Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Is Detachment From Reality A Condition For Serving As A Senator From South Dakota?

     After reading today's op-ed in the Rapid City Journal, in which South Dakota Senator
Here's A Sliver For Ya
Mike Rounds argues that "the benefits of tax reform continue," I'm tempted to say the answer is "yes." Oblivious to reality, Rounds says the Trump administration's Tax Cut And Jobs Act is a "win for farmers." 
As his main example in the piece, Rounds touts how doubling the tax exemption on estates from $5.5 million to $11 million is one of those "wins" for farmers.  This is actually laughable, as The Tax Policy Center found that last year there were a grand total of 80 farms and businesses nationwide that would have been forced to pay taxes over the $5.5 million threshold.  As to South Dakota, about a dozen estates had to pay the tax in 2016.  I'm surprised the number is even that large, considering that we have some competent estate-planners in law offices around the state who probably could have used their skills to minimize the tax liabilities of those 12 estates.  A wealthy handful of people got a nice break, but the vast majority of smaller estates gained nothing--which is consistent with the overall weighting of benefits from the tax cut, the brunt of which went to the rich.  The Center On Budget And Policy Priorities just released its findings on the effects of Trump's reforms and concluded as much.
     And how have South Dakota farmers fared, in the context of all that's going on?  Even Rounds concedes that the tax law has given them just a "sliver of relief and certainty."  A sliver?  Yes, a sliver.  Good grief almighty, this man has some chutzpah.  Farm bankruptcies have doubled in the upper Midwest during the past few years and Minneapolis Fed analyst Ron Wirtz expects that trend to continue.  Farm income, as even Rounds concedes, has been down 50 percent in the past five years.  Meantime, trade uncertainty has the whole farm belt twisted in financial knots, with Nebraska farmers having already lost $1 billion to Trump's tariff madness according to that state's Farm Bureau.  I have yet to see an assessment of how South Dakota farmers are weathering this storm, but I doubt it's much better than their Nebraska counterparts.  And as farmers look off to Washington, D.C., to see how their Congressional reps are supporting them, Rounds reassures them with a "sliver" of relief.
     Meantime, as Rounds touts his party's tax cut, he overlooks a few points.  Mentioning the 2 million jobs created this year, he doesn't notice that more than 2 million were created in 2016, the year before Trump took office.  2 million is fine, but we've been there, done that--and under Obama's watch.  Rounds correctly notes that incomes are rising, but that's more a function of people working more hours, not because they're getting better pay.  Forbes notes  that real wages are actually falling.  Yes, unemployment is low, but the Brookings Institution says the aging population has accelerated retirements and boosted labor participation as a result.  Much of this is about demographics, not tax cuts.
     What Rounds misses altogether, and I have no doubt that it was intentional, is the financial havoc that the tax cuts are wreaking on our country's budget.  The tax cut that Rounds is so proud of has resulted in a shortfall of more than $200 billion this year, which is the amount of revenues the government lost to the GOP tax bonanza to the rich.  Our federal debt is about to explode, and Rounds is completely mum about it.  The Republican mantra about the recent gusher of red ink being a function of "entitlement" spending is a bunch of bull, which they'll try to sell to the public with the same gusto that they used for pushing their tax cut.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

That Was Zen. This Is Tao.

     Coming out of last weekend's G20 confab in Buenos Aires, President Trump was all puffed
Why Is Xi Smiling?
He Has Found The Way 
up by what he took to be good news about his self-defeating trade war with China. 
 Why self-defeating?  Because the trade deficit overall, and specifically with China, has gone up, up, up since Trump started his frenzied tariff attempt to reduce it. The September deficit with China hit a new monthly record. In the meantime, South Dakota's soybean farmers are getting financially ripped by this awful initiative and farm bankruptcies in the upper Midwest are the highest since the aftermath of the "Great Recession" a few years back.   Of those bankruptcies, Minneapolis Fed analyst Ron Wirtz says that "current trends suggest that this trend has not yet seen its peak."  I'm not sure what Trump was thinking earlier this year when he said "trade wars are good and easy to win," but I'm certain he ignored legions of analysts (including this blog, as early as 2015) who warned about this outcome.
     As to Trump's self-puffery coming out of Buenos Aires last weekend, our President's proclamation about his talks with China are overstated at best, delusional at worst.  Trump called it "an incredible deal," adding that it's "one of the largest deals ever made."  That hypo-maniacal rhetoric may have some political value somewhere, somehow, but it contrasts starkly with his own administration's official version of the talks.  This is actually kind of weird, as it looks like the real levers of power and policy are wielded by his staffers, who go about their business while completely ignoring what their President is blabbering to the world.  For example, Trump's claim that China is "opening up" and "getting rid of tariffs," was watered down by a White House statement that there was a temporary agreement not to raise tariffs further.  This is such a far cry from "getting rid of tariffs" that it raises the question of who's in charge at the White House.
     Meanwhile, back here at the ranch called South Dakota, our congressional delegates--the all-GOP consortium of Representative Noem and Senators Thune and Rounds--appear to be helpless when it comes to curbing the irrational zeal of President Trump.  They really let their state down by not forcefully complaining about what Trump's tariff war ("so easy to win,"--yeah, right) would do our farm economy.  I have no doubt that they could see this coming and yet there was nary a peep from them, or at least a peep that was loud enough for us to hear in South Dakota.  A meekly-worded "request" to Trump, asking the President to "actively pursue" re-opening soybean markets in China was sent last week to the White House in a jointly worded and signed letter by Senators Rounds and Thune, but there doesn't seem to be much of a reply other than Trump's boisterous claims about a trade breakthrough that never was.  It looks like taxpayer-funded payments in the way of compensatory relief are about all the help from Washington that our soybean farmers, who got the rawest deal imaginable, can expect.  As to the rest of us, it looks like all we can expect is more of the same.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Lies Continue To Compound, But Our Senator John Thune Says "It's Time To Move On." So Much For South Dakota "Values."

