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Friday, April 30, 2010

Curd, Nelson, or Noem: Vote Now! Poll Ends Saturday Night

The choice is clear: one syllable, two syllables... or a syllable and a half?

Just a day and a half left on the latest Madville Times poll, which asks you which GOP candidate has the best chops for Congress? R. Blake Curd, Chris Nelson, or Kristi Noem—vote now in the right sidebar!

You have until the SNL closing credits (repeat tomorrow night; go make out, wait for Betty White on the 8th!) to vote. Click in, speak up, and we'll dissect the numbers on Sunday.

Chris Nelson Rediscovers Franco-Philosophical Bliss

From Secretary of State Chris Nelson's Twitter feed:

During my college days at SDSU I was part of the college Republicans group. Returned to camus this evening to...

Good to see Nelson is abandoning the false absolutism of his conservative friends and taking up French writers again. Or maybe he was thinking of e. e. cummings....

Roberts County Auditor Not "On Top" of Finances... But "Not Doing a Bad Job"

Following up on Roberts County's violations of state law uncovered in a scathing state audit, HJ Pro Voice interviews (in a text document unnecessarily plugging up bandwidth in bulky PDF format) with inattentive auditor Dawn Sattler. The interview is included with HJPV's summary of Tuesday's county commission meeting.

HJPV assures us "THERE IS NO MONEY MISSING" [caps in original]. Sattler ascribes the budget violations to the beleaguered jail construction project. According to HJPV's meeting summary, the jail project was apparently supposed to be a money-maker for the county. Roberts County expected to make $360,000 from housing state and federal prisoners. HJPV reports from the commission meeting that a new facility in Hughes County has taken most of the federal prisoners and that state prisoners have only generated $4500 for the county this year. Oops.

Back to Sattler: she says she didn't do her financials the way she should have. She says she wasn't forceful enough in opposing things she should have. She promises she'll keep a closer eye on the budget... but the fact remains that, in violation of state law, Sattler allowed let the county play shell games with $765,000.

Sattler is running for reëlection. She says she's not doing a bad job. Really.

Tea Party Promises Exactly What I Hoped: Dem Wins!

Teabaggers, 9-12ers, tricorner hatters, whatever the heck we're supposed to call this seething mass of predictable socialism criers, keep doing what you're doing. If you do, we'll see more Democrats win in November.

Case in point: the Arizona U.S. Senate race. Four-term Senator John McCain, is forsaking his maverickiness to cling to his seat. He holds an 11-point lead over talk-show challenger J.D. Hayworth (that's PPP's read; an Arizona outfit finds McCain with a 26-point lead). McCain's approval numbers in his own state are worse than President Obama's numbers nationwide. What's saving McCain so far? Hayworth's favorable ratings are worse. Plus, while Hayworth leads among conservatives, McCain leads overwhelmingly among moderates.

McCain also polls strongly against the Democratic challenger Rodney Glassman. But if the Teabaggers can push Hayworth over the top in the primary, Glassman has his best shot of winning in November.

Unseat a four-term senator, depose the most recent GOP presidential nominee... and replace him with a Democrat. Maybe all this conservative foment really is astroturf... secretly funded by socialists! Ah, if only we liberals were that tricky... and that rich!

Ruth Haile Runner-Up in National Poetry Contest

Hat tip to Horseshoe Seven!

Our local press gets all excited when South Dakota grads get jobs with the National Football League. But there are a whole bunch of South Dakota students who are already in that other NFL, the National Forensic League, who do big things all the time that go mostly unnoticed in the press.

This week's example: Ruth Haile, a junior at Sioux Falls Lincoln HS, took second place in the national Poetry Out Loud contest this week. The oral interpretation veteran went to Washington, DC, to recite three poems to famous judges like Garrison Keillor and Alfre Woodard. Haile'sspeaking ability won her $10,000. I've seen Ruth's work—I've judged her at NFL contests and at one level of the state Poetry Out Loud contest. She worked hard to earn this prize. Congratulations, Ruth!

Haile plans to go to university and work in humanitarian aid. Her hiring by the Peace Corps or UNICEF probably won't receive much television or blog coverage. But I suspect her service, supported by the skills she has developed in the NFL, will do more real good for more people than the hoopla surrounding the hiring process and activities of that other league.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Make Iran Happy: Wimp Out on Energy Security Legislation

If you think Republicans are happy that Senator Graham is reneging on his support for energy security and climate change legislation, imagine the party going on in oil-rich Iran:

Badlands Blue gets it right: divestment is nice, but if we're serious about cutting off Iran's money for murderous mischief, we need to get serious about energy policy.

South Dakota Wages Lowest in Nation

Funny Dakota Roots doesn't mention that...

Put an R after that B—Anna Bahney writes a bang-up article on South Dakota's last-in-the-nation wages, $16.53 an hour. Ms. Bahney knows whereof she speaks: marriage brought her to Sioux Falls after living and journalizing in New York City (NY state: $25.48 an hour, fourth highest in the U.S.) and Washington, D.C. ($32.37 an hour, best wages). Even our neighbors in North Dakota, where they have a state income tax and crappier weather, kick our butts at $18.75 an hour.

Why do our wages suck? Bahney finds South Dakota economists to lay out some reasons:
  1. Low brain power: "...what we're missing is the high knowledge-based and high human-capital type services," says USD economist emeritus Ralph Brown. Bahney cites Richard Florida, who finds a corrleation between high wages and high education levels. (Note to folks hoping to raise SD wages: Russ Olson and the Republicans voted to balance our state budget mostly by hacking education.
  2. Bad policy: "We attract out-of-state firms with our low corporate and low personal income tax. But it is a development strategy that will leave us in last place," says Augie econ prof Reynold Nesiba. He says we need to quit chasing smokestacks and focus on "economic gardening," growing our own entrepreneurs. (That's what I've been saying!)
  3. Wide open spaces: Doc Brown says this is the biggest factor. Bahney explains: "greater density leads to greater worker productivity and higher wages attributed to what economists call 'agglomeration.' In cities, there is a knowledge spillover as a result of greater specialization." (Now explain how equally desolate North Dakota beats our wages by over 13%.)
  4. Low taxes: Again, Doc Brown: "The results indicate that state differences in tax burden are capitalized into wages. This indicates that workers living in high-tax states receive a compensating wage to account for the higher tax burden." Tax increases don't automatically kill growth; the market compensates.
  5. No unions: Says Nesiba, "Power matters in economics, and workers have very little power here.... Workers able to come together and bargain collectively for higher wages and benefits is an important factor."
Brainy stuff: read the full Bahney article.

South Dakota's average 2008 wage was 76% of the national average. Our cost of living generally floats around 90% of the national average. So even if you factor some of our lower costs, South Dakota still comes out behind. I don't have 2008 cost-of-living data handy, but when I factor by the current COL, I find South Dakota wages only go 84% as far as the national average.

You can thus say that our low cost of living means we don't really have the lowest average hourly wage in the nation; factor in cost of living, and we tie with Mississippi for the fifth lowest purchasing power by hourly wage, at 84% of the national average. By cost-of-living adjustment, worse off than South Dakota are Montana, Vermont, Maine, and, worst of all, Hawaii, where folks have 58% of the national average purchasing power. Pierre's propaganda about our great low cost of living misses the fact that people moving here will find it harder to make ends meet in South Dakota than they will in all but four other states.

Speaking of moving here, check this out: South Dakota has the second lowest number of foreign-born immigrants in the country. Just 1.9% of our population has come from another country. The only state with a lower proportion of foreign-born immigrants is West Virginia, with 1.3%. Nationally, 12.5% of us are from elsewhere.

