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Federal budget deficits are no longer falling

November 1, 2016 Comments off

About a month ago I posted an infographic showing just how big the national debt really is. It is hard to have any discussion about the national debt without looking at the national budget deficit. The budget deficit is created by the federal government spending more money than it takes in through its revenue streams (mostly taxes). In 2011 Congress passed the Budget Control Act to reign in out of control spending. The Budget Control Act was passed in part to deal with the debt-ceiling “crisis” of 2011; and interestingly has actually forced Congress to make some minor budgetary cuts. This has caused four years of the deficit actually going down; although it is still very high. Oddly this drop in deficit spending has often been attributed to the Obama administration, even though it is Congress that sets the budget and follows the Budget Control Act.

But now it appears the reductions in deficit spending has been reversed. Here is a chart released by MyGovCost showing the deficit from 2008-2016:

Chart from MyGovCost.org

Chart from MyGovCost.org

In 2015 the decline of the deficit was very minor. Then in 2016 the deficit reversed course and is once again growing. Here is the reason given by MyGovCost for this rise:

From 2015 to 2016, the U.S. budget deficit increased by $148 billion, or by 33.7%. The increase in the deficit was caused by a 5% increase in the federal government’s year-over-year spending, particularly for the mandatory expenditures of net interest on the national debt, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

Perhaps it is time for Congress to do away with mandatory spending altogether and put all spending up to a budgetary vote every two years. That would at least force Congress to address the ever-growing mandatory spending problem the US currently has.

Categories: Federal Power Tags: ,

Rapid City and Sioux Falls events looking at an Article V Convention

September 20, 2016 Comments off

On Thursday and Friday of this week there will be informational events coming to Rapid City and Sioux Falls highlighting the dangers of an Article V Convention. I written about a possible Article V Convention on this blog a few times. The most relevant is probably from two years ago when I laid out why I feel an Article V Convention would be bad. To help people understand the dangers of an Article V Convention a group called the Restore Liberty Alliance is bringing Senator Andy Biggs from the Arizona state legislature to speak on the topic. Biggs wrote a book about the topic called The Con of the Con Con. These should be interesting meetings for anyone wishing to learn more about the dangers of a Constitutional Convention.

Below is the information about the two meetings. The fliers are also included at the end of this post.

Rapid City Meeting

Date: Thursday, September 22

Time: 6:30 pm

Location: Classroom Bldg, Room 204, 501 E Saint Joseph St, SD School of Mines, Rapid City, SD

Cost: Free admission; Donations appreciated; refreshments provided.

Contact for further details: Gary Velder (605) 456-2804 gvelder@hotmail.com

Sioux Falls Meeting

Date: Friday, September 23

Time: 7:00 pm

Location: Hy-Vee Store – Upstairs meeting room, 3000 S Minnesota Ave., Sioux Falls, SD

Cost: Free will donation

Contact for further details: Scott Bartlett at (605) 201- 7889 sbartlett49@yahoo.com

Rapid City Flier

Rapid City Flier

Rapid City Flier

Sioux Falls Flier

Sioux Falls Flier

Sioux Falls Flier

Both supporting and opposing Net Neutrality

November 13, 2014 Comments off

router-symbolNet Neutrality is a topic that has been on my radar for quite some time. Due to focus on elections I have failed to blog about it; but that changes today. I’ll start with this small post and likely focus on the issue more going forward on this blog.

President Obama’s remarks have caused the issue to gain even more traction. I fully support many of the concepts brought up by the President. These concepts include no blocking of traffic, no throttling certain types of traffic, increased transparency, and no paid prioritization. These are all basic principles of net neutrality. But asking the FCC to reclassify Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) as Title II is not the answer. That would potentially lead to the opposite of a free and open internet.

What is net neutrality? Net neutrality is more of an idea or belief than anything. It is the belief that the internet should be free from manipulation or favoritism by any group. These groups include individuals, ISP’s, governments, or any other type of group. The basic idea is that all internet users will have the same exact access to all information available on the internet. This is the concept I support, and I believe the concept most advocates of net neutrality support.

There is another usage of net neutrality that is often intermixed with the definition as I would use it. This second usage of net neutrality is more focused on the marketing term used by certain groups to allow the FCC to regulate internet access. This second use of net neutrality is not something I support. To me the risks associated with allowing the FCC to regulate internet access far outweigh the perceived benefits.