     The Mueller investigation has just put an unflattering spotlight on South Dakota
Swearing On The Bible
Republican Senator John Thune and his long time commitment to our state's "values."
  I've never bought the notion that there are South Dakota-specific values, but it's a theme that has long been popular with Thune.  It was a big item during his victorious campaign to unseat Democrat Tom Daschle in 2004, and it even swelled in geographical proportions when he gave a 2010 speech to a National Rifle Association gathering that was dubbed "a celebration of American values."  Given his rise to prominence as the number two Republican in the United States Senate, John Thune's commitment to "values" has long been a useful political adornment, to be flashed as necessary when campaigning and fully embraced when it comes to courting the financial favors of supporters like the NRA.  All of which is okay, of course, this being America and the way things work.
     Only problem is this.  Paying lip service to "values" when politically necessary and then turning around and abandoning them when the heat turns up reveals what a hypocrite Thune has turned out to be. The Mueller investigation has disclosed an ever-compounding and complex configuration of lies that have been used to support the Trump administration and its claims that there was no collusion with Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. We still don't know for sure about the collusion, but we do know for sure about the lies, and it's the lies that are really the point at this stage.  I mean, what is a more fundamental "value" than truthfulness, especially to an avowed Christian like John Thune?  It's encoded in The Ten Commandments and a quick google search will reveal dozens of Bible verses that emphasize the importance of speaking the truth as a matter of spiritual commitment.
     But does Thune care about the spiritual corruption among Trump's inner circle disclosed by that pattern of lies?  Doesn't seem like it.  Speaking to Fox News two days ago, Thune completely ignored the facts about lying among Trump's confederates and stuck to the no-proven-collusion meme, saying Trump "has argued all along there wasn't any collusion on the part of his campaign team or his administration with Russia.  And I haven't seen anything that disproves that,"  therefore, it's time "to move on."
     This is total baloney.  First of all, Thune himself says the final report should be "thorough and complete," so he can't possibly know what it does or does not prove.  Secondly, he dismisses a compellingly new dimension to the whole endeavor:  we're at the point now where lying to Congress
is in itself a crime that needs to be investigated further.  Laughingly,  South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham dismisses it as "a process crime," as if the modifier "process" makes it something other than a normal, garden-variety crime.  That ludicrous blow-off notwithstanding, we need to know if President Trump engaged in any kind of conspiracy to get his associates to lie to the American people via their tainted testimony to Congress and the Mueller team.  Apparently, our values-saturated Senator Thune doesn't think enough of this outrage to focus on it independently of the collusion investigation, but "process" or not, a crime is a crime is a crime.  Has John Thune gotten to the point where he can overlook a pattern of lying to Congress and investigators in his quest for "moving on?"  Expediency is the last refuge of hypocrites.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Internal Combustion Engine Is A Dead Man Walking. We South Dakotans Need To Look Ahead

    Now that South Dakota's soybean markets have been crippled by our elected leaders and
Fill 'Er Up
Hold The Corn
their demented trade wars, our state's corn producers should be looking forward to developments that will likely have some irreversible consequences for their markets and economic well-being. 
While the collapse in soybean prices is mostly due to possibly reversible geopolitical events, corn markets are soon to be vulnerable to global technological challenges that can be neither held off nor reversed. Specifically, that would be the development of a mass market for electric cars.  As it is now, corn prices and production are so dependent on converting grain into ethanol that corn and internal combustion engines (ICE) are economically and permanently intermingled.  Matt Merritt, speaking for mega-ethanol producer Poet, told Tri-State Neighbor last April that "biofuels and agriculture are tied together in a way that they can't really ever unravel."  In the same piece, Chester, South Dakota, corn farmer Ron Alverson said ethanol "created a lot of wealth.  It gave us a new market for our corn.  It's had a huge positive impact."
     That impact is reflected in corn production gains in the space of a generation.  Prior the federally mandated Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005, the U.S. generally produced around 10 billion bushels of corn a year.  Production rose by about 30% during the immediately following years, growing steadily until reaching about 15 billion bushels during the past few years.  About a third of that corn is used for ethanol.  What does that mean to South Dakota?  A lot.  According to the South Dakota Agricultural Statistics Service, our state's 2016 crop was worth $2.6 billion.  Without ethanol demand you can lop $850 million off that total.
     That's an awful lot of dependence on gasoline engines and their dubious future.  I note that during the current brouhaha over General Motors  and its decision to lay off thousands of American workers and shut down several factories that GM CEO Mary Barra said the savings would be dedicated to further developing its electric vehicle (EV) technology.  I also note that Tesla--a big player in electric vehicles in this country--is installing a charging station in the community of Wall, adjacent to South Dakota's Badlands National Park.  When GM is spending billions on EVs even as charging stations are going up in communities the size of Wall, you can figure that the future of this technology is now.
     How quickly the transition occurs in the United States is open to speculation, but it's moving apace elsewhere, particularly China.  A September piece in Forbes is titled "Electric Cars=The Future Gasmobile Killers," and it singles out China as the place where this transition is happening quickly due to government demands for fuel efficiency and the favorable contrasts between EVs and their ICE counterparts.  One example:  the drive train in a typical ICE car has 2,000 moving parts.  In an EV, the drive train has 20.  Other aspects discussed include improving battery storage capacity and steadily dropping battery prices.  Despite a fair amount of justifiable skepticism about the near term prospects for EVs going mainstream, the contrasts are favorable enough for a sizable segment of American car buyers.  The Tesla Model 3 waiting list is a queue of pretty impressive proportions:  American buyers number in the tens of thousands, just a small portion of the worldwide list numbering 450,000.
     Much as I doubt that I'll ever put my name on that list, I don't doubt that the future of electric vehicles should make them a sizable portion of the cars on American roads.  It stands to reason that billions of dollars pumped into their research and development will only make EVs more competitive in the car market.  That doesn't bode well  for the future of ethanol production.  Considering its nearly $1 billion dollar a year direct impact on South Dakota's economy, ethanol's future needs to be taken into account by long-term thinkers in this state.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Guest Poster David Ganje Shares A Memo He Sent To State Officials About Wind Energy Development In South Dakota