The Migration Policy Institute data I'm looking at includes estimates of illegal immigrants. The data show states with higher immigrant populations tend to have higher wages. This makes sense: if people are coming to America, they may tend to pick states with more economic opportunity. And they apparently aren't picking South Dakota.

Read more!

Noem and Rounds on Stimulus: Someone's Off Message

The state Dems find the following contrast amusing. So do I.

GOP candidate for U.S. House Rep. Kristi Noem tells KXLG Radio the stimulus package is a failure: "We’ve lost over 8,000 jobs…It absolutely has not done what they said it would do.."

Why should I undermine her campaign-slogan argument... when I can let good Republican Governor M. Michael Rounds do it for me?

Each one of those [stimulus] projects creates job opportunities, so there are people that are working in South Dakota that would not have had a job if it wouldn't have been for that stimulus package [Gov. M. Michael Rounds, quoted by Shawn Neistadt, "Report Shows 7000 SD Jobs Saved, Created," KELOLand.com, 2010.04.19].

Rep. Noem, Gov. Rounds, GOP Message Management on line 1....

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mayor Huether: My Ambivalence

Mike Huether won the Sioux Falls mayoral race yesterday. After finishing less than a percentage point behind Kermit Staggers in the main election two weeks ago, Huether beat Staggers 57% to 43% on a wave of higher than expected voter turnout (more Sioux Fallsians came out to vote in the runoff than in the first vote—what voter fatigue?). No word yet from Camp Huether on when the new mayor will conduct his first gay wedding ceremony....

I could get excited about Huether's victory. Sioux Falls friends told me that Huether appreciates the role of the city in supporting the arts and cultural events that make Sioux Falls a relatively attractive place to live, unlike Staggers, whom my friends portrayed as a cultural neanderthal.

Politically, I could look at a Democrat governing the biggest city in South Dakota as a plus. Yes, I know the mayoralty is a non-partisan office, but let's change out of our Mayberry pants: Mayor-elect Huether will directly govern a fifth of our state's population in our biggest media market. Having a Democrat in that visible position helps the party and puts one more heavy hitter in the chute for future races. Republicans do the same calculus. Deal with it.

I could also get excited about Huether's practical repudiation of local Teabagger power. His stunning Epp factor of 2.5 showed that Teabaggers don't yet have the organizational power to form a winning local majority. Staggers espoused the sort of low-tax, minimal-government positions that should have gotten the Glenn Beck masses excited. So much for "We surround them!" The tricorner hat crowd stands a chance of lucking out against multiple opponents who divide other constituencies, but they can't win a straight up, mono e mono campaign.

Now I left a few comments on some other blogs (including NotMyManMike.com, which had already deleted its comment before I hit the sack last night) that could have been construed as support for Huether. But I never came out and advocated for Huether... because for all the reasons I might be glad he won, I still can't trust him. Not yet.

Huether is the kind of politician I wish my Teabagger neighbors could beat. He's the Sioux Falls version of a Wall Street fat cat, the corporate big shot who buys an election with the fortune he made in South Dakota's usury industry. Huether comes from First Premier Bank, which has the gall to assert that charging people 79.9% interest wasn't their choice but something forced on them by credit card reform. Huether comes from an industry that thrives on deceit and wage- and labor-crushing anarcho-capitalist deregulation (see also South Dakota, Russia).

Had I the pleasure of voting in Sioux Falls yesterday, I might have had to think long an hard about where to put my graphite smudge. Kermit Staggers represents a lot of things I disagree with... but so does Mike Huether. I can often trust a Republican political science professor like Staggers (I'm thinking of you, Ken!) more than I can trust a rich corporate Democrat like Huether.

South Dakota's financial status quo stinks (more on that later). A poli-sci prof arguably has less interest in preserving that status quo than an elite product of that corporate system. Sioux Falls just elected the latter.

That's why I can't greet Huether's victory with three cheers. I hope his practical actions in office will prove me wrong... and will get those potholes filled!

Update 08:42 CDT: Mike Huether's current Facebook status: "Congratulations, Mike! Knew you could do it! So proud of you!"

Now come on, people: if I wrote on my own Facebook status, "Congratulations, Cory! I'm so proud of you!" you'd make fun of me, wouldn't you?

Road Warrior Gordon Howie Brings T-RV to Madison!

A less than eager reader has declared suggesting any association between responsible Madison citizens and GOP gubernatorial candidate Gordon Howie constitutes "character assassination."


If you buy that, then Gordon Howie shot an awful lot of characters at last night's Lake County Republicans' Lincoln Day Dinner. He parked this big rig smack dab in front of the shindig at Nicky's:

Gordon Howie's big T-RV in MadisonDang! Go big or go home... and Gord goes big! Gotta respect that.

Gordon Howie's big T-RV getting gas at Madison F&M
I caught Howie's T-RV gassing up at the F&M in the afternoon. I didn't catch a shot of the beastie parked out front of Nicky's, but I'll say this:
  1. The T-RV was darn good advertising, parked right there on Highway 34, in front of all those cars at Nicky's. Anyone driving by would have thought, "Wow! Nicky's must be hosting a Gordon Howie rally! Or maybe a Tea Party!"
  2. The T-RV make Munsterman's lettered windows look awfully small. At least I think they were Munsterman's; I couldn't tell from the highway. Item #1 on Team Munsterman Wednesday briefing: Never ever let Gordon Howie make you look small.
  3. Gordon at least knows how to lose a primary in style!
  4. Daugaard has a million bucks or more on hand—where's his shrink-wrapped RV?
  5. Heck, Gordon just cut his travel budget 80%: he can skip Super 8 and camp in the state parks!
  6. Life and Liberty Tour... hey, what happened to Pursuit of Happiness? Or just Lockean Property? (Say, while I'm thinking of it, where do Gordon and his compatriots stand on property rights, eminent domain, and the Keystone pipelines?)
I really, really, really should have bought a press pass for the Lincoln Day Dinner. I would have loved to see the faces of our reliable and cautious Lake County Republicans coming to dinner past this audacious rolling billboard for the movement that wants very much to crash their party. Those expressions were probably something like what you'd see on Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's face if Kevin Weiland and I parked an RV out front of the Dems convention proclaiming, "Dems for Single-Payer in 2011!"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Excel Dairy Permit Denied; Veblen Dairy Dozen Declaring Bankruptcy in ND, MN

Just one minute ago, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency unanimously affirmed these findings of fact and upheld the denial of permit to Excel Dairy in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.

This denial comes on top of a month of deep doo-doo for Veblen's Dairy Dozen. The company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on its Five Star Dairy near Milnor, North Dakota, and on its Excel Dairy near Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Excel Dairy was shuttered due to environmental violations (review the file on that mess at the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's proposed findings of fact).

These filings come in addition to a Chapter 11 filing for the Veblen West CAFO this month and the placement of the Veblen East CAFO in receivership in March. Dairy Dozen chief Rick Millner says the bankruptcy filings are a legal business strategy to keep the doors open and maintain the possibility of paying creditors:

“We could quit and walk away from it and nobody would be getting paid,” [Millner] said. “Or we can reorganize and get our plans put together with everyone getting paid in full. As long as we are in the fight, we can pay people. As soon as we get knocked out, people are going to go unpaid” [Kevin Bonham and Stephen J. Lee, "Excel Dairy Hearing Set for Tuesday in St. Paul," Grand Forks Herald via Agweek, 2010.04.26].

With Excel dairy's permit denied, Millner has fewer doors to keep open. Let's hope the courts can still hold him accountable for bad environmental and business decisions and make sure the Dairy Dozen's creditors get paid their due.

