South Dakota Republicans and Democrats should think hard about the next US Senator

ryanlerch_thinkingboy_outlineApparently its never too soon to announce a bid for office. The 2012 election season is barely over and former South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds has officially announced he will run for South Dakota US Senator in 2014. While the move is not surprising, I really thought it was too soon for such a move. He could have at least let newly elected officials take office before launching a campaign.

Not to be outdone current US Senator Tim Johnson also put his pre-announcement into the ring. At least Senator Johnson admits it’s too soon for such announcements by this statement: “As in past campaigns, I will make my formal announcement later next year”.

I for one hope neither candidate is chosen during the state primaries.

In Mike Rounds case I believe he is the wrong direction for the Republican Party. What the Republican party needs is true small government conservatives. The South Dakota US Senator should have the high moral values to lead coupled with fiscal conservatism this country is in need of.  Looking back at Rounds two terms as Governor I don’t see him being the greatest representative of either high moral value or fiscal conservatism (that’s not meant as an attack, just an observation).

I would also like to expand upon ‘high moral leadership’. A true leader sets an example that people can look up to and follow. If a leader has to dictate (or in this case legislate) their morals then they have failed in becoming a good leader. Going forward the Republican Party must stop trying to legislate their moral code upon everyone else. “Forced morality” is in itself a contradiction. But, I expect the Republicans to continue down the same path to irrelevance. They can always blame licentious libertarians for that I guess.

As for Senator Tim Johnson I believe it is time for him to leave office. He has served three terms as US Senator for South Dakota. That will make 18 years Tim Johnson has spent in Washington. That is simply too long for any single person to hold such a politically powerful office. I am a supporter of a two-term limit on US Senators. The longer a Senator stays in Washington the more they become disconnected with their home state. I feel this way no matter what party the Senator happens to belong to.

It would be better for the South Dakota Democratic Party to choose a new leader from among their ranks. Senator Johnson could then use his political power and popularity to assist the campaign of that chosen candidate. To gain independent votes the Dems should focus their campaign around what the Democratic social programs are doing for people in South Dakota. Instead of attacking the Republicans they should show how the Democratic candidate can work within the Senate to make the social programs work. The only attacks they should place towards the Republicans is to point out their lack of alternative plans.

When the primary elections happen I really hope both parties consider their actions and what is truly best going forward. However since we are talking politics I cannot imagine that either party will show an abundance of wisdom in choosing their candidates.

The Medical Device Excise Tax uses standard political doublethink

On January 1, 2013, a 2.3% excise of taxable sales on medical devices sold by manufacturers or importers will begin. This is one of the many money-making ideas within Obamacare set to help pay for the horrible legislation. There are many reasons to hate this tax. Some of them include:

  • The medical industry believes this will kill jobs and innovation within their industry.
  • Cutting through bureaucratic red tape to get medical devices on the market is already hard, this is just one more barrier to entry in the market.
  • Most medical device manufacturers are small businesses with small or negative profit margins.
  • It will increase the cost of medical insurance for consumers.

Let me expand on that last point. In fact the opposite has been touted. Proponents of the excise tax have stated that due to the universal coverage provided by Obamacare there will be a greater call for these devices. This increased demand for the devices will mean their price will drop. In addition since insurance companies and not consumers actually pay for the devices the new universal insurance will absorb the costs, which will be negligible to individual consumers.

There is so much wrong with that line of reasoning it almost gives one headache. For one, research of Romneycare in Massachusetts has shown that universal insurance has not increased demand for these devices. Demand for these devices has been same as before the near-universal healthcare was implemented in Massachusetts.

Furthermore thinking that adding an additional 2.3% to the cost of medical devices won’t hurt consumers is plain mind-bending. It means the insurance companies would eat this cost and not pass it on to consumers. That is unless the taxes (penalties) taken by the IRS from non-complying taxpayers and employers will offset this cost. Either way the cost of this excise tax will one way or another come from consumers. Whether tax is paid directly, indirectly through insurance, or forced indirectly through tax penalties it doesn’t matter. The bottom line this will increase the cost of medical devices for consumers.