As I said above the President touted FCC regulation of the internet access as a way to ensure no blocking of traffic, no throttling certain types of traffic, increased transparency, and no paid prioritization. The problem is reclassifying internet access as Title II would suddenly place hundreds of rules and regulations that were setup for the telecommunications industry of the 20th century. Many of those rules can be said to have actually held back progress in certain media fields. These rules also tended to make it hard for new entries in the market. In reality the large telco monopolies coming out of the 20th century are a result of regulatory intervention, and not as a result of free market (there is no true free market in the telco industry).

In order to prevent these outdated rules from negatively impacting the internet it would be up to the FCC to use ‘forbearance’. Forbearance is the term used by the FCC to not follow rules that don’t make sense for a particular area of regulation. Theoretically if the FCC properly uses forbearance it would limit its own power and thus cause minimal unintended consequences to the internet. In order for forbearance to work it would mean the FCC and members of Congress resist any regulations asked for by the big ISP’s to stifle competition. Anyone that follows how DC works should understand that it is almost near impossible to keep special interest groups out of regulation. To ask for internet access to be reclassified as Title II is the same asking for special interest groups in DC to regulate the internet? I can’t see any possible outcome where that would support my original meaning of net neutrality.

Going forward I plan to do more posts about different aspects of net neutrality. In this post I just basically wanted to say that I support the idea of net neutrality, but at the same time I oppose the regulatory use of net neutrality by the FCC. I believe the FCC’s involvement will make internet fairness actually un-achievable. The few cases we have of ISP’s (such as Comcast) doing things against the idea of net neutrality will be basically be protected by FCC regulations in the future through loopholes that will exist at the behest of special interest groups.

PS. To learn more about net neutrality I would check out the EFF. I have supported EFF for years and will continue to do so. The EFF has supported the FCC reclassification of internet access to Title II. But they do it with a lot of reservations and have a lot of good articles explaining different aspects of net neutrality. If the FCC does reclassification (which it likely will) I believe the EFF will be the best watchdog internet users have over the FCC.

Categories: Federal Power Tags: ,

Thune continues battle against EPA expansion

November 12, 2014 Comments off

Back in May of this year Seanator Thune starting bringing attention to the Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) attempt to regulate more water than it currently does. The expansion of the EPA’s powers is being done in partnership with the Army Corp of Engineers by redefining what is counted as Waters of the United States (WOTUS) in the Clean Water ACT (CWA). This is a potentially troubling expansion of power by the EPA, especially for farm and ranch states such as South Dakota.

Back in June I attended the SD AG Summit in Deadwood. One of the guest speakers during the Environmental and Regulatory Issues session was Michael Formica, Chief Environmental Counsel at National Pork Producers Council. During that session Formica spoke at length about what the EPA was attempting to do. Here is part of what I wrote from that session:

The goal of the EPA and Clean Water Act (CWA) activists, according to Formica, is to make sure “all water is fishable and swimmable”. Originally the CWA only gave power to regulate ‘navigable waters’. Yet over the years the EPA has gone beyond these limitations, and has won court cases to allow wetlands regulations on waters which aren’t navigable. Formica showed how the EPA was able to do this in the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. The move has allowed the EPA to regulate six states in the DC area because of connected waters. The means used by the EPA should be familiar to anyone that follows how the federal government works: if a state isn’t complying with the EPA’s water permit process they will withhold federal dollars from that state.

……

Any wetland that can even remotely said to be connected with the Mississippi would fall under EPA control if they are allowed to regulate the Mississippi River Basin in the same fashion that has been done with Chesapeake Bay. And connected does not appear to be what most would think it means. It would include water that is adjacent, neighboring, or connected via a floodpain (whether or not there is water there or not).

Being a part of the Mississippi River Basin basically means virtually all (if not exactly all) water in SD will fall under the domain of the EPA. *** An interesting side-thought: How would this impact the current fight between sportsmen and land owners in the battle of water being in the public trust for the people of SD? This move by the EPA would theoretically work against both groups and take the water away from the public trust of South Dakota.

Today Thune has released an interactive map on his website showing just how each state would be impacted by the proposed EPA expansion. The map is well worth looking at for anyone that owns land, especially farm for ranch land. I’ve already shown it to a couple of farmers in NE SD today, and they were quite concerned to see their land would potentially be impacted.

Here is a screen shot of the whole state of SD. The red ares are the WOTUS areas the EPA would regulate if the change were to happen:

Screen shot of the potential expansion of EPA WOTUS control in SD. Screenshot taken at Senator Thunes website.

Screen shot of the potential expansion of EPA WOTUS control in SD. Screenshot taken at Senator Thunes website.

