump's tariffs, and now they're being asked to bail out many of the very people who supported the President in the parts of the country--the farm belt--that put him over the top in the electoral college.
     Trump's obsequious congressional trio from South Dakota has gone out on another limb in their solicitation for relief funds from the White House.  The "short term" nature of the problem is a questionable presumption.  There is no guarantee whatsoever that China will resume its purchases of American soybeans at their pre-trade war levels once this tariff spat is over.  To understand the magnitude of the lost business to China due to the trade war, consider that soybeans now are trading at their lowest prices since the Great Recession a decade ago.  Adjusted for inflation, they might be at their lowest level ever.  Hoping that China will return as the customer it once was isn't supported by news that Chinese agronomists and planners are working toward reducing their demand for soy products and developing sources in other parts of the world.  This tariff war is probably the best thing that ever happened to China's drive toward self-sufficiency in commodity production--and for Americans, particularly South Dakotans, it may well end up being the worst.  In a dilemma that is neither equitable nor short term, farm bankruptcies continue moving apace, probably accelerated by Trump's tariff wars and his enablers in Congress.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

South Dakota, SSR

     Having completely fouled up the production and marketing matrix that sustained South
Call It Humanitarian Aid
But It's Just Another Boondoggle
Dakota farmers for decades, our benevolent comrades in Washington, D.C. are trying to make amends.   
Coming up with one of the most socialistic schemes I've ever seen in the government's quest to support our farmers, who've been clobbered by the "so easy to win" trade war with China, President Trump yesterday announced that the United States government would buy American crops to offset losses in the farm belt.  Apparently, the plan is to abandon existing market mechanisms and let central planners in Washington decide the disposition of affected products--soybeans being high on the list--by buying them and determining their distribution.
     Though it's a far cry from the collective farming methods used by the Soviet Union during most of the 20th century, this aspect of intervening in the free market dispostion of agricultural products is Soviet-style farm policy.  There was no market in the Soviet Union for farmers, only government controlled supply and demand.  By effectively creating the oversupply of soybeans via its misguided tariff war, the Trump administration has now stepped in on the demand side and promised $15 billion worth of purchases of soybeans and other affected crops.  The president has said that the products would be distributed to "poor and starving" countries as a gesture of humanitarian aid.
     On the surface, you have to admire Trump's magnanimity, but I doubt that the president has a clue about the mechanics and logistics of this distribution scheme, nor a sense of the history of American food aid and its effects on the countries receiving it.  Federal agencies called upon to make this happen haven't disclosed even the outline of a program, which has to be an enormous challenge, considering the hundreds of millions of bushels of product that have to be harvested, stored, transported to ports, and shipped to myriad countries around the world.  I doubt this could happen in the space of a crop year.
     In the meantime, food aid has at best a checkered track record when it comes to doing much good in the countries that receive it.  The National Bureau of Economic Research studied this in 2012 and concluded that "U.S. food aid increases the incidence, onset and duration of civil conflicts in recipient countries."  A Foreign Policy analysis titled "Please Don't Send Food" reaches much the same conclusion.  Well-intentioned as they've been, U.S. food aid programs have created more problems than they've solved.  Using the "give the man a fish/teach a man to catch fish" dictum, helping develop food production techniques is probably a much better way of assisting undernourished populations.  Sending teams of ag-technicians instead of food is a common sense approach that most South Dakotans would probably understand and appreciate.  Tossing food at hungry people is simply a grandiose version of throwing rolls of paper towels at victims of natural disasters.
    Basically, the Trump administration is using the patina of public-relations to sugar coat what is essentially a payoff to farmers whose crops have become unmarketable thanks to the tariff wars.  It's a nice try, but it's not easy to fool free market adherents, who used to be called Republicans.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Is South Dakota's Trump-enabling Congressional Delegation Aware Of The Breakdown In Crop Prices? Why Are They So Helpless? Or Should I Say "Hopeless?"