A Response To The State Study Of Wind Energy Development

The South Dakota legislature this year requested that the state
Legislative Research Council (LRC) provide a report on Wind Energy Development.  A draft Memo report on the wind energy subject was issued by the LRC.  I then provided the LRC written comments and suggestions to their draft Memo.  The following is an abridged version of my direct comments and suggestions to the state LRC:
"I have reviewed the LRC draft Memo.  The Memo mentions a requirement “to provide funding for the decommissioning and removal of the wind energy facility.”  No further discussion is advanced in the LRC Memo on the “decommissioning issue.”  In the recent past I have spoken and written on public project decommissioning. I will outline some of the concerns I have.  I would ask that you (the state LRC) review my comments and share this memo with legislative leaders as they consider and review your Memo on the subject:
Business projects involving some type of government oversight are usually regulated because of a project’s significant environmental or property rights impact.  The purpose of regulation is to safeguard the public in the event of a problem arising from such a project. End-of-life decommissioning is a common contingency event.  Proper planning, evolving around the full life of a proposed project, is key.  But government is not always well endowed with the skills to protect the public from end-of-life events.

No owner, officer or director of a for-profit business is naturally inclined to consider the mortality of a business project.  Even more challenging are government regulators who oversee a project.  Regulators do not always require good exit planning or end-of-business planning for regulated projects. This shortcoming is shown when one considers a government agency’s duty to require a financially viable exit plan. It might be a mining project, a wind farm or a pipeline.  One need only look at existing requirements for decommissioning a project, or for reclaiming the property at the end of the life of a particular project. By way of example, in four different U. S. General Accountability Office public reports over the years, the GAO was critical of several federal agencies ability to set or determine such things as the costs of reclamation for a project. I am glad to share these reports with you at your request.
Decommissioning requirements are written to assure sufficient funds will be available to carry out closure, for reclamation of disturbed areas, for waste disposal, and for dismantling and disposal of facilities.  A U S court recently stated that by requiring financial assurance the incentive for safety is obvious: the availability and cost of a bond will be tied directly to the structural integrity of a facility and the soundness of a mining company’s day-to-day operations.  Agencies however do not in each case require good exit plans for projects they regulate.  I submit that decommissioning is the most significant long-term aspect to the government mine permitting process.
A state official stated publicly that we don’t have a “broken system” in South Dakota. That is not the issue. The issue is not whether lots of decommissioning bonds are liquidated on a regular basis. The whole system is not broken. The issue at hand is, did the called-in bond do what it was supposed to do when an unfunded facility closure, insolvency, bankruptcy or contamination occurred?
Do agencies have the staff resources to conduct adequate review of financial assurance issues? Recent experiences in South Dakota spotlight this problem.   A few years back a state-licensed grain warehouse (in the old days we called them grain elevators) by the name of Anderson Seed Company went belly up. Authority for setting bonds was then and is now given to the SD PUC. The bond for Anderson had been set at $100,000. However, $2.6 million in claims were lost. The insolvency of the company resulted in a little over 4 cents on the dollar paid back to those South Dakota parties who lost money in the insolvency. The setting of the bond was inadequate. The payout to the innocent grain sellers/producers was inadequate. The end-of-life planning was not well done. This experience resulted in a change in the law, but that change is itself an incomplete effort at planning project end-of-life contingencies. The second example is the very recent oil well breakdown near the town of Wasta. A drill bit broke part way down an oil well. This break necessitates the plugging of the well to protect aquifers. But the operator had run out of money. The operator was required by the state to put up a nominal bond of $120,000 for each well for which it had obtained a permit. According to a recent news article, the state DENR reported that the bond money was not enough to address this problem. The official stated that the cost could be $2 million because of the broken bit and the 150 feet of drill pipe that remain in the hole about a mile into the earth.
Board members and state agency staff are often appointed to their positions because of their expertise and training in geology, law, hydrology, engineering and the like. Agency staff and appointed board members often have expertise dealing with normal board matters including wind farm permit applications, water rights disputes and similar issues.  It is unusual however for even a large agency to have expertise on financial qualification matters that must ultimately be set by an agency or commission and directed to the developer who is then obligated to provide the agency with end-of-project planning or safety assurances.  A regulatory system that sets a ‘statutory amount’ for this type of decommissioning contingency may be adopting too simple a solution.
I previously put before the public a recommendation.  This recommendation should be considered by the state legislature. My recommendation:  an agency, department, or commission required to set an operator’s financial assurance requirements shall evaluate in writing all financial assurance proposals using an agency-designated non-party (an outside consultant) with recognized experience on the matter of providing financial assurance.  A completed report and recommendation by an outside consultant would be a condition before granting or maintaining a permit or license. The costs incurred by the government in contracting with the independent outside consultant shall be paid by the operator."
 David Ganje of Ganje Law Offices in Rapid City, SD, practices in the area of natural resources, environmental and commercial law