The ironic part is this excise tax is expected to generate at least 20 billion dollars in revenue to pay for the cost of Obamacare; yet it may end up increasing the consumer costs of Obamacare. Or shorter: consumers will save money on healthcare by paying more for healthcare. Good job legislatures! You’ve made a piece of legislation worthy of 1984!

A letter to the Aberdeen City Council speaking against any pit bull bans

This email was sent to the City Council members and Mayor of Aberdeen.

Dear City Council member,

I am sending you this email to provide a point of view from someone opposed to any proposed pit bull bans in Aberdeen. As full disclosure I will say that I am a board member of the Aberdeen Area Humane Society (AAHS). However I am sending this email as a resident of Aberdeen, and not in any official capacity as an AAHS board member.

The proposed pit bull ban in Aberdeen seems to focus upon breeds that would ‘most likely bite’. One problem with breed specific legislation (BSL) is it requires accurate breed information for dogs. The National Canine Research Council (NCRC) has provided research showing that most dog breed studies are flawed because inaccurate breed information results in bad data. Even more research has been provided to show that actual dog experts have difficulties when determining canine breeds. Due to the overwhelming amount of mixed breeds its simply impossible to expect BSL to work for any particular canine control ordinance.

Pit bulls in particular are hard to classify. This can easily be summed up by this definition of pit bulls:

The slang term “pit bull” can describe anywhere from 3-30+ breeds of dog and their mixes and lookalikes. (Some have even confused Chihuahuas for “pit bulls”!) That’s why “pit bull” as a designation has widely become recognized as a type, not a breed; a type that could potentially describe countless numbers of medium- and large-breed dogs and their mixes.

Implementing a BSL ordinance against ‘pit bulls’ would do nothing  but create more confusion for the Aberdeen Police Department and the animal control officer. For a true BSL ban to be implemented it would require DNA testing of all dogs in Aberdeen. Privacy and economic concerns make such an action unreasonable.

Finally it is important to look at the cause of dog bites regardless of their breed. Here I re-post the conclusions of the NCRC:

We have always known the cause of dog bite injuries

From the first dog bite study published more than 50 years ago until today, the conclusions and recommendations of the researchers have shared a lot in common.

 “This study of the epidemiology of dog bites would seem to indicate that human factors are more important than environmental factors in the genesis of dog bites.”

— Henry M. Parrish, 1959

 “Education programs aimed at influencing the behavior of pet owners, particularly with respect to the responsibilities of ownership, would do much to reduce the magnitude of the problems.”

— H. Michael Maetz, 1975

 “Poor owner control blamed for increase in dog bites.”

— Washington Post, 1975

 “The growing problem of dog control can only be solved if dog owners realize their responsibilities as pet owners.”

— Lancaster Farming, 1978

 “Efforts to prevent severe dog bites should be focused primarily at the level of the owner.”

— John C. Wright, 1985

 “Generic non-breed-specific dangerous dog laws can be enacted that place primary responsibility for a dog’s behavior on the owner . . . In particular, targeting chronically irresponsible down owners may be effective.”

— Jeffrey J. Sacks, et al, 2000

 “The dog bite problem is not a disease problem with a single vector; it is a complex societal issue that must address a wide range of human behaviors in ways that deal with irresponsible behavior that puts people and animals at risk.”

— Randall Lockwood, 2007

 If we want better outcomes in our communities, we need to promote responsible pet ownership: the humane care, custody and control of all dogs.

As you can see from the above quotes it would be unwise to ban specific breeds of dogs. At its roots dog biting is a human-caused issue, not a canine-caused issue.  Thank-you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,

Ken Santema

This email has been sent to the following recipients:

Mike Levsen, Aberdeen Mayor, mayor@aberdeen.sd.us

Mark Remily, NE District Council Member, mark.remily@aberdeen.sd.us

Jeff Mitchell, NE District Council Member, jeff.mitchell@aberdeen.sd.us

Todd Campbell, NW District Council Member, todd.campbell@aberdeen.sd.us

Jennifer Slaight-Hansen, NW District Council Member, jennifer.slaight-hansen@aberdeen.sd.us

Clint Rux, SE District Council Member, clint.rux@aberdeen.sd.us

Laure Swanson, SE District Council Member, laure.swanson@aberdeen.sd.us

Tom Agnitsch, SW District Council Member, tom.agnitsch@aberdeen.sd.us

David Bunsness, SW District Council Member, david.bunsness@aberdeen.sd.us

Also the following media email addresses were CC’d in this email:

Jeff Bahr, Aberdeen American News Reporter that wrote the story covering the last City Council meeting, jbahr@aberdeennews.com

Aberdeen American News Newsroom, americannews@aberdeennews.com

KSFY Newsroom, youask@ksfy.com

KELO Newsroom, news@keloland.com

KDLT Newsroom, news@kdlt.com

This email has also been published online here.

