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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Uncle Sam to Spend Millions on Madison Airport

Last year our man Hunter criticized the spending of $4.1 million in federal stimulus dollars to build an airport on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. That airport was built to provide emergency air travel and economic opportunity for 20,000 underserved South Dakotans.

I eagerly await Mr. Hunter's criticism of even greater federal expenditures for the expansion of an airport serving even fewer South Dakotans. Mr. Hunter's own newspaper reports that the municipal airport right here in Madison, population 6,500, stands to receive about $4.5 million in federal handouts for various projects over the next three years.

Now I cannot speak to the quality or value of our fine local airport. I've never flown out of Madison. Neither has anyone else I can think of. So I would like to know:
  1. How many local residents use the Madison airport to travel out of the county?
  2. How many businesspeople, hunters, tourists, and other sources of business activity fly into the Madison airport each year?
  3. How much economic activity is generated by the Madison airport?
The answers to these questions may provide a perfectly reasonable justification for the federal government to pick up 95% of the cost of our local airport improvements. All the Republicans in Madison had better hope those answers are good enough to convince Representative-Elect Kristi Noem to keep her Tea Party budget axe away from our airport.

Four More Years: No One Beating Obama

My neighbors at Dakota War College love to soothe their nerves with gentle cooing that Barack Obama will be a one-term president. While the conservative bloggarazzi revel in the President's low poll numbers, they ignore one key fact: his potential GOP challengers' numbers are even lower:

Americans are pretty evenly divided on whether they'd rather have four more years of Barack Obama or replace him with a Republican in 2012, with 48% going for Obama and 47% with a generic Republican. But with the exception of Mitt Romney none of the actual top tier Republican candidates poll as well against the President as the hypothetical one.

Obama leads Romney 47-46, matching his generic ballot lead. Obama's lead expands to 48-45 over Mike Huckabee, 49-43 over Newt Gingrich, 51-42 over Sarah Palin, and 48-37 over Marco Rubio who PPP followers voted in as this month's 'wild card' candidate [Tom Jensen, "Obama Leads All Republicans," Public Policy Polling, 2010.11.29].

PPP also finds that Palin, the Celebritarian playing the press better than any regular Republican, is viewed as electable by only 28% of Americans. She can't even get a majority of Republicans to say they think she could beat the President in 2012.

One-term President? Go ahead, conservatives. Keep telling yourselves that, if it makes you happy. But you have yet to come up with someone who can make that happen.

Guest Column: Axe New Gym, Spend $10M on MHS Needs, Not Wants

When I toured my alma mater last week, Madison High School principal Sharon Knowlton said more than once that the proposed $16.9-million new gym and renovation project is the only way to accomplish all of the architectural changes the high school needs.

Orland organic farmer Charlie Johnson begs to differ. Below is his commentary, which appeared in last night's print MDL:

First of all, let us provide a few facts before the discussion. A bond issuance is collateralized by the taxable value of real estate within the taxing entity. There is no deferment for cases of unemployment, poor crop years, declining income, sour economy, etc. The bond commitment is for 25 years. Most home mortgages taken out today do not extend out that far. A $16.9 Million bond issue averages about 48,000 per MHS student (16.9 million /350). For every registered voter in Madison school district, the average commitment is $2600 (16.9 million/6500).

By estimation, property tax levies will increase 11.3% (2/11.3) on bare agricultural land in Orland Township. The increase just on school levy will be 26.5% (2/9.1). For an owner occupied home in Madison the increase in levies will be 9.7% (2/20.6). The increase in school levy will be 21.9% (2/9.1). These percentages could change slightly in future years as property valuations fluctuate and tax requests by all entities change. It would be an accurate statement to say that property tax increases will be anywhere from 8% to 20%-perhaps more. The impact will vary from agricultural land to commercial to residential. The same can be expected for property located within Madison versus property in one of the townships. Keep in mind also the capital outlay fund and levy (3 mills) is committed in large part for 12 more years to pay for the recently built elementary school.