Monday, November 26, 2018

Guest Poster Sam Hurst Has A Few Words To Say About The Greenhouse Effect


The basic geophysics and chemistry of the greenhouse effect have been understood by science for at least a century, and the consequences of rising atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases, have been charted and understood for at least fifty years (I personally did my first reporting on climate for NBC News thirty years ago). Every major scientific academy in the world understands the problem. Every physics department in every university in the nation understands the problem. Every wildfire ecologist, hurricane meteorologist, oceanographer, and eighth grade science teacher understands the problem. Luckily, we are safe because our President knows more about everything than anyone else knows about anything, and he is confident that rakes will save us.
It is easy to ridicule a scientific illiterate like Donald Trump. And it is easy to criticize the head-in-the-sand Republicans in Congress. They are the products of willfull ignorance and they are hostage to oil, coal and industrial agriculture. But this morning I am worried about a different aspect of the problem. I have studiously watched the response of cable networks to the release of last week’s administration report on climate change, and there is one conspicuous unifying pattern to the coverage. The panels of experts do not include a single scientist. We are forced to endure the babble of retired politicians, pollsters, generals, economists, former prosecutors, and this morning CNN even had the audacity to interview the Vice President of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. Over the weekend, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst gave us the brilliant insight that while she is not a scientist, “climate always changes.” Retired Pennsylvania Senator and perennial president candidate Rick Santorum gave us the expert insight that climate scientists are in the pockets of financial interests. In every case, anchors and reporters allowed the babble to go unchallenged because the anchors themselves are unprepared to speak to the science of climate. Their role is to give “each side” equal time to express their “opinion.” And yet, there is NEVER a voice for science on the panels. For once, I would like to see the scientific community included in a discussion about climate change, if for no other reason than to call out the babble and explain the facts. I would like anchors to ask three simple questions of every politician and pundit who presumes to speak about climate: (1) “Can you explain the ‘greenhouse effect.’” It is, afterall, an eighth grade science lesson. (2) “Can you explain the way that carbon dioxide and methane interact in the atmosphere.” Republican politicians invariably begin with the answer: “I am not a scientist.” As if ignorance is an excuse. This is where question (3) is so important. “If you are not a scientist, who do you rely on for scientific advice about scientific matters? Who should we call to ask how you came to such dumb conclusions about climate change?” Does Senator Thune draw on the expertise of climate scientists at SDSU, SDSMT, or Mitchell VoTech? Someone ask him…”Name one single physicist or atmospheric chemist who gives you advice.” By way of followup, astrologists, dentists and chiropractors do not count.” Does Senator Rounds rely on climate experts at the South Dakota Corn Council, or the Soybean Growers Association? Let us call your chosen advisors and ask them about their advice to the nation’s leaders. Throughout the recent campaign Dusty Johnson made light-hearted commercials that included his children. Perhaps we could ask them, or their middle school science teacher, if they advise the Congressman-elect. Climate change is real. The science is irrefutable. The dire consequences we face in the next century are the result of fossil fuel-based industrialization and human activity. The Industrial Revolution brought enormous wealth and improvement in the human condition. But now the chickens have come home to roost, and we either launch a new revolution of conservation and alternative energy, or we face the harsh judgement of our children, and their children. The time is over for babble like “climate always changes.” and “government regulation is bad.” If you don’t understand the greenhouse effect and the dynamics of the atmosphere, ask your children. And, allow scientists to explain science on television.

Sam Hurst is a Rapid City-based writer.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

On Deficits, Debt and Denial--South Dakota's Congressional Reps Have Let Us Down.

     Some people think federal deficits and debt matter.  Some don't.  A lot couldn't care less.  Then there are those who jump from one classification to another, depending on how the political winds are blowing.  Take South Dakota's all-Republican congressional delegation.  Please. (You're supposed to laugh at the old Henny Youngman canard, but I'll understand if you'd rather cry instead.)  This bunch of so-called deficit hawks were hell on earth about federal deficits when it suited them.  Senator John Thune on his website pontificates that "every South Dakota family must live within a budget, and I continue to believe the federal government should do the same."  Two years ago Senator Mike Rounds solemnly warned that "the debt crisis" is here.  Representative (now Governor-elect) Kristi Noem once conspicuously voted to de-fund the federal government, effectively shutting it down for a month in October, 2013.
Way To Keep The Drive Alive
Thanks For The Fiscal Discipline, Pubs

     You once could classify this trio as belonging to a group that supposedly cared about federal deficits and the ballooning debt.  But that was then and this is now.  Their uniform support for the Trump administration's budget policies has betrayed their real inclinations to not really give a damn about the federal debt.  Our congressional trio's fealty to their political paramour Donald Trump led them to swallow his nonsensical promise to eliminate the national debt.  He said he would do it two ways:  One was by renegotiating trade deals that were destroying the American economy, and two, by delivering a tax cut that would drive economic growth to 6 percent annually.  This blog, along with countless other observers and financial experts, including the federal Office of Management and Budget, understood that Trump's projections were a complete scam-o-la,  but our congressional reps chose to ignore me (lol, like they even care, much less know who I am) and their own experts at OMB and buy into the politically mesmerizing promises of Donald Trump.
     As to the first promise that Trump made, the one about favorably renegotiating trade deals, you can ask South Dakota's soybean farmers how that one went.  All that that phony-baloney hype did was cause confusion and uncertainty, killing soybean prices, and spilling over into our financial markets, which have been gyrating like crazy in recent weeks.  And on that second point about how those tax cuts would stimulate growth?  Ha.  That six percent delusion has been exposed as the hoax that it was.  The result?  Our federal debt continues to explode, unchecked by an illusory surge of tax revenues that never materialized from Trump's fantasyland growth forecasts. Tax revenues have actually declined through August, both nominally and adjusted for inflation This year's growth rate--stimulated by that tax cut--has averaged a bit over 3%, but Kiplinger, along with just about all the other market and finance forecasters I follow, expects it to slow down to the 2-2.5% level next year.  I don't predict markets, but I can't ignore the fact that major stock indexes are at best even for 2018, and in some cases down a bit.  Sanguine about the economy, they are not.
     In the meantime, South Dakota's congressional mix has changed, with Republican Congressman-elect Dusty Johnson replacing Kristi Noem.  I hope he shows more commitment than his predecessor and his counterparts in the Senate when it comes to conventional Republican dedication to fiscal discipline, because so far our GOP reps have been textbook models of inconsistency and downright hypocrisy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Khashoggi Killing Is Creating A Moral Crisis. How Are South Dakota Senators Rounds And Thune Dealing With It?

    South Dakota Senators Mike Rounds and John Thune, both Republicans, have
Rounds, Thune
Testing Their Faith
a moral crisis on their hands.  
President Donald Trump thinks overlooking the murderous deeds ("highly probable" per the CIA) of Saudi Arabia's leader in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is "all about America first."  He said that today--adding that "we're not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars of orders" to punish the Saudi government for its complicity in the murder of a journalist.  That's serious money, of course, but it may not be as serious as Trump's hyperbole portends.  CNBC notes that while Saudi Arabia is the world's top buyer of American weaponry, "it doesn't spend as much as Trump boasts."  According to CNBC, Saudi Arabia spent just $9 billion on American arms between 2013 and 2017.  The figures Trump cites are essentially a "potential wish list" for future sales and that since Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia last year only 6 deals worth about $4 billion have been signed.  Considering that annual sales for America's defense and aerospace industries top $700 billion a year and that Lockheed Martin alone sold $36 billion worth of arms in 2015, Saudi Arabia's business probably doesn't stack up as a number that should make us worry about "the destruction of our economy" as Trump hyperbolized today.  Nor should it be the catalyst for abandoning our moral principles.  