Republicans, its time to take a stand again! That goes for local South Dakota elected officials as well.

The best quote I’ve seen in any article lately comes from Roger Pilon in his post over at CATO. Here is the relevant words from his post:

Republicans should break their anti-tax pledge only if they enjoy being irrelevant. America doesn’t need two tax-and-spend parties. One is one too many.

Republicans need to return to their small government roots. So far this country is headed towards a more European-style of two-party system: socialist big government party vs. slightly less socialist big government party. This trend has to stop before we end up in the same fiscal nightmare that the EU has become (as bad as it is here, it is even worse for ‘member states’ there).

This is even more true at the local level. Small government conservatives must work to get the Republican Party back to where they are relevant. Previously I have given political scorecards very little credibility. However upon further examining the scorecards found at the SD GOP Platform Accountability site I believe scorecards are vital for the future of any Party, especially the Republican Party. Politicians within the party must use peer pressure to keep small government pledges in place. The citizens that elect Republican candidates must also let it be known they will not stand for ’empty promises’ (as opposed to the Democratic Party that gives free stuff with other people’s money).

Unless the Republican Party fixes itself at the state level (in each state) it will be impossible for the national party to change. This means all small government conservatives must work together to fight the continually growing dangers provided by big government! The party must concentrate on the economic future of the United States. Without that happening I fear my children and their whole generation will end up waiting in bread lines.

Then maybe you shouldn’t work for Walmart! Oh wait… You don’t?

It’s that time of year again: Black Friday! Personally I hate Black Friday, I can’t see standing in crowds for junk I don’t like. However it does warm the heart to see anti-corporation liberals spending their money on useless junk just like most everyone else! Of course this is also the time of year when anti-Walmart sentiment peaks. This Black Friday the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) tried to rally support for picket lines in front of Wal-Marts around the country.

According to the UFCW “Walmart Associates have long endured: low wages, poor working conditions, and inconsistent schedules.” In addition there are claims that Wal-Mart retaliated against employees that speak out against any of these items. These claims have been debunked many times, so I won’t bother here. A good place to see how crazy Wal-Mart hatred has become is to watch this episode of Bullshit from Penn & Teller.

Here in South Dakota KSFY posted this story: Protesters outside east side Wal-Mart in Sioux Falls on Black Friday. The most interesting part of this article is this little quote:

“You can’t support a family, you can’t even afford to pay your bills by working full time at Wal-Mart,”

I believe this is probably a true statement. However how is it Wal-Mart’s fault that someone working at Wal-Mart doesn’t have all they want and/or need? It isn’t. Companies like Wal-Mart set their wages upon the laws of demand and supply. But again I digress, I’ll leave the debunking out of this post and focus on one key problem I have with the above quote: the person quoted did not work for Wal-Mart!

The person quoted above drove from Brookings to Sioux Falls in order to protest in front of the east side Wal-Mart. They don’t even work for Wal-Mart. In fact none of the protesters in front of the Sioux Falls Wal-Mart actually work for the company. Apparently only about 50 employees chose to protest against Wal-Mart nationwide. In addition Wal-Mart appears to have the best Black Friday it has ever had in its history.

And how does Wal-Mart treat its employees that didn’t quite their job and start protesting? They do the following evil capitalist moves listed in an Examiner article:

Walmart said employees receive a 10 percent discount year round on general merchandise, and those who worked on Black Friday received an additional 10 percent discount on a basket of goods. Employees also received holiday pay, the company said.

Oh wait, that doesn’t seem so bad. Well at least you have people driving from another city (that also happens to have a Wal-Mart) to protest your right to work!