Basically the only areas not impacted are those that are barren of water. As I said above, this move by the EPA will theoretically impact all farmers and ranchers in SD.

What is most troubling about this move is that the EPA is doing it despite the wishes of Congress. On a legal level there is a huge battle going on to determine if the EPA can do this under the current language included in the CWA. I don’t think the courts should be deciding this. Instead it is up to Congress to properly utilize their oversight authority and do something to keep the EPA in line with what Congress has asked. Remember, it is not the job of the EPA to decide what it should do; rather it is the job of the EPA to enforce laws it has been empowered to enforce.

A good move by Congress would be to pass Senate Bill 2496 (S. 2496), the Protecting Water and Property Rights Act of 2014. Senator Thune is one of 38 cosponsors (all Republican) of this bill. The bill is actually pretty simple. It would forbid the EPA from enforcing the rule if they should pass it. This bill doesn’t actually change the CWA, rather it prevents the EPA from expanding their interpretation of the CWA without congressional approval. Senator Reid has not allowed this bill to come out of committee. So in January the Senate will likely have to re-introduce this bill. Hopefully with the Republicans in charge of both houses some headway can be made to reign back the EPA.

I would urge those with land in South Dakota to view the interactive map and find out if water connected to said land is about to be under EPA regulation. To many people this is not about clean water, but rather it is about a federal bureaucracy self expanding itself and giving itself power that it never should have had. Everyone wants clean water, but not everyone believes he EPA is the best method to protect natural resources such as SD water.

To end this post I will pass on part of what I wrote about during a recent political event with SD AG Marty Jackley. There are many (most?) areas I disagree with our AG on, but this is an area I believe he is well worth listening to. Here is the relevant part of my blog post about Jackley’s ramarks:

Another area of the AG’s office that Jackley talked about was government power. He said it is part of the AG’s office responsibility to stop the government when it has gone too far. Jackley called out the EPA for expanding its power without Congressional authority. And after the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) rules against the EPA they just do a “end-round” and find another way to do what they were never actually given authority to do. He says he is part of a groups of AG’s from both parties around the country that are trying to fight against the acts of the EPA. Jackley said environmental protection can best be handled at the local level by zoning authorities. He said the State DENRalso works to protect South Dakota’s resources. The closest EPA agent is in Denver according to Jackley. He says the SD DENR and the AG understand South Dakota and can better enforce environmental protections in South Dakota than the EPA can.

Hopefully Thune as a US Senator and Jackley as the SD AG can keep the battle going against the EPA.

Mayfield Hutterite Colony wetlands dispute shows why Olson’s bill to limit conservation easements should have passed

July 6, 2014 2 comments
Dry Soil by Petr Kratochvil

Dry Soil by Petr Kratochvil

Yesterday the Argus Leader had an article about a wetlands dispute between the Mayfield Hutterite Colony and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As time goes on I expect more and more headlines to be made by the short-sighted conservation easements that have been made over the years. This particular story is about a Hutterite Colony, yet the issue impacts many farmers across the state of South Dakota. Rep Olson tried to do something about this situation during the 2014 legislative session, but was unable to get a bill passed through the House.

This particular dispute is about some land that was placed in a perpetual wetlands easement in 1978. At that time the current owners of the land received $6,000 for the perpetual easement. The Colony bought the land in 2005. Perpetual easements stay with the land, no matter how many times it changes hands. The Colony then put drain tiles along portions of the land that falls under the easements. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has since said the tiles must be removed and the land restored to its original state.

The Colony boss Joe Waldner is trying to find an agreement with the Wildlife service that would work for all parties. This from the Argus article:

He said the easement refers to parcels that the colony doesn’t consider wetlands. Waldner offered to transfer the easements to other areas of the property that are wetlands, and said doing so would protect more land than the easements do now, but “they refuse to work with us.”

“I don’t want a lawsuit, but I’ll go to court if I need to,” Waldner said. “We’ve got better wetlands in the same field.”

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that bureaucrats at a federal agency are unwilling to work with local farmers.

This situation, which is happening with farmers all over the state, highlights a major problem with perpetual conservation easements. The conservation easement assumes the land will remain in the same state forever after the easement is placed upon the land. That is an expectation which simply isn’t backed up by reality. Wetlands in particular are known to change over time in South Dakota. Part of the change has to do with agriculture activities; but also part of it has to do with natural changes to the environment.

To think that bureaucrats in DC can arbitrarily decide what land will say wetlands forever not only defies common sense, it defies the dynamic nature of the landscape. To think anyone could determine how each piece of land should be forever is short-sighted. Such an approach assumes nature never changes. It also assumes future generations will know less than the current generation.

