Rep. Kristi Noem releases a year-in-review column. She leads with her son's growth of three inches, then reels off several other "achievements" for which she deserves little if any credit.

Rep. Noem trumpets the "long-awaited" Farm Bill and says she got "so many provisions in place for South Dakota producers and consumers." Crop insurance, livestock indemnity, pine beetle eradication—she's claiming credit for socialism here. If we accept that farm socialism is good for South Dakota, Rep. Noem is ignoring the fact that she and her party denied South Dakota those benefits for the fourteen months that they delayed the farm bill over their insistence that poor people deserve less help than wealthy ag corporations.

Rep. Noem says she wrote a provision that directs $31 million to a rural water projects fund from which the long-delayed Lewis and Clark pipeline may draw. Again, socialism. Again, delay—if it's so great, Rep. Noem, why aren't you just getting it done?

Rep. Noem highlights the passage of her mostly uncontroversial Black Hills Cemetery Act. The only earth this law moves is a few more acres of the Paha Sapa that will be torn up to bury the corpses of mostly white colonizers.

Already out of things she got done, Rep. Noem turns to human trafficking. Of all the concrete actions she could take to end global slavery, Rep. Noem brags up a minor policy change, one that didn't allocate new money to police and prosecutors, didn't offer any stronger penalties for treating humans like chattel, but simply promised to stretch existing funds to make more shelters for trafficking victims available. Rep. Noem couldn't even sell that meager action to her Senate colleagues.

Rep. Noem expresses her support for government-run health care in Hot Springs, talks about a lot of talk, but can point to no achievement beyond hanging a bauble in the latest stopgap spending bill to prevent the VA from saving money in this fiscal year.

Rep. Noem touts the ABLE Act, pending legislation that would create tax-exempt private savings accounts for disability-related expenses that would not count against income/asset thresholds for various government benefits. This band-aid bill doesn't help low-income families who don't have money to contribute to savings accounts. Once again, Rep. Noem ignores the truly needy.

Rep. Kristi Noem uses a lot of shiny wrapping paper, but the boxes she puts under our tree are mostly empty.

Related Right-Wing Rage: Bob Ellis calls Rep. Noem "feckless" and longs for something other than the coming triumvirate of ineffective Republicans in South Dakota's Congressional delegation.

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America tortured detainees. We tortured human beings.

The world is rightly outraged. We have it coming. We call ourselves the exceptional nation, and I'm fine with that if we can live up to that claim. We should be a beacon of democracy, justice, and humanity, not criminal monstrosity. Instead, in our surrender to the terror wrought on us by evil men, we committed evil that undermined our moral authority and did more durable damage to our national interest than the loss of any buildings or lives.

In response to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on our use of torture under the George W. Bush Administration, South Dakota's Congressional delegation splits predictably. Our Republican members ignore the real moral crime and try to paint those who expose our crime as the bad guys:

Republican Sen. John Thune said while some of the findings of the report are disturbing, the "conclusions are misleading and do not represent all the facts."

"With growing national security threats from our enemies around the globe, the release of this report on a program that ended eight years ago puts our military and intelligence operatives in jeopardy today," said Thune, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate. "This seems more like a politically motivated report, rather than an honest attempt to improve our intelligence-gathering practices" [Christopher Doering, "S.D. Delegation Divided on Torture Report," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.09].

Yes, yes, stay afraid. Wave the flag, support the troops, pay no attention to the torturers behind the curtain.

Rep. Kristi Noem expressed concern that the details of the report could allow U.S. enemies to "to twist our intentions" and use its findings to promote aggression against America. "Congress must continue to provide thorough oversight over our intelligence activities, but the manner in which this was done puts America in danger and does our country little to no good," she said [Doering, 2014.12.09].

Differing from these cowards, Senator Tim Johnson puts the focus back where it should be, saying we made mistakes and need to admit them:

Today’s release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation practices was the right thing to do. The American people deserve to know the truth – that the CIA tortured detainees during the Bush Administration using interrogation practices contrary to our American values. We are stronger as a nation when we admit our mistakes, learn from the past, and move forward.  I strongly believe that the use of torture is intolerable and inexcusable. These practices failed to make our nation safer and must not happen again [Senator Tim Johnson, press release, 2014.12.09].

Senator John McCain, who bears the scars of torture, agrees with his Democratic colleague:

[The report] is a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose – to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies – but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.

I believe the American people have a right – indeed, a responsibility – to know what was done in their name; how these practices did or did not serve our interests; and how they comported with our most important values [Senator John McCain, floor statement, United States Senate, 2014.12.09].