Full Disclosure: I rarely shop at Wal-Mart and hate their junk. But that doesn’t meant I think they are evil, just not my type of store.

Thanksgiving

I won’t be posting this long holiday weekend. So thought I would post two great Thanksgiving videos. The first comes from 2011 Thanksgiving by Julie Borowski. It’s a telling of the pilgrims you won’t hear about in schools:

Julie Borowski – The Politically Incorrect Thanksgiving Story

 

And you can’t have Thanksgiving without the immortal song from Adam Sandler:

 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Has the tanning excise tax helped poor people?

Proponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare) usually tout poor people unable to afford healthcare as the reason behind Obamacare. If that is to be believed it is hard to understand why an inclusion of a 10% excise tax on indoor tanning services is included in ACA. This excise began on July 1, 2010. From that point on company’s selling tanning bed services had to file and pay the tax with the Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return.

Supposedly the tax was implemented for the following two reasons:

  1. Discourage the use of tanning salons. This ‘sin tax’ would supposedly reduce the number of melanoma cases in the US.
  2. To help pay for the cost of ACA.

I fail to see how either reason ‘helps the poor’. We all knew Obamacare had nothing to do with poor people, it was about social change. But I digress, lets move on and see how successful the two reasons for the tanning tax have been.

In June of this year CNN reported the following:

When the tax was implemented in 2010, the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation projected that it would raise $200 million in 2011 fiscal year and around $2.7 billion by 2019. However, the IRS only collected $36.6 million in the first half of the 2011 fiscal year, according to the Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration.

Imagine that, the governments projects were wrong. But at least they are sticking it to those evil tanning bed owners right! Well, I guess if you consider an industry that is small business driven and has mostly women owning those businesses as evil. Women business owners apparently don’t fall under those ‘women’s issues’ so often touted by both the Democrats and Republicans. Based upon the purely financial reasoning of this ACA provision it should be striked from the books.

But how about the social engineering aspect of this provision? Well CNN went on to provide this:

A full 78% of the salon owners polled reported that their clients did not seem to care about the tax, according to a study conducted by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine

That is a vast majority of customers that won’t drop tanning just because a new sin tax has been added to it. It’s hard to see keeping this sin tax; especially since it doesn’t actually appear to reduce the markets demand for a product.

I can see where some will now say that the problem is these evil women small business owners are not collecting, filing, and paying the new excise tax. Well, it’s not that simple. Here are some reasons revenues will never reach the levels touted by the architects of Obamacare:

  • The following exception in the IRS words: “There’s also an exception for certain physical fitness facilities that offer tanning as an incidental service to members without a separately identifiable fee.” So private fitness clubs can be exempt, as long as they do not charge individually for the tanning bed. I personally know a few tanning salons that decided to close their doors, and their beds went to a fitness club. I can’t find any reliable research as to how much of this has happened in the industry. But any time this happens it removes the 10% revenue going towards ACA.
  • Many beauty salons are now offering this service for free. Tanning services are given for free to loyal customers that have purchased other services. This walks a grey line and will likely receive intense IRS scrutiny. But I think its a pretty smart loophole.
  • The requirements of this sin tax are not as simple as they appear. Take the case of companies that bundle services. If tanning in bundled directly with other services an excise tax is still required on the tanning portions of that bundle. Or how about situation where tanning services are sold through an online social buying site? The IRS has a FAQ that cover such scenarios. However trying to keep up with such scenarios makes it difficult on a small business owner. They will likely refrain from paying the tax and hope they never get caught.

Now as I get to the end of this post I once again want to mention something: ACA was implemented to ‘help the poor’. Yet where in this misguided excise tax on tanning is there any relief for poor people within the United States?

We may never know what killed the Twinkie

Earlier this week Hostess announced it will be closing their doors for good. The letter left on their website touts the following reasons:

The Board of Directors authorized the wind down of Hostess Brands to preserve and maximize the value of the estate after one of the Company’s largest unions, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), initiated a nationwide strike that crippled the Company’s ability to produce and deliver products at multiple facilities.

