Senator John Thune is laying the rhetorical groundwork necessary to rationalize the shift he and Mike Rounds will have to make to lift the embargo against Cuba and boost donor Jeff Sveen's chances to sell Hutterite turkey in Havana. Senator Thune told the Sioux Falls Rotary Monday that opening trade with Cuba will boost South Dakota agriculture...

"Soybean production here in South Dakota could meet a lot of needs they have in Cuba for that product and that commodity, so there's upside potential and I think we have to recognize that," Thune said [Ben Dunsmoor, "Thune Open to Cuba Plan If Reforms Made," KELOLand.com, 2014.12.23].

...but Thune's not ready to give up his party's political club:

Before Thune would support anything, he says, he would like to see the communist country make political reform and take other progressive steps such as opening up Internet access.

"There are some things in this that could be beneficial for South Dakota but overall lifting the embargo I think there are conditions that have to be met before I could support that. There's so much more that regime needs to do to prove to the rest of the world that they really are serious about modernizing and reforming," Thune said [Dunsmoor, 2014.12.23].

Republican blogger John Tsitrian calls Senator John Thune's position on Cuba ridiculous. Tsitrian wonders how Senator Thune can subordinate clear economic gains to an ideologically (translate: oppose Obama!) misreading of history:

[R]ejection of a pragmatic consideration in favor of a principle may have some honorable intent, but when the principle itself isn't supported by the reality of History, the intent rings with the hollowness of political dogma. When you consider the advances in living conditions and economic opportunities for billions of people since the evolution of free trade that has been in force since the end of World War II, it seems that Thune lacks an understanding of cause-and-effect. Trade itself has been the medium for the elevation of political and economic freedoms, mainly because ideas and ideals flow just as freely as goods and services when markets open up [John Tsitrian, "Re: The Cuban Trade Embargo. Sounds Like Senator Thune Is More a Student of Polemics Than a Student of History," The Constant Commoner, 2014.12.23].

Mr. Tsitrian makes the case for normalizing trade relations with Cuba almost as well as Senator Thune as made the case for normalizing trade relations with much worse offenders. Let's look at what Senator Thune said about granting Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Cuba's old friend Russia in 2012:

“American businesses and entrepreneurs will no longer face a competitive disadvantage in the Russian market.... The Senate’s adoption of Russia PNTR today opens up new possibilities for American manufacturers, farmers, ranchers, and service providers. Not only does this legislation support American jobs by promoting our products and services abroad, but it will also help to strengthen the rule of law and combat corruption with the inclusion of the Magnitsky human rights provisions. Russia is the fifth largest importer of agricultural products and imported nearly $32 billion in agricultural commodities last year, making it a tremendous opportunity for commodity exporters. I look forward to President Obama signing this bill into law, and ensuring we do not delay job creation and export opportunities both in South Dakota and across the country.” [Senator John Thune, press release, 2012.12.06].

Putin's Russia is repressing political freedom at home and abroad and threatening international peace and stability more than either Castro's Cuba has for the last 25 years. Yet Senator Thune encouraged President Obama to extend the same trade relations to tantruming nuclear tyrant Russia that he's unprepared to extend to far more amenable and unthreatening neighbor Cuba.

Or rewind to May 24, 2000, when Representative John Thune voted to grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Communist China. Rep. Thune saw trade with China as an essential part of addressing ag difficulties in South Dakota. In 14 years, Thune has not reversed his China-trade position, despite China's ongoing censorship, human rights abuses, and ongoing war against religion.

U.S. military and intelligence experts determined in 1997 that Cuba posed a "negligible conventional military threat" to the United States and other neighboring countries. Since then, Cuba's military has only declined further. Cuba poses no threat, while Russia and China do. Cuba has 3% of the GDP of Russia and less than 1% of the GDP of China. I suspect those differences explain Senator Thune's free-trade disconnect. He's willing to thump his chest and demand progressive reforms from little guys, but when the big boys with bulging billfolds and bombers come knocking, principle yields to pragmatism, and Senator Thune opens the trade door wide.

Come on, Senator Thune! Havana hotels and Cuban beaches beckon! Get consistent, and lift the embargo now!