Senator McCain says America's torture failed to produce useful intelligence or forward our goals in fighting terrorism. But Senator McCain says efficacy is not the main point:

...[T]orture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.

Our enemies act without conscience. We must not. This executive summary of the Committee’s report makes clear that acting without conscience isn’t necessary, it isn’t even helpful, in winning this strange and long war we’re fighting. We should be grateful to have that truth affirmed [McCain, 2014.12.09].

Senator Thune and Rep. Noem should listen to Senator McCain. The torture report is not political hackery. It is a truthful admission of America's sins, and a necessary step in re-establishing our claim that we are better than the terrorists we fight.

We tortured human beings. We committed crimes against humanity. We will likely never prosecute those crimes. But we must admit those crimes and vow never to commit them again. We must vow to be Americans — not terrorists, not tyrants, but Americans.

Related Reading: Douglas Wiken wisely notes that the CIA's use of torture could encourage overly aggressive law enforcement practices here at home.

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Like Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, President Barack Obama is using his executive authority to tackle immigration problems. Specifically, President Obama announced last night that he is inviting more than four million illegal immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law." Here's the deal, in the President's own words:

We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve with been in America more than five years. If you have children who are American citizens or illegal residents. If you register, pass a criminal background check and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. That’s what this deal is.

Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you [President Barack Obama, address to the nation, transcript posted by Washington Post, 2014.11.20].

Speaker John Boehner says the President is sabotaging efforts to pass legislative immigration reform, even though in his speech last night, the President explicitly invited Congress to pass a bill that would render his action unnecessary, and even though Speaker Boehner has had an effective, bipartisan immigration reform bill on his desk since June 2013. Speaker Boehner says the President is showing he can't be trusted to enforce the law, even though the Boehner Congress has given the President only enough funding to deport 400,000 out of the nation's 11,000,000 illegal immigrants, requiring the President to choose on which minority of illegal immigrants to enforce the law. The action the President announced last night allows law enforcement to focus on crooks and terrorists.

Someone in Rep. Kristi Noem's office types up a response saying that "'my way or the highway' negotiation won’t work." This from the office of a Congresswoman who supported shutting down the federal government and crashing the economy when the President wouldn't yield to GOP demands to repeal health care reform.

Rep. Noem claims that the President is defying the will of the people of South Dakota. On what basis Rep. Noem divines that popular will is unclear, since South Dakotans all seem content to enjoy the cheap produce and other labor made available by those millions of illegal immigrants and unwilling to crack down on the businesses that exploit those workers.

Rep. Noem mentions something about the President's being unconstitutional, but she has yet to enunciate the legal grounds on which she would prosecute the President... probably because there are none:

...[T]he president’s discretion to enforce the immigration laws has always been the cornerstone of a de facto guest-worker (or, if you want, caste) system from which most Americans have greatly benefited. That’s why Republicans’ claim that the president is shredding the Constitution sounds so odd to people knowledgeable about immigration law. He’s just doing what countless Congresses have wanted him to do, and have effectively forced him to do, so that Congress itself could avoid charges that it has created a two-tier system of citizenship where the bottom tier is allowed to stay in this country and work, but is not allowed to vote, to benefit from welfare programs, to travel freely, or to enjoy the full protection of workplace laws. Of course, you might say that the whole illegal immigration system, with its two-tier system of rights, violates the Constitution or at least constitutional values, but the fault for that lies with Congress, not with the president [Eric Posner, "Obama's Immigration Plan Is Perfectly Constitutional," Salon.com, 2014.11.21].

The President is taking legal and practical action to solve problems. We can only wish Speaker Boehner and Rep. Noem were similarly committed to practical action for the good of the country.

Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.

My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forbearers were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal, that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will. That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come [President Barack Obama, 2014.11.20].

Related: Under President Obama, illegal immigration from Mexico has declined, but overall numbers of illegal immigrants in the country have remained relatively stable, dropping just a bit from 11.3 million in 2009 to 11.2 million in 2012.

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On my way home from work, I heard this conversation on the BBC World Service with Kevin Bales, lead author of a report that finds 36 million human beings are slaves:

[Bales]: Slavery today is what it's always been. It's about the complete control of one person by another, violence being used to maintain that control, and that control aiding and abetting in the economic exploitation of that person. It's very interesting that—

[Tim Franks, BBC]: And not just economic, you also talk about sexual exploitation as well.

[Bales]: Well indeed. Interestingly, a lot of people today believe that there's something called sex trafficking, which is trafficking into sexual exploitation, and then they think that there's everything else. But one of the things that's important to know about slavery today is that every woman in slavery, whether she's in a factory or on a farm or in a domestic service is going to be sexually assaulted. It's almost a given.