In the Colony dispute the Wildlife Service isn’t even willing to listen to reasonable counter-offers. The Colony is offering to keep the easement upon lands better suited as wetlands. They aren’t even asking for money to do so. All the colony is asking for is to be allowed to use good farmland to raise crops, and continue to protect wetlands that are actually wetlands. But the Wildlife Service is more worried about its procedures and arbitrary placement of wetlands; and seem less worried about true wetlands conservation.

Back to Rep. Olson’s solution. This legislative session she introduced HB 1083, which would have limited conservation easements to 99 years. The bill was co-sponsored on the House side by Representatives Greenfield, Kaiser, Kopp, May, and Russell; it was co-sponsored on the Senate side by Senators Maher, Begalka, Jensen, and Monroe. The bill did get amended in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee so it would only apply to conservation easements. Originally the bill would apply to “conservation purposes or to preserve the historical, architectural, archaeological, or cultural aspects of real property”. I think focusing the bill purely upon conservation easements was a good move. Farmers will be impacted by these conservation easements for generations to come. At least there would be an end in sight with this change.

Unfortunately the House floor failed to pass the bill. It died with a vote of 17-51. The Republican majority in the SD House of Representatives decided to take the side of federal bureaucrats trying to control South Dakota land over the farmers that actually manage the land. That doesn’t seem like a very limited-government move to me.

Maybe in 2015 the legislature can actually pass something. Personally I think even the 99 years proposed by Representative Olson was too long. I would have preferred to see the easement be removed when the property changes legal owners or after 20 years, whichever comes first. It would also be nice to have a provision that the easement can be changed to other parts of the land as the landscape changes. But that may be an unrealistic expectation from a state legislature that is afraid to assert its power on behalf of the residents in this state. Since they won’t pass what I want, I can only hope they will take another look at Olson’s bill and get that passed in 2015.

Americans confidence in Congress and the Mainstream Media continues to decline

June 23, 2014 1 comment

Gallup has released two interesting yearly polls this week dealing with public confidence in various institutions and the news media. Last year Congress set a new personal low confidence rating by receiving only 10% approval. Well, in the last year Congress has somehow managed to break that record by receiving only 7% confidence in this years poll. The mainstream media has also continued it steady decline, but somehow still has higher numbers than Congress.

Here is a look at the level of public confidence in Congress from 1973 to 2014:

Table Source: Gallup

Table Source: Gallup

It is interesting to look at the numbers for the Bush and Obama years. In 2004 public confidence was at its recent high of 30. That ‘high’ number was likely do the country and Congress coming together after 9/11. From that point on the confidence in congress had more than halved by the end of Bush’s second term. There was a slight surge in 2009, most likely thanks to the hope and change campaign from then newly crowned President Obama and the Democrat Party holding a majority in Congress. Yet the Democrats were not able to hold that slight increase. Now confidence in Congress is half of what it was when Obama took office. If this trend continues (which it likely will) we may see confidence in Congress fall below the margin of error for the poll. At that point it might as well be said that Congress has no support.

With ever-declining public confidence in Congress I find it odd that people keep voting the same status quo politicians into office. With such low confidence numbers it seems almost inexcusable that people keep voting for the same people to return to DC.

Perhaps some part of the problem is related the poll results for news media:

Chart Source: Gallup

Chart Source: Gallup

Since 1993 the mainstream media has had a steady decline in confidence levels from the public. I think the two polls have at least a casual relationship. Over the years true investigative reporting has declined due to cutbacks in the newsrooms of mainstream media institutions. At the same time news organizations seem to have really given both big parties a pass when ‘reporting’ facts. Yes, there are news organizations that seem biased towards one party or the other. But a bigger bias seems to exist against third-party and Independent candidates. After the 2012 elections I had many people ask me why there was little or no media coverage for third-party candidates such as Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. Such blatant bias against anything that doesn’t stand for the status-quo seems like a possible reason confidence has been lost in the news media.

I don’t think media is the largest factor in the low public confidence in Congress. Yet the media failing to actually hold the two large parties accountable may be causing the mainstream media to lose confidence from the very audience they need to exist. Further, since most media sources refuse to actually give third-party and independent candidates any attention, it makes the mainstream media look as if they no longer care about informing their audience. A lack of information about alternative candidates means the voters never get a chance to learn who these non- status-quo politicians are. If the mainstream media continues its current downward trajectory we may see the industry having the same dismal numbers as the Congress they have helped keep the spotlight on.