A former friend and county commissioner, Bud Giles, on many occasions pointed out that there is a difference between wants and needs. He stressed also there was importance to know the difference. Elected officials have the responsibility to aggressively address the needs while prioritizing wants as time and resources become available. Like most projects, the MHS facility project is a combination of wants and needs. We need to provide safety and function of the school building by improving lighting, ventilation, wiring, plumbing, and other upgrades. We want to improve programs by relocating and expanding rooms, adding additions, and building a new gym. There is no excuse for failing to take care of needs. There is nothing wrong inherently wrong in bringing discussion to a well planned, prioritized list of wants. Reality is that you have the money. Never should accumulating wants be placed on top of needs in an attempt to justify the latter.

Within this sobering commentary, I offer a 4 part recommendation to the MHS facility project.
  1. $16.9 million is too high and unrealistic. Cap the bond issue at $10 million. Even at that figure, we are doubling up on debt for the school district. Is it prudent for the district to implement a financial step that most households and businesses would not consider? If the facility project carries on a higher figure, it must do so with private money or other sources.
  2. Regardless of how the bond issue is decided, take the responsible steps to provide safety and function of the building by taking care of the upgrades that are needed. Many of the voters who opposed the spectator gym in 2007 felt the need for improvements at MHS was more important.
  3. In the area of wants, consider a fine arts annex to provide more room for band and chorus. Do not destroy a perfectly good wooden floor gym as a spiraling attempt to justify a new spectator gym. Adult recreation programs use the present gym space extensively. Providing practice times for all sports at all grade levels, boys and girls is a premium and plus for proper programming. Eliminating a fantastic gym floor is wrong regardless of whether a spectator gym is built or not.
  4. The spectator gym is a definite want and should be funded with other sources. Supporters of a spectator gym may want to consider a partnership with the city of Madison to develop a vision of a true events center that will attract and cater to events throughout the year.
Regardless of the outcome of the bond issue, the sad commentary is that education as a whole will continue to suffer as funding levels fail to provide enough money for adequate salaries and resources for our educators. We are asking an 18th century tax system to provide for 21st century education and it is failing miserably. If only persons eligible under the times in the 18th century were allowed to vote on the facility project bond issue, the bond issue in Madison would be decided by whites who were male and property owners. How about that for progress?

Charlie Johnson

From Iran to Illinois, Religious Radicals Fail to Grasp Causality, Consequences

Bob Ellis will surely consider this post treason as well.

Among the documents in the latest Wikileaks release is this August 1979 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran to the State Department. Deputy Ambassador Victor Tomseth, who was among the American hostages taken three months later, wrote home with some less than flattering observations on the Persian psyche. Tomseth remarked on the incompatibility of Ayatollah-style fundamentalism and reason:

Coupled with these psychological limitations is a general incomprehension of casuality [sic]. Islam, with its emphasis on the omnipotence of God, appears to account at least in major part for this phenomenon. Somewhat surprisingly, even those Iranians educated in the Western style and perhaps with long experience outside Iran itself frequently have difficulty grasping the inter-relationship of events. Witness A Yazdi resisting the idea that Iranian behavior has consequences on the perception of Iran in the U.S. or that this perception is somehow related to American policies regarding Iran. This same quality also helps explain Persian aversion to accepting responsibility for one's own actions. The deus ex machina is always at work [Victor Tomseth, Deputy Ambassador to Iran, cable to U.S. State Department, 1979.08.13, as published by Wikileaks].

Hmm... fanatic faith clouding grasp of causality and consequences... why does this sound familiar?

The earth will end only when God declares it's time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. ... I do believe God's word is infallible, unchanging, perfect [Rep. John Shimkus, quoted in David Gibson, "Bible Protects Against Global Warming? Energy Chair Hopeful Tells Us So," Politics Daily, 2010.11.27].

That's Republican Congressman John Shimkus from Illinois, whose Lutheran (?!?) faith apparently tells him human actions don't have earthly consequences. We can emit all the greenhouse gases we want without destroying the world. By the same logic, we could stop using crop rotation and no-till farming, or unleash biological weapons, or just throw a global thermonuclear war and not see crops fail or the world end.

Congressman Shimkus also wants to be chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Expect policy based on rejection of the conservation of matter and energy.

Folks who fret that President Obama is related to Muslims are missing the point. Considering what Ambassador Tomseth said about our Iranian friends, it's the fundagelical Republicans who act more like the mullahs.