[Franks]: That's an extraordinary thing to say. Extraordinary and depressing.

[Bales]: It is depressing.

[Franks]: But the Venn diagrams, they overlap that much?

[Bales]: Absolutely do. In fact it's rare to find woman who's been enslaved, in whatever form of slavery—debt bondage, you name it—who hasn't been sexually assaulted. It's about that power that men, criminals, have over women who have been enslaved [Kevin Bales, interviewed by Tim Franks, "Report Uncovers 36 Million People Living as Slaves," BBC World Service, 2014.11.17].

Naturally, I think of our Congresswoman Kristi Noem, who has set human trafficking among the jewels in her campaign crown. Even the Pierre paper recognized that opposing slavery isn't exactly a difficult, distinguishing position.

Saying slavery is bad is easy. Spending the money to stop this crime against humanity is the real challenge.

There are a lot of ways to combat this, and in some ways one of the most important that we rather wish in the Walk Free Foundation would move a little faster rests on the fact that every government in the world has passed a law against slavery, but really no government in the world has sufficiently invested in enforcing that law. We estimate that to eradicate slavery or to take it down to a point where it's so rare that it's just amazingly rare would cost about $20 billion over a period of about 20 years. But at the present moment, if you add up everything all governments are spending, it comes to about $250 million. We're low. It's quite simply low [Bales, 2014.11.17].

$20 billion? The U.S. Army has that much in its couch cushions.

Rep. Noem has voted to spend more money on grants to victims of human trafficking. Much of her legislative action, however, has focused on ordering reviews and rules, not more money.

Bales doesn't specify how governments ought to spend that $20 billion, but let's grant his expertise and his price tag. Let's say $20 billion would free millions of people from slavery.

Would we even need to debate? We'd hand the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons $20 billion (right now they get $20 million) and say, "Free the slaves, now!" We could pay $9 billion of that bill by getting rid of subsidies for crop insurance (come on, Kristi: is crop insurance really more important than freeing those women and children you like speechifying about?) We could eliminate corporate tax loopholes and use the $150 billion to free every slave in the world and buy them groceries for a year.

Or we could just raise taxes, say $20 per capita, and tell the world, "Here's $6 billion to end slavery—who's with us?"

$20 a head, a little global cooperation, and we free tens of millions of people from slavery. Rep. Noem, why don't we do that?

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Rep. Kristi Noem voted today to support the House's unconstitutional effort to violate the separation of powers and tell TransCanada it can build the Keystone XL pipeline without the approval of the President of the United States. Rep. Noem is on automatic pilot for Big Oil, so there's no news there.

Offering us something slightly more interesting is Rep. Justin Amash, the only Republican not to vote in favor of HR 5682. Rep. Amash didn't vote against HR 5682, either; he voted presentjust as he did in May. Rep. Amash says he supports Keystone XL, but he has issues with a bill that targeting a specific company. Hmm... the Constitution (Article 1, Section 9) prohibits bills of attainder, Congressional acts that single out a person or group for punishment without trial; so what do we call a bill that singles out a person or company for a special favor?

Our scholarly President could likely expound on that Constitutional point to justify a veto, but he's sticking with more practical matters. He seems a bit put off by the fact that, of all the useful legislation Congress could have taken up right away after the election, the House and Senate are concentrating on a piddly little bill that doesn't seem to do much good for anyone but a Canadian company and the Chinese:

In some of his strongest language yet, Obama pushed back against the Republican argument that the pipeline is a “massive jobs bill for the United States.”

“Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn't have an impact on US gas prices,” he said, growing visibly frustrated.

“If my Republican friends really want to focus on what's good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what are we doing to produce even more homegrown energy? I'm happy to have that conversation,” he continued [Jim Avila, Chris Good, and Mary Bruce, "Obama Doubles Down on Immigration, Keystone Pipeline," ABC News, 2014.11.14].

Correction, Mr. President: Keystone XL does have an impact on U.S. gas prices. Keystone XL raises our gas prices.

Our own Senator John Thune helps peddle the lie about Keystone XL creating 42,000 jobs. (Come January, South Dakota will no longer have anyone in Congress capable of telling the truth.) No, the State Department report doesn't say that:

Over the course of up to two years of construction, the State Department estimates a total of 42,100 jobs "would be supported by construction of the proposed project." Some jobs are directly tied to the pipeline and construction. Other jobs are simply a nature of how spending $8 billion ripples out into the economy. And more than 99 percent are temporary.

