The Build Dakota Scholarship program created by Governor Dennis Daugaard and billionaire T. Denny Sanford promises 300 vo-tech students a year a free two-year education in return for three years of work in South Dakota.

KELO says vo-tech programs in South Dakota run between $12,000 and $15,000. The top end of that range puts the up-front dollar value of the Build Dakota scholarship on par with the Critical Teaching Needs Scholarship, created in 2013, which pays the last two years of tuition and fees for willing teacher candidates. However, the vo-tech students are getting a better deal: the teachers must promise to work in South Dakota for five years.

As we know, students accepting the Critical Needs Teaching Scholarship are trading $15K in tuition costs for $65K in sacrificed purchasing power available for working outside of South Dakota. Will Build Dakota Scholarship takers come out any better financially?

That math is uncertain: Governor Dennis Daugaard has not announced yet which job fields he will target with the new scholarship, so we don't know which wage data to compare. But let's take some guesses.

We'll focus on wages in South Dakota and the six adjoining states. Let's look first at median wages, the halfway point for wages in various fields. Here are the median wages for all occupations:

All Occupations
State Annual Median Salary Per-capita state taxation Salary in pocket after state tax Cost of living (2014 Q3) Adjusted post-tax salary power Additional purchasing power from working here instead of SD
IA $32,380 $3,740 $28,640 92.8 $30,862 $4,884
MN $37,390 $4,858 $32,532 101.2 $32,146 $6,168
MT $30,770 $3,137 $27,633 102.1 $27,065 $1,086
ND $35,640 $4,057 $31,583 101.7 $31,055 $5,077
NE $31,840 $3,991 $27,849 97.7 $28,505 $2,526
SD $29,420 $3,052 $26,368 101.5 $25,978 $0
WY $36,990 $3,500 $33,490 94.4 $35,477 $9,498

South Dakota has the lowest median wage in the region. We have the lowest state and local tax burden, but our cost of living (by the most recent available data, 2014 Q3) is higher than the national average and even three ticks higher than Minnesota's. Our median adjusted post-tax purchasing power is four digits less than our neighbors'—4% less than Montana's, 24% less than Minnesota's, and 37% less than Wyoming's.

But hold on: that's all jobs, from bailiff and dishwasher up to nurse anaesthetist and CEO. Our vo-tech grads are aiming for a specific subset of jobs.

Let's look at the general category BLS calls "Production Occupations," where we should find a higher proportion of vo-tech grads:

Production Occupations
State Annual Median Salary Per-capita state taxation Salary in pocket after state tax Cost of living (2014 Q3) Adjusted post-tax salary power Additional purchasing power from working here instead of SD
IA $31,550 $3,740 $27,810 92.8 $29,968 $4,186
MN $33,730 $4,858 $28,872 101.2 $28,530 $2,748
MT $30,970 $3,137 $27,833 102.1 $27,261 $1,479
ND $33,830 $4,057 $29,773 101.7 $29,275 $3,494
NE $30,230 $3,991 $26,239 97.7 $26,857 $1,075
SD $29,220 $3,052 $26,168 101.5 $25,781 $0
WY $44,270 $3,500 $40,770 94.4 $43,189 $17,407

Oops! Median pay is actually a little worse in this field, except in Wyoming, where median pay and post-tax adjusted purchasing power jumps to a $17K advantage over South Dakota'

Let's get specific. Within "Production Occupations," our governor talks a lot about welders:

Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
State Annual Median Salary Per-capita state taxation Salary in pocket after state tax Cost of living (2014 Q3) Adjusted post-tax salary power Additional purchasing power from working here instead of SD
IA $34,570 $3,740 $30,830 92.8 $33,222 $4,820
MN $38,760 $4,858 $33,902 101.2 $33,500 $5,098
MT $33,750 $3,137 $30,613 102.1 $29,983 $1,581
ND $43,010 $4,057 $38,953 101.7 $38,302 $9,900
NE $34,340 $3,991 $30,349 97.7 $31,063 $2,661
SD $31,880 $3,052 $28,828 101.5 $28,402 $0
WY $46,120 $3,500 $42,620 94.4 $45,148 $16,746
Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders
State Annual Median Salary Per-capita state taxation Salary in pocket after state tax Cost of living (2014 Q3) Adjusted post-tax salary power Additional purchasing power from working here instead of SD
IA $36,890 $3,740 $33,150 92.8 $35,722 $4,729
MN $36,000 $4,858 $31,142 101.2 $30,773 -$220
MT $36,140 $3,137 $33,003 102.1 $32,324 $1,331
ND $37,760 $4,057 $33,703 101.7 $33,140 $2,147
NE $37,960 $3,991 $33,969 97.7 $34,769 $3,776
SD $34,510 $3,052 $31,458 101.5 $30,993 $0
WY $50,360 $3,500 $46,860 94.4 $49,640 $18,647

In these two job areas, the only place South Dakota beats on post-tax purchasing power is Minnesota, for welding, soldering, and brazing machine setters, operators, and tenders, and there our advantage is just $220, about 0.7%, or the cost of gas and a motel room to go see the Vikings play. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers come out over $5K better a year in Minnesota than in South Dakota.

But hold on again: these figures are median figures, the 50th-percential salary. Half the welders make more, half make less. We're trying to calculate the outlook for fresh-faced vo-tech grads. Welders probably need to work a while before they can prove they deserve more pay than half of their colleagues. We should thus look at salaries in the lower end of each field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has data on the certain percentile salaries in each occupation and each state (and you think your daily math is hard?). So let's try this: assume a new vo-tech grad jumps into a new job and, for a starting wage, gets the 10th-percentile salary (10% of workers make less, 90% make more). This kid's from South Dakota, and she would have qualified for a Build Dakota free-ride, so she's smart and good at her job. Second year, the boss raises her pay to the 25th-percentile. Third year, she gets another raise, to the median salary. On that pay trajectory, how do things look for our prospective welders?

Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
State Annual 10th-percentile salary Annual 25th-percentile salary Annual 50th-percentile (median) salary Sum
IA $25,670 $29,460 $34,570 $89,700
MN $26,970 $32,410 $38,760 $98,140
MT $23,350 $27,510 $33,750 $84,610
ND $30,820 $35,240 $43,010 $109,070
NE $25,110 $28,870 $34,340 $88,320
SD $25,290 $27,750 $31,880 $84,920
WY $30,720 $37,530 $46,120 $114,370
Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders
State Annual 10th-percentile salary Annual 25th-percentile salary Annual 50th-percentile (median) salary Sum
IA $27,400 $32,370 $36,890 $96,660
MN $25,290 $29,260 $36,000 $90,550
MT $24,790 $31,460 $36,140 $92,390
ND $26,830 $31,910 $37,760 $96,500
NE $24,050 $31,280 $37,960 $93,290
SD $27,220 $31,240 $34,510 $92,970
WY $33,990 $41,400 $50,360 $125,750

With that fourth column, adding a year at the 10th percentile, a year at the 25th, and a year at the 50th (the median), we're getting closer to the real picture our vo-tech prospects face as they try to figure out whether taking the Build Dakota Scholarship is worth committing to work in South Dakota for three years. Let's plug those three-year income sums into our spreadsheet, subtract three years' tax burden, factor in cost of living, and see what happens:

Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
State 3-yr income 10th-25th-50th 3-yr state/local tax burden Salary in pocket after state tax Cost of living (2014 Q3) Adjusted post-tax salary power Additional purchasing power from working here instead of SD
IA $89,700 $11,220 $78,480 92.8 $84,569 $9,925
MN $98,140 $14,574 $83,566 101.2 $82,575 $7,931
MT $84,610 $9,411 $75,199 102.1 $73,652 -$992
ND $109,070 $12,171 $96,899 101.7 $95,279 $20,635
NE $88,320 $11,973 $76,347 97.7 $78,144 $3,500
SD $84,920 $9,156 $75,764 101.5 $74,644 $0
WY $114,370 $10,500 $103,870 94.4 $110,032 $35,387
Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders
State 3-yr income 10th-25th-50th 3-yr state/local tax burden Salary in pocket after state tax Cost of living (2014 Q3) Adjusted post-tax salary power Additional purchasing power from working here instead of SD
IA $96,660 $11,220 $85,440 92.8 $92,069 $9,494
MN $90,550 $14,574 $75,976 101.2 $75,075 -$7,500
MT $92,390 $9,411 $82,979 102.1 $81,272 -$1,303
ND $96,500 $12,171 $84,329 101.7 $82,919 $344
NE $93,290 $11,973 $81,317 97.7 $83,231 $656
SD $92,970 $9,156 $83,814 101.5 $82,575 $0
WY $125,750 $10,500 $115,250 94.4 $122,087 $39,511

Clearly, Wyoming beats us all for welding wages. A welder who stays in South Dakota instead of moving to Wyoming gives up over $35,000 in purchasing power over three years. A welding machine operator making the same choice gives up over $39,000. Choose South Dakota over Minnesota, and the welder loses over $7,900, but the welding machine operator gains $7,500.

But where the rubber hits the road—or where the vo-tech student doesn't!—is the scholarship question. Denny D. and Denny S. are offering you sharp welders (come on, after all this talk, you're going to include welders in the scholarship, right, guys?) $15,000 in tuition savings. If those welders don't take the scholarship because they want to work out of state, they have to earn back the $15,000 they spent on school.

Only the Wyoming and North Dakota welders and the Wyoming welding machine operators make more than $15,000 above the typical wages in South Dakota. The Build Dakota Scholarship will be worth it for a lot of welding candidates.

Let's try another job field. Our benefactor Mr. Sanford is all about health care, so let's assume we'll promote some health tech jobs. How will radiologic technologists do?

Radiologic Technologists
State 3-yr income 10th-25th-50th 3-yr state/local tax burden Salary in pocket after state tax Cost of living (2014 Q3) Adjusted post-tax salary power Additional purchasing power from working here instead of SD
IA $116,610 $11,220 $105,390 92.8 $113,567 $14,184
MN $143,620 $14,574 $129,046 101.2 $127,516 $28,133
MT $121,360 $9,411 $111,949 102.1 $109,646 $10,263
ND $112,720 $12,171 $100,549 101.7 $98,868 -$515
NE $118,630 $11,973 $106,657 97.7 $109,168 $9,785
SD $110,030 $9,156 $100,874 101.5 $99,383 $0
WY $132,090 $10,500 $121,590 94.4 $128,803 $29,420

Again, assuming a $15,000 scholarship value, the potential Build Dakota Scholarship recipient thinking about leaving South Dakota to work in radiology for Montana, North Dakota, or Nebraska will want to think again. Future radiologists eying Minnesota or Wyoming will tell Dennis, "No deal!" Radiological aspirants looking at Iowa will have a tougher choice: for them, Build South Dakota and three years locked into South Dakota offers them less than a thousand-dollar net advantage.

How about bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists?

Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists
State 3-yr income 10th-25th-50th 3-yr state/local tax burden Salary in pocket after state tax Cost of living (2014 Q3) Adjusted post-tax salary power Additional purchasing power from working here instead of SD
IA $87,200 $11,220 $75,980 92.8 $81,875 -$5,311
MN $106,830 $14,574 $92,256 101.2 $91,162 $3,976
MT $90,440 $9,411 $81,029 102.1 $79,362 -$7,824
ND $110,530 $12,171 $98,359 101.7 $96,715 $9,529
NE $83,210 $11,973 $71,237 97.7 $72,914 -$14,272
SD $97,650 $9,156 $88,494 101.5 $87,186 $0
WY $120,030 $10,500 $109,530 94.4 $116,028 $28,841

Even without Build Dakota, if you're into diesel engines, you lose money leaving South Dakota for Iowa, Montana, or Nebraska. The four-figure puchasing-power gains promised by Minnesota and North Dakota don't beat the $15,000 value of our new vo-tech scholarship. But once again, Wyoming is the land of opportunity. Skip the scholarship, head for Sheridan, and in three years, you'll have earned back your tuition and cleared another nearly $14,000 over what you would have made back in Aberdeen.