Buhl Makes DC Mag as Bright Light in SD Politics

Boy, if Pastor Hickey frets that the Huether mayoral campaign's hiring of Hildebrand Strategies signals an effort to turn Sioux Falls into a gay haven (and really, what would be wrong with that? Let's make some money!), he must see gay rights advocate and blog maven Angie Buhl's candidacy for State Senate in neighboring District 15 as a real red alert (or is that pink alert?).

Sure to add fuel to the Hickey's fire: Buhl gives this interview to The New Gay, a D.C. alt-queer publication that refers to Buhl as "An Ally in South Dakota."

Now I can see that one sentence being turned into a banner headline for mailings and ads for anti-Buhl (and anti-gay) campaigners. But I am darn glad to see it. The article shows Buhl is exactly the kind of Democrat I love, one who isn't afraid to stand up for justice for all.

Buhl tells The New Gay why she's challenging incumbent Dem Kathy Miles:

I really love South Dakota. I find myself talking about it non-stop when I leave and I think it’s a really great place. The district that I’m in is in Sioux Falls, which is our biggest city. It’s downtown, the central part Sioux Falls, so it ends up being pretty Democratic and Progressive. The district had always been represented by people who are not Progressive, however, even though they’re Democrats, and they’ve sort of been able to pass that off by saying the district doesn’t support that. Luckily we know that the district is very progressive, and ultimately no one else has been willing to call out the incumbent on some of these issues and the fact that she hasn’t represented her constituents, and I’m excited to do that ["Politics: An Ally in South Dakota," The New Gay, 2010.04.26].

Those who will want to portray Buhl as some single-issue candidate will be disappointed. She says her biggest issues are affordable housing and wind energy. But she isn't backing away from her strong progressive stances on gay rights and abortion. Far from triangulating or tempering her views, Buhl is determined to make the case to voters that unapologetic Progressive politics are actually good for South Dakota.

As I said, that's my kind of Democrat. Fellow Dems, if you're still disappointed Kevin Weiland didn't bring that conversation to the statewide primary, maybe you'd like to chip in some cash to help Buhl lead that conversation in the heart of Sioux Falls. Maybe, just maybe, Buhl is the new Democrat we've been waiting for.

Nelson Promises More Web Info from Washington

I've previously praised Secretary of State Chris Nelson for putting the Web to good use in providing voters with useful information. Y'all seem to agree: the SDSOS candidate list is one of the more frequently clicked exit links from this blog. Now candidate Nelson wants to take that technowonkery to Washington. As Bob Mercer noted last week, Nelson has offered a "Plan to Restore Faith in Washington."

Now if that were Gordon Howie writing, Restoring Faith would mean not expelling God from the Capitol. But that's a different race... and this is Chris Nelson. Among his proposals for good government:
  • Publish on office website a listing of all meetings with lobbyists (including all staff member meetings with lobbyists).
  • Publish on office website in advance a listing of all official travel of Rep. Nelson and staff.
  • Publish on website a weekly listing of all public events and meetings attended by Rep. Nelson.
  • Conduct at least one open town hall public meeting per month. Locations would move throughout South Dakota
  • Release South Dakota citizen office phone call tallies on major legislation.
  • Staff will be given direction to place the highest emphasis on troubleshooting constituent problems with federal agencies.
Nelson sounds so much better when he's not saying silly things. These innocuous proposals play to his strengths. His Web suggestions and constituent service proposals are natural extensions of his work as Secretary of State. They also play to the disgruntlement he knows is out there with the incumbent, who Republicans and even some Democrats complain has not been accessible as they'd like their Representative to be.

The proposals sound pretty white-bread... but roll with it, Chris: you know that's the candidate you want to be. You know deep down you aren't a Teabagger. You know you don't want to shout "Nullification!" to the Calhoun conservatives at the 9-12 meetings, where you and Jerry Prostrollo may be the only rational pragmatists in the room. You know the politics of Kitty Werthmann and Nancy First are a dead end. You know South Dakotans need competent civil service, not the grandstanding and Revolutionary War re-eneactments your opponents favor.

And you know that's why you're ahead of Noem and Curd, and why you're tied with SHS in the polls. You won't beat her with partisan wingnuttery (Chris Lien? Bruce Whalen?). You'll beat her with nice... and cool Web ideas. Don't give in to the Dark Side, Chris! Stay sane, stay center.

Smartest Elephant in the Room II: Which Republican for House?

New Madville Times poll! After your great enthusiasm for the GOP gubernatorial poll, it's time for a GOP House poll: "Which Republican is best qualified to represent South Dakota in Congress?"

Once again, I'm not asking which one will win in June. I'm also not asking which one you'll vote for in June or November. Even if you're a Herseth or Marking voter, I'd like your assessment of the qualifications of the three Republican candidates for South Dakota's lone House seat. Chris Nelson, Kristi Noem, or R. Blake Curd—which one's best qualified to represent our fair state in Washington?

Vote in the poll in the right sidebar, then leave your comments below. Voting ends Saturday night, so click now!

City Postpones Hiring Lawyer for Bike Trail Eminent Domain

Two phrases I do not like to see in the same article: eminent domain and recreation trail. Those phrases were on the Madison City Commission agenda last night. The city was to consider authorizing a contract with Jencks & Jencks, P.C., to handle "legal and eminent domain actions" in acquiring the land necessary for the proposed Lake Herman bike trail. The contract approved up to $30,000 for the legal work (with the possibility of amendment upward), with hourly pay for the lawyers at $80.

But that item didn't stay on the agenda. At the beginning of the meeting, City Engineer Chad Comes asked for its removal.

The agenda change probably means little, probably just some more paperwork needs to be done before offering a contract to the law firm.

But if the city is even thinking of using eminent domain for the bike trail, they have a long row to hoe before getting the public (or me) on board.

Are Bloggers Journalists? Test Case A-Comin'?

Eager reader alert: Did you hear about the Apple software engineer who took an unreleased iPhone prototype home... and forgot it at a bar? The tech bloggers at Gizmodo got hold of the little techno-gem and scooped everyone.

Now police (not just any police, but California's cyber-SWAT team!) have seized Gizmodo writer Jason Chen's computers from his home on a search warrant claiming to be investigating a felony related to sale of the iPhone prototype.

Gizmodo's company, Gawker, already has on its war face. Says Gawker chief Gaby Darbyshire in a letter to the police:

...under both state and federal law, a search warrant may not be validly issued to confiscate the property of a journalist....

Jason is a journalist who works full time for our company. Abundant examples of his work are available o the web. He works from home, which is his de facto newsroom, and all equipment used by him there is used for the purposes of his employment with us.

...In the circumstances, we expect the immediate return of the materials confiscated from Mr. Chen [see full letter at Gizmodo.com].

...and that letter is subscribed with those yummy words, Copies to counsel.

Says Gawker founder and prez Nick Denton, "Are bloggers journalists? I guess we'll find out."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is on board, too, saying the warrant was patently illegal. But Business Insider Henry Blodget points out that the California cops may be ready to duck any such very interesting argument and concomitant charges that they violated California's shield law. The warrants speaks of a felony, but they do not specify that they are seeking the sources Chen used ot get the story. The focus of the investigation may be on whether the iPhone was stolen and whether any money that changed hands around it constituted an illegal transaction.

Now the original Gizmodo story of its acquisition of the phone sure doesn't sound like theft. They say the guy who found the phone in the bar waited to see if the owner would return, then took it home. Next day, the finder called Apple repeatedly and got no help. Weeks later, Gizmodo paid the guy $5000 and broke the story.

Besides, EFF is ready to argue that the iPhone isn't typical property; it falls under the definition of protected "information or materials" that journalists gather.

Theft? Journalism? Violation of anyone's rights? I can't wait for the resolution of this legal question.