     The grain and soybean markets are breaking down hard this morning, thanks to the
Why Are These Men Grinning?
Grain Prices Are Collapsing
mercurial behavior of President Trump. 
After months of assurances that tariff talks with China are moving in a positive direction, he suddenly tweeted over the weekend that he's preparing to increase tariffs on Chinese goods from 10% to 25% by the end of this week.  The result overnight?  A massive selloff in grain and soybean futures contracts.  Ag futures have already been under pressure because of the existing tariff war and large stockpiles left over from last year, a situation that has been largely unaddressed by South Dakota's Congressional delegation, including GOP Senators John Thune, Mike Rounds, and GOP Representative Dusty Johnson.
     A head-in-the-sand reaction is probably the only available option to this trio of Trump sycophants, who can't come up with a reassurance to their largely ag-connected constituents that all will be well with markets, someday, somehow.  Today's downside assault only underscores their inability to influence events that are driven by President Trump's irrational compulsion to wreck the matrix of international trade relationships that up to now have been a strong support for farmers and livestock producers in South Dakota.
     Senator Thune, in particular, has been whiny and weak-willed.  Last December he gave a less-than-table-pounding assessment of the situation, saying that "it's very frustrating and the more you drag this out without a deal, the more anxiety and uncertainty you create in agriculture."  Well, duh.  Since Thune made that stunningly vapid observation, soybean prices have dropped by about 75 cents a bushel, and that was before the weekend tweet by Trump that has taken them down another 20 cents this morning.  Checking out Senator Rounds and his  twitter account (@Senator Rounds) during the past few weeks is a waste of time if you're looking for something substantive regarding the tariff wars.  I'll be watching for a statement from Rounds and will be happily surprised if he says anything more than the perfunctory "we need some resolution" rhetoric that means nothing.
     Congressman Johnson's thoughts on the trade war with China are difficult to find, at least via Google.  As a candidate last year he was opposed to a trade war, but acknowledged that "now that we are in the middle of trade disputes, we should not merely concede defeat."  I'm not sure what parameters Johnson uses in assessing victory and defeat, but one glance at corn and soybean price charts makes it obvious that South Dakota farmers have been the big losers in our trade disputes to date.  I'm anxious to see what Johnson has to say to his constituents who are getting clobbered by the Trump administration's self-destructive trade policies.  It would be nice to see a break from the toadying and spiritless remarks so far proffered by our state's two senators.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Crop Prices Are Low, Farmers Are Planting, And The "New NAFTA" Is Stalled. Something's Gotta Give.

       Ag producers in South Dakota and the rest of the country have good reason to be fed up
Not So Fast
We've Got A Congress To Deal With
with the volatile state of trade negotiations touched off by President Trump. 
For all the puffery coming out of the White House about how his trade deals will be a boon for American farmers, markets have remained indifferent.   Soybeans--a huge crop in South Dakota, which produced nearly 300 million bushels last year--are still languishing at their lowest prices in the last 10 years, at less than half their peak in 2012.  Corn farmers, who produced 825 million bushels in South Dakota in 2018, are also dealing with markets that are on the low end of their trading range during recent years.  This is bad news for South Dakota's ag-dependent economy, because hundreds of millions of dollars worth of crop sales have vanished since markets peaked several years ago.
     During the interim, of course, President Trump has been regularly assuring farmers that his trade negotiating skills would dazzle them with greater opportunities for export sales.  Last January Trump crowed at the American Farm Bureau's annual meeting that his revamped version of NAFTA would "increase exports of . . . wheat . . . dairy . . . chicken . . . and products from farmers and ranchers all across the country."  Attendees seemed to be buying Trump's rhetoric, which doesn't exactly square with their experiences last year, when a $12 billion federal bailout was distributed to farmers that were stung by Trump's trade wars.  But that was last year.  Trump has assured farmers that all will be well in 2019, so we'll just wait and see, I guess.
     Meanwhile, this year's soybeans, scheduled for delivery in November, are still trading at  depressingly low levels.  Trump can talk, but the trade has heard it before.  As to the "New Nafta," it looks like the deal may be having its troubles.  President Trump can brag about the deal all he wants, but the Constitutional reality is that Congress has to approve it.  And the news about its prospects on Capitol Hill right now isn't very good.  Word this morning is that a delegation of Senators, including South Dakota's John Thune, is visiting the White House to urge President Trump to remove the metal tariffs that are part of the trade deal (USMCA) that will replace NAFTA.  That the delegation also includes Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, whose state is among the largest soybean and corn producers in the country, suggests the urgency that farmers feel about getting this deal done.   Grassley, in particular, is so adamant about the situation that he wrote last week in the Wall Street Journal that unless the metal tariffs are lifted, USMCA "dies."  
       If Thune, Grassley, and a few others get their way, of course, death is the fate that awaits Trump's infatuation with protective metal tariffs.  

