Don’t let Congresswoman Noem and President Obama push through TPP

tpp-fast-track-1A month ago I posted about the South Dakota Legislature passing a resolution endorsing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). I took special note of that non-binding resolution because I knew TPP would be coming up as a topic in DC later this year; and that time has now arrived. Last week the Obama administration made a four day trip in Asia and several members of Congress (including SD Rep Noem) also made a trip to Asia for over a week. Both trips involved the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Since returning from that trip it is expected that there will be a big push to pass TPP in the United States. That push needs to be stopped!

TPP is a large topic, so I won’t try to summarize it here. My previous post looked at some of the transparency and copyright issues I have with TPP. I would suggest everyone read this summary of TPP provided by Lydia Depillis at the Washing Post for a good primer. Here are some key points from her summary:

  • The Obama administration hopes to use TPP as a means to create China as our trade partner of focus, and get us out of the Middle East.
  • TPP is NOT just a trade agreement, at least not in the traditional sense. TPP also includes provisions on regulations and laws that must be adhered to by countries joining the agreement. That would mean the US would have to abide by the regulations set forth, even though they have never been vetted in public or debated in Congress.
  • TPP has 29 chapters included in it. Most of those chapters have nothing to do with ‘trade’.
  • The only things we know about TPP is from anonymous sources. Since everything being done with TPP is behind closed doors we don’t even know everything that has been included in it.
  • The scope and scale of TPP is unprecedented. Even if there is good portions of TPP, I cannot understand anyone that would support such a massive agreement (it would be a “sign it to see whats in it” type of action by Congress).

In January of this year the Obama administration had tried to ‘fastrack’ TPP. Fastracking is an ability that had previously been given to Presidents to promote trade ability. It basically allowed the administration to negotiate treaties and then send it to Congress for an Yes or No vote. That method is preferred by Presidents because it prevents individual parts of the treaty from being removed or otherwise amended. Congress failed to extend that right to the President in 2007 (during the Bush years). Obama in particular has been pushing for a fastrack approach because he knows there are parts of TPP that would never make it through Congress unamended. If the agreement is amended by Congress at all it would have to go before the other members of TPP for ratification. It is unlikely the other countries would agree to any changes we make.

It is expected that Obama will push hard once again to fastract TPP now that he is back from Asia. It is imperative Obama is not allowed to do so. Currently it doesn’t look like there is enough support in DC for the fastrack, but that doesn’t mean the Obama administration can’t find a way to make it happen.

But what about Noem’s involvement in all of this?

As I noted above there was a delegation of Congressmen that also made an Asia trip last week. Amongst those was South Dakota’s lone Representative Kristi Noem. She apparently went as an advocate of the agricultural industry. This week she gave the a speech on the House floor summarizing her trip to Asia. Here is a video of this speech:

It is quite apparent from her speech that she is promoting TPP. She went on to mention the many trade benefits to South Dakota and the United States for the agricultural industry. She believes South Dakota in particular could increase our exports to Asia dramatically under the deal. Noem makes the case that China wants USDA beef (will we see a “Where’s the beef” commercial in China?) But she also says she will not support TPP unless it eliminates trade barriers to agriculture.

There is a problem with Noems objections to TPP being based solely upon agricultural trade barriers. It gives the impression that she doesn’t understand many of the other non-agricultural parts of TPP that are bad. Yes, she was likely included in the delegation because she represents an agricultural state and she is good at following Majority Leader Cantor’s orders. But there is so much more to TPP than just agricultural trade (remember there are 29 chapters included in TPP, agriculture would be one small part of just one chapter). Even though she is the chosen agricultural ‘expert’ doesn’t mean she should only be considering that when looking at TPP. Her inability to look beyond her subject of expertise is disheartening to say the least.

Luckily TPP is unlikely to be fastracked by the Obama administration. But I don’t think ‘unlikely’ gives enough comfort to those that would oppose TPP. I could foresee situations where Rep Cantor would agree to push TPP through Congress (Republicans have traditionally supported the fastrack approach) and that good loyal Congressmen such as Noem would fall in line to pass it. To make sure that doesn’t happen it is time for constituents to let their Congressional delegation know TPP is NOT wanted by the United States. For those of us living in South Dakota I believe it is important to let Kristi Noem know there is more wrong with TPP than her subject of ‘expertise’. We need to let Congress know that we don’t want our country to be regulated to international treaties that have no transparency or accountability to We the People of the United States.

Video of Gubernatorial candidates Hubbel and Myers presser on SD corruption

Last week I noted that Republican Gubernatorial candidate Lora Hubbel and Independent Gubernatorial candidate Mike Myers were holding a press conference regarding corruption in South Dakota. I have embedded the video of this presser below. I think it is worth taking an hour to watch to hear other points of view in the South Dakota governors race.

Here are some thoughts I have after watching the video:

  • Hubbel mentions the Center for Public Integrity report showing that South Dakota has the second worse corruption score of all States in the Union. The poor score South Dakota got had mostly to do with transparency and lack of disclosure. I would like to add that the score doesn’t necessarily mean South Dakota is the 2nd most corrupt state in the Union, just that we don’t have the proper open records laws to verify corruption in Pierre.
  • On the above point, it is worth noting that Hubbel mentioned a lack of media in Pierre adds to the lack of transparency. I think that is a statewide (nationwide) problem. Newsrooms are much smaller than they used to be. No matter how good or bad the reporters we have are, there is only so much investigation reporting a few individuals can do. Bloggers fill some of that gap, but not enough in my opinion.
  • Hubbel explained how the current Governor, Dennis Daugaard, has used taxpayer money to benefit his friends and donors. I don’t believe all of these dealings are nefarious; but since GOED chooses winners and losers in the market using taxpayer dollars it makes it hard for the Governors office to refute claims of cronyism.
  • Hubbel highlighted many of the problems with the EB-5 program. I think mentioning Senator Grassley’s whisleblowing on the federal EB-5 program was a smart move on her part. It is not just a fringe group in South Dakota that opposes EB-5, there are US Senators that oppose the program as well.
  • Hubbel mentioned the steps taken by the South Dakota legislature and Governors (Rounds & Daugaard) to implement Obamacare in South Dakota. In 2007 there was legislation to enact a health information exchange (HIX). I don’t know much about that bill, but that would definitely be during the Rounds years. In the 20011 legislative session there were two bills pre-filed by the Governor Rounds administration: SB38 & SB43. The two bills, signed into law by Governor Daugaard, are what allowed the Obamacare marketplace exchanges to be created by the federal government in South Dakota. It is true that the federal government strong-armed the State into passing these laws (by saying they would withhold money for the state). Unfortunately both Governor Rounds and then Governor Daugaard basically tried to hide what these bills were doing. I don’t see why they took this approach. They could have made a big issue of it and shown how the federal government was forcing them to implement Obamacare in South Dakota. Instead they pretended it wasn’t happening and publicly said they were doing everything possible to fight Obamacare.
  • I think Primary races are good; especially when there is an incumbent. There is nothing wrong with a party deciding if the current Governor still best represents their party. Unfortunately Hubbel is not getting any chances to actually debate Daugaard. Part of that is because the establishment supports Daugaard, part of it is because she is not the usual well-spoken politician, and part of it is because she is seen as a fringe candidate (she is very much to the right of Daugaard). With those three factors working against her it is unlikely any group will host a forum where both candidates can debate.
  • Myers says his age (77) and his resume makes him the best candidate for Governor. I don’t know about the age part… but I do think his experience in law and the healthcare industry does give him good insights into the bad side of Obamacare.
  • Of all the candidates in the governor’s race (2 Republicans, 2 Democrats, 1 Independent) I would say Myers is the closest to being libertarian. For that fact alone I can see him getting some liberty votes, provided people actually hear about him.
  • Myers does take an interesting approach going after Sandford, stating it is a monopoly. As governor he would work to reverse that monopoly.
  • On that note, Myers wants to dispute the non-profit status of Sanford and Avera. Actually I would go a step further and get rid of the whole tax status of non-profit. (and even further I would get rid of all corporate taxes, but that is another issue with different reasonings).
  • Myers wants to push medical facilities to actually show the costs of any care given before it is given. I think he has a good point there. How many people understand what charges are taking place when they are actually at the doctor?
  • Myers really focused more upon corruption in the SD health industry than SD politics. But then it is politicians that have created the regulatory environment for the healthcare industry to become monopolies.
  • Myers had a staff member there that mentioned he is on the ballot (after Gant signs it). Then he went on to do twenty pushups as a celebration. I probably wouldn’t do that again during the middle of a presser as it left him a little winded (but it is impressive he can do so).

I don’t see either candidate gaining much traction in this election. Even though voters are become even more independent, they still tend to vote for status quo politicians. But I do see a day coming where we will start to see non-mainstream politicians start getting elected to statewide office. It will be interesting to see what the political environment will look like when that happens.

The CBO provides an infographic for the 2013 Federal Budget

Last week the CBO released an infographic (shown below) looking at the Federal Budget in 2013. I love infographics because they are a nice visual way to present numbers; yet there is nothing about this infographic that leaves me with a nice warm fuzzy feeling.  Here is a look at the three sections of this infographic.

The first chart in this infograhpic shows quite clearly that in 2013 federal spending is outpacing revenues. This chart is an easy way for people to understand where federal spending is going and where the revenue comes from. Some things to take note of in spending and revenues:

  • Mandatory spending accounts for $2 trillion. These are the parts of the government that keep going when the government shuts down slows down. I would expect this to expand even more as ACA becomes implemented.
  • Defense accounts for a little over half of discretionary spending… a good percentage of which is pork that isn’t even needed. Why not look here for smart cuts that brings down our federal spending and still keeps our country safe.
  • All revenues are barely enough to pay for mandatory spending plus interest. Since mandatory spending is so high, almost any money Congress spends in their yearly discretionary budget process will increase the national debt.

The second chart shows the federal deficits over the last 40 years. It is quite clear when the recession started in 2009. The deficits have come down since then, but they are still high! Often the falling deficit is attributed to Obama’s policies. I would say that is a false claim. The highest deficits were early in the Obama years, when he also had control of both houses of Congress. Since some power balance was restored in Congress there has been a number of years where Obama simply wasn’t able to push through the budget he wanted. More importantly sequester cuts slowed growth of government (slightly). I don’t think sequester cuts were the smartest way to reduce the federal deficit, but it has worked better than false promises of DC politicians.

Looking at the federal deficit chart it gives the false impression that the financial stability of the US is turning around… that is until the next chart is viewed.

The third and final chart in this infographic looks at the federal debt over the last 40 years. Federal debt as a percentage of GDP has continued to rise, and is currently at 72%. There is no reason to believe this trend will reverse any time soon. None of the current federal budget proposals in Congress do anything to reduce our debt burden (even the ‘draconian’ Ryan budget increases the debt). It is important for people to keep the actual debt in mind when politicians are talking about deficit. Politicians will try talking about one or the other (debt & deficit) in hopes that people aren’t looking at the bigger long-term picture.

No matter what politics a person follows, I can’t see any way for someone to say the numbers highlighted in this infographic are ‘good’ and that our country is on the right track. I suppose people can say to ignore the debt.. That worked out for Greece. Right?

Click to see a larger version
Click to see a larger version

I can renew my non-compliant health plan through 2016

nohcgovToday South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard made an announcement that many of us should be cheering on. This from the press release:

Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced today that the State will allow insurers to renew existing insurance plans for individuals and small groups, regardless of whether the plans comply with the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The decision will allow insurers to renew existing “non-compliant” insurance plans on or before Oct. 1, 2016, for individuals and for groups with 51 to 100 employees.

This is great news. I am one of the many consumers who is self-employed and purchases health insurance directly for my family. According to the press release this ability to renew non-compliant health plans will impact over 83,000 people in South Dakota; and potentially save them over $70,000 in the next two years.