...The State Department estimates that 26,100 indirect and induced jobs "would be supported by construction of the proposed project" during the construction phase. The jobs would be in providing the supply chain to Keystone as well as employee spending on lodging, food, entertainment, health care, etc.

The State Department calls these jobs "supported" and not created because it includes jobs that already exist [Katie Sanders, "Fox News Host: Keystone Pipeline Would Create 'Tens of Thousands of Jobs'," Politifact.com, 2014.11.13].

Keystone XL will create at most a couple thousand temporary jobs, most to be filled by out-of-state contractors who will follow the pipeline down the route, just as happened with Keystone 1 through eastern South Dakota. Any jobs Keystone XL creates will be swamped by the jobs it kills by raising energy costs.

Republicans keep lying about Keystone XL. The proper response to such lies is not the Democratic surrenderism of Senators Mary Landrieu and Michael Bennet; the proper response is to tell the truth (Senator Johnson! Swing harder!) and put the interest of the American people before the profits of a Canadian pipeline company.

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Like Best Darn Guns' customers, Pat Powers appears to be blinded by appearances. Powers  imagines checked-bloused Rep. Kristi Noem galloping across a pasture on her trusty steed and declares Rep. Kristi Noem "tremendous on the stump." He also posits that voters rewarded her for all of her hard work on human trafficking (a falling-off-a-log issue) and the Farm Bill (which she failed to deliver until sixteen months after its 2012 due date).

Bob Mercer more objectively assesses Noem's electoral fortunes, noting that she has indeed increased her November vote total through the last three elections but pointing out that Stephanie Herseth Sandlin looked similarly pinnacled after her 2008 drubbing of a feckless opponent.

Mercer and Powers both remind us of the frightening prospect Todd Epp first floated on November 3: Rep. Noem may be planning to skip running for another term in Congress and instead launch her 2018 gubernatorial campaign in 2016.

Wait—did I say frightening? Sure, the idea of Kristi Noem trying to run a state should give us pause: what executive experience does Noem have? She may be getting better at reciting the talking points her handlers hand her with a twinkle in her beguiling ice-blue eyes, but does anyone really believe she has developed the intellectual curiosity and rigor necessaary not just to govern a state but to form a vision for leading the state into the future?

But frightening? Democrats, we should all urge Kristi Noem to make real this gubernatorial rumor. Noem's leaving Congress in 2016 would boost our chances of retaking the House by 50%. (Go ahead, GOP jokers: "50% times zero is still zero! Bwaa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!") Noem's running for Governor in 2018 would also boost our gubernatorial chances. Noem would draw a primary, no matter how much she brags about her money. Marty Jackley, Dusty Johnson... some one of the usual suspects would not let her jump in line ahead of them. Noem would spend big money, her opponents would spend big money, and whoever won, the Democratic nominee (Joe Lowe? Jason Frerichs? Rick Weiland?) would have the pleasure of challenging a burised and financially drained Republican opponent.

So yes, Kristi, think big! Think Pierre! Fix those gleaming eyes on Gubernatrix! We Dems cheer your aspirations... and our crushing thereof.

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Mike Rounds gets one newspaper endorsement, from his hometown Pierre Capital Journal. The editorial board in our capital tepidly defaults to experience on every statewide ballot line. They excuse Rounds thus:

We are well aware of the ongoing federal investigation into the EB-5 mess, and although significant questions remain, the experience Rounds brings outweighs any negatives from that issue ["Our Endorsements," Pierre Capital Journal, 2014.11.03].

They darn Rep. Kristi Noem with similar faint praise:

Republican incumbent Kristi Noem has more experience than Democrat Corinna Robinson and gets our endorsement. However, our board shares fairly broad agreement across party lines that Noem is a lackluster performer in the U.S. House, standing for non-controversial causes such as the move to stop human trafficking (as though anyone would take the other side of that issue) or predictable Midwest causes such as the farm bill – legislation from which her own family’s farm operation harvests plenty in taxpayer subsidies, as a letter elsewhere on this page observes. Noem deserves credit for taking a strong stand for conservation provisions in that bill, however [PCJ, 2014.11.03].

Even tough decider Governor Dennis Daugaard gets a bit of ho-hum from his closest monitors:

While we cannot see a great many accomplishments, we don’t see very much to fault him for, either [PCJ, 2014.11.03].