I'd compare wind turbine service technicians, but South Dakota apparently doesn't have enough jobs in that field for BLS to count. (Hmm.... Governor Daugaard, you and the PUC could do something about that, couldn't you?) Job opportunities in that field are numerous enough to count in Wyoming, Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota, where the median annual salary for fixing wind turbines is $55,550.

Whatever the exact numbers above, the Build Dakota Scholarship makes working in South Dakota for the first three years of one's technical career more appealing. Possible future earnings in welding or radiology or diesel mechanicry in another state don't matter to the young person who can't get those jobs because she doesn't have the cash right now to go to vo-tech. Plus, with their "stay in South Dakota" requirements, our scholarship plans "get our hooks" into young workers early: in those first three years, they'll accumulate connections and obligations that will incline some fraction of them to stay, despite the greater earning potential available in many fields in most other states.

And therein lies the sneaky and arguably irresponsible part of these scholarship plans. The state is not investing in a long-term plan to raise wages (which would raise economic activity, which would raise tax revenues, which would raise the amount and quality of public goods...). The state is using its resources and Denny Sanford's resources to rope young people into working for less competitive wages. The state and Sanford are going to great lengths (and putting up real money is the greatest length our state government can go to) to keep their business pals from solving their own workforce shortages with the obvious free-market solution of offering bigger paychecks.

Vo-tech students, do your own math for your own field, and tell us whether the Build Dakota Scholarship will sway your decision to stay and work in South Dakota. Fellow South Dakotans, let's ask ourselves whether we do more to address a workforce shortage by lowering workers' entry costs or raising workers' ongoing wages.

Main data sources:

  1. Cost of living: 2014 Q3 C2ER data from MERIC:
  2. State + local tax burden: SD GOED:
  3. Wages: Bureau of Labor Statistics State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, May 2013:

Final Thought: The state has an obligation to educate citizens. Business has an obligation to train workers. Would Adam Smith agree?

Kurt Evans speaking at the South Dakota Libertarian Convention, Sioux Falls, SD, August 9, 2014. Photo by Ken Santema.

Kurt Evans speaking at the South Dakota Libertarian Convention, Sioux Falls, SD, August 9, 2014. Photo by Ken Santema.

Kurt Evans plans to run for U.S. Senate in 2016. Evans will seek office as an Independent. He is the first candidate to declare for any of South Dakota's three statewide offices in 2016 (U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and Chris Nelson's seat on the Public Utilities Commission). Evans will run for the seat currently occupied by Senator John Thune, the GOP's number-three man in the upper chamber.

Evans is running because of his concerns about privacy and civil liberties. Evans says the intelligence community has been unconstitutionally seizing our telephone and Internet data. Evans predicts he would be "less inclined than Senator Thune to accept the intelligence community's self-justifying propaganda at face value."

On the economy, Evans is less worried about fiscal policy and more worried about monetary policy and the dastardly Fed: according to Evans, the Federal Reserve is inflating the money supply, which will lead to hyperinflation and the destruction of the dollar... unless Senator Evans can stop them.

On foreign policy, Evans opposes "meddling in the affairs of other nations, especially in the Middle East."