I’ve heard many supporters of ACA say the plans on the exchange are ‘cheaper’. I would downright refute that claim. Even with the increased costs of my ‘non-compliant’ plan caused directly from ACA, I still am able to get cheaper insurance by keeping my current plan that I like. Here is the math I am using to come to this conclusion:

Current Monthly premium for my non-compliant (yet best suited to me) plan: $592.30

Monthly premium for the cheapest plan closest to my current coverage on the South Dakota Healthcare Exchange: $847.00

Increased premium cost per month: $254.70

Increased premium cost per year: $3056.40

I can’t speak for other people, but I can definitely say my budget is not flexible enough to spend another $3,000 a year for a plan that is less tailored to my families needs. There are plans that are cheaper. But after researching them I found I would lose some specialists doctor options I have with my current plan. The specialist options in my current plan has more flexibility in where I can go; which is very important because I have two family members with serious pre-existing conditions.

That is the other thing that gets tiring to hear about from the pro-ACA crowd. A big part of ACA was getting people with pre-existing conditions to be accepted by insurers. I can attest that plans did exist before that allowed for these family members to be covered (I did have to make sure we never lapsed coverage or risk losing coverage for that condition). A huge law passed by legislators (that didn’t understand what was in the law) was not the best way to tackle insurance companies denying customers because of pre-existing conditions. There were, and still are, other solutions available.

Ironically the plan I have now was considered high-cost (for its coverage) has now become a low-cost plan compared to alternatives provided through the Healthcare Exchanges. The only problem I see in the short-term is that I don’t think Wellmark will keep my non-compliant policy around for more than two years. The healthcare exchanges are money-makers for the big insurance companies. It really doesn’t make financial sense for them to keep an old policy around when they can use the coercive force of the federal law to charge more money for ‘better’ plans. I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when I get to it.

PS. I haven’t posted enough songs lately. Here is Remy on the promise that people can keep their plan:

Notes from the District 23 candidate forum in Ipswich

South Dakota Legislative District 23
South Dakota Legislative District 23

Yesterday evening I attended the District 23 candidate forum in Ipswich. As I noted before, this is one of six forums being held throughout a very geographically large District 23. All five candidates were in attendance. This post will be mostly a ‘note-dump’ with a few thoughts of my own added in. I’ll highlight a piece of each candidates response (and not necessarily the part of their message they tried to center around), so I’m not giving their whole answer here. For anyone that wants their whole answers I would recommend going to one of the three remaining forums.