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Brain Drain In South Dakota Is Abysmal Compared To Our Surrounding Neighbors'

     South Dakota has an awful track record when it comes to retaining our most well-educated
Second Worst
We Can Do Better
 Last week the United States Congress's Joint Economic Committee (Chaired by Utah GOP Senator Mike Lee) released the results of a study on "brain drain" in this country titled "Losing Our Minds:  Brain Drain Across The United States." It is comprehensive, comparative, and concerning to us South Dakotans, who are net losers of highly educated residents.  That freshly-quantified fact is a long-standing subject of local conversation and, apparently, political indifference.  Most recently, a measure (HCR 1001) to recognize South Dakota's talent drain in the 2018 legislative session failed in the senate.  It called for "statewide recognition of the migration of many young people from our state and urging state and local officials to take steps to counter that action and attract new residents to our state."
     No doubt many took the news with a shrug because there's a sense that the "brain drain" happens to be endemic to this region of the country.  The U.S. Senate study agrees somewhat--but a closer look at the rankings provided show that South Dakota is bleeding with particular intensity in the loss of our most educated residents.  We're second worst in the nation (behind Vermont) with a net loss of most educated (defined in the study as those in the top third of educational attainment) residents of 24%, meaning that's the percentage difference between "leavers" and "stayers."  The next worst state among those surrounding us is Iowa, coming in at 38th worst, with our other contiguous neighbors scaling up from there. Nebraska is 17th highest and Wyoming is number one at retaining its most educated.  As with GDP growth, we come in dead last when compared to our neighboring states.
     Is there a connection between brain-drainage and economic growth?  The linkage may be hard to quantify, but facts are facts.  That our elected officials in Pierre haven't made addressing this issue a priority suggests that many of them and their constituents are either comfortable with the status quo or don't have a clue about what's going on. Compared to regional and national economic growth standards of the post-recession era, South Dakota's gains have been awful.  With this kind of history and a state government that doesn't seem to care about moving forward with the rest of the nation's economy, most of our best-educated will continue looking elsewhere for better lives.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Guest Poster Rick Knobe Explains And Exposes Two Laws That Subvert The Democratic Process In South Dakota:

Enough on the Mueller Report, President Trump and Washington, DC. It is time to come back to South
Dakota and talk about the status of our Republic and participatory Democracy.
During the last two South Dakota Legislative sessions our representatives have attacked with enthusiasm and vengeance our ability to Refer their bad laws and Initiate our own ideas.
Two bills in particular target people who gather petition signatures. The first, passed in 2018 requires gatherers to register with the Secretary of State BEFORE they can start gathering. In the registration form are requests for personal information. Where you have lived, where you live now, proof of who you are, where you plan on living.....the list goes on.
This was passed under the guise of "Keeping Out of State people out. " Sounds OK on the surface but it makes it harder and much more invasive in our personal lives to be a petition gatherer.
It is a not so subtle way of our legislators telling us We AREN'T SMART ENOUGH to know good laws from bad ones, so to protect us from ourselves they making it harder for us to Initiate AND refer.
Last session they passed a bill REQUIRING all petition circulators to display badges with your name, address, and I believe phone number on it, so anybody can contact you to discuss what you are doing.
Both of these laws, intrude on our privacy. Imagine your daughter or granddaughter having to provide and display personal information to anyone merely because she wants to be a part of our democratic process.
The GOOD NEWS, there are petitions now being circulated to make these bad laws go away.
The leaders of this effort ARE South Dakotans.
The Website is:
It's the People Power Initiative.
I have seen the petitions being carried in Sioux Falls. Yes, I have signed them.
You have no doubt read stories of Voter Suppression going on in other parts of the country. Georgia for one.
The laws I mentioned above are the South Dakota version of Voter Suppression.
Our legislators are taking away our right to disagree and vote out the bad laws they pass, and making it nearly impossible for us to initiate our own laws.
It's a blatant effort to further isolate them from us.
We can't let these two laws stand.
Please find the petitions. Sign them. Tell your friends and family.
I know petition gatherers are needed. If i was going to be here this summer I would be knocking on your door for your signature.
This is important. We can't let our precious and nearly sacred right to Initiate and Refer be taken away.
Thanks for reading this.