Bonus Causality Quiz: To restore your ability to recognize cause and effect, connect these dots.

...Shimkus and the Bible-believing skeptics of climate change have powerful allies in the emergent Tea Party movement, which in turn has extensive support for the oil and coal industry [Gibson, 2010].

Monday, November 29, 2010

GOP Immigration Posturing Proves SD Legislature Getting Dumber

Arrgghh: the Republican supermajority in our South Dakota Legislature is already proving its inability to use its powers for good. With a giant budget deficit and persistent school funding problems, the Republicans are determined to ignore our real problems and fight the illegal immigrant boogeyman.

Proof of idiocy:
  1. State Rep. Manny Steele (R-12/Sioux Falls) wants to make it a crime to give an illegal immigrant a home or a ride in South Dakota. But he wants to exempt from punishment the real causes of the problem: the employers who demand cheap illegal immigrant labor. Steele says it would be unfair to punish employers, because "Most employers don't have the training—what's a legal or an illegal immigration document." But landlords and good Samaritan motorists do? Seriously?
  2. State Senator-Elect Angie Buhl (D-15/Sioux Falls) points out that Rep. Steele's legislation would make a criminal out of a citizen who gives an illegal immigrant woman beaten by her husband a ride to a domestic abuse shelter. Steele would bust someone like that, but not a mega-dairy that hires dozens of illegal workers to cut costs.
  3. Attorney General Marty Jackley doesn't want to give illegal immigrants a home. He's helping the Republican yahoos write their distracting legislation, but he says he doesn't want to spend tax dollars to put illegal immigrants in South Dakota jails.
  4. State Rep. Lora Hubbel (R-11/Sioux Falls) must live in an alternative reality. She claims illegal immigration came up regularly during her door-knocking. She tells that Sioux Falls paper, "The voters don't care about the same things (the local media) care about.... They don't care about school budgets. They're concerned about the federal government taking their rights away." We don't care about school budgets... no, Lora, I think you're mistaking the Republican caucus for the general public.
Wow. If you thought Don Kopp and Kristi Noem made South Dakota look dumb with their astrology legislation, just wait for the 2011 Republican Legislature. It's going to be a doozy.

Delaware, South Dakota Least Socialist States in America

Ah, so that's why Sarah Palin left Alaska: she was fleeing socialism!

Mr. Gibilisco points me toward a fun little MSNBC article that calculates the most socialist states in America. There's no squawking about smoking bans or climate change legislation or other misapplications of the S-word. Greg Bocquet of MainStreet.com works from the "from the core definition of socialism as a form of government in which the state owns the means of production and allocates resources to its citizens at its discretion."

Bocquet thus divides state expenditures by state GDP and ranks the states by that percentage high to low. His top five: West Virginia, Alaska, Alabama, Vermont, New Mexico.

Surely we all want to know how South Dakota ranks, but the article doesn't provide a full spreadsheet. I thus go hunting for my own table. USGovernmentSpending.com comes to my aid, providing an even better dataset: combined state and local government spending. The results: South Dakota state and local government spending in Fiscal Year 2009 was $6.1 billion, 15.9% of our $38.3 billion GDP. We're not quite one-sixth socialist... which ranks us 49th nationwide! Only Delaware is less socialist than we are!