  • Opening Remarks – I won’t spend a lot of time here. I was more interested in their answers to questions than their bio.
    • Michele Harrison – Harrison highlighted her business and Agricultural experience. It was a good long list. But most interesting probably was her current work as the Executive Director of the Mobridge Economic Development Corporation.
    • Dale Hargens – Hargens was an interesting entry into the Republican primary because he is a legislator that already served for a number of years as  Democrat; and he was a Democrat Minority Whip and Democrat Minority Leader during that time. Hargens said he felt the Democrat party moved away from him in its surge to the left. He said the Democrat Party had “Turned the lights out”. I’ve spoken with non-politicians in the Democrat party who have switched for similar reason, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and accept his answer as he gives it. Beyond that he said it was very important to get more agricultural producers in Pierre.
    • Larry Nielson – Nielson highlighted a history that shows he has been politically active almost his whole life. This includes lobbying in Pierre and DC. Also notable was he said Agricultural interests in Pierre need to be protected.
    • Justin Cronin – As a current legislator Cronin was able to highlight his work on the Ag and Local Government committees. One interesting thing he mentioned is that 10% of the agricultural industry in South Dakota takes place in District 23.
    • Gene Toennies – Toennies has a long history of working in Ag, starting businesses and currently working for the Faulk County Conservation District.
    • My Thoughts on Opening Remarks – On thing that was quite obvious is that all five candidates are running to represent the agricultural industry in District 23. That is probably a good move considering the rural nature of the district.
  • Economic Development – The first question was asking what ideas each candidate had for promoting economic growth, both in Dist 23 and in South Dakota.
    • Toennies – Gene talked about tying to entice businesses to come. But more importantly he said it was important to try keeping young people here.
    • Cronin – Justin said Dist 23 and South Dakota has to work with industries that expanding in the region due to the oil fields in ND. He also said the Building South Dakota program passed by legislators in 2013 was a step forward.
    • Nielson – Larry said the main thing that needs to be addressed is the infrastructure and reduce the red tape for businesses. He did however acknowledge that most of the red tape comes from the Federal government. He also mentioned that when planning economic development programs it is important remember some of those projects will fail, and that must be taken into account when planning ED programs.
    • Hargens – Dale said ethanol is an example of something South Dakota has done right. He said we need to refine our ethanol to a quality where it can become an export in the global market.
    • Harrison – Michele does economic development so this was a question almost tailor-made for her. She said economic development in Dist 23 should focus on tourism. Tourism in the outdoors areas such as hunting, fishing, and lake recreation are perfect for Dist 23. But she noted that before any economic development can really be done in Dist 23 that the housing shortage must be addressed.
    • My Thoughts – Most of the candidates actually at least partially ditto’d Toennies in saying that young people must be enticed to stay in SD. That is probably the goal that should be sought. I did like that Nielson mentioned the crumbling infrastructure and Harrison mentioned the housing shortage. It would be unwise to try expanding development in an area that doesn’t have the infrastructure or housing in place to handle it. Finally I would like to mention I did not agree with Cronin. Building South Dakota was a concept that failed to pass the voters in 2012; and then in 2013 Governor Daugaard and the Republican legislative leadership went ahead with it anyways. I think a much better use of that money would have been to follow the SD Constitution and commit resources to education.
  • Education funding – There was a question about weaning school districts off of their flexibility in utilizing capital outlay.
    • Cronin – Cronin said the local districts and taxpayers are in the best position to choose.
    • Nielson – Nielson said this was a decision best left to the local level.
    • Hargens – Hargens actually gave more of an answer here. One thing of note was his statement that big schools often think they will get a lot more money if they absorb smaller schools. He says that simply doesn’t happen that way. He also said “Why should Pierre give a damn” if locals choose to tax themselves more to pay for schools.
    • Harrison – Said local school boards and superintendents were in the best position to decide.
    • Toennies – Again, local school districts are in best position to decide.
    • My Thoughts – Local control was the unanimous answer here. Each of the candidates did give examples, but I wasn’t sure they were actual examples relevant to the question. I felt a few of candidates weren’t really sure what they were talking about. I think this is a tough question for those that have never actually dealt with the topic from a legislative or school board perspective. Those with legislative experience did give much better answers…
  • RNC Common Core Resolution – The candidates were asked if they supported the RNC resolution concerning Common Core (pg 5 of this PDF).
    • Nielson – Nielson said he has several issues with common core. Specifically he has concern with the curriculum being used with Common Core, the quality of the tests, and privacy concerns that go along with Common Core’s Data Mining. He did however say that he does not have a problem with the test, and believes there should be standards and a test.
    • Hargens – He said there may be some merit to the idea of Common Core. But he concerns with Common Core specifically because he is afraid kids are no longer being taught how to learn. Instead he feels Common Core will push teacher to “teach to the test”.
    • Harrison – She said Common Core is not doing good in public eye, so she cannot support it.
    • Toennies – He said he thought Common Core sounded good when he first heard of it. But now that he has started to look into it he has concerns.
    • Cronin – Cronin actually had the chance to vote on this resolution in the SD legislature this year (HCR 1023, which failed). He admists he voted no. He says he did so because he thought there was no alternative. Now he believes there were alternatives available that should have been looked at. He says he now agrees with this resolution.
    • My Thoughts – I am guessing Cronin was hammered pretty hard by constituents after voting no for the resolution. One thing worth noting is that all of the candidates seem to be recently ‘awakened’ as to the dangers of Common Core. In fact a couple of the candidates really didn’t even know anything about it until they entered this race. I think this shows the groups opposing Common Core have to continue communicating with politicians on the dangers of Common Core.
  • Property Taxes – Charlie Hoffman asked an interesting question about the productivity method of property taxes for ag and if the candidates would go back to the pre-Janklow methods.
    • Hargens – Hargens highlighted problems with Directors of Equalization. He would rather see actual use for land instead of productivity potential. He also said land is headed for a downward correction soon.
    • Harrison – Harrison highlighted some grassland that is getting taxed at a higher rate because of the soil type under than grass. She also said she would like to see a five-year plan or a yearly cap on increases.
    • Toennies – Toennies highlighted many examples of unequal taxes across his county under the old system.
    • Cronin – Cronin mentioned he was a no vote while involved with a productivity task-force. He says the biggest problem he sees is the communication disconnect between Pierre and Assessors.
    • Nielson – Nielson highlighted more issues with the unequal treatment  under the old assessment method. He said any system that is utilized bust focus on equality.
    • My Thoughts – Hoffman threw a good question out, but a tough one to break into a couple minute answer. And unfortunately I don’t know enough about the previous and current methods to really delve into the topic (I feel that was true for a couple of the candidates as well). But based upon what I do no, I agree with Hargens that we should be looking towards a use method.
  • Lack of Education Standards – Another Common Core question. This time the candidates were asked what would happen if there suddenly were no standards in public education.
    • Harrison – Harrison basically said teachers would teach the same.
    • Toennies – Toennies mirrored Harrison’s answer.
    • Cronin – Cronin said the teachers in this state have been continuously changing the standards over the years. He also stated he believes in standards overall.
    • Nielson – He said standards of some sort have exist, because there has to be a target/goal. But he isn’t worried about the standards portions of Common Core; he is more worried about other CC areas such as data mining.
    • Hargens – He said teacher communicate with each other and would continue to teach. He agrees that data mining is a troubling aspect of CC. Also worth noting is that he believes low teacher wages is a big issue in South Dakota.
  • Republican Values – The candidates were asked their stances on abortion, gay marriage, taxes and people’s rights (in 2 minutes or less).
    • Toennies – Toennies said it is important to respect the churches on gay marriage. But he said outside of the church it should be up to people to decide for themselves. He said he is right to life, but that there needs to be flexibility for hard choices that need to be made. He said everyone has to pay taxes.
    • Cronin – Cronin also is pro-life. As to same-sex marriage he had a bigger answer. He mentioned legislation this year (SB7) that provided protect for same-sex couples with its language of “Is or has been in a significant romantic relationship”. I’m not sure this bill proceeded in the way he thinks it did. He seemed to think that language was amended out. It was not, it was simply moved around. On taxes he said they should also be a last resort.
    • Nielson – Nielson spoke mostly about the dichotomy between freedoms and restrictions. He did state he is pro-life, but there need to be exceptions to protect mothers. He does not believe in gay marriage, that it is nothing but a topic brought forth to expand benefits for more people. He says there needs to be less taxes so that money can be used by entrepreneurs to actually grow the economy.
    • Hargens – Hargens said he is pro-life, but he has voted both ways. He made sure to say that exceptions must exist for cases such as rape, incest, etc…  He also said the legislature has to be more careful when bringing forth well-intended but silly abortion legislation. That does nothing but fill pockets of Planned Parenthood lawyers that fight against such laws. He also said government shouldn’t even be involved in marriage.
    • Harrison – Harrison said she is pro-life. She also said abortion and gay marriage are “morality issues”; and as a conservative she doesn’t believe the government has the right to choose these issues for people. On taxes she said “some have to be there”.
    • My Thoughts – This was actually the toughest question. Many voters make their decision based simply upon abortion-related issues. But, I think most of the candidates did well answering it. They all are pro-life, but understand it is not a black & white world. There are cases where abortions may be necessary for medical or wellness of the mother type reasons. Most of them also gave stories related to abortion. Even those who said there need to be exceptions worked hard to show that it should be an absolute last-resort. I believe the Republican party as a whole need to listen to the answer of Hargens on gay marriage: government shouldn’t be involved in marriage. If we get government out of marriage it will become a non-issue. Let marriage return to the churches. As was stated by all the candidates taxes are the way we fund government, but taxes should be kept low to allow the economy to flourish.
  • Homeschool Freedom – The candidates were asked by Linda Schauer if homeschool parents should be allowed to choose curriculum (regarding Common Core).
    • Cronin – He said Dist 23 has a lot of homeschoolers and he supports that.
    • Nielson – He says he supports homeschooler freedoms, but there has to be tests.
    • Hargens – He said he supports homeschooler parents, but the local school boards need to work with them.
    • Harrison – Pointed out homeschoolers seem to be better at testing. Also highlighted that homeshcool parents need flexibility.
    • Toennies – He said his only concern with homeschooling is a potential for lack of social interaction; but that he feels parents should have the right teach as they want to.
    • My Thoughts – This was a pretty standard answer for all involved. They all seem to recognize the growing popularity of homeschooling and seem to think parents should have the ability to set their own curriculum.
  • Core Republican Beliefs – The candidates were asked to talk about their core Republican beliefs.
    • Nielson – Nielson says we need to return back to a smaller government.
    • Hargens – Hargen says there needs to be a smaller and more efficient government.
    • Harrison – Harrison said government needed to be smaller and more local control where appropriate.
    • Toennies – Toennies also ditto’d small government. But also said there needs to be a focus on integrity in government.
    • Cronin – Cronin focused on less government with more efficiency. He also said he would like to return to a unified Republican Party.
    • My Thoughts – It wasn’t a surprise to see all the candidates push for a smaller and more efficient government. I really think Toennies had a winner by also focusing on the integrity of those involved with the government.
  • Keystone XL – The final question was about Keystone XL pipeline and whether it should be approved.
    • Hargens – He said the KXL should be approved because it promotes energy independence. He also said people need to research certain environmental groups opposing KXL, because they are potentially false fronts for other groups. He also mentioned Warren Buffet with his railroad ties fighting against the KXL.
    • Harrison – She would support KXL being approved.
    • Toennies – Would support KXL being approved.
    • Cronin – Cronin mentioned the the many letters Obama talked about receiving asking him to stop the KXL. Cronin then asked whether Obama had also received the many letters asking for Obamacare to be stopped. He also then stated he would support KXL being approved.
    • Nielson – He would support KXL being approved. But did mention problems with it being done to be exported.
    • My Thoughts – I fall with all of them in thinking it should be approved. I am disappointed none of them mentioning the one BIG problem I have with KXL though: the abuse of eminent domain in the project.
  • Wrap-up – Final thoughts from each of the candidates.
    • Harrison – She believes her views are in-line with the conservatives in Dist 23.
    • Toennies – He highlighted the fact he has no platform or agenda. Instead he is focusing on values such as integrity, responsibility, accountability, and trustworthiness.
    • Cronin – He highlighted his work in the legislature to overcome the structural deficit (left from the final year of the Rounds administration, he didn’t mention Rounds by name however).
    • Nielson – He says he focuses a lot on unintended consequences and believes legislators should work hard to make sure bad laws are not passed.
    • Hargens – Hargens likes to think of himself more as a law repealer than as a law-maker. He actually noted that each time a law is passed it takes a freedom away from somewhere.
    • My Thoughts – Overall the candidates did a good job of trying to use conservative talking points they think will resonate in Dist 23. I was actually hoping more people would be in attendance, it was sparse. This primary is the only legislative race in Dist 23 this year. Hopefully the next few events will have more constituents.