Update 12:33 CDT: Read more from Simon Owens, who talks to some big-time blog editors about what the Chen search and seizure means for blogging and journalism.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hated and Poorly Debated: Nelson, Curd, Noem Blow Smoke on Health Care

Health care reform is hated by all... all three GOP candidates for South Dakota's House seat, that is. They evidently hate it so much, they can't even debate it right. Compare what they say to RCJ's Lynn Taylor Rick with what they were actually thinking.
  1. R. Blake Curd: “At this point, we don’t know the extent of the bill and its reaches. It is a significant increase in the governmental intrusion into health care."
  2. Chris Nelson: "Because you exist you must purchase insurance? That particular mechanism is not constitutional."
    • Translation: I don't want to talk about why insuring everyone is a good idea. I don't want to confuse people with policy details. Keep it simple, shout Constitution!, and hope no one asks about all the other things required of people by dint of their existence, like wearing clothes and signing up for Selective Service.
  3. R. Blake Curd, on the insurance mandate: "You can’t criminalize any behavior you don’t want to happen because you think it’s a bad idea."
  4. Kristi Noem, on banning exclusions for pre-existing conditions: "I haven’t really evaluated it. I don’t like the mandates."
    • Translation: Oh no. That's one of those facts about the law that people like when they cut through my Michele Bachmann impersonation. I can't admit Democrats did a good thing. What do I do? What do I do? Help, R!
  5. R. Blake Curd, same topic: "I’m not sure that a blanket federal law is best solution for it."
    • Translation: I don't know, either, Kristi! Um... um... do like Chris and change the topic to the 10th Amendment again!
  6. Kristi Noem, on why Republicans didn't do something about health care when they held the reins: "Maybe we haven’t had the people in Washington, D.C., with the will to do it. But I don’t think it’s good to pass bad legislation to be able to stand up and say we passed something."
    • Translation: Stop reminding people of the facts! Everyone knows it's easier to say no to Democrats than to create policies of our own. And that's the same do-nothing obstructionism I'll take to Washington!
  7. Chris Nelson, same topic: "I’m not making excuses for what Republicans did or didn’t do in the past...."
    • Translation: Yes, I am making excuses....
This is why I like primaries: the more Republicans talking, the more blog material they provide.

If Uncle Sam Doesn't Pay for the Bailout, Is It Still a Bailout?

Derivatives reform is one thing (a good thing!). More bailouts for big banks is another (a bad thing). Dr. Mankiw directs my attention (and possibly yours) to Philip Swagel's criticism of the Dodd financial reform bill in the American Enterprise Institute's journal (should I really be reading this tuff?):

The debate over financial regulation is now focused squarely on the ability of the government to take over a failing financial institution such as a bank holding company or hedge fund—so-called non-bank resolution authority. This is the linchpin of reform because allowing the government to intervene in a crisis will affect investors’ risk-taking behavior from the start—for better or worse. A resolution regime that provides certainty against bailouts will reduce the riskiness of markets and thus help avoid a future crisis, while a reform that enshrines the possibility of bailouts will foster risky behavior and unwittingly make future bailouts more likely....

...A particularly misleading claim from the administration is that the bill is not a bailout because any losses would be recouped through taxes on banks after the fact. The intervention itself is the essence of the bailout, not whether there are losses to the government. Imagine if the Troubled Asset Relief Program was to end up with a profit—not just recouping the money put into firms over the past two years but actually making a return for taxpayers. No one would suggest that the TARP is then somehow not a bailout. Recouping funds after the fact might be a good way to protect taxpayers, but it is preposterous to claim that this makes the Dodd bill anything other than a bailout. The ability of the government to put money into a failing firm and make payments to counterparties at its discretion is what makes the Dodd proposal a permanent bailout authority, not the issue of who pays after the fact [Philip Swagel, "Yes, It's a Bailout," The American, 2010.04.24].

Swagel recommends a resolution regime that focuses more on bankruptcy. And there's enough of a free-marketeer in me to wonder if he might be right. If the big problem behind our economic collapse was unchecked risky behavior, doesn't it make sense to give the risk-takers (who will always be with us, just like the poor) fewer ways to dodge the consequences of their risky behavior?

p.s.: But the financial reform bill will reduce the deficit!

Bob Bans Butts, Boosts Brandon Business

Oh yeah! Amidst all the candidate wrangling, it's easy to forget there's a smoking ban on the November ballot. I wonder if maybe we should vote against it... to protect the competitive advantage of the businesses that have already banned smoking:

"Picked up some new business, and some old business, I used to have, but quit coming in because of the smoking,” [Brandon Steakhouse owner Bob] Miller said.

Miller's spoken out against a state-wide smoking ban in the past. He still believes a business owner should have the right to allow smoking indoors... But, he says, he knew it had to be done, to accommodate families. He knows now, it was the right decision.

"We do have a lot of families, family reunions, banquets, Easter, we were full, Brandon's a young family town, so is Luverne, we tracked business from Luverne, that we didn't have before too, because we are smoke free,” Miller said [Cherlene Richards, "Business Booms at Smoke-Free Restaurant," KELOLand.com, 2010.04.25].

There is an argument that Bob Miller's telling you to take your butts outside is less of an infringement on your liberty than Pierre's issuing the same edict. If the economy improves to the point that waitresses suffering in smoky workplaces have more freedom to work elsewhere, maybe we won't need the ban at all. Let's hope more businesses can make the right decision for their customers, their employees, and their bottom line.

Legislature to Audit DENR -- Time to Discuss CAFO Enforcement

The South Dakota Legislature Executive Board decided last week not to authorize the usual rounds of summer studies. Total savings: $40K–$60K. These savings seem rather paltry compared to the revenue and budget savings legislators might have been able to come up with by studying our tax system and other issues affecting South Dakotans.

But not all summer work was axed. Two committees will conduct the normal audits of two state departments: the Bureau of Administration and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The DENR study should be of particular interest to my neighbors around Veblen and Big Stone Lake who have had to work hard to get the agency to take action against the pollution caused by the giant Veblen feedlots owned by Richard Millner. (With one dairy in receivership and the other in Chapter 11 proceedings, owned by may not be wholly accurate any more.)

The purpose of these audits is to determine to need for and effectiveness of state programs. I would recommend folks affected by the Veblen CAFOs and other sources of pollution in South Dakota keep an eye on the Legislature's summer meeting schedule and make plans to submit letters or even testify to the appropriate committee.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Want Nazi Tactics? See Arizona's Anti-Immigration Law

  • President Obama signing health reform—not fascism.
  • Arizona police walking up to you and saying, "Show me your papers"—fascism.
Seth Meyers said it last night... and it's really not a joke. For all you 9-12ers hollering that President Obama is acting like Hitler, let's hear some protest about the real police state tactics just passed by the Republicans running Arizona. Their new state immigration policy authorizes police to approach anyone they consider suspicious and demand proof of citizenship.

Quick check: policeman walks up to you on the street and says, "Prove you're an American. Prove you're here legally." Can you?

Sheriff Joe Arpaio thinks this new power is a great idea. His new county attorney Rick Romley thinks it's a terrible idea, an unfunded mandate threatening civil rights.

Conservatives should be up in arms over this presumption of guilt and expansion of police power beyond probable cause. Some truckers are ready to boycott the state, and I can't blame them.

Yes, we need a secure border. Yes, immigrants must follow the law. But a law that allows police to yank us off the street just for looking suspicious and not carrying the right documents is the wrong way to enforce our laws. It's the Nazi way.

Lake County Auditor Websites: Edge to New Candidates

The latest Madville Times poll asked "Which Lake County Auditor candidate has the best website?" This is far from a comprehensive question about which candidate is best for the job. Nonetheless, the ability of the candidates to put together a good website reflects the attention they may give to a much-needed update of the county's online presence.

So what did you think?