State State & Local Spending (billions) State GDP (billions) Govt/GSP "Socialism" Rank
Alabama $40.60 $169.90 23.9% 9
Alaska $14.30 $45.70 31.3% 1
Arizona $58.40 $256.40 22.8% 17
Arkansas $21.30 $101.80 20.9% 29
California $437.10 $1,891.40 23.1% 15
Colorado $44.70 $252.70 17.7% 46
Connecticut $37.10 $227.40 16.3% 48
Delaware $9.50 $60.60 15.7% 50
DC $14.90 $99.10 15.0% 51
Florida $168.60 $737.00 22.9% 16
Georgia $82.90 $395.20 21.0% 28
Hawaii $14.40 $66.40 21.7% 23
Idaho $11.70 $54.00 21.7% 24
Illinois $123.30 $630.40 19.6% 38
Indiana $52.10 $262.60 19.8% 35
Iowa $27.40 $142.30 19.3% 39
Kansas $26.00 $124.90 20.8% 30
Kentucky $37.20 $156.60 23.8% 10
Louisiana $51.40 $208.40 24.7% 7
Maine $11.50 $51.30 22.4% 18
Maryland $55.00 $286.80 19.2% 40
Massachusetts $71.50 $365.20 19.6% 36
Michigan $87.00 $368.40 23.6% 11
Minnesota $54.80 $260.70 21.0% 26
Mississippi $25.60 $95.90 26.7% 4
Missouri $48.40 $239.80 20.2% 33
Montana $8.80 $36.00 24.4% 8
Nebraska $20.00 $86.40 23.1% 14
Nevada $23.10 $126.50 18.3% 43
New Hampshire $10.60 $59.40 17.8% 45
New Jersey $96.60 $483.00 20.0% 34
New Mexico $20.50 $74.80 27.4% 2
New York $277.30 $1,093.20 25.4% 5
North Carolina $77.90 $398.00 19.6% 37
North Dakota $6.00 $31.90 18.8% 41
Ohio $105.60 $471.30 22.4% 19
Oklahoma $28.80 $153.80 18.7% 42
Oregon $37.10 $165.60 22.4% 20
Pennsylvania $114.70 $554.80 20.7% 31
Rhode Island $11.10 $47.80 23.2% 13
South Carolina $43.10 $159.60 27.0% 3
South Dakota $6.10 $38.30 15.9% 49
Tennessee $50.10 $244.50 20.5% 32
Texas $208.00 $1,144.70 18.2% 44
Utah $24.70 $112.90 21.9% 22
Vermont $6.30 $25.40 24.8% 6
Virginia $67.80 $408.40 16.6% 47
Washington $71.10 $338.30 21.0% 27
West Virginia $14.80 $63.30 23.4% 12
Wisconsin $52.10 $244.40 21.3% 25
Wyoming $8.40 $37.50 22.4% 21

Note that when we include local spending, Alaska takes first place for socialism. They can't just see Russia from their front porches; they live Russia, spending nearly twice as much of their state wealth as South Dakota does on state and local government.

South Dakota 15th for Dependence on Gasoline

As you commute across South Dakota's wide open spaces this morning, you probably won't be surprised to learn that we South Dakotans spend more of their income on gasoline than many other Americans. In this report from March 2010, the National Resources Defense Council calculates that the average South Dakota driver spends over $1600 a year on gasoline. That's 4.3% of our average income.

By that score, we rank 15th in the nation, just a tick behind our bigger-spending but also bigger-earning neighbors in North Dakota. Poor Mr. Kurtz and his Montana neighbors rank second in the nation, spending over $2000 a year on gasoline, 5.9% of their annual paychecks. Gasoline eats up the largest chunk of paychecks in Mississippi.