SD Corruption Press Conference on Wednesday

podiumHere is an interesting press release from Republican Gubernatorial candidate Lora Hubbel and Independent Gubernatorial candidate Mike Myers. I won’t be able to make this event. But if you are in the Sioux Fall area it may be worth checking out.

Wednesday, April 23, Caille Library,
11:30am – 12:30pm
4100 Carnegie Cir
Sioux Falls

Come hear Lora Hubbel, Republican candidate for Governor and Mike Myers, Independent Candidate for Governor speak this Wednesday.

South Dakota is the second most corrupt state in the nation…why? Because of our poor open records laws. Come see how this effects issues that concern you. When information is stymied and hidden (SD is a master at this) you are denied information in making personal choices…whether that be for your candidates for office, your businesses and even your doctor.

Questions addressed:
…is SD hiding information on the EB5 scandal?
…are you getting the truth on ObamaCare in SD?
…how do Republicans treat women candidates?
…come with your questions, we will answer them.

Lora Hubbel, Candidate for SD Governor

Time to reject status quo politicians, especially in the SD US Senate Race


Typical status quo politician...
Typical status quo politician…

A study released from Princeton and Northwestern University (PDF) looked at around 1800 policy changes over a twenty year period to see how these changes compared to wishes of Americans. The results are unsurprising, the United States effectively operates more as an Oligarchy than a Democracy (as generally believed) or Republic (as set out in Art IV Section 4 of the US Constitution). This is important to consider with the current US Senate race going on in South Dakota.

Basically an Oligarchy is a form of government where the wealthiest and most powerful citizens dominate political policy. In the United States this political policy power can best be seen in the form of special interest groups that control status quo politicians. As a result, the wealthy elites that fund the special interest groups have more direct impact upon public policy than the population of the country as a whole.

I think this line from the paper best sums up the ability of the average American to influence public policy:

When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.

So if the average American has no impact public policy is there anything that can be done? Most current populist approaches from the left seem aimed at removing money from politics. The theory being that if rich people and special interest groups cannot give money to politicians, then those politicians cannot be bought. There are two problems with that approach. First it assumes that money can be removed from politics. I have yet to see any proof from any part of history that shows money can be removed from politics. Second, restricting the ability of citizens to spend money in politics is a direct attack on free speech. That includes special interest groups, which are basically organizations of people collectively using their rights together. Attacking free speech arbitrarily to reach an unattainable goal of no money in politics is simply bad policy.