40 comments

Joop Bollen is trying to distract the Government Operations and Audit Committee from his illegitimate contract with himself, his apparent mismanagement of Northern Beef Packers, and his multiple violations of state policy and law by claiming that reporters like Denise Ross and Bob Mercer have wrecked South Dakota's chances of making more money from the EB-5 visa investment program.

Joop Bollen appears to forget that Governor Dennis Daugaard yanked Bollen's contract and put EB-5 on ice before any journalists started digging into South Dakota's EB-5 program. Bollen's own narrative to GOAC suggests that many in the state wanted to back away from the "liabilities" of EB-5 (which were what, Joop, if everything was being run properly?) back in 2009; the program hung on only because Bollen, Richard Benda, and the Governor's Office wanted to keep that money train rolling. Bollen ignores the fact that South Dakota at his behest (and with Mike Rounds's support) gave up the key competitive advantage of public, state-run status for its EB-5 program, making it harder for us to stand out among the growing number of EB-5 Regional Centers.

Maybe Bollen should switch to blaming Obama. Monday, the President announced that the U.S. will offer new, longer visitor visas to Chinese citizens. Starting today (November 12), tourist and business visas for Chinese visitors jump from one year to ten years. Student and exchange visas stretch from one year to five years.

Keep in mind that one attraction of EB-5 visas has been for wealthy Chinese to buy their kids' way into the country so they can attend American universities. But EB-5 visas cost $500K in at-risk investment plus tens of thousands in fees for lawyers and middlemen like Joop Bollen. President Obama's visitor visas don't give permanent residency the way an EB-5 visa can, but five years on an extended visa for a $160 application fee might sound like a bargain to a lot of folks considering EB-5.

South Dakota reporters are not killing EB-5. South Dakota has lost its EB-5 edge due to decisions made by South Dakota's EB-5 czar and his collaborators in state government. The President's new visa deal with China may reduce EB-5 demand even further.

12 comments

An eager reader goes hunting for information about Mike Rounds's now notorious EB-5 visa investment program and finds a press release on a Chinese forum, issued exactly four years ago today:

世贸通:美国南州电厂项目四大优势强力保证
2010年10月13日 07:14美通社【大 中 小】 【打印】 共有评论0条
北京2010年10月13日电 /美通社亚洲/ -- 继顺利发布美国投资移民“爱达荷州金矿项目”后,为庆祝世贸通荣获南达科他州区域中心中国首席代理资格,并在中国首发美国南州电厂项目,世贸通隆重推出优惠月活动,并将召开“世贸通南州电厂项目中国首发会”,敬请莅临!世贸通南州电厂项目中国首发会预定电话:010-5979 9665400-700-3979

时间地点:

北京:2010年10月16日 下午2点半 国贸饭店一层B厅(国贸桥西北角),

深圳:2010年10月17日 下午2点半 圣廷苑酒店二楼多功能3厅(华强北路)。

演讲嘉宾:

Joop Bollen,南达科他州区域中心主席。

Maurice Berez,前美国移民局EB-5办公室主任、南达科他州区域中心首席顾问。

JaMEs Park,美国专业移民律师、南达科他州指定首席律师事务所。

Joe Jin,南达科他州区域中心亚太总裁。

项目简介:建设位于美国南达科他州布法罗岭的风力发电厂项目。

享受福利:全家绿卡,父母享美国福利,子女就读世界名校。

美国南达科他州电厂项目

美国南州西班牙电厂项目用以建设和经营位于美国南达科他州的布法罗岭风力发电项目,以满足美国对可再生能源不断增长的需求。2009年,奥巴马总统在爱荷华州牛顿市演讲时表示,至2030年,风力发电将占美国电力产量的20%,这对于环境和经济,都有巨大好处。美国政府将采取激励措施,3年内使美国的可再生能源产量翻一番。在此背景下,为了满足其成员负载增长的需求,并且满足国家可再生能源投资组合标准(RPS)的要求,必须增加可再生能源的发电产能。

项目四大优势强力保证

优势一:政府优势

南达科他州区域中心是属于政府机构,而非私人机构,隶属于南达科他州政府,由州经济发展部直接管理。依托政府优势,保障项目的正常运行。

优势二:就业优势

布法罗岭电力项目采用第三代就业方式,无需考虑直接就业人数,美国移民局批准南达科他州区域中心采用RIMS-Ⅱ就业计算模式,依据投资额来计算EB-5就业人数,每100万美元投资额可创造5.4309个间接就业机会,则该项目可创造2199个就业机会,但该项仅招募200人,2年后条件有保障。