Rick Knobe is a former mayor of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a long time host of a radio talk show based in South Dakota.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

South Dakota Congressman Dusty Johson Sees A Problem At The Mexican Border. Actually, Dusty, It's An Opportunity For South Dakota.

     Our South Dakota GOP Congressman Dusty Johnson has been bombarding Twitter
Dusty Points The Way . . .
. . . Backwards
(@Dusty Johnson) with pictures of himself in Arizona checking out the border security scene. 
Probably trying to undo some of the lingering political damage he created for himself among South Dakota Republicans by repudiating President Trump's "national emergency" declaration, Johnson has sent pictures of himself, grim-faced and earnestly gesturing, next to a stream near Yuma, Arizona, and then another one that he misleadingly claims is "on" the border watching construction of Trump's wall when he's actually more than a hundred miles north of Mexico.  Aberdeen-based blogger Cory Heidelberger in his excellent blog Dakota Free Press, does a nice piece exposing Johnson's misleading claim about his location.  So do a lot of Twitter respondents, me (@john tsitrian) included.
     But, politically understandable as it its, Johnson's transparent attempt at ingratiating himself with rank-and-file Republicans in South Dakota and party leaders in D.C. misses what should be an obvious point.  Many of these folks logjammed at the border could fill a need in South Dakota--and probably a lot of other states--where chronic labor shortages are a way of economic life.  As an employer I'm aware of the problem every day and I know just about all of my peers in South Dakota are trying to deal with it too.  A recent piece in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader is titled "Workforce Shortage Calls For Creative Recruitment."  Things got so bad in recent years that then-Governor Daugaard dedicated the entire year of 2014 to finding solutions via a series of "Workforce Summits" that brought community and business leaders together in cities around South Dakota in search of a solution.  Five years later, as the Argus Leader notes, we're still so short of workers that we need to seek more "creative" means of fixing the problem.
      And this is where the situation on our southern border comes in.  Dusty Johnson's approach may satisfy some GOP yearnings for excluding immigrants from Mexico and points south, but it's entirely wrong in the broadest economic and social contexts.  We need these people.  The New York Times this morning ran a piece  identifying cities around the country that have seen their economic status improved, big time, by immigrants entering their labor forces.  Brookings and Huron in South Dakota made the list.  The tie between economic growth and immigration has such a long history in the United States that the idea of categorically excluding entire families of refugees wanting to enter this country makes little sense.  Pre-Trump refugee admissions numbered around 100,000 a year.  Trump seeks to reduce that inflow to 30,000 in 2019.
     This makes no sense to a South Dakota employer like me, who has seen what has happened in Brookings and the expansion of its turkey-processing industry since the appearance of Karen refugees escaping Burma during the past few years.  By race, Asians now comprise 12% of Huron's population, no doubt a factor supporting Huron's claim as the "hub of a thriving regional economy."  There's no reason to think that similar pockets of economic growth in our state couldn't develop if we had enough workers to make them materialize. Congressman Johnson should take off his political blinders and realize that the "problem" at our southern border is a potential "opportunity" for his state of South Dakota.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

South Dakota Has A Low Tax Burden, But We're Spinning Our Wheels Economically. What's That About Low Taxes Stimulating Economic Growth?