I think the better approach would be to focus on the politicians. It is status quo politicians that enable the current Oligarchy that America has become. We the voters of this country should reject status quo politicians. This is equally true for both Republicans and Democrats; or even status quo politicians running as Independents. Politicians are needed that can resist the money and power of special interest groups.

The current US Senate Race in South Dakota has three examples of status quo politicians that should be outright rejected by the voters. In the Republican primary there is former Governor Mike Rounds. Rounds is a text-book example of a status-quo politician that has been bought and paid for by special interest groups. There is a reason these special interest groups are giving him so much money: they know he will continue the status quo special-interest spending that happens in DC.

The Democrat in the South Dakota Senate Race, Rick Weiland, is another status quo politician. Actually, in my estimation he is worse than Rounds would be as a Senator. On the good side Weiland is campaigning against money in politics; but he  wants to restrict the free speech of everyone with a Constitutional amendment so he can take on “dirty money”. This from a candidate who worked for a status quo politician, Tom Daschle, and also has most of his campaigns monetary backings coming from out-of-state special interest groups. Weiland’s odd mixture of populism and status quo politics may seem appealing to some voters; but hopefully the will reject him for his status quo roots..

The third status quo politician in the South Dakota US Senate Race is Larry Pressler. Pressler already served as an elected official in DC for 22 years, and since then has been a DC resident. He could be used as a perfect example of the type of status quo politician that has allowed this country to become an Oligarchy. His switch of registration from Republican to Independent does not change the fact that he is a DC insider that wants to return to the day when status quo politicians were not opposed by Tea Party or Occupy groups.

America will continue down the path of an Oligarch if things are not changed. It seems the most apparent path away from an Oligarchy is to elect politicians that will actually veer away from the status quo and work for “we the people”. By doing so we can bring this country back to being one founded on a unique mixture of Constitutional Republic and Democracy concepts. Until we stop sending status quo politicians to DC it will be impossible for average Americans to truly have a voice in politics. Perhaps people will start realizing that this election. I hope so…

More Tax Day Music

It is April 15, also know as Tax Day in the United States. For me personally it is an interesting day. On one hand I believe the current progressive tax system utilized in the United States is actually regressive and prevents poor people from advancing their financial lot in life. But on the other hand I married a wonderful tax preparer ten years ago. My wife and I now own a business that specializes in payroll and income taxes. Seeing first hand the impact taxes have on people’s lives has actually reinforced my belief the current tax system is regressive. But that’s a post for a different day…

Last year I posted 5 great Tax Day songs. Here is a list of 5 more tax-related songs to ‘celebrate’ Tax Day 2014.

The first song comes from The Who. This song basically looks at the troubles that comes from success. Particularly success catches the attention of the tax man in this line: “Six for the tax man, and one for the band.”

I think Johnny Cash summed up well the feeling many people have about the current tax system: “‘Cause from those total wages earned, Down to that net amount that’s due, I fee the painful sense of loss between the two.”

Now is a song I feel belongs, but almost kept of the list because it goes way beyond problems with the tax system. Marvin Gaye recorded this song before I was even born, yet the many problems he lists in this masterful work seem all the more relevant today. Specifically for this post, I am taking note of Gaye talking about not being able to pay taxes due to bad breaks. Many Americans can relate to that today. But even more important in this song is the mention of inflation. Inflation in the United States is actually purposely created by the Federal Reserve and through Congressional spending. It is the biggest and most regressive form of taxation on the poor. Anyway, here is the song:

And now to Willie Nelson. This song is definitely a familiar situation for those trying to do better in life. Among the many things making it hard to keep going is the “money went to taxes”.

Finally I have to include a song from Remy. Just in time for Tax Day he has released a new song (that is a rework of Pharrell Williams song “Happy”).

Bonus Tracks

I don’t know why I even try to keep myself to just five songs. Here are a couple more songs that are worthy of mention on Tax Day.

This is an older song from Remy, but I actually think it says even more about our current tax system than his newer song.

This is one I came up while searching YouTube. I think this song sums up my feeling pretty well.

Another song I found while searching YouTube. A piece of satire to the tune of American Pie.

Happy “Tax Day” everyone!

District 23 Candidate Forums being held over the next two weeks

South Dakota Legislative District 23
South Dakota Legislative District 23

The District 23 House will be one of the more interesting legislative races in South Dakota this year. Any candidate hoping to win a legislative race in this district will have some traveling to do. And since every entry in the race is in the Republican primary, trying to figure out how to reach such a large area before June 3 is going to be a logistical and campaign finance nightmare. Luckily there be a series of Candidate Forums in District 23 to make it easier for constituents and candidates to interface.

The candidate forums are being organized by Concerned Citizens of District 23. Contact info for the group can be seen in the flier at the end of this post. Here are the events scheduled by this group over the next couple of weeks:

  • April 14 – Bowdle – 7pm (Edmunds county)
    Multipurpose/Community Room
  • April 15 – Eureka – 7pm (McPherson County)
    Prime TIme Bar & Restaurant- Main Street
  • April 21 – Ipswich – 7pm (Edmunds County)
    Edmunds County Courthouse Community Room (2nd Floor)
  • April 24 – Gettysburg – 7pm (Potter County)
    Gettysburg Fire Hall – 417 W Garfield Ave
  • April 28 – Miller – 7pm (Hand County)
    Location TBD
  • April 29 – Faulkton – 7pm (Faulk County)
    Community Center (West End of School – South Side of Highway)

I plan to attend at least one of the events, most likely the on in Ipswich since it is just a short drive down Highway 12 from Aberdeen. The physical distance between some of these events shows how great of an area district 23 covers. The map of district 23 (included in this post) shows it includes all of the following 6 counties: Campbell, McPherson, Walworth, Edmunds, Potter, Faulk,and Hand. Plus there is a just a little bit of Spink county that is included in District 23. That is one heck of an area for candidates to try canvassing. The redistricting performed a couple of years ago really left these candidates with a large and odd-shaped district to contend with.