23 (37%)
24 (38%)
16 (25%)

Thanks for voting! The relative newcomers to the office come out ahead of the veteran auditor's office employee. Do they have better sites?

From a Web design perspective, probably. Gust and Schlueter appear to use web hosting services that offer nice neat templates for their pages, with external style sheets to give every page a uniform look. Janke's appears to be homebrewed HTML.

Of course, that also means more load time. Gust's home page accesses 20 distinct URL's to load its style rules and images, Schlueter's loads 14. Janke's loads 2, both within her domain.

Basic as it is, Janke's website looks most like a campaign website. Open her page, and her name and photo leap out. Big font, big head shot. Slogan, election info links, e-mail to contact her, pow, right up front. Gust and Schlueter go for more understated headers and family pics in which neither woman is really a focal point. Schlueter's picture is actually smaller than the stock biz-handshake header image included in her template. Family pics are fine, but Bobbi includes hers on a separate "Family" subpage, where I would argue it belongs. If a campaign is a sales pitch, the focus on the front page needs to be the product you're selling, and that product is the person on the ballot. Gust has a good solo shot on her Contact page that would work better on the front page.

Style matters only to the extent it supports the substance. I don't care if a website for a candidate or for the county is fancy; I just want the information.

Gust and Schlueter both pile more information up front, on the home page. Schlueter does a little better here, asking for our vote right at the top, then going straight to Education and Experience. Gust runs the "About Me" text first... which says as much about hubby Brandon and her sons as it does about the person whose name will be on the ballot; I have to scroll down to get to the qualifications for the job.

Janke isn't far behind on this sales point: her Home page asks for the job; the Experience page is just a click away. Oddly, though, that Experience link is listed after her "Community Service" link. I have a community service section on my résumé—you likely do, too—but it comes at the end. Given that Janke's huge advantage is her 22 years of experience as DeputyAuditor, that link should be first. I'd say the same to Gust and Schlueter about their placement of Education above Experience; college is important, but not as important as relevant professional work.

All three candidates make the case that they'd be good at the job. Gust gets an edge for providing on the front page an outline of specific duties of the Auditor (good education—some people may not know what the auditor does). She also makes the only clear policy proposal on any of the candidate sites, to put more county information online.

Gust also tickles my citizen-participation vibe by asking on the Home page specifically for our thoughts on what could be done better in the Auditor's office and offering her e-mail address and phone number. Gust and Schlueter both provide full contact info on her Contact page. Gust offers Facebook and Twitter links; Schlueter offers a Facebook link. Janke offers her e-mail address on the front page.

However, don't think Janke doesn't know links. Janke gets kudos as the only candidate of the three to take advantage of external links to provide more information about the election. She links to the Auditor's office and Pierre's voter registration page.

One small secular quibble: Janke's first line on Community Service highlights her membership at Trinity Lutheran Church. Schlueter's About mentions her membership at Our Savior's Lutheran. I don't have a problem with Lutherans, but I appreciate the absence of any mention of religion on Gust's site.

I hate to sound wishy-washy, an honest case can be made for the quality of each website. Janke lacks current Web style, but she markets better up front and uses links to connect with outside information. Schlueter and Gust take advantage of templates for sharper design. Schlueter puts more relevant information up front, while Gust offers the best specific voting issue with the only explicit pitch for more county Web action.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

9-12 Project Revising History, Erasing Photo of Jerry Prostrollo?

An eager reader redirects my attention to the Madison 9-12 Project's photo album, where I discover an interesting change. Their April 2 meeting featured Secretary of State Chris Nelson, State Representative R. Blake Curd, and State Senator Gordon Howie, all GOP candidates for higher office. That weekend, Senator Howie was pushing his ultimately unsuccessful petition drive to put nullification of federal health insurance law to a public vote. Madison 9-12 community organizer Jason Bjorklund was a key player in that drive.

Madison business leader Jerry Prostrollo was among those attending the April 2 9-12 meeting. I highlighted and linked to one of the meeting photos, showing Prostrollo in apparent conversation with candidate Curd and a woman, with candidate Howie sitting close by in the background.

I return to the photo album and find that photo gone. There were 30 photos originally, this morning, there are 29.

Now I'm really curious: where did that picture go? I thought maybe professional photographer Derek Cecil might have asked for removal of that photo, since he took the photo... but he took every other photo in the album, and they're still there. My conspiracy alarm goes off and wonders if Jerry Prostrollo called Jason Bjorklund and said he didn't want his face associated with the 9-12ers... but why wouldn't he? But that hypothesis doesn't make sense, either, since there is still another photo showing Jerry Prostrollo at the meeting, sitting toward the front, in his black leather jacket, between the same woman and Curd, listening to Gordon Howie lecture about his desire to expel federal law but not God from South Dakota. (It's photo #26 out of 29 currently in the April 2 album.)

So what happened to that photo? What happened to that public record of that public meeting? The Internet does strange things. Maybe it's just a server glitch.

But I can't help but notice when the one photo I link to, the one photo I mention out of 30 on a given web page, is the one photo that disappears.

Update 10:10 CDT: Obviously there is no conspiracy, as the photo in question is still available online to Facebook users here... update Sunday: but not any longer. Someone really doesn't like that picture.

Lake County March Unemployment Unchanged at 5.7%

Lake County gets a mixed report on March unemployment. 60 more jobs materialized, but 65 more people joined the workforce—a statistical wash, as the unemployment rate stayed at 5.7%. With 6185 jobs in the county, the LAIC is now needs to create 900 jobs in the next 20 months to meet its Forward Madison job creation goal.

Our neighbors in Brookings saw jobs decline, leading to a two-decade record high unemployment rate of 4.3%. Brookings was the only neighboring county to see an actual loss of jobs; like Lake, every other county on our borders added jobs last month. Moody County was the only neighbor that managed to add more jobs than the number of people entering the workforce.

Every county around here matched the statewide trend of more people entering the workforce in March. But that appears to be a seasonal trend, occurring regularly over the last 20 years.

SDSU Students Donate Meal Plan Money to Food Pantry

Life meets speech class: one of my students this week gave a speech about a problem I remember well from my SDSU days: student meal plan surpluses. You live on campus. Res. Life requires you to buy a big meal plan, based on the stated fear that undergraduates might fail to respond to millions of years of food-seeking instinct and forget to eat supper at college. You suffer no such instinct-deficiency, but you're also thrifty. You skip the expensive drinks at the Student Union, microwave Ramen noodles, show Mom you love her by coming home for her tater-nugget casserole on Saturday (and bringing laundry but doing it yourself). Spring finals approach, and you've got $150 left on your food account. You can't get the money back or carry it over, since Res. Life needs to guarantee margins for your friendly neighborhood for-profit food service contractor. So you end up buying extra food you don't really need, ordering extra pizzas for group study sessions, or just letting the money go to waste.

Sixteen years after I bought my last pancakes in Medary Commons, SDSU offers a solution to meal plan waste: students can donate up to 50 percent of their meal plan dollars to the Brookings Food Pantry. KELO notes the story Friday, but The Collegian's Kate Wegehaupt has the full story:

The first donation date is Friday, April 16, followed by April 23 and 30. Students can pick up a ballot from all main dining sites, selecting the food items or dollar amount they’d like to donate to Brookings Area Food Pantry. Ballots are then turned in to drop-boxes at each dining location. From a student’s perspective, that is all the work it takes to help someone out.

After being turned in, your pencil checks translate into healthy food items that the Brookings Area Food Pantry needs most. The Monday following a donation day, SDSU Dining Services will deliver donations to the Pantry [Kate Wegehaupt, "Food Pantry Useful for Extra Flex Dollars," SDSU Collegian, 2010.03.24].