I have no doubt the move by the BCTGM Union move caused the final nail in the coffin for Hostess. However it is worth considering multiple factors that likely worked together leading to their demise:

  • Collective-bargaining rules used by unions have driven companies like Hostess to their knees. A modern company must be flexible and be able to adapt to changes. Union mentality simply does not allow this to happen.
  • Sugar is a key ingredient in the hostess lineup of treats. Due to misguided import barriers (PDF) placed upon sugar, manufacturers like Hostess have to pay much more than the global rate for sugar. Forcing companies to pay more for key ingredients puts them at a disadvantage in the market.
  • Consumers becoming more health conscious in their shopping. It would be interesting to see if healthier shopping habits from consumers played a role. If this were to be the case it would be interesting to see if a ‘healthy Twinkie’ would make it on the market.
  • Government regulations, both state and federal, that Hostess had to comply with in its operations. It would be interesting to study all of the regulations that Hostess had to comply with. Once all regulations are known it could be analyzed to determine if there was a positive, negative, or null effect from these regulations. People from all political persuasions should be interested to see the results.
  • Poor leadership at the top of Hostess. The leadership decisions of Hostess should be studied to determine if there were better directions that could have been taken. This includes ethical decisions made by leadership. As pointed out by the union the top leaders at Hostess have been given unusually large pay increases during this process. Was this a factor that lead to the company closing its doors? Was it the leadership trying to grab anything they could before the ship sunk? Or is it the union bringing up a non-issue? To me it looks like a money-grab during the sinking of the ship; which would lead to ethical concerns about the leadership at Hostess.

There are probably more factors than these. I just think its worth looking at the situation from as many angles as possible. Since it is very unlikely that one single factors lead to the demise of Hostess, we can use this as a chance to determine what factors had the greatest amount of impact so they can be avoided in the future.

Parts of the secession story the media isn’t reporting on

I understand the media is always looking for ‘the big story’ and their reporting will reflect this stance. I can even understand that most media is biased; and by bias I mean towards statism, not simply the left vs. right media debate. However I just get more disheartened when the ‘secession’ story is not put into context.

If you read or listen to the media you would believe this is the first time since the Civil War that secession has been mentioned. In fact this country has a long history of secession talk from various groups. Mental Floss has a post highlighting 8 of these groups from US history. Talk of secession is hardly new. It is also unlikely this will be the last time it is ever mentioned. Personally I think secession is a bad idea; however it is important to keep debates about secession in the open. Much the media reporting I’ve seen on this story borders on condescension in their approach.

Even bloggers, both from the left and right, have taken a statist approach that talk of secession is un-American, racist, treason, etc… I’ve even seen some mention that anyone talking about secession should be imprisoned??? Its a sad week for free speech.

In their condescension most of the media has missed one very important story: where these secession petitions are being signed. The White House petition site “We the People” allows citizens to interact with the government directly and be heard. Reason had a very interesting post about the petition site earlier this week. The real story here isn’t this sudden surge of secession petitions, it is the previous petitions that have been ignored. When scrolling to the bottom of the list there are some very interesting petitions that met the 25,000 threshold. At the 25,000 threshold supposedly the White House will address an issue. Addressing an issue can be something as simply as putting out a statement as to why something is not possible or on the radar at this time.

Some of the issues ignored by the Obama administration:

I won’t go on. However there are some petitions that warrant a response from the Obama administration. Yes there are some ‘crazy’ petitions as well. However even those warrant a response if they reach the 25,000 threshold as promised by the White House.

There currently are 82 petitions that have received responses. I’ve read through some of them and there are some good answers from the White House administration (I don’t necessarily agree with the answers, but they were well written and respectful of the petitioners). However they appear to be cherry picked. For instance here are a few of the petitions that did not reach the 25,000 threshold:

  • A petition stating “Release the recipe for the Honey Ale home brewed at the White House” has just over 12,000 signatures yet it got a response: “Ale to the Chief: White House Beer Recipe“.
  • A petition stating “Stop Animal Homelessness at Its Roots” received the response “Ending Pet Homelessness through Responsible Pet Ownership“. This petition is interesting for two reasons. First it only reached approximately 12,000 votes. And secondly the answer given by the White House is acknowledges that this is a State and not a Federal issue! Now if they would only acknowledge that on more issues we would all be in better shape.
  • A petition stating “Recognize electronic cigarettes as an effective alternative to smoking and support job creation in this new industry.” received the response “Safe and Effective Ways to Quit Smoking“. This petition did not even reach 6,000 signatures. Yet it allowed the White House to post their video of Obama talking against cigarettes.