     This is a conundrum that South Dakota's two U.S. Senators can't be taking lightly.  As of July, 2017, both were listed as sponsors of a Christian organization called Capitol Ministries that accepts the notion of an institutional separation between church and state but strongly supports with biblical reference the idea of an influential relationship, meaning that government officials must apply their Christian values to their secular decisions.  The head of the organization, Ralph Drollinger, has said that "God only hears the prayers of righteous Christians."  That being the case, how can our two senators, presumably striving to maintain their standings as "righteous Christians" who can influence our government to behave according to  their religious principles do anything but reject the notion of  business as usual with the Saudi rulers who the CIA believes are responsible for murder?
     Do Rounds and Thune have anything to say about this?  President Trump's waffling rejection ("maybe he did it, maybe he didn't") of the CIA's conclusion that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince ordered the murder hasn't gone down well with a number of Senators, including some Republicans.  Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said, "I'm pretty sure this statement is Saudi Arabia First, not America First."  Lindsey Graham said, "it is not in our best interests to look the other way" in this case.  Utah Senator-elect Mitt Romney called for a "withering sanction" of Saudi Arabia.  Meanwhile, I haven't seen much from either of our South Dakota senators about the matter, which is testing their publicly-avowed Christian values and challenging their commitments to the moral authority of their respective churches.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Guest Poster David Ganje Has Some Thoughts On South Dakota State Boards

The Problem With South Dakota Boards
‘Changes in regulations must await a demonstrated need.’ This is more than
South Dakota Attorney David Ganje
a concept but is the actual practice and the mantra of most governments. In keeping with the principles of government restraint, adopting new regulations must await a serious event which only then calls for new regulations.  A preferred ideology is to respond to events after they have happened.  Otherwise, it is argued that premature action is experimentation and not the job of government.
Should a state board or a commission appointed by the governor be more than a policeman or a Justice of the Peace?  That is the question. Examples are necessary.  One must look at what power or authority is given to a board. In this instance I will use two boards and discuss their significance, and present to the reader the legal power granted to them.  The state Water Management Board and the Board of Minerals and Environment each consist of citizen members appointed by the Governor, not all of whom may be from the same political party.  So the beauty is that these appointees are not lobbyists, government employees or hired guns.
Both named boards have an advisory function giving the public, the legislature and the governor advice, gathering information, and making recommendations.  In addition the boards have a rulemaking and permitting function.  This is extraordinary in government.  A group of citizens is in effect managing environmental and water policy.
How extraordinary this is was borne out by my recent experience.  I was privileged to just complete the teaching of a seminar on natural resources and environmental law to Czech law students at a university in the Czech Republic.  In the seminar I compared and contrasted South Dakota’s water and natural resources law with that of the Czech Republic.  In South Dakota authority for water use permits and mining permits as well as overseeing permit holders and permit holder problems lies with the two citizen boards I mentioned.  That’s a lot of power in the hands of appointed citizens of the state, not in the hands of government employees.  Some of the seminar students had a hard time appreciating this difference in the law.  Their struggle has to do with the fact that all natural resource and environmental laws in their country are controlled by government agencies and its employees -- not by boards or commissions.
Is the preferred ideology of responding to events after they have happened the better way to preserve property, prevent loss and prevent harm to the environment?  No.  I have over the last couple of years provided numerous examples of historical events causing financial or other harm for which state government has provided no adequate response, and have suggested rules which will prevent future harm.  These examples can be found in the various articles and blogs on my website. The subject of several of my suggestions is the lack of preparedness for accidents, spills or so-called disasters. In almost each instance the suggested points have not been addressed.  Alas these boards have the full authority to anticipate such problems and legal authority to act in advance; that is they have the power to make fair, open and public rules.  The rulemaking process itself allows for public input.  Secret rule making is not permitted.  And the boards are not burdened with lawmaking pressures of lobbyists hanging on their every word, interest groups petitioning them with incessant ‘concerns’ and other normal challenges of publically elected politicians.  Boards are blessed with the legal authority to be agents of change in the fast evolving world of environmental and natural resource management.  They need to be more than just policemen or Justices of the Peace. 
Boards are not using their advisory and rulemaking authority to their advantage and to the advantage of the state.  Boards are given the legal framework to propose rulemaking but prefer to manage the status quo.  This exceptional citizen rulemaking power does not exist in other governments and in other countries.  This is indeed an opportunity squandered.
David Ganje of Ganje Law Offices in Rapid City, SD, practices in the area of natural resources, environmental and commercial law

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Market Goes Up? Trump Takes Credit. Market Goes Down? The Finger-Pointer-In-Chief Blames Everybody In Sight.