These positions support Evans's self-description as a "reasonably consistent pro-life libertarian," but notice he's not capitalizing that l. Evans says he will run as an Independent. He ran unsuccessfully for state auditor under the Liberatarian banner this year ("unsuccessful Libertarian"—that's redundant, right?). South Dakota Libertarians lost their official party status this year after failing to field a gubernatorial candidate. Evans is hanging onto his libertarian philosophy, but he says he has left the Libertarian organization "mainly due to a lack of honest communication by the members of the state party's executive committee." (Communication may be complicated by the fact that, prior to the November election, one of the five SDLP board members appears to have returned to his permanent home in Texas. Following the election, the party chair also left the state, for Colorado.)

Evans ran for Senate as a Libertarian in 2002 against Thune and incumbent Tim Johnson. He ended his campaign in late October, but his name remained on the ballot, and he drew 3,070 votes, six times the slim 532-vote margin of victory by which Thune failed to beat Johnson.

Evans thinks he can poll much better in 2016, based on the lessons of the 2014 Senate race. By Evans's read, this year's run by Larry Pressler showed that Independent candidates can at least poll in the double digits (Pressler broke 17%, far from a win, but better than any recent non-major-party Senate candidate in South Dakota). Evans reads a different lesson in the more typically low-polling (3%) Independent bid by Gordon Howie: "announcing after another non-major-party candidate has already entered the race creates a significant disadvantage."

Like Pressler, Evans will need to craft pitches that will appeal across party lines. Evans says he can win Republican votes with most of his domestic policy. He will pitch his foreign policy and positions on civil liberties to Democrats. He hopes his overall approach to politics will appeal to Independents. "Under most circumstances, though," says Evans, "I try to avoid thinking of people in groups."

Evans sees ill in grouping and labeling people. But even he can slip. As he gets ready to run, Evans acknowledges his own fallibility and asks our forgiveness:

I believe it's wrong to use pejorative labels that devalue and dehumanize other people, but last month I referred to Pat Powers as a 'Mary-worshipping douchebag' in an anonymous comment at South Dakota War College. I apologize to my fellow participants in South Dakota's political blogosphere for that very bad decision [Kurt Evans, e-mail to Madville Times, 2014.12.17].

Evans recognizes the value of respectful, intelligent, issue-oriented conversation, and he's willing to apologize when he slips from that standard. Let's hope he holds to that standard as he works to build a Senate campaign that he can sustain through November 8, 2016.


The new Sanford-funded Build Dakota vo-tech scholarship program includes some gravy for Lawrence & Schiller. Out of $25 million from T. Denny Sanford and $25 million from the Governor's Future Fund, the state will spend 0.5%*, $250,000, on marketing the scholarships and the jobs they target.

Now hold on: the state is going to offer free vo-tech programs to 300 students a year for the first five years, then 50 more a year. That's free education. Free pretty much markets itself. The reps from Southeast, Lake Area, Mitchell, and Western Dakota don't need a TV campaign; they just keep doing their high school visits and add one line to their pitch: "By the way, it's free." Boom—marketing done!

We won't need to market the jobs any more than the scholarships. Those first 300 scholarshipped vo-tech graduates will be required to work in South Dakota for three years or pay back the money. They won't need an ad campaign to point them to their required payback.

Maybe the marketing budget is just a gift to the state's favored ad agency Lawrence & Schiller, a Christmas congratulations for their great work on the safe-driving campaign. Now what can we do to get Mitchell Tech on The Daily Show?

First draft, Sanford Build Dakota Vo-Tech Scholarship ad

First draft, Sanford Build Dakota Vo-Tech Scholarship ad (Background from Mitchell Tech website; text by Madville Times Marketing Division)

P.S.: The South Dakota Department of Education already lists the Build Dakota vo-tech scholarship on its website. I'll bet that marketing didn't cost $250,000.

*Correction 16:09 CST: The original version of the story mistakenly listed the marketing budget as 2% of the planned $50 million. I regret the error and will remind my next math class to always check their work.