PS. Yes, there re some good actual individual reporters in the mainstream media. Both in and out of South Dakota. However they appear to be the exception to the rule; and have no power to actually balance the decline of their industry.

US House votes to keep Guantanamo Bay open for another year

June 21, 2014 5 comments

johnny_automatic_State_penitentiary_I’ve been looking through the amendments added to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2015 (HR 4870). Earlier today I noted that South Dakota’s Representative Kristi Noem voted on the side of civil liberties by defunding illegal NSA activities. I applaud her for that vote. Now it is time to look at another amendment to the defense appropriations act she voted for that I feel is bad.

Rep Cotton (R-AR) submitted an amendment (905) that basically prevents President Obama from transferring prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for one year. This amendment was offered by Rep Cotton as a response to Obama unilaterally choosing to swap Sgt Bergdahl for Guantanamo Bay prisoners. That act from Obama was technically illegal because the NDAA requires the President to give a thirty-day notice to Congress before such transfers can happen.

I call bullshit on Rep Cotton’s reason for submitting this amendment.

Back when campaigning for this first term the closure of Guantanamo Bay was one of Obama’s biggest campaign promises. A promise he has failed to accomplish. There appears to be two very large reasons Obama has failed to keep this promise:

  1. Congressional war hawks in both parties do not want Guantanamo Bay closed. Rep Cotton is among those who will do anything possible to keep Obama from closing Guantanamo Bay.
  2. Obama has never really tried to close Guantanamo Bay. It is true that Obama has raised Guantanamo Bay as a talking point many times over the years. Yet he has failed to ever try using his political power to accomplish this goal. Now this late into his second term Obama simply doesn’t have the political power to make such a change actually happen.

Rep Cotton is using the current Obama Bergdahl scandal as political cover in a means to keeping Guantanamo Bay open. The Obama administration in turn is playing political games by saying this amendment would actually be unconstitutional because it would diminish the President’s power as Commander-in-Chief. Both Congressional war hawks and the White House are content with this battle because it keeps focus away from the debate that should actually be happening: should Guantanamo Bay be closed.

Personally I think Guantanamo Bay is the antithesis of what American is meant to stand for. The indefinite detaining of people without any true means of due process goes against the principles this country was founded upon. Ironically some of the very same politicians I hear talk about “natural-born rights” are also the same the politicians that support the existence of Guantanamo Bay. If someone believes in natural-born rights it has to be for EVERYONE; and not just for people who are born in the United States. Allowing the government to arbitrarily choose who gets natural-born rights and who doesn’t has the endgame effect of reducing the potential liberties for all people; including US citizens. Government officials have often claimed Guantanamo Bay is important because our Constitution and laws do not apply there. The very fact that claim is made in support of Guantanamo Bay should actually be the reason to show why it should not exist. Our morals should not disappear when we leave our national border!

Are the people in Guantanamo Bay bad? Most likely they are. But it is time to stop pretending we as a country have the right to detain people indefinitely in an ambiguous and unwinnable “War on Terror”. I don’t know what should be done with the prisoners that currently ‘reside’ in Guantanamo Bay; but I most certainly believe the current solution is NOT Constitutional or morally acceptable. It is time for Congress and the White House to actually try looking for an answer to removing this morally bankrupt detainment center from our country.

Back to Cotton’s amendment. The amendment passed 230-184 along highly partisan lines. Yet it is important to remember the vote was only among party lines because the Democrats voting knew it would pass not matter what they voted. If there were too many Republicans parting from leadership in this vote there is no doubt more war hawks from the Democrat side would have stepped up and ensured the amendments passage.

I don’t really think the amendment will make it through the Senate. But it doesn’t have to. Debate will take place about the amendment. Reid will accuse Republicans of playing political games. McConnel will accuse Reid of being a dictator. In the end the amendment will be dropped. That will be a case of Reid and McConnel showing modern-day bi-partisanship: both parties arguing over political games to keep attention away from the real issue.

Unfortunately in South Dakota our lone Representative Kristi Noem decided to be part of this political straw-man battle; instead of actually standing up for what is right and arguing about whether Guantanamo Bay should remain open. Maybe I was expecting too much to think that DC Republicans care about little things like natural-born rights……

Here is the actual text of Cotton’s amendment for those interested. Basically if passed it would prevent the President from transferring prisoners until the next defense appropriations bill is passed in 2016.

At the end of the bill (before the short title) insert the following:
Sec. __. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to transfer or release any individual detained at United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the individual’s country of origin or to any other foreign country.

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