State Avg % Income spent on gasoline Avg amt spent on gasoline Avg income Rank by gas % Rank by gas amt rank by income
Mississippi 6.22% $1,880.95 $30,240 1 4 50
Montana 5.88% $2,017.96 $34,319 2 1 38
Louisiana 5.26% $1,908.72 $36,287 3 3 30
Oklahoma 5.12% $1,830.77 $35,757 4 5 32
South Carolina 5.06% $1,638.98 $32,391 5 11 44
Kentucky 5.02% $1,583.50 $31,544 6 18 49
Texas 4.87% $1,818.89 $37,349 7 6 26
Maine 4.65% $1,700.66 $36,573 8 9 28
Georgia 4.64% $1,595.08 $34,377 9 16 37
Idaho 4.54% $1,467.33 $32,320 10 22 45
Arkansas 4.52% $1,459.02 $32,279 11 25 47
Tennessee 4.49% $1,568.96 $34,943 12 19 35
Utah 4.44% $1,400.80 $31,550 13 35 48
North Dakota 4.33% $1,717.29 $39,660 14 8 18
South Dakota 4.32% $1,626.29 $37,646 15 13 24
New Mexico 4.30% $1,437.33 $33,426 16 28 43
Michigan 4.20% $1,436.89 $34,212 17 29 39
Kansas 4.13% $1,585.31 $38,385 18 17 23
North Carolina 4.10% $1,440.40 $35,132 19 27 34
Wyoming 4.07% $1,930.68 $47,437 20 2 6
West Virginia 4.06% $1,311.61 $32,306 21 40 46
California 4.04% $1,727.67 $42,764 22 7 9
Missouri 4.02% $1,463.53 $36,406 23 23 29
Iowa 4.00% $1,486.22 $37,156 24 20 27
Rhode Island 3.94% $1,622.61 $41,183 25 14 15
Wisconsin 3.91% $1,461.35 $37,375 26 24 25
Hawaii 3.91% $1,649.52 $42,187 26 10 13
Ohio 3.88% $1,383.68 $35,662 28 37 33
Minnesota 3.78% $1,601.12 $42,358 29 15 11
Alabama 3.76% $1,257.58 $33,446 30 48 42
Vermont 3.75% $1,446.03 $38,561 31 26 21
Indiana 3.70% $1,264.65 $34,180 32 46 40
Virginia 3.67% $1,264.48 $34,454 33 47 36
Oregon 3.60% $1,302.80 $36,189 34 42 31
Nevada 3.54% $1,403.87 $39,657 35 34 19
Arizona 3.53% $1,188.45 $33,667 36 50 41
Delaware 3.52% $1,419.34 $40,322 37 32 16
Illinois 3.44% $1,434.47 $41,700 38 30 14
Nebraska 3.39% $1,309.37 $38,624 39 41 20
Alaska 3.39% $1,475.74 $43,532 39 21 7
Florida 3.36% $1,291.67 $38,443 41 43 22
Washington 3.31% $1,409.14 $42,572 42 33 10
Pennsylvania 3.27% $1,315.34 $40,224 43 39 17
New Jersey 3.23% $1,635.08 $50,622 44 12 3
Colorado 3.00% $1,266.50 $42,217 45 45 12
New Hampshire 2.96% $1,279.05 $43,211 46 44 8
Maryland 2.90% $1,425.42 $49,152 47 31 4
Massachusetts 2.60% $1,318.18 $50,699 48 38 2
New York 2.56% $1,216.06 $47,502 49 49 5
Connecticut 2.52% $1,391.18 $55,206 50 36 1
Spending on gasoline as percentage of income.
Income calculated from given data on percentage and amount spent on gasoline.
Source: NRDC, March 2010

Three interesting correlations pop out of these numbers. First, check out the oil-producing states. Down by the rigs and refineries in places like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, folks are still spending a higher proportion of their income on gasoline. North Dakota has more oil fields than South Dakota, and North Dakotans have similar open-country driving needs as South Dakotans, but they are paying more for gasoline. Alaska defies that apparent relation, paying less than most states for gasoline and ranking 40th on gasoline spending as percentage of income. But I wonder: given that possible relation—or lack thereof—between oil production and spending on gasoline, would South Dakota enjoy any gasoline savings if Hyperion built the Union County refinery?

A more solid numerical correlation: compare gasoline spending as percentage of income with income itself. I run those numbers through my spreadsheet and get a correlation of -0.69. In other words, the poorer the state, the bigger the chunk of income one spends on gasoline. That reflects, perhaps, the inelasticity of gasoline demand: even if you're making less, you still have to drive around. But a lot of those states at the bottom of the list are spending less in dollar terms as well as percentage terms. Places like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York also have pretty good mass transit.

One more correlation: the states spending higher percentages of income on gasoline look pretty conservative. The states at the other end of the list look pretty liberal. The point of the NRDC report was to highlight the states that are most vulnerable to oil price shocks. So we could read this data counterintuitively: the conservatives who could benefit most from getting America off its oil addiction and adopting energy policies that would insulate us from oil price shocks are the most inclined to oppose legislation on climate change and energy security that could get us off oil.

Or we could say the above split is perfectly logical: the liberal states are already kicking the gas habit, so they don't mind carbon taxes and other legislation that drive investment in other fuels and raise prices at the pumps they whizz by on their buses and bikes.

South Dakota Banks Making Big Money

All right, turkey's out of my system—let's get back to work!

While I was enjoying the grand American consumer bacchanalia in Lincoln, I read that Nebraska banks are having a great year. The FDIC says so far in 2010, Nebraska's banks have made $460 million in profit, their best three-quarter showing since 1993.