It could just be that the White House was answering any petition in the past. But it appears that cherry-picking has been done without any regards to the 25,000 signature threshold.

Another interesting features missing from this site providing “Your voice in our government” is the total lack of discussion areas. It seems to be attaching a discussion board to each petition would be simple. The current method of only the White House being able to provide responses make it seems like that is the authoritative answer. I think this petition site is a good idea, but it definitely needs some tweaking in its implementation.

Maybe now that more media knows about this petition site they will report on other issues that the people of the US care about. However I won’t hold my breath, the media simply doesn’t care about what the people think. So much for critical thinking skills from the press…

Can we stop talking about energy independence now?

Image courtesy of http://openclipart.org/

I can’t help but remember how many times I  heard “energy independence” during this last election cycle. Romney seemed to mention it more during the debates, but Obama seemed to use it just as much campaigning. Politicians going back as far as the Nixon era seem to love ‘energy independence’.  It seems when politicians tout energy independence they actually mean the following:  depending upon other potentially volatile countries for oil. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the US utilizing more of its resources and planning for a future without fossil fuels. However used as  nothing more than broken campaign promises to get elected is not the way to do it.

I’ve seen ‘energy independence’ as little more than a fear-inspiring campaign trick. This campaign trick fails to take a few very important considerations into account (there are more considerations, but I’ve narrowed it to what I see as important):

  1. The US is involved in a global economy. Having the government selectively interfere with portions of international trade creates unintended consequences; especially in energy related trade.
    1. From a right-leaning perspective this can lead to higher prices paid for goods; in this case leading to higher prices for oil. Yes, there are many factors that lead to higher oil prices; but government intervention is a huge one.
    2. A left-leaning perspective would see intervention in the oil trade as bad because it creates too much interested in foreign countries that produce oil. I can’t be the only one that remembers many on the left saying our war in Iraq was about nothing more than oil (which may be true).
  2. The majority of our foreign oil comes from the western hemisphere and not from the Mideast as politicians try to imply. The IEA has posted to the top five sources the US imports oil from: Canada 29%, Saudi Arabia 14%, Venezuela 11%, Nigeria 10%, and Mexico 8%.  Only 22% of our total oil imports come from the Mideast; with Saudi Arabia providing most of that supply. It simply isn’t true that we are ‘dependent’ upon any one particular source.
  3. Energy independence and climate change are two different issues; but the issues are very related since our energy choices have environmental implications. If the US is going to take a protectionist approach to energy independence, it also creates incentives for an isolationist environmental approach.  Environmental implications of energy and climate change are important issues and deserve to be more than simple campaign tricks.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released its World Energy Outlook 2012 publication (costs €120 for the PDF). IEA has posted a an executive summary (PDF) highlighting some of the key findings. Overall the summary is worth reading.

The new report from the IEA helps to further repute the claim that the US must work harder to become ‘energy independent’. This passage from the IEA report tells the story:

By around 2020, the United States is projected to become the largest global oil producer (overtaking Saudi Arabia until the mid-2020s) and starts to see the impact of new fuel-efficiency measures in transport. The result is a continued fall in US oil imports, to the extent that North America becomes a net oil exporter around 2030.

In addition to becoming a net-exporter of oil the IEA report also predicts that the US will “see gas overtake oil around 2030 to become the largest fuel in the energy mix.” And by 2035 renewable energies will account for roughly one-third of all electricity output (I’ve seen lower estimates for in the US, but cannot find them right now). All of this adds up to the ‘energy independence’ fear approach taken by politicians as a non-issue.

Some would say the energy policies of current and previous administrations have led towards this energy independence. I would say that argument is unfounded. In the past I’ve debated  that increased energy independence has more to do with market forces as opposed to government intervention. However, no matter the reason, I think its time for politicians to just stop using energy independence as one of their standard fear-inspired stances.