      Those who believe that low tax burdens are the pathway to strong economic growth
SD Is Always Way Down There
Low Taxes Haven't Helped Much
haven't been watching South Dakota. 
Just in time for "tax day,"  the excellent researchers at WalletHub today came up with a table that ranks states in order of lowest tax burdens.  As usual, South Dakota turns out to be one of the lowest, this year ranking as the state with the 42nd lowest tax burden.  WalletHub creates an amalgam of property, sales, personal income and excise taxes for its comparisons, and followers of these data know that South Dakota typically ranks among the lowest 10 states in the country on this annual list.
     By itself this is pretty decent news, but in context, maybe not so much.  Our low tax status has been a perennially applied asset in South Dakota's economic marketing campaigns.  This year The Tax Foundation even lists South Dakota as #3 in its annual "Best Business Tax Climate" index, a fact that's promoted aggressively by our Governor's Office Of Economic Development.  GOED stresses our "stable tax climate" that "puts business first."  There's no doubt that South Dakota and its low overall tax burden are relentlessly pushed and widely known.  But has there been much of a payoff in terms of stimulating economic growth?
     Not really.  In 2017 (latest full year numbers I could find), South Dakota's economy grew by less than a percent (.3% to be exact).  This compares to a national growth rate of 2.1%.  It also placed us dead last among the states that border us, with (contra-intuitively if you're in the low tax/high growth school of thought) Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, which beat us out even though they rank among the top 15 states in overall tax burdens. You could say that much of this is a matter of the recent slump in our state's agricultural economy, but using a longer and broader scale that takes into account the swings in the farm and ranch sector, South Dakota's per capita growth rate from 2011 to 2016 was up less than 1% (.22%) compared to a national rate of 6.27%.  Both short and long term results contradict the notion that our low tax burden has done much, if anything, to generate even a competitive growth rate, much less a robust one.
     South Dakota's fixation on low taxes as a drawing card for new business and subsequent gains in economic growth has been a dud.  If low taxes alone were enough to draw investment into the state, businesses would be leaving high tax states by the droves in order to relocate to South Dakota.  That hasn't happened and it won't, mainly because tax burdens aren't the only thing that matters.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Q For South Dakota Farmers: Are You Tired Of Trump's Tariff Wars? Might As Well Get Used To It. Now The EU Is In Trump's Crosshairs.

     President Trump is at it again.  Not content with settling his still unresolved score with China and its trade imbalances with the United States, Trump is now threatening to slap tariffs on $11 billion worth of goods we import from the European Union, this time over mutual claims that each side is violating trade agreements by subsidizing its airline manufacturers, specifically Boeing in the U.S. and Airbus in the EU.  It's been a long festering dispute, partially adjudicated by the World Trade Organization, but still unresolved.  Trump is fed up with the delay and tweeted this morning (#@realdonaldtrump) that the U.S. "will now put tariffs on $11 billion of EU products!"
At It Again
   So, in other words, the macho posturing continues, never mind the collateral damage.  As South Dakota farmers have learned from Trump's gratuitous tariff war with China, that damage is inflicted directly on our ag industry. Soybean prices in particular have been hobbled by the Chinese exercise in pointless trade warfare, and from what European trade spokespeople have been saying, American ag products are likely to suffer when the EU announces its retaliatory tariffs in response to Trump's $11 billion broadside.  Responding last November after Trump threatened tariffs on European autos, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom made it clear that retaliation would be aimed at a variety of American products.  "It could be cars, it could be agriculture, it could be industrial products, it could be everything," she said, coyly avoiding specificity in the spirit of shrewd negotiation.  The Agri-Pulse website said at the time that the tariff threat "would add to ag retaliation woes," a sentiment that no doubt carries over to the potential disruption in our ag exports coming from this morning's threats from the president.
     In 2018, Europe became the third largest market for American ag exports.  Our nation's farmers sold $13.5 billion worth of their products to the EU, including nearly $4 billion worth of soybeans.  Given South Dakota's 6% share of American soybean production, that's nearly $250 million worth of product that our farmers sold from South Dakota. This market is actually more fragile than you'd think. Short term, world demand will still exist and other markets are accessible to American farmers.  Long term, the risk is that rising prices created by tariffs will push development of soy substitutes for both oil and livestock feed, permanently depressing demand for American soybeans.  Chinese agricultural researchers and producers are already making plans to reduce significantly the amount of soymeal needed to feed that country's immense hog herd.
     The uncertainty about soybean prices and supplies will only accelerate that trend. South Dakota's ag industry, already badly bruised by Trump's dispute with China, could be in for another whack if this EU situation doesn't resolve itself, and soon.