     Back in the '80s I had a respectable 11-year run as a market-maker on the trading floor of
Up, Up And Away
What's That Popping Sound?
the Chicago Board Options Exchange. 
Early on during that span of alternating episodes of exhilaration, deflation, madness, insanity and, ultimately, profitability, the main lesson I learned is that the stock market follows no predictable rules.  I also learned as a corollary that many market  participants and observers often stick to predictable behavior, and that their inflexibility usually comes at a cost.
     Our Market-Maker-In-Chief, aka President Donald Trump, is a perfect example of predictability when it comes to assessing the movements of the stock market.  When the market goes up, he takes credit.  When it goes down, he blames everybody in sight.  What he doesn't seem to get is that over the long haul, markets are apolitical.  Kiplinger took a look all the way back to 1900 and concluded that "when it comes to your portfolio, it doesn't matter which party wins the White House."  Trump's vacillation between taking credit and assessing blame for market moves is politically fruitless, because the market doesn't really give a damn about him and his political fortunes.  Focused instead on Trump's policies, the market had a pretty decent run during his first year in office but is now closing out his second year with little fanfare, having given up all of its 2018 gains during the past month or so.  Policy hasn't changed much, if at all, but prices are breaking down sharply.  Next month they might go right back up.
     It may be totally irrational, but as a very bright guy (I think it was John Maynard Keynes) once observed, "markets can remain irrational for far longer than you can remain solvent." Considering the vagaries of Trump's checkered business career, spanning as it has several politically divergent administrations, it's surprising to me that he keeps trying to tie the market's behavior to the ebbs and flows of the political tides.  Yesterday he tried to blame the current selloff on Democrats who recently captured the majority in the House of Representatives and their apparent intent to investigate him.  I say "nice try" while remembering that the stock market was running up like crazy during the late '90s when President Clinton was not only being investigated, but actually got impeached.
     The stock market didn't care then and it doesn't care now.  Actually, if Trump were really that concerned about the market's behavior he'd be looking at how his trade and fiscal policies are affecting it, not on the political make-up of the U.S. Congress.  Policy, not politics, is where the rubber hits the road on Wall Street.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

     Our President Trump today wouldn't take a 55-minute car ride from Paris to a cemetery
Trump Couldn't Make It
Too Rainy Or Something
that contains Americans killed in World War I. 
The President was put off by some rain.  French, German and British heads of state made the journey to a place near Belleau Wood, where a relatively small force of U.S. Marines clocked a German army unit that was headed for a takeover of Paris.  But not Trump, whose repeated bravado supporting veterans has been lately exposed as politically useful rhetoric, and not just by his snub of the American doughboys who bled their lives into French soil a hundred years ago in a war that officially ended November 11, 1918.  As a vet myself (U.S. Marines, Vietnam, '66-'68) the ground where Americans bled to death seems hallowed, or, as President Lincoln noted when he spoke of the ground at Gettysburg, "the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it."
      His indifference to the legacy of our troops a century ago has plenty of symbolic content.  But the actual reality of his administration's approach to material issues involving both veterans and active duty personnel exposes his cynical exploitation of them as political tools useful during his campaign.  For one thing, Trump this year made it easier for predatory lenders to run financial roughshod over our men and women in uniform by easing government oversight of those lenders.
      There are other other shortfalls in the conversion of rhetoric to reality. Last Summer the Washington Monthly noted that "Trump is sabotaging a veterans' health care law that he just signed" by backtracking on its requirements once the law went into the executive branch's guardianship.  At the same time, Forbes headlined that "Veterans Sustain Two Serious Defeats From Trump And The House To VA Health Care."  To me the most critical one involves the creation of a commission doing an "asset review" of current VA facilities and programs.  It was signed into law last summer and seems to be the VA equivalent of military base reduction endeavors in recent years.  Forbes notes concerns that Trump will stack the commission with allies focused on closing VA facilities and moving veterans healthcare to the private sector.  This is a move opposed by every vets group I know of, including The American Legion and  the Veterans of Foreign Wars (of which I am a life member).
     Yet, in spite of the opposition of those who are most affected by administration healthcare decisions, Trump keeps holding out the potential for privatizing their healthcare. Trump is shrugging off their concerns, which seems consistent with the brush-off he gave to the ceremony memorializing Americans who fulfilled their tragic destinies of bleeding to death for their country while fighting on foreign soil.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Billie Sutton Drew A Lot Of South Dakota Voters From Out Of The Woodwork.

     The takeaway from last night's near-sweep of South Dakota's election is that there's a
Is She Good For The Economy
And Will It Be Good For Her?
lurking progessive presence in this state that will generate a lot of votes for the right Democrat running in a statewide race. 
The contrasts between the gubernatorial races in '14 and '18 are stark, according to the Secretary of State's website.  In 2014, Republican Daugaard got 195,000 votes while his opponent Susan Wismer collected 70,000.  Last night provided an eye-popping difference.  Republican Kristi Noem got 172,000 votes, underperforming her predecessor by more than 10%, while Democrat Billie Sutton captured  161,000, more than doubling Wismer's 2014 numbers. 
     Sutton's gains only came partially from the Republican crossovers.  The increase in total votes made most of the difference.  In 2014, 277,000  votes were cast.  Just 4 years later that number popped to 339,000.  I know the conventional wisdom is saying that this year's election turn out was pumped by huge national issues, mainly centering on President Trump, which is reasonable and probably right.  But with respect to the huge swing toward Sutton, it looks like a lot of those 62,000 newly engaged folks who didn't bother voting in '14 moved toward Sutton in a big, big way yesterday.  My take?  After years of complacency brought on by the relentlessly predictable Republican pounding of Democrats in statewide races, a lot of South Dakota's voters have been dulled into acceptance of the inevitable and didn't bother showing up in 2014.
     Sutton changed all that, and I hope for good.  In victory, the state's GOP, led by Governor-elect Noem, has seen first-hand that voters will either cross their party line or just plain get off their duffs to vote if the right Democrat is at the top of the ticket. The huge Republican registration edge  (47-28) notwithstanding, if Noem's administration doesn't markedly improve on the stasis that has been the story of South Dakota's economy for a decade, lagging way behind economic growth levels experienced by the overall national economy, those lurkers who showed up yesterday could easily pile on next time around.  I hope Dems will keep hammering away at the economic themes as they apply political pressure to their Republican domineers in Pierre.  A good, engaging "where's the beef?" approach to economic performance is long overdue in our state's political discourse. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

As Long As You're In Town, Mr. Vice President, Could You Tutor Kristi Noem And The Rest Of Us On How Medicaid Expansion Works In Indiana?