优势三:投资优势

该项目直接贷款给具有107年历史,世界最大的再生能源的跨国集团,该集团是拥有1100亿美元资产的伦敦上市公司,这是美国EB-5法案立法以来,最具还款实力的项目,保障投资款五年后全返。

优势四:审批优势

南达科他州电厂项目是一个成熟的项目,审批速度快。2009年世贸通与南达科他州区域中心联合推出的北新电厂项目招募的219个申请人,全部审批通过,该洲超过600个以上成功的I-526(投资移民)申请,没有一个被驳回,成功率高达100%。负责布法罗岭电力项目的南州区域中心首席顾问Maurice是美国移民局EB-5办公室前主任,该项目将由Maurice亲自为客户审批申请资料,确保申请100%通过。

美移民史上还款能力最强的项目

由评级为 A 级的母公司,即西班牙伊维尔德罗拉集团出具的本票作为五年还款担保。担保形式为企业本票。西班牙伊维尔德罗拉集团的总资产达到1100亿美元,是伦敦证券交易所上市公司,交易代码为 ORD-SHS。伊维尔德罗拉集团的经营状况良好,国际三大信贷评级机构都给予了极高的信用评级,证明了该公司良好的经营状况和还款能力。

Don't get excited: "ORD-SHS" was the Iberdrola Group's symbol on the London Stock Exchange.

According to Google Translate and a reader-vouched Chinese speaker, the press release comes from a Chinese company calling itself World Trade Tong (tong here means expert). WTT announces two conferences being held by South Dakota Regional Center representatives Joop Bollen, Maurice Berez, and James Park to seek investors for Iberdrola's Buffalo Ridge II wind farm. Iberdrola completed that project in December 2010, but the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service put the kabosh on EB-5 investment in the project because the $100 million Bollen and friends raised would only have paid off money Iberdrola had already spent, thus not directly creating any jobs.

The paragraph I find interesting is the first of four "advantage" paragraphs, bolded above. Here's the sloppy Google Translate version:

One advantage: Government advantages

South Dakota Regional Center is a government agency, rather than the private sector, under the South Dakota state government, directly managed by the Ministry of Economic Development states. Relying on the advantages of the government to ensure the normal operation of the project.

And here's a human translation:

Advantage Number 1: Government

SDRC is a government agency, not a private business. It is part of the South Dakota State Government, under the Department of Business Development. The advantage of this is that the program’s operation is “protected” (under a government authority).

Hmm... both machine and human say that the press release mischaracterized the nature of South Dakota's EB-5 program in 2010. The South Dakota Regional Center was technically assigned to the South Dakota International Business Institute, an entity running at that time under the Board of Regents without an executive director. However, from January 2008 to December 2009, the program's director, Joop Bollen, privatized his EB-5 operations into his own corporation, SDRC Inc. By 2010, the program was operating fully as a private business, under contract with the Department of Tourism and State Development.

This all gets confusing, since SDRC and SDRC Inc. are indeed two very different entities. But one can understand how Chinese investors could have been confused by the claim that SDRC was a state agency even though the wheeler-dealers making the pitch in October 2010 were private profiteers.

15 comments

China probably built your computer, your cell phone, and your air conditioner. So come find out who's keeping you cool and connected Thursday at the Madison Public Library, when former history professor Eve Fisher will present "A Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party: A Brief History of China."

Eve Fisher China Talk 20140626

The title of Fisher's talk comes from Chairman Mao:

A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another [Mao Zedong, "Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan" (March 1927), Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 28.]

Mao contended that he and his fellow peasants were justified in using "the greatest force" and creating terror in every rural area to overturn feudal rule that had been in place for thousands of years. Fisher will be happy to answer questions about the Maoist terror that paved the way for China's rise and much more Thursday evening at 7 p.m.

3 comments

What was that Corinna Robinson said yesterday about Congresswoman Kristi Noem not doing the job we taxpayers pay her to do?

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) enjoying a taxpayer-funded trip to the Great Wall of China, April 2014.

"We could build a big wall on top of Keystone XL! Make it a tourist attraction! Put in a HuHot!" Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) at the Great Wall of China, April 2014.