Wegehaupt reports the Brookings Food Pantry can well use this help: in 2009, the Food Pantry served triple the number of residents who use the service in 2005.

My speech student informs me that DSU is doing something similar here in Madison. It would be nice if the food plan requirements didn't impose such surpluses on pennywise students in the first place... but at least we can turn the excess funds to some good. Students, put down the extra bags of jerky from the C-Store; put that money to good use for the community!

Friday, April 23, 2010

More Federal Help for South Dakota: Send It Back, Right, R. Blake?

Back at the beginning of his campaign for U.S. House, Dr. R. Blake Curd said something about how Uncle Sam is an evil dad and South Dakota needs to be more self-sufficient and send that nasty federal money back to Washington. Curd called for ending and reversing the liberty-destroying trend of Congress inserting "the federal government ever deeper into the lives of our citizens under the guise of assistance and compassion."

So here's more assistance and compassion from Uncle Sam that Curd can urge us to reject:
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is sending us $13.4 million "to support community development and produce more affordable housing." Building homeless shelters, helping low-income folks buy their own homes... definitely weakening our spirits, right, R. Blake?
  • HUD kicked in another $145K last month for job training vouchers. Helping low-income folks get off welfare and into jobs... more evil government intereference, right, R. Blake?
  • USDA is sending South Dakota tribes over $700K in stimulus money to help people eat. Expect R. Blake to send that money back and drive out to teach our Lakota neighbors how to fish in the Cheyenne River.
  • USDA also sends money that supports state grants to farmers markets in South Dakota. Boy, R. Blake sure wouldn't want to promote South Dakotans growing and selling their own food to their neighbors.
  • Last week Governor Rounds announced $25 million in Recovery Bonds (yup, that durned Obama stimulus again) to do things like upgrade Miller's electrical grid and build a new school in Harrisburg. Oh, how folks in Miller will suffer from better electrical transmission! How the children in Harrisburg will see their liberty destroyed by learning in a new building! You're totally against that, right, R. Blake?
Don't expect R. Blake to respond to these issues. He'll keep up conservative fakery, lifting his pinky to the Tea Party crowd while voting the same way as every other South Dakotan we send to Washington, bringing home the bacon our state depends on.

Perhaps related from Ned Hodgman, sometimes government must act, even if we don't like it.

Update 2010.04.24 12:16 CDT: Add another $3M in free money and $5M in easy loan money from USDA to Kingbrook Rural Water System. This stimulus money will help connect 185 new customers to my water system, install 16 miles of new pipe, and build a water tower near Ramona. I suspect R. Blake would have Kingbrook just go down the street and ask Mary if they could borrow her water tower.

Anonymous Chicken Californians Attack Gordon Howie

Dakota War College brings to our attention a new candidate slam page, an apparently anonymous effort throwing mud to Stop Gordon Howie.

Now I'm as eager as anyone else in South Dakota to stop Gordon Howie's effort to refight the Civil War, or the Revolutionary War, or whatever other Christian persecution fantasy is playing in his head.

But I don't have much time for an anonymous website that doesn't have the guts to take full ownership, by real name, of its words. You want to participate in public discourse? You want to attack a person by name? Using your own name and showing your willingness to take the same heat you dish out is a fair price of admission to public discourse and a good check on unsupported mudslinging.

My interest in inviting the website's message into the public discussion of Gordon Howie's unfitness for the South Dakota governorship completely disappears when I click on the Stop Gordon Howie "Contact Us" page:

3375 Edison Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Phone: (415) 555-5555
Fax: (415) 555-5515

Out-of-staters with fake phone numbers running a smear campaign on a South Dakotan. I'm not sure this helps. Until I see a name on the attacks, I'm positive it doesn't help. Keep your anonymous baloney to yourself, Menlo Park. If you want to beat Gordon Howie, I've got it covered.

Private Insurance Targets Breast Cancer Patients for Rescission; Single-Payer Now!

The new health insurance reform law will make your life better, but it still leaves too much power in the hands of private insurance corporations. We still need to work for the real solution, a single-payer system in which access to health care is a right and not a looming threat of bankruptcy and debilitation.

Private insurers can no longer be trusted to provide our health care. This Reuters report reveals that WellPoint, the biggest insurer in the nation, targets breast cancer patients to revoke their coverage by any means available:

WellPoint also has specifically targeted women with breast cancer for aggressive investigation with the intent to cancel their policies, federal investigators told Reuters. The revelation is especially striking for a company whose CEO and president, Angela Braly, has earned plaudits for how her company improved the medical care and treatment of other policyholders with breast cancer.

The disclosures come to light after a recent investigation by Reuters showed that another health insurance company, Assurant Health, similarly targeted HIV-positive policyholders for rescission. That company was ordered by courts to pay millions of dollars in settlements [Murray Waas, "WellPoint Routinely Targets Breast Cancer Patients," Reuters via Yahoo News, 2010.04.22].

Uncle Sam Insurance, whether operating as the single-payer or competing as a public option with private companies, will not and cannot rescind your coverage because you get sick. Uncle Sam Insurance doesn't seek profit; it is just you and me, fellow citizens (all fellow citizens, under single-payer), working together to keep each other well and protect our personal and economic liberty. That's the just and efficient system we need, not the current private vulture insurance that swoops down on the sick to take their money and leave them without the affordable care they thought they were paying for.

Listen to Dennis Kucinich: this year's health reform law must only be the first step, an opening to move toward the real reform we need: a single-payer health insurance system that will save money, save lives, and treat Americans as human beings, not profit points.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

IgniteSD #1: Building Community Around the Storytelling Fire

Would you believe that on a gorgeous spring evening—60 degrees, no South Dakota wind to blow bikes slantwise, trees blooming, new green everywhere declaring anything possible—62 people came to a diner to watch visual aid speeches?

The inaugural IgniteSD event at Cottonwood Bistro in Brookings last night had nine speakers on the schedule. I drove up after supper, practicing madly behind the wheel, visualizing the merciless flip of my slides, and wondering if I was overdoing it. Nine speakers... we might outnumber the people who come to listen. There were no famous names on the program—heck, what program? Just a start time and a list of speakers. I could easily envision getting all worked up just to talk to my eight fellow speakers, Scott and John Meyer's mom, and a few confused late diners who just wanted a sandwich and a beer.

Mrs. Meyer was there. So was a pretty big crowd. A young crowd. People who wanted to learn something new. People who wanted to try something new. People who wanted to be enriched by the ideas and experiences of their neighbors.

And more than a few people who, like me, define neighbor as pretty much anyone living in South Dakota.

Yes, I had fun giving my speech (even as Megan's Mac ate my fonts!). Yes, I will occasionally brag that, if nothing can go down in history as the first person to give an Ignite talk in South Dakota. (Why yes, I think I will add that to my résumé. ;-) )

But even if I hadn't taken my turn at the mic, I'd have still come away charged up by the Ignite experience. Without any coordination of topics, nine neighbors from Brookings, Sioux Falls, and Madison put together an MTV-Chautauqua, a whirlwind of speeches and images about their passions. Blogging, astronomy, wedding officiation, journalists and interviews, family stories, tea, customer service, Norway, and intuition. We gathered like a tribal council around an electronic fire stoked with our visions and metaphors, taking in stories declared worth sharing not by some chief or shaman, but by our equals, by people just like us. We told each other, even the good folks not on the roster, Your story matters. Tell it. With passion.

I suspect more people will come do exactly that at IgniteSD #2. Less than 24 hours later, I'm still dialing down the adrenaline from #1, and folks in Vermillion, Sioux Falls, and Madison are already angling to host #2 (and I'm not the only Madison angler).