Speaking of candidates. Here are the candidates seeking a legislative seat in District 23 this year.

District 23 House Race.

Incumbent Republican Representative Charlie Hoffman decided not to see reelection in 2014. The other incumbent Republican Representative Justin Cronin is seeking re-election. With Hoffman vacating his seat there are four others seeking to win the Republican primary. Nobody entered the race as a Democrat. The two candidates that win the Republican primary will by default win the general election due to a lack of registered Democrats entering the race. Here are the five that will be in the District 23 House race going after the two seats:

  • Justin Cronin – As the only incumbent in the race it is expected he will easily retain his seat.
  • Larry Nielson – I’ve met with Larry a couple of times and believe he would be a good candidate for those of us that believe in limited government. His biggest handicap in this race is living in Tulare, which puts him in that little piece of District 23 that is in Spink County.
  • Dale Hargens – Earlier in this post I was careful to say there weren’t any “registered Democrats” in this race. I say that because Dale Hargens is a former Democrat legislator. In 2003-2004 Hargens was the Democrat Minority Whip and in 2005-2008 he was the Democrat Minority Leader. I’ll wait until I get a chance to speak with him before commenting on his change of party.
  • Gene Toennies – I know very little about Toennies. Hopefully I can speak with him at one of the forums to see how this candidate from Cresbard stands on issues.
  • Michele Harrison – I don’t really know a lot about her as a candidate. But living in Mobridge is a huge advantage in this race. I believe Mobridge is the highest population town in District 23. I will be interested to hear what she has to say at one of the forums.

District 23 Senate race. 

The District 23 Senate race is drastically less interesting. The only candidate in this race is incumbent Republican Senator Corey Brown. It’s sad to see a lack of opposition in any race… I think it can be pretty much assumed the candidate forums are focused purely upon the House primary, and not on Senator Brown.

040914 Updated Sign

040914 Updated Sign

We finally had a US Senate debate in SD with all 5 candidates present

podiumYesterday the South Dakota Newspaper Association hosted a debate for the five Republicans seeking to win the primary in the US Senate race. The replay can be watched on the Argus Leader website. This is actually the first time all five candidates have been together in a debate forum. There were good and bad parts to this debate. Because of some shortcomings in the debate I believe Republican primary voters deserve more of these debates before making their decision on June 3. In this post I will look at how the debate was ran by the SDNA, and then some thoughts on what each candidate said.

How well was the debate run?

First I would like to focus on how the debate was moderated. The SDNA did a great job setting the ground rules and keeping the questions flowing. I hope future debate moderators will look at how this event was run and take notes accordingly. Maybe each question could be allowed a little more time, but not too much more.

The only real problem I had with the debates proceedings were some of the questions. The three asking questions were reporters from within the State of South Dakota. There were a few questions I felt were out-of-place for a Republican primary. In particular one question was staged as a statement disputing the typical Republican response to climate change. If a reporter wants to preach about their favorite political stance of the left they can do that for their newspaper. The audience for the debate was presumably Republican primary voters; who were not tuning in to get a lecture from a high-and-mighty reporter (remember when mainstream media reporters at least pretended to be non-partisan?). Even without that question, I felt there were very few substantive topics being discussed. Hopefully those running future debates will take that into account as well…

Now, on to the candidates! I will go in the order they drew to speak.

Mike Rounds

Many are treating Mike Rounds as the presumed winner of the Senate race this fall; and I believe mistakenly so. Watching him in the debate it is quite obvious why he avoided earlier debates (his supporters claimed the earlier debates were ‘too soon’, this trying to defend a candidate that entered the race 2 years before the election). On the first question he actually said he wouldn’t answer it and spoke on something else. Most of the debate he spent saying his current campaign catchphrase “South Dakota common sense”. He is using the old campaign trick used by politicians to get all statements to fall within that catchphrase; which sounds really good, but says nothing! His campaign staff is probably proud of his performance, but voters should be disappointed in the lack of substance from such a high-profile candidate.

When talking about Obamacare I was disappointed to hear him say that he has always fought against Obamacare. I would have preferred for him to be more honest and admit the legislation he helped implement to align South Dakota law with ACA. He actually could have used that as a point to show how the Federal government is strong-arming states into complying with over-reaching federal laws. Instead he pretended it didn’t happen. Unfortunately all fifty states had to make legislative changes to align with ACA, including SD. Pretending that didn’t happen makes it look like Rounds secretly supports ACA. I don’t really think Rounds supports Obamacare, but he didn’t fight against it or even try to bring attention to what our state was forced to change in our laws to comply with ACA.

EB-5 of course came up. He still fully supports EB-5 as a jobs creator. He also says no South Dakota money was lost in the use of EB-5 funding. That point is debatable.  Rounds continued support of the EB-5 program is disheartening from a fiscal conservative standpoint. I would much rather see Rounds say “Hey, I thought it would work out, it didn’t”. Instead of continuing to support EB-5, Rounds should be fighting to remove the government from choosing winners and losers in the market. Maybe the primary process will bring out some unseen fiscal conservativeness before June 3…

On the good side I was happy to see Rounds mention the War on Coal being waged by the Obama administration. If he does make it to DC I hope he will remember his words and actively fight to protect jobs from over-reaching federal regulations that are killing our economy. He also mentioned the coal we don’t use here simply gets shipped to China and used there; and China does not have the technology in place to burn coal as cleanly as the United States does. If Rounds can stick to talking points like this he might actually sound like a limited-government Republican.

I also hopes he remembers saying the federal Department of Education needs to go away. Perhaps like most people he didn’t understand what Common Core was about when he was Governor and his administration began our state down the path of centralized education. A lack of knowledge of what actually happened while he was Governor is a recurring theme though…….