Arizona/South Dakota billionaire T. Denny Sanford is using $25 million of his usury-gotten fortune to keep South Dakota state government from coming up with more of its own money to address workforce development. How very nice.

I suppose it's impolite to pester an elderly benefactor about the literal content of statements made in a fit of boosterism. But permit me to look at a few words from the gift horse's mouth, uttered yesterday at the rollout of the new Build Dakota vo-tech scholarship plan:

"I'm proud of everything that South Dakota stands for," Sanford said. "Productivity, a great health system and South Dakota Works. And it works in a good way. Not only do people work harder and have a better work ethic, but the system works. We've got a system unequal to anything else I've seen. We've got to get the people here to do it."

..."Go forward, South Dakota; let's get it done," Sanford said. "I know you will because everything we do here works" [Jodi Schwan, "Sanford, State Pledge $50 Million for Workforce Needs," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.17].

Everything we do here works... that statement makes it hard to explain why we need this scholarship program in the first place. What happened to the New South Dakotans program that was Governor Daugaard's first big swing at workforce recruitment? Oh yeah: it didn't work. And if everything we have here works, why do we have a teacher shortage? And a road-repair shortage?

But we South Dakotans still work harder than everyone else, right? We have a better work ethic, right?

  1. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report from 2010 says that in 2008, South Dakota ranked 47th for average weekly hours and 51st for average hourly earnings in private industry.
  2. From 1977 to 2000, 25 states had higher annual labor-productivity growth than South Dakota. Our labor-productivity growth improved from 2000 to 2004, thanks to our riding out the 2001 recession a little better than the rest of the country, but 13 states still beat us on that metric in that period.
  3. This is a crude figure, but if you divide our gross state product by our population in 2013, you find that South Dakota ranks 22nd for economic output per person (see full chart below). However hard they are working, folks in 21 other states are generating more wealth per person than South Dakotans. The only neighboring state producing less wealth per person is Montana, which ranks 42nd in GSP per capita.
  4. Working harder isn't exactly a sign of progress. How hard do you think Mr. Sanford is working right now? American workers put in more hours than their European counterparts but report less life satisfaction.

I suppose the state's official position should be that Denny Sanford can say the sky is blue and Elvis is President, as long as he keeps the money coming. Denny Sanford can build our hospitals and schools and workforce... but let's not let him fabricate our facts.

State 2013 GSP $ Millions Population (2013) GSP/pop GSP/pop rank
Alabama 180,727 4,833,722 $37,388.79 47
Alaska 51,542 735,132 $70,112.58 2
Arizona 261,924 6,626,624 $39,526.01 41
Arkansas 115,745 2,959,373 $39,111.33 43
California 2,050,693 38,332,521 $53,497.47 13
Colorado 273,721 5,268,367 $51,955.57 18
Connecticut 233,996 3,596,080 $65,069.74 5
Delaware 58,028 925,749 $62,682.22 7
District of Columbia 105,465 646,449 $163,145.12 1
Florida 750,511 19,552,860 $38,383.69 46
Georgia 424,606 9,992,167 $42,493.89 37
Hawaii 70,110 1,404,054 $49,933.98 20
Idaho 57,029 1,612,136 $35,374.81 50
Illinois 671,407 12,882,135 $52,119.23 17
Indiana 294,212 6,570,902 $44,774.98 31
Iowa 150,512 3,090,416 $48,702.83 21
Kansas 132,153 2,893,957 $45,665.16 28
Kentucky 170,667 4,395,295 $38,829.48 44
Louisiana 222,008 4,625,470 $47,996.85 24
Maine 51,163 1,328,302 $38,517.60 45
Maryland 322,234 5,928,814 $54,350.50 11
Massachusetts 420,748 6,692,824 $62,865.54 6
Michigan 408,218 9,895,622 $41,252.38 39
Minnesota 289,125 5,420,380 $53,340.36 14
Mississippi 96,979 2,991,207 $32,421.36 51
Missouri 258,135 6,044,171 $42,708.09 35
Montana 39,846 1,015,165 $39,250.76 42
Nebraska 98,250 1,868,516 $52,581.83 15
Nevada 123,903 2,790,136 $44,407.51 33
New Hampshire 64,118 1,323,459 $48,447.29 23
New Jersey 509,067 8,899,339 $57,202.79 9
New Mexico 84,310 2,085,287 $40,430.89 40
New York 1,226,619 19,651,127 $62,419.78 8
North Carolina 439,672 9,848,060 $44,645.54 32
North Dakota 49,772 723,393 $68,803.54 3
Ohio 526,196 11,570,808 $45,476.17 29
Oklahoma 164,303 3,850,568 $42,669.81 36
Oregon 211,241 3,930,065 $53,750.00 12
Pennsylvania 603,872 12,773,801 $47,274.26 26
Rhode Island 49,962 1,051,511 $47,514.48 25
South Carolina 172,176 4,774,839 $36,059.02 49
South Dakota 41,142 844,877 $48,695.85 22
Tennessee 269,602 6,495,978 $41,502.91 38
Texas 1,387,598 26,448,193 $52,464.76 16
Utah 131,017 2,900,872 $45,164.70 30
Vermont 27,723 626,630 $44,241.42 34
Virginia 426,423 8,260,405 $51,622.53 19
Washington 381,017 6,971,406 $54,654.25 10
West Virginia 68,541 1,854,304 $36,963.19 48
Wisconsin 264,126 5,742,713 $45,993.24 27
Wyoming 39,538 582,658 $67,857.99 4