Ignite talks are a great way to build community. We see in each other's eyes not just good ideas and valuable experiences, but a passion behind them. We see we don't have to be quiet Midwesterners and aw-shucks-t'ain't-nothin' our interests. We see our neighbors doing interesting things, and we inspire each other to do more, to live more. We learn, as John Taylor Gatto might say, that good ideas and passions are like dirt: they're everywhere, right here, in our neighborhood. We just have to get up and share them with our neighbors, our fellow South Dakotans... who really are this darned cool.

Update 2010.04.23 07:50 CDT: The Displaced Plainsman reminds us Ignite talks beat the snot out of prom: less planning, more enriching. Ignite talks may also intersect with Richard Florida's thinking... discuss!

Heather had fun, too. :-)

Movement Afoot to Draft Walburg for Lake County Sheriff

Two candidates have filed to run for Lake County Sheriff: incumbent Roger Hartman and Madison policeman Dan Wyatt. At the moment, 104 Facebook users want a third choice: Lake County deputy Tim Walburg. Walburg's supporters have set up this public Facebook page to urge their man to run. Among folks rooting for a three-way (assuming we trust the identity behind all Facebook accounts concerned) are some notable non-residents of Lake County:
  1. Moody County Sheriff Troy Wellman: "I am the Sheriff in Moody County and am fully ADAMANT THAT TIM WOULD BE THE BEST MAN FOR THE JOB!!!!!!!!!!!! I have nothing agianst Roger or Dan just think that Tim should be the one that you mark for your choice on Novemeber 2nd." Now how often do you hear law enforcement officials making that public of an endorsement in other jurisdictions' races?
  2. Sandy Mechels, mother of slain police Turner County deputy Chad Mechels, who also served as a Lake County deputy.
  3. Patricia and Jay Stricherz (on the "Like" list)
...in addition to a lot of local folks, all checking the "Like" box in just the last couple days.

So the question for folks in this draft movement: what motivates their desire for a third choice? The question for Deputy Walburg: will he answer the call of his supporters and make the sheriff's race even more interesting? And the question for Lake County political junkies (all... what, six of us?): would two independent candidates split the apparent anti-incumbent fervor and ensure four more years of Hartman's Law?

Reminder: Independent petitions for Lake County sheriff require 54 signatures. County Auditor Kay Schmidt must receive said petitions by June 8.

IgniteSD: Next Stop Madison?

My brain's still spinning (quite happily) from the energy and excitement of last night's inaugural IgniteSD event in Brookings. Loved it, loved it, loved it! Kudos to all my fellow speakers!

I'm still sorting out my observations—tougher to do when you're in the soup! For first review, check out journalist Joe O'Sullivan's excellent account at ThePostSD.com. I learned that I gave an "upbeat rant" (nice to see rant used positively!)... and that I have an astronomy-loving "schizophrenic alter ego" majoring in global studies at SDSU. Go figure! :-)

Stay tuned: I'll wax philosophical and rhapsodize metaphorical about South Dakota and creative cultural development later!

In the meantime, the IgniteSD planners are eager to host another IgniteSD event to bring out the passion and genius bubbling up all across our state. Anyone in Madison interested in hosting IgniteSD #2? Check out the How To on Ignite talks, particularly the Location info. Ignite talks a have got to have a bar—right up Madison's alley, right? ;-) Then let's fire one up here in Madison!

Earth Day at DSU: Carter Johnson on Climate Change Tonight!

DSU's College of Arts and Sciences celebrates Earth Day by bringing some serious science to town tonight. Speaking tonight at 7 p.m. in the Tunheim auditorium is Dr. W. Carter Johnson, SDSU scientist and expert on the impacts of climate change on prairie wetlands. The South Dakota native and outdoorsman has spent nearly 40 years studying the prairie potholes and their rich flora and fauna.

You can read a bunch of his published research here. But there's no required reading for tonight's lecture... and the only quiz will be a multiple-choice test given on November 2, when you pick leaders who might or might not do the right thing to protect our wetlands from further harm.

No More "Too Big to Fail": Cap Bank Assets at $100 Billion

Troy Jones, Bill Fleming, and I are working on building some consensus toward serious, effective financial reform. The Senate Ag Committee, community banks, and I maintain that regulating derivatives is a key part of that reform. And if, as finance professional Jones contends, derivatives are too complicated for most people to understand, that strikes me as all the more reason we should restore some stiff regulations on them.

But just like our Republican and Democratic counterparts in the Senate, Troy and I may be a lot closer to agreement on financial reform. Jones wants to break up the megabanks so no one is "too big to fail." I'm all about that idea. So is Robert Reich, who lists these three big things the pending financial reform bill really really needs to do:

1. Require that trading of all derivatives be done on open exchanges where parties have to disclose what they’re buying and selling and have enough capital to pay up if their bets go wrong. The exception in the current bill for so-called “unique” derivatives opens up a loophole big enough for bankers to drive their Ferrari’s through.

2. Resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act in its entirety so commercial banks are separated from investment banks. The current bill doesn’t go nearly far enough. Commercial banks should take deposits and lend money. Investment banks should be limited to the casino we call the stock market, helping companies issue new issues and making bets. Nothing good comes of mixing the two. We learned this after the Great Crash of 1929, and then forgot it in 1999 when Congress allowed financial supermarkets to do both.

3. Cap the size of big banks at $100 billion in assets. The current bill doesn’t limit the size of banks at all. It creates a process for winding down the operations of any bank that gets into trouble. But if several big banks are threatened, as they were when the housing bubble burst, their failure would pose a risk to the whole financial system, and Congress and the Fed would surely have to bail them out. The only way to ensure no bank is too big to fail is to make sure no bank is too big, period. Nobody has been able to show any scale efficiencies over $100 billion in assets, so that should be the limit [Robert Reich, "A Short Citizen's Guide to Reforming Wall Street," blog, 2010.04.20].

Now if we can get Congress to listen to a bipartisan coalition of Troy Jones and Robert Reich, we've got a winner of a bill!

Read more!
  • Mr. Jones forwards this NYT article noting growing support among Dems and the GOP for breaking up banks. It also notes that, since the 2008 credit collapse, our policies have made the banks that are too big to fail even bigger. The six biggest banks—Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley—now have assets equal to 63% of the U.S. GDP, compared to 17% back in 1995.
  • Jones also forwards this fruitful series of NYT essays from some folks with serious econ chops on what's missing from the financial reform bill.
  • Robert Reich also notes that Senator Dodd's bill does go the wrong direction, giving big banks even more advantages over small banks. Let's fix that! Remember: community banks are the best place for your business!

Ranchers Follow South Dakota Rules; So Should TransCanada

Once again, multibillion dollar foreign oil corporation TransCanada is asking for special treatment from South Dakota. SD Tar Sands Pipeline reports that TransCanada has asked the Public Utilities Commission to ease existing requirements for reporting spills of hazardous materials. Curent rules would require TransCanada to report any chemial spills that ahppen while they build the Keystone XL pipeline across West River. TransCanada thinks they should only have to report spills of five gallons or more.

South Dakota rancher David Niemi e-mails the PUC to say that's a crock. He points out that South Dakota farmers and ranchers follow the current hazardous spill rules and a host of other regulations. Niemi also expresses disbelief that TransCanada is asking South Dakota taxpayers to foot the bill for preserving fossils unearthed during Keystone XL excavation.

Niemi isn't asking the PUC to shut down Keystone XL (although he clearly rankles a bit at having the pipeline forced upon his fellow South Dakotans). He just wants Big Oil held to the standards everyone already agreed on:

...you Public Utilities Commissioners put a lot of time and consideration in the conditions of the siting permit. Upon visiting with other affected property owners along this pipeline route all were satisfied with the work you had done. We in agriculture live and deal with the same type of conditions in our business everyday. The conditions you commissioners provided should not be altered in any way [David Niemi, e-mail to PUC, Keystone XL docket, 2010.04.16].