That's our Kristi, obviously really impressed with the opportunity to be in a photo with her friend Aaron from Illinois as they enjoy the junket we bought them to China. ("Codel", a Soviet-style truncation of "Congressional delegation," appears to be the preferred term of art for such junkets.)

She and Rep. Schock return to Washington this week refreshed and ready to do all sorts of work... or maybe not:

Members of Congress see the three months left until August, when they leave on a month-long recess and most transition to full-time campaigning.

Leaders could plan significant votes in September and will likely hold a "lame-duck" session after the election, but outside of emergency action, expectations for significant legislation after August are low [Lisa Desjardins, "Congress Returns: Could Do, Probably Won't Do," CNN.com, 2014.04.29].

I'm sure Kristi learned a lot in China. Too bad she's probably not going to translate that experience into any new policy initiatives this summer.

43 comments

CNN reports what we South Dakotans know from experience: Chinese investors love the EB-5 visa investment program. According to yesterday's report, Chinese immigrants took almost 6,900 EB-5 visas in 2013, 81% of the total issued. Compare that with the 16 EB-5 visas issued to Chinese immigrants in 2004, the year South Dakota started leaning on the program to support large dairy projects in East River.

Immigration lawyers tell CNN Canada's decision to end a similar immigration program based on poor payoff has already driven more immigrants to apply for EB-5 visas. Rich Chinese looking to buy their green cards get a great bargain from the U.S.:

"The cost is very reasonable in relation to other countries," [immigration lawyer David] Hirson said. Australia, for example, requires a $4.5 million investment -- nine times the minimum required in the U.S. [Sophia Yan, "Rich Chinese Overwhelm U.S. Visa Program," CNNMoney, 2014.03.25]

Readers know I'm not nearly as fond of the EB-5 visa investment program as the handful of South Dakota players who've profited from it without proper state oversight. But let me reach for a silver lining to the Chinese takeover of the EB-5 visa quota:

For rich Chinese, opportunities in America are attractive. A green card offers a way to send their children to college, escape heavy pollution and enjoy an improved quality of life, said Kate Kalmykov, an attorney with Greenberg Taurig. Plus, the EB-5 program is relatively cheap [Yan, 2014.03.25].

These Chinese investors want to escape pollution. So when they come here and see the spate of oil spills and pipeline ruptures driven in part by their home country's increasing thirst for North American oil, those EB-5 immigrants may join our fight to protect their new home from the predations of TransCanada's China-bound Keystone XL pipeline, keep the price of driving their new American Cadillacs down, and leave a billion barrels of dirty tar sands oil in the ground. Save West River, and save the planet: bring on more EB-5 investors!

13 comments

The Governor's Office of Economic Development announced yesterday that eleven captains of South Dakota industry will accompany Governor Dennis Daugaard on his third trade mission to China. The Governor, friends, and flunkies will spend May 9–16 wining and dining potential export partners in beautiful downtown Beijing and Shanghai.

An eager reader asks how much such junkets cost. To guesstimate, let's look at former GOED chief Richard Benda's travel expense voucher, submitted March 12, 2010, which included expenses for an EB-5 recruitment tour of China from November 8 to November 23, 2009:

excerpt, Benda Travel Voucher, 2010.03.12, p. 8

excerpt, Benda Travel Voucher, 2010.03.12, p. 8 [click to embiggen]

But wait, there's more:

excerpt, Benda Travel Voucher, 2010.03.12, p. 9

excerpt, Benda Travel Voucher, 2010.03.12, p. 9 [click to embiggen]

Benda's airfare, taxifare, meals, hotel rooms, and the ever-popular miscellaneous for this trip add up to $4,846.27. I've tried not to double-bill anything, but we know how these things happen.

So let's compare that to the cost for Governor Daugaard's upcoming trip. Airfare is airfare, so that cost should match Benda's, a total here of $1,221.20. Now Benda got a break on airfare on this November 2009 trip. For his December 2009 trip, one of the tickets he double-billed, you and I had to pay $3,740.60.

The other costs should be proportional to time in country. Benda's trip was sixteen days; Daugaard's junket will be eight. Divide Benda's meals, lodging, and miscellaneous by 2, and you get $1,812.54.

Assume 3% average inflation in China since 2009, add... Presto! $3,465. Per person.