The only exception to the Pierre editors' safe embrace of company-town incumbency comes in the District 24 Senate race, where they reject Republican Senator Jeff Monroe's low-achieving in favor of trying something new and Democratic:

Our recommendation: We favor the Democratic candidate, Ruth Rehn, over the incumbent Republican, Jeff Monroe. The consensus on our editorial board is that, just as Rehn is contending, Monroe has not been very effective in his latest stint in the Legislature. Ruth Rehn is not the first to draw attention to this point. It was also the point of attack for Monroe’s fellow Republican in the primary, former lawmaker Tad Perry, who emphasized his success in getting legislation passed as the main difference between him and Monroe. The point still holds. We think it is time to give someone else a try and see if another candidate is better at getting thoughtful legislation enacted for South Dakota and District 24 [PCJ, 2014.11.03].

Like Senator Phil Jensen, Senator Jeff Monroe posts dangerous and dumb Glenn-Beck-karaoke bills that get in the way of practical lawmaking to do real good for all South Dakotans. The Pierre Capital Journal appears to recognize the importance of results... but only when the candidate is not a big-name statewide star. But the paper is at least showing a spark of critical thinking. Keep heading down that path, Pierre!

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I apologize: yesterday I said I'd get to some analysis of the Rep. Kristi Noem–Corinna Robinson debate Thursday night on SDPB. Alas, news happens.

The ever level-headed Ken Santema took time out from his vigorous campaign for State Treasurer to blog the debate. He summarizes the thematic highlights, then comes to the remarkable conclusion that neither Noem nor Robinson deserves his vote:

...from a liberty-minded point of view this was not a good debate. There was no true advocate for civil liberties or truly reducing the power of the federal government as a whole. For that reason I will likely stick with my gut feeling from a couple of months ago and leave both circles blank on this part of the ballot. I don’t feel either candidate will stand for civil liberties and economic freedom. South Dakota may not allow write-ins on ballots, but it sure allows for people to skip voting for certain races or ballot questions. This would be a good one to refrain from voting [Ken Santema, "Noem and Robinson SDPB Debate Solidifies Who I Will Vote for in the US House Race," SoDakLiberty, 2014.10.17].

Santema's notes support my main observation from the debate: Rep. Kristi Noem continues to effectively recite the talking points her bosses hand her, while Corinna Robinson continues to recite the talking points she's cobbled together while failing to turn them into focused, effective attacks on the incumbent.

Here are the things Robinson needs to do to win the last big debate on KELO on Friday, October 24:

  1. Use every minute. Moderator Stephanie Rissler regularly offered rebuttal time, and Robinson regularly waved that time off. Even when Noem took the rebuttal time, Robinson sometimes passed. Aaacck! When you're on TV, and someone offers you a chance to talk on TV, you talk!
  2. Prep. Prep prep prep. The savings question at 40:00 caught you unprepared, as demonstrated by the stalling fluster-fluff that preceded your eventual tie-in to policy. You should be sitting down with advisors for days before each debate practicing every imaginable question, even dumb questions, even vague questions. You cannot do this in your own head. You have to have your campaign staff briefing you, drilling you, telling you to do it again.
  3. Attack specifics. The Farm Bill question offered a perfect opportunity to hammer Rep. Noem on policy failures. Noem's inability to move policy left us without a Farm Bill for 15 months. The Farm Bill contained all sorts of groaners: cuts to food stamps, boosts to crop insurance (the cash cow that keeps Kristi's hubby Bryon in paychecks), continued handouts to wealthy corporations, reductions in conservation... and in the face of all that, you open your response by agreeing with Rep. Noem that the Farm Bill is "adequate"?
  4. Attack smart. You did try to attack Rep. Noem on an obvious weakness: her family's three-million-dollar reliance on farm subsidies. A Republican on welfare cutting benefits for less fortunate—this should be an easy, potent attack. But you botched the attack by sloppily asserting that Rep. Noem received $500,000 "just this year alone." That claim is unsupportable because farm subsidy numbers for this year haven't been published yet. That claim also opens the door for Rep. Noem to make you look deceitful and dumb:

    The only way that you can participate in farm programs is if you are actively engaged in agriculture, which I'm currently not [Rep. Kristi Noem, debate on South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Vermillion, SD, 2014.10.16].

    If you were reading the briefs, you'd know that, and you'd practice phrasing your attack to avoid giving Noem that easy, fact-based dodge.

Beating Rep. Noem in a debate should be easy. Get past the pretty, and she still has no punch. Put her on the run, and she still can't marshal the intellectual moxie to reach past her script and grapple with hard facts.

But she's had four years of practice, and lots of well-paid staff to help her practice. Winging it and waving off rebuttals won't beat the Noem machine. Relentless briefing, practice, and smart attacks will.

Now, back to the depositions....

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