     Vice President Mike Pence will be dropping by for a campaign event aimed at bolstering
Works For Indiana
Why Not South Dakota?
Republican Kristi Noem's run for South Dakota governor. 
Looks like he'll be here at the Rapid City airport in one of the hangars on Monday the 5th.  I'm sure they'll be taking note of the fact that I'm not there, lol. 
     In my absence, I hope somebody will bring up a politically delicate but important subject while our Veep is in the neighborhood.  I've noticed here for the longest time that South Dakota is one 17 states that hasn't taken advantage of Medicaid expansion, which has been available since the Affordable Care Act came into being.  ACA, of course, is the acronym for that oft-scorned healthcare overhaul that is known as Obamacare, which has routinely been trashed by Republicans since it came into being during Barack Obama's administration.  In fact, looking at a map of states that have and have not signed up for this deal, it looks like every one of the no-thank-yous come from the swath of reliably red states that have been dominated by Republicans during recent years.  Not surprising, except for a couple of major exceptions, one of which just happens to be Mike Pence's home state of Indiana, where he just happened to be governor in 2015 when Indiana signed up for Medicaid expansion.  And this is where the subject just happens to be suffused with some political delicacy.
     Pence, whose conservative Republican creds are well known, spent two years negotiating a deal with the Obama administration.   The effort finally materialized into a set up that looks like it should warm the cockles of every conservative heart in America, including those of our chronically recalcitrant Republicans in South Dakota who seem to break out into a frenzy of reflexive revulsion anytime an Obama-associated program gets brought up.  Heck, our Republican governor Daugaard thought highly enough of the prospects for expanding Medicaid to come up with a decent plan to bring the program into South Dakota.  He was meeting with some stiff resistance in our state's GOP-dominated legislature, but put the whole idea aside when Trump won the '16 election on a platform conspicuously supported by a plank devoted to shutting down the ACA, thereby ending Medicaid expansion altogether.
     Trump's subsequent failure to end ACA, however, left expansion hopes intact.  Governor Daugaard has been unwilling to restart that fight, but now that his successor will take over in January, it's time to bring Medicaid expansion back on the table.  This is just too good a deal to pass up, as then-Governor Mike Pence figured out in Indiana.  No doubt if Democrat Billie Sutton wins this election, it will be on his agenda with some force early on in his administration.  Republican Kristi Noem will be a tougher sell--especially considering that she's already stated that her goal "is to get people off Medicaid," which sounds like expanding the program is a pretty low-priority item on her agenda.  However, I haven't heard her say she'd explicitly nix the idea, and given Indiana's success with the program inaugurated by Pence, I'd be surprised if Noem isn't at least open to considering it if she becomes our next guv.
     Soooo, even if I have to miss the festivities at the airport hangar on Monday (dang, what did I do with that invite?), I hope that if a Q and A materializes, somebody brings up medicaid expansion.  Pence's success with the program should certainly give Noem pause before she rejects it out of hand.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Former GOP Legislator Mitch Richter Says Amendment W Is The Right Choice.

Yes on Amendment W is the Right Choice

Amendment W is a truly bipartisan proposal that will protect South Dakotans from corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse. It was written by South Dakotans at forums held across the state. Over 50,000 conservative, progressive, and independent voters came together to place it on the ballot. Even though I’m a former Republican legislator and my co-chair, Darrell Solberg, is a former Democratic legislator, we have united in support of Amendment W. We know that corruption does not wear a party label.

Amendment W will ban lobbyist gifts to legislators. South Dakota is one of only a few states where lobbyists can wine, dine, and entertain legislators with no limits whatsoever. We’re not paying lawmakers our hard-earned tax dollars so they can eat free steak and drink free booze supplied by special interests in Pierre with their own agendas. It’s time we clean up Pierre so the citizens are put first, not the lobbyists.

Amendment W will prohibit the use of state resources for personal gain and permanently ban the personal use of campaign funds. Contrary to current thinking in Pierre, government exists to represent the will of the people, not to pad the pockets of political insiders.

South Dakota is one of only seven states without independent, ethics law enforcement. Putting an ethics cop on the beat to crack down on corruption could save South Dakota taxpayers $1,300 per year, according to an Indiana University study. The legislature created a government accountability board early last year—but they exempted themselves from oversight. Amendment W closes that outrageous loophole by ensuring that fair and independent ethics law enforcement applies to all public officials, no exceptions.

To ensure full transparency, final ethics law enforcement reports will be available to the public and all meetings of the government accountability board will be required to follow South Dakota’s public meeting laws.

The Argus Leader rightly notes that our legislature has done very little to address the problem of unaccountability in Pierre. But it was disappointing that the editorial board refused to meet with supporters and opponents of Amendment W to ask us questions and dig into who is on each side of the issue and why. The campaign opposed to Amendment W is ninety-nine percent funded by lobbying groups. The lobbyists know that Amendment W would drain the swamp.
After the emergency repeal of Initiated Measure 22, the anti-corruption act passed by a majority of South Dakotans in 2016, voters were left in the dark. Instead of “replacements,” we received a slew of watered-down bills given the seal of approval by the very lobbyist interests we need to rein in. Our lawmakers clearly prefer that decisions be made in the hallways of the Capitol without our voices being heard. Amendment W prevents the legislature from overturning voter approved laws without letting voters have the final say.

The need for Amendment W is clear. After the dual, tragic scandals of EB-5 and Gear Up, you have to ask yourself: how many times are we going to get robbed before we install a security system? Lobbyists and insiders might love politics-as-usual, but weak oversight coupled with a lack of transparency has bred a culture of corruption that has already cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Corruption, misuse of office, and government waste have taken a clear toll on our state. Politics-as-usual is no longer good enough. We need solutions to these problems. Amendment W will give us the transparent tools and assurances we need to know that our government is serving us rather than special interests, bringing us one step closer to our state’s motto: “Under God, the People Rule.”

Read Amendment W for yourself at Then, I hope you will join us in voting Yes on Amendment W this November.

Mitch Richter is co-chair of the Yes on W Coalition and a former Republican legislator

Monday, October 29, 2018

Now Kristi Noem Pits Neighbor Against Neighbor. She'd Rather Divide Than Unite.