Stace Nelson

I don’t think it would be a surprise for any reader of this blog to know I support Nelson in this race. His answers were in stark contrast to those of Rounds. EB-5 in particular is an example of how the two are different. Nelson would push for the EB-5 program to be eliminated completely. Nelson listed many ways the EB-5 program is crony capitalistic and a likely place for corruption. This to me is the key as to why I support Nelson in this race: I believe South Dakota would be best served with a US Senator that will fight to remove federal influence from the free market. Currently there are very few portions of our economy that actually has any semblance of free market. We need representation in DC that will actually try to bring some free market principles forth as solutions.

When speaking of Obamacare Nelson mentioned how the Rounds administration, and the legislature at that time, helped to enact laws in South Dakota so the state would align with ACA’s requirements. This is something Nelson has been bringing up this whole campaign. Somehow mentioning these actions is categorized as an ‘attack’ that breaks Reagan’s 11th Commandment. I disagree (I’ve posted on this before). When Nelson says he would fight to repeal Obamcare and implement free market principles in its place I believe him.

To me the area Nelson did best in was when talking about the Ryan budget. Nelson says the Ryan budget is a good start, but doesn’t go far enough. He says his experience working within the military gives him insight into parts of the National Defense budget that could, and should, be cut. This is an area all Republicans should be looking to when balancing the budget. That doesn’t even mean reducing the power of our military. I means finding portions of the military spending that are no longer needed, and are only around so politicians can continue to get special interest money.

The only problem I had with Nelson in this debate is that I thought he went off topic a few more times than he needed to. I agree with him that special interest money’s are bad. But making a variation of the same message each round can make the viewers forget some of the other specifics they viewed during the debate. It might be a good way to get a message out, but its a bad method to use if he wants people to remember more than one takeaway point.

Mike Rounds & Stace Nelson

Before going on I’ll mention Rounds did actually bare his teeth and go on the offensive against Nelson. I was surprised to see him do it. He mentioned Nelson getting kicked out of the Republican Caucus while serving in Pierre. Nelson said that was done by moderates. Stace has been working hard to ensure limited-government concepts are present in Pierre. That at times has had him at odds with leadership in Pierre. I think the fact he was willing to stand up to leadership based upon conservative principles shows Nelson is the type of representative needed in DC!

Rounds also mentioned the press conference that Nelson had held with liberal Senate candidate Rick Weiland. Anyone that actually watched the press conference with Nelson and Weiland could not come away seeing the two as ‘allies’. In fact other than hating special interest money I didn’t hear anything in that news conference that the two agreed upon.

Some will say it was time for Rounds to start attacking back because of the constant attacks from Nelson. The difference though is that Nelson is attacking Rounds record as a SD legislator and executive actions as a SD Governor. Rounds attacks on Nelson had nothing do with actual legislative records or executive actions. But that is how I see it, primary voters may see it differently… It was interesting to see Rounds drop his Mr Nice Guy face though…

Annette Bosworth

Due to the inconsistencies in her nominating petition (which is likely to be fraudulent) and other questionable activities from her campaign, I have previously said I wouldn’t give her campaign much attention. That remains to be true. I think she did horrible and had no substance in this debate anyhow…

Jason Ravnsborg

Jason did a lot better than I thought an inexperienced politician would do. This is his first time running for office, and its a big race at that. Of all the candidates in the attendance he had the most ‘answers’. I disagreed with some of his answers, but I definitely respect that he is offering forth solutions.

When talking about Obamacare Ravnsborg promoted the Patient CARE Act as a replacement to ACA. This is an act brought forth by Sens. Burr, Coburn & Hatch. It includes many of the parts of ACA that people like, without the hundreds of pages of unrealistic regulation. Personally I don’t like the Patient CARE Act, but think it is good for candidates to discuss such alternatives. A big point Ravnsborg was trying to make is that the Republican Party as a whole has been poor at providing alternatives and has become known as the “Party of NO”. I do feel if he is elected Senator he would fight to change that “Party of NO” reputation.

Other areas Ravnsborg had some answers for were the budget by supporting the “penny plan” and supporting Senator Grassley to repeal EB-5. Most of his answers seem to be latching on to solutions already provided by Senators in DC and promoting them. I think that is a fair way for a candidate to proceed. No single person can have the answer to everything and Ravnsborg seems to understand that.

The main negative I have with Ravnsborg is his lack of experience. I think that can be good. But his lack of even a little state legislative experience means there is no record to run on. Maybe if he keeps offering answers to everything like he did in this debate, he can use that as a replacement to an actual record.

Larry Rhoden

Rhoden was typical for him. He made some nice conservative talking points, but he had no fire in him. I actually think many voters that prefer a more moderate conservative would choose Rhoden over Rounds if they could connect with him. Rhoden has to find a way to actually connect with his audience, until that happens a race as the US Senate is out of his reach. Also he wouldn’t answer the EB-5 question because he didn’t have enough facts… That makes him seem somewhat disconnected from issues.

On the good side I really wish he had more time to expand on the strengthening of HSA’s. Part of Obamacare actually reduced the effectiveness of HSA’s, and Rhoden understands that. Here was a taxation part of the medical insurance industry that was actually helping families, and Obamacare has essentially killed it. Other candidates need to latch on to specific parts of ACA like this and show how it is hurting Americans.

Other good areas from Rhoden include using the Indian Reservations as an example of failed federal entitlement systems, opposing the ‘fact’ that climate change as described in the question is correct, and his personal experience as a legislator fighting against the EPA. If he could stick to topics such as these and show some emotion then maybe he can connect with more voters.

So who won?

I don’t think any ‘winner’ can be called for this debate. While I think the format was great, that wasn’t enough to provide an environment for there to be a clear winner. Too many of the questions were setup in a way that made them bad topics for a Republican primary. Personally I think my candidate of choice, Stace Nelson, did quite well. I would also say that Ravnsborg showed a lot more promise than he has in the past. Other than that it wasn’t really a debate anyone could say “X won this debate hands down!”. Maybe in a future debate we can get better questions..