The taxpayer's price will vary. We'll pay full price for Governor Daugaard and GOED boss Pat Costello (you are going, right, Pat? I mean, the Chinese expect our top officials). GOED said that business partners on the trip will be reimbursed up to 30% for one company rep, so we might spend $1,040 on each corporate honcho.

But for Pete's sake, if you want to make the sale, don't scrimp on entertainment for this one-week junket to China.

)

Multicultural Note: Dennis, Pat, Rudy, when you sit down for dinner with those Chinese execs, don't turn to the comely young women next to them and say, "And this must be your lovely wife":

Young women who are mistresses in China are professionals, and some get a very handsome salary for what they do. According to reporter James Palmer, if high-rolling businessmen and government officials don't have a mistress, they don't get respect.

Palmer lives in Beijing and has written about mistress culture in China. He says it's like the mafia culture portrayed in the movie Goodfellas: Saturday nights are for wives, but Friday nights are for mistresses.

"You have events for your wives, but you also have these events where you're expected to bring a woman," Palmer tells NPR's Arun Rath. "And if you don't bring a woman, you're seen as not being a real man" [staff, "Corruption Blurs the Lines of China's Mistress Culture," NPR, 2014.03.02].

Well, that's awkward.

77 comments

Rep. Stace Nelson continues to demonstrate how not to make friends among his fellow Republicans.

This afternoon, Rep. Nelson brought to the House floor House Concurrent Resolution 1023, yet another legislative protest against Common Core. Bills attempting to hamstring Common Core have consistently failed; Rep. Nelson felt the House needed one more chance to hear Common Core opponents vent their frustrations at the evil they perceive.

But Rep. Nelson appears to have been as interested in luring his Republican colleagues into a vote-scoreboard trap as in stamping out edu-corporate conspiracies. He made his speech in favor of his resolution. He heard Republican Reps. Mike Stevens and Jacqueline Sly rise to oppose HCR 1023. Rep. Stevens simply said the resolution was filled with inaccuracies; Rep. Sly detailed those inaccuracies, rebutting Rep. Nelson's Whereas clauses point by point:

  • Sly said the Common Core development and implementation process had public hearings, one of which she attended.
  • Sly noted that President Obama couldn't have used the 2009 stimulus to push Common Core, because Common Core was developed until 2010.
  • Sly refuted the notion that schools have to buy new Common Core-aligned teaching materials, saying that schools have a wealth of online, open-source materials to use in their classrooms (very true... like the Madville Times!)
  • Sly said federally funded testing is nothing new; the feds have funded testing for years. She noted that the outgoing Dakota Step test cost $48 per student. By joining the Smarter Balanced consortium to develop our Common Core tests, we've brought the test cost down to $22–$27 per student.
  • Sly said the data collection dreaded by so many Common Core opponents has been going on for many years. The tests, she said, use student ID numbers to prevent tracing information back to students. Only aggregate data is sent on to education agencies, protecting the identity of students and families.
  • Sly rejected the notion that Common Core imposes one-size-fits-all instruction. She said our teachers do all sorts of differentiated instruction.
  • Finally, Sly said she finds "most disturbing" HCR 1023's language about Common Core's putting America in a "nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement."

HCR 1023 drew fire from Democrats as well, with Rep. Julie Bartling saying South Dakota is better than a resolution that tells children we don't want them to excel (HCR 1023 doesn't actually say that) and Rep. Spence Hawley expressing his frustration with all the useless resolutions brought forward and asking for a rule change to send all resolutions to committee so as not to waste the House's real problem-solving time (second!).

Rep. Nelson wasn't sweating Dem heat. Rising to rebut Reps. Stevens and Sly, he pulled the card he'd kept in his sleeve: he cribbed HCR 1023 mostly verbatim from a resolution passed by the Republican National Committee in April 2013. So was his next resolution, HCR 1024, a resolution condemning China for waging cyberwarfare against the United States.

Not amused, Rep. Nelson's fellow Republicans proceeded to vote down the positions of the Republican National Committee.

Advertising on a liberal blog... using Republicans' own words against them... boy, if I didn't know better, I'd think Stace Nelson was working for us Democrats.

* * *
Intra-party snark aside, Rep. Nelson dished the line of the day, calling Common Core "an unholy marrying of corporations and government control of our children." Corporations and government hand-in-hand—that's fascism, isn't it, Stace?

54 comments

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