I have to keep this post brief; I smell supper!

A new study from the Corporation for National and Community Service finds that 88% of Americans say they eat dinner with members of their household "basically every day" or "a few times a week.

The state with the highest percentage of folks dining with the broadly defined fam? South Dakota.

(Data: Corporation for National and Community Service. Image: Washington Post.)

(Data: Corporation for National and Community Service. Image: Washington Post.)

The only two places where that percentage is below 80%: Washington, D.C. (79.4%... come on, Kristi! Fly Booker and Bryon in more often!) and New Mexico (76.5%).

Full chart at Washington Post! Suppertime!


Expect Rep. Kristi Noem and Senator John Thune to join the mostly Republican and entirely hypocritical bluster against President Barack Obama's historic declaration that it's time to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba. Senator-Elect Mike Rounds might go there, too, but then his friend and donor Jeff Sveen will remind him that he's been waiting over a decade to sell Hutterite turkeys in Havana. At that point, Rounds votes aye on lifting the embargo.

Our next junior Senator will see the same light our President made clear today: we've dealth with worse regimes with more openness than the failed embargo we've kept on Cuba:

...[T]hough this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.  Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party that came to power half a century ago.

Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.  Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China –- a far larger country also governed by a Communist Party.  Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation [President Barack Obama, statement on Cuba policy changes, 2014.12.17].

Relations with China... Rounds saw the benefits of those relations right here in South Dakota, where millions of dollars from Chinese investors made his friends rich and apparently created so many jobs that neither he nor any of his rich friends can agree on a number. Rounds will apply the same thinking to voting to end the Cuba embargo... if we can get the GOP leadership to bring a bill to that effect.


Which foreign imperialist will get squashed by low oil prices first, Vladimir Putin or TransCanada and its no-long cost-effective Keystone XL pipeline?

..."the political debate is not paralleled by the realities" in the market, said Sandy Fielden, director of energy analytics at Texas-based RBN Energy. "The economics of this project are becoming increasingly borderline."

The problem is that extracting oil from tar sands is difficult and costly. Prices need to be relatively high to make the extra effort profitable.

..."The recent decline in [oil] prices has to give the sponsors some pause," said Chris Lafakis, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics [Evan Halper, "Keystone XL Pipeline May No Longer Make Economic Sense, Experts Say," Los Angeles Times, 2014.12.15].