But they're pikers compared to South Dakota. The FDIC's State Banking Performance Summary says South Dakota's banks have made $7.97 billion in profit through three quarters. That's up 55% from the $5.14 billion profit posted at this point last year and up 6.5% from the September 2007 figure right before the economy went to heck.

Also worth noting: employment at South Dakota banks boomed by 50,000 full-time equivalents, a jump of nearly 28% from September 2009's 180,759 to the current 230,578.

Now hold on: jobs in the financial sector in South Dakota hardly number 30,000. Those FDIC-SBPS numbers cover all FDIC-insured institutions in South Dakota, and that apparently means FDIC counts al employees of those firms here and in other states. Look just at state-chartered institutions, and you find 4,347 full-time equivalents—well below the 5,086 FTEs at the beginning of the panic in September 2008, but up at least from last year's 3,855. Profits among the state-chartered institutions are up as well, at $123 million so far this year, up 26% from the same time in 2009.

Looking nationally and historically, 149 U.S. banks have failed so far this year. That beats last year's total of 140. We also have a lot more "problem institutions"—FDIC is keeping an eye on 860 banks, compared to 702 "problem institutions" last year.

One more interesting note: following the savings and loan crisis and the early-1990s recession, FDIC had over 22,000 employees. Under the Bush Administration, FDIC's workforce was slashed to less than 5,000. Currently FDIC has 8,027 employees to insure our deposits and keep an eye on our banks.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Secondhand Smoke Kills 600,000 in One Year

In the debate over South Dakota's new smoking ban, I've occasionally run across some dedicated pro-tobacco trolls who throw out pre-fab arguments claiming there's no evidence that secondhand smoke causes significant health harms.

Does 600,000 deaths a year sound significant to you?

Last Friday, British medical journal The Lancet published a study that finds 600,000 people worldwide died from disease attributable to secondhand smoke. The findings:

Worldwide, 40% of children, 33% of male non-smokers, and 35% of female non-smokers were exposed to second-hand smoke in 2004. This exposure was estimated to have caused 379 000 deaths from ischaemic heart disease, 165 000 from lower respiratory infections, 36 900 from asthma, and 21 400 from lung cancer. 603 000 deaths were attributable to second-hand smoke in 2004, which was about 1·0% of worldwide mortality. 47% of deaths from second-hand smoke occurred in women, 28% in children, and 26% in men. DALYs [disability-adjusted life-years) lost because of exposure to second-hand smoke amounted to 10·9 million, which was about 0·7% of total worldwide burden of diseases in DALYs in 2004. 61% of DALYs were in children. The largest disease burdens were from lower respiratory infections in children younger than 5 years (5 939 000), ischaemic heart disease in adults (2 836 000), and asthma in adults (1 246 000) and children (651 000).

[Öberg, M., Jaakkola, M. S., Woodward, A., Peruga, A., & Prüss-Ustün, A., "Worldwide burden of disease from exposure to second-hand smoke: a retrospective analysis of data from 192 countries, The Lancet, 2010.11.26]

That data is pretty plain. Indoor smoking killed more people in 2004 than did al-Qaeda. Cigarette smoke is a deadly indoor pollutant. We can drastically reduce if not eliminate these 600,000 deaths with simple, common-sense rules that say, "You can't emit that pollutant in a confined space." We can save those lives without big military spending, fancy technology, or humiliating and unconstitutional patdowns at the airport.

Secondhand smoke was responsible for 1 in 100 deaths worldwide in 2004. Add those deaths to the 5.1 million annual deaths from direct smoking, and you get a clear picture of tobacco as a serious threat to mankind's health and welfare.

South Dakota perspective: run a straight ratio of deaths to population from the Lancet study, and you get about 70 deaths a year in our fair state from secondhand smoke. There are still some idiot parents out there smoking in their cars and homes with their kids present, but our new smoking ban in bars and restaurants should save at least some of those unlucky 70 from an early tobacco-induced death.

Don Rose and the other bar owners who tried stopping the smoking ban argued that the ban was really about freedom. They're right: banning indoor smoking is about freedom, the first freedom listed by our Founding Fathers: life.