South Dakotans like David Niemi follow the rules. So can TransCanada. And if they can't, they are welcome to buy 130 more miles of pipe and kink Keystone XL right around South Dakota. At a about $600K per mile, that detour through Wyoming would only cost TransCanada $78 million.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

IgniteSD Tonight in Brookings!

IgniteSD launches tonight in Brookings! Come hear some of South Dakota's sharpest up-and-comers talk about what lights their fuse. I'll be there, too, giving a talk on (what else?) blogging.

Mr. Dahle offers a good summary of what the event is about: speakers boiling down their great ideas into five minutes of fast enlightenment and fun slides. More thoughtful than Twitter, more compressed than a classroom lecture... it's a challenging format (believe me—I'm practicing right now!), but it promises an action-packed evening for your brain... with real live people!

Plus, it's free (though I'm sure our nice hosts at Cottonwood Bistro won't mind if you buy a snack while you're there). So come to Cottonwood Bistro, Brickwood Plaza in Brookings, tonight, 8:00 to 9:30. Bring questions, not tomatoes. ;-) We'll have coffee, we'll talk.. make it a big whoop!

Derivatives: Less Theory, More Facts... and More Capitalism, Please!

In response to my Monday post on derivatives reform, Troy Jones appears to assert that unregulated derivatives are good for the economy, providing "lubrication to the system's liquidity."

Lubrication, heating oil...

Sean Cota runs a family-owned heating oil business in Vermont. He says using derivatives purely to speculate on the price of oil has hurt his business and consumers' wallets.

SEAN COTA: We calculate that this unregulated market has encouraged speculative fervor that costs about a $1 per gallon.

[Brett Neely, "Businesses Differ on Derivatives Reform," Marketplace, 2010.04.20]

Neely's report pokes some other holes in the theoretical capitalist defense of unregulated derivatives, which seems about all the GOP can muster as it fights this latest really good idea from Democrats. Neely notes that derivatives were "boring and safe" for centuries. Deregulation happened only in 2000. Hmm... credit was plenty liquid in the twentieth century, wasn't it?

Neely also notes that, under deregulation, derivatives have operated in a distinctly uncapitalist fashion. Outside of exchanges, banks set prices, keep them private, and prevent buyers from getting information about the risk involved. Capitalism requires a free flow of information right alongside capital. But the big five banks that control most of the derivatives don't want us to get information and compare prices:

Because there's not efficient pricing [in the current system], these big five derivatives dealers can really charge through the roof for these derivatives products and that's one big reason why they've been so profitable [David Min, quoted in Neely, 2010].

Neely finds a good capitalist from the Chamber of Commerce to defend unregulated derivatives:

The whole point of the exercise is to transfer that risk somewhere else so that you can be in the business of producing beer or making widgets or whatever it is you do [David Hirschmann, quoted in Neely, 2010].

Hold on: transfer the risk?! I thought risk was an inherent and necessary part of being in business. You don't get to make beer or widgets without risk. If I choose to produce art or make speeches for a living, I don't get to transfer my risk to someone else. I assume the risk that people just won't buy enough of what I'm selling to keep me in paint and shiny shoes... right?

Perhaps I misunderstand capitalism. But the more I listen to conservative arguments against regulating derivatives, the more I hear a vague theoretical declarations that ignore the facts of what unregulated derivatives have wrought. In practice, unregulated derivatives look like an inherently anti-capitalist financial product, one that withholds the information buyers need to make good choices, removes the risk the market needs to check unwise actions, and threatens the stability of the free market economy.

"Boring and safe"—that's what derivatives regulation gets you. And after the excitement of seeing your mutual funds wiped out in the recession, couldn't you use some boring and safe?

Update 17:02 CDT: Senator Grassley from Iowa joined 12 Dems on the Senate Ag committee in approving derivatives regulation today. Grassley is no Olympia Snowe; his vote may be a sign that Republicans see it's time to stop saying no to ideas that will be good for the economy.

Tea Party Not Perot Movement, Just Reinforcing GOP Status Quo

Ah, Ross Perot. Those were the days. I got all giddy when Perot talked about taking a shovel and scooping out the barn (the barn was Washington). I attended a political forum in Hansen Hall at SDSU and parroted all sorts of Perot platitudes insisting Perot would save our country from... well, I'm not sure what. My heart swelled with pride every time I drove under the bridge on I-29 south of Brookings where someone painted some hopeful Perot graffiti ("If you vote, Perot can win," I think it said... and no, I didn't do it).

Watching the Teabaggers get all hot and bothered this past year, listening to some familiar-sounding singing in the shower about taking Washington back, I thought maybe we could trace a cultural or historical connection between 1992's Perot voters and the folks bringing tricorner hats back into fashion today.

The Washington Post's Dan Balz analyzes possible connections between today's Teabaggers and the Ross Perot electorate of 1992. Are their connections? Balz finds the similarities balanced by important differences.
  1. Teabaggers are mostly white (87%, by WaPo's survey), but less so than Perotistas (94%). (Of course, Dems are mostly white, too—65%.)
  2. Teabaggers include more men than women, like Perot voters.
  3. The two groups have identical educational backgrounds: one third with college degrees, two thirds without.
  4. Teabaggers are older, with a majority over 45. 63% of Perot people were under 45. (Hmm... maybe they are the same voters, just 18 years older now!)
  5. Teabaggers are richer than the folks who followed the Texas billionaire. Perot's voters matched the economic class distribution of the general population, while the Tea Party draws more from the wealthy folks.
  6. The Teabaggers are undeniably a conservative movement; Perot voters did not clearly fit a party or ideological profile:

If anything, [the Tea Party] is simply an adjunct of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, even if many of its supporters say they hold no particular allegiance for the GOP and are critical of party leadership....

Despite the same strong anti-government sentiment and focus on the federal budget deficit as the tea party activists of today, the Perot voters were far less conservative.

In 1992, 53 percent of those who backed Perot for president described themselves as moderate, with 27 percent calling themselves conservative and 20 percent liberal, according to the exit polls. Among tea party activists, the Post poll and the CBS-New York Times poll found that nearly three-quarters called themselves conservative. David Winston, a Republican pollster, pegged the group's makeup as 65 percent conservative, 26 percent moderate [Dan Balz, "Don't Be Too Quick to Mistake Tea Party for Perot Movement," Washington Post, 2010.04.18].

Of course, my friend Joseph Thompson tells me that we get more conservative as we get older (so far, I'm headed the opposite direction, but I'm just one data point). Maybe that's what happened to the Perot voters. That, and they got worse at spelling. (But haven't we all, thanks to spellcheck?)

The big difference, says Balz, is that the Perot movement was a challenge to both parties. That's part of why I got excited about Perot in 1992. He really was the underdog, someone with the potential (however faint and fleeting) to start a third party. Practically speaking, the Perot movement was a genuine alternative, a genuine challenge to both parties. Dems and the GOP both had a reasonable shot at competing for Perot votes.

The folks in tricorner hats aren't an alternative; they're an extension of the two-party system. They like to say they're about throwing all the bums out in Washington, but show me one Republican Congressman they plan to replace with a non-Republican. The Teabaggers are all about beating Obama, beating Dems, and establishing a Grover Norquist hammerlock on the Republican Party. They're just slightly different packaging for what Republicans have been selling since 1994.

Update 2010.04.22 07:24 CDT: Soldier of wisdom Thompson comes this close to meeting my challenge: he points out that the astroturfy Tea Party Express has endorsed incumbent Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick from Idaho. Minnick is a Bluer Dog than Herseth Sandlin, with a vote against the stimulus package along with opposition to cap and trade and health reform.