With or without Keystone XL, our frackers will keep shipping their oil by rail. You'd think market demand would solve the problem of rail capacity—if oil is worth shipping, rail is worth building—but somehow, the oil and rail barons keep getting us to foot their bill:

States and the federal government have handed out tens of millions in public dollars to rail companies and government agencies to expand crude oil rail transportation across the country, a Reuters analysis has found.

The public assistance in states like New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oklahoma and Oregon comes as railroads are posting record profits, and as state and federal authorities press for safety overhauls that the oil and rail industries have opposed, following several explosive derailments.

The Reuters analysis identified 10 federal and state grants either approved or pending approval, totaling $84.2 million, that helped boost the number of rail cars carrying crude oil across the nation [Jarrett Renshaw, "U.S. Taxpayers Help Fund Oil-Train Boom Amid Safety Concerns," Reuters via St. Louis Dispatch, 2014.12.14].

Alongside the steel for the rail and the pipeline, I smell irony in this conversation that NPR's Melissa Block had with Nebraska farm couple Chuck and Miriam Peterson. Keystone XL wouldn't cross their land, but it would cross their neighbors' a half-mile away. They support the pipeline, which will use eminent domain to take land rights from local landowners. But they get mad as heck when someone intrudes on their land:

BLOCK: Suddenly as we talk, Chuck Peterson gets up, goes to his garage and comes back with a sign. It’s covered with dust and cobwebs.

C. PETERSON: That was put on my grandparents’ farm. And I am pro-pipeline and I did not appreciate it being there.

BLOCK: The sign says Stop the TransCanada Pipeline. And when Chuck Peterson spotted it on his land, next to the road, his wife Miriam says he came home furious.

M. PETERSON: Well, Chuck came home and he said, this is the end, I’ve had it. And he said, nobody asked our permission, we don’t agree with that and people driving by will think we do because it was on our land. When someone tries to include you in their…

C. PETERSON: Agenda.

M. PETERSON: …Agenda, and you don’t agree or haven’t had a chance to even offer your opinion, it did feel personal.

BLOCK: Did you take the sign out right then?

M. PETERSON: We’re going to have a burning, but it’s still in the garage. (Laughter) [Melissa Block, "On Nebraska's Farmland, Keystone XL Pipeline Debate Is Personal," NPR via KMBH, 2014.12.16].

So close to understanding, yet so far....


Governor Dennis Daugaard is lining up millions of dollars to expand vo-tech scholarships and railroads. He still hasn't announced his willingness to spend a fraction of such money to expand Medicaid.

Alaska's new Independent Governor Bill Walker is not so blind:

...for Walker, it's a no-brainer: Around 40,000 low-income Alaskans would receive health benefits under Medicaid expansion; most of those affected would be childless adults. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs until the end of 2016, and after that the state's share would only slowly increase to 10 percent by 2020.

Plus, Walker points out, Alaskans already pay taxes that fund the expansion.

"I always will default back to what is best for Alaskans," he says, "and it's best for Alaskans to have the health care coverage we've already paid for" [Annie Feidt, "Alaska's Governor Eager to Expand Medicaid," NPR, 2014.12.16].

Tennessee's Republican Governor Bill Haslam is at least working with the feds to create a Medicaid expansion alternative:

The plan would provide two private-market choices that would make payments to providers based on outcomes and give participants incentives to take personal responsibility for their health. The goal: to have participants make a transition eventually to commercial health coverage.

The Healthy Incentives Plan would be a redesigned part of the state's Medicaid program. The Volunteer Plan would issue vouchers to be used to offset expenses in the health insurance plans of participants' employers [David Boucher, "Tennessee's GOP Gov to Expand Medicaid Program," USA Today, 2014.12.15].

Alaska's Walker and Tennessee's Haslam join the majority of governors who have figured out that accepting federal dollars to provide more citizens health insurance is a good idea. Governor Daugaard, get off your political high horse and do the right thing.


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