     Talk about uncool, crass, desperate and divisive.  Republican gubernatorial candidate Kristi Noem just put out an ad featuring two of her opponent Billie Sutton's neighbors bad-mouthing him as some sort of political phony.  One says "the Billie you see on TV is not the real Billie."  Another says that Sutton "campaigns as a conservative then will turn around and govern as a liberal."  The point of the spot is to use people in Sutton's neighborhood as props, claiming that Billie is "too liberal for his neighbors." That claim that is ridiculous on two fronts.  First off, two antagonistic individuals do not a neighborhood make.  And secondly, the totality of his neighbors in District 21 admire Sutton enough to have sent him--unopposed--to the state senate in both of the last two elections.  That the GOP couldn't field a candidate against him in a state that's saturated with Republicans says a lot about the centrist and moderate leanings of Democrat Billie Sutton.
Sutton's Neighbor
Bad-Mouthing Him

      What it tells us about Noem is that she's hoping the voting public won't independently examine Sutton's record to find out just how "liberal" he actually isn'tHe separates himself from the commonly held liberal attitudes toward abortion rights and the Second Amendment.  He has an 80% rating from South Dakota Right to Life and a 79% rating from the National Rifle Association.  Siding with those organizations 4 out of 5 times makes him more than just "safe" when it comes to taking sides in the "culture wars."  He also unequivocally rejects the notion of a state income tax.  I don't get where that neighbor of his claims that Sutton will govern as a "liberal," because it's pretty clear that on major issues that matter to most South Dakotans, Sutton won't be programmed by partisan ideology.  He certainly isn't afraid to go against the grain of conventional Democratic thought on big issues of great importance to the party itself.
     This is where the most compelling difference exists between the two candidates.  Noem's campaign rhetoric is pure Republican orthodoxy with no maneuvering room. That makes finding some common ground among South Dakotans a tough option to pursue.  No doubt this appeals to her most ardent GOP base, but I believe there's a big slice of Republicans in this state who don't see inflexibility as an asset.  That shows up in recent polls that have the candidates tied, which is practically unheard of in a state where party registrations so lopsidedly favor Republicans. Noem's ham-handed "neighbors vs. neighbors" ad is further alienating the moderates from the diehards in her party.  Her risk is that dividing them will turn out to be a self-conquering strategy as Sutton claims the "big middle" and takes over a governorship that has been calcified by Republican inflexibility for a few decades too many.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Noem v. Sutton, Part II

     Last night's PBS faceoff between Kristi Noem and Billie Sutton was their second and last
Sutton, Noem
He's Pragmatic, She's Political
televised debate as they head into the final days before their contest for governor of South Dakotal. 
There was a third party on stage, Libertarian candidate Kurt Evans, but his rhetorically fumbling presence, devoid as it was of substance--he several times acknowledged that he had no thoughts or ideas on the issue at hand--made him a nonentity for my purposes.  I'll focus on Democrat Sutton and Republican Noem.
     Both candidates came off a bit better than they did Tuesday night at the KELO-TV debate.  Noem was more measured.  Sutton was much more comfortable.  Noem happily laid off her annoyingly repetitive claim that Sutton is a Bernie Sanders clone, bringing it up only once.  Sutton was self-assured and spontaneous, brushing off the Sanders remark with a quick "I don't know how Bernie Sanders got into the conversation," mercifully ending the topic.  If it came up again, I missed it.  Noem wasn't quite so forgiving of our sensibilities when she repeated her debunked claim that Sutton supports a state income tax.  For the umpteenth time, Sutton denied it and stated unequivocally that he does not support a state income tax.  Noem's repetitiveness is starting to come across as one of those lies that, mouthed often enough, will come to be regarded as the truth. Noem is insulting the intelligence of South Dakota voters by resorting to that tactic.
     Noem's dubious claim that Sutton supports an income tax relies on the Democratic Party Platform and the fact that as the head of the party, Sutton favors its contents. But the platform doesn't call for an income tax, per se.  In it, Dems believe that  the state should embrace "a tax system which taxes all income levels fairly as allowed by the South Dakota State Constitution."  The platform is a response to the well-established fact that because of our heavy reliance on sales taxes, South Dakota is one of the most regressive (meaning those with lower incomes pay a greater proportion of their earnings in taxes than those with higher incomes) taxation states in the country.  But note that the platform doesn't say "taxes all incomes."  It says "taxes all income LEVELS (emphasis mine)."  There's a big difference.  Merely dropping the sales tax on food, as the platform states, would go a long way toward fixing regressivity.  The loss in revenues to the state could probably be made up by revoking many of the special interest sales tax exemptions that amount to a loss of $1.1 billion in revenues to South Dakota.  Our state is perfectly capable of spreading out the tax burden more fairly without imposing an income tax.  Noem is all wet on this one.
     The conflict over Medicaid expansion was an instructive one, as it revealed that Noem's hostility to the idea (which she repeatedly dubbed "extending Obamacare") wasn't based on facts, but on ideology--along with a reflexive disdain for anything associated with Obama.  She claims that she wants to lift people up from the need for Medicaid, but didn't actually present a plan to do so, other than clinging to the hope that she can lift South Dakota's economic status to the point where people who don't make enough to buy health insurance now would be able to do so after she brings the overall economy up to speed.  Sounds good, but it ain't gonna happen.  On a per capita basis, South Dakota's economy has gone nowhere under Republican control this decade and I doubt that Noem can come up with a solution to fix that soon.  Sutton, on the other hand, knows that getting people on health insurance via Medicaid makes for a healthier workforce and more efficient healtcare system.  Heck, Mike Pence instituted Medicaid expansion in Indiana while he was governor there, and he's about as rigidly conservative and anti-Obama as any elected official in this country.  I don't get why Noem has to be so high and mighty about this.
     In sort of a partisan switcheroo, Sutton came across to me as the pragmatist while Noem is stuck with the position of ideologue.  As Sutton has been saying all along, his background is down home and practical.  Noem has indeed become the Washington politician, stuck on partisan rhetoric and learned political behavior.  Sutton won this thing on both style and substance points.  I sure hope he's our next governor.