10.17.2014

The Power of Expectations

Expectations affect our vision tremendously, causing us to either see what we expect to see (even if it isn't there) or, if we cannot avoid its absence, see nothing at all.  Investigators - good ones - try to avoid having any expectations at all so that when they go to investigate they see what is actually there.

This was driven home to me by a phenomenon I noticed shortly after coming out to the Dakotas from Michigan several years ago.  When people from a forested state like Michigan come out to the prairies, their first response is, "It's so empty! There's nothing there!"  But there's plenty there on the prairies - vegetation, wildlife, terrain, sky, and more.  When people from the prairies go to a state like Michigan, their response is, "You can't see anything - there are all these trees in the way."  The trees aren't in the way.  They are the view.

I recently experienced this with a member responding to a sermon.  He saw the view - the trees - and even identified correctly the sermon's take-away.  And then said there was nothing there to take away.  What wasn't there was what he expected, so he noticed nothing.

We see this in regards to the discussion regarding Mike Rounds.  The headline from the news article is, "Bollen Deposition Shows Program with Little Oversight."  What does that mean, though?  If you expect Mike Rounds to be a lousy manager, you see that as proof that Mike Rounds was a lousy manager - he should have checked up on it more.  But if you expect Mike Rounds to be a good manager, you see that as evidence of good management - he delegated it, checked in once in a while and since things looked good, he spent his time on other concerns.

In fact, it proves neither.  The deposition doesn't even really show a program with little oversight.  It shows a program that was overseen very closely by Joop Bollen, intermittently by Richard Benda, and then more steadily by Pat Costello.  It shows a man who was (and likely is) self-confident and who prefers action to bureaucratic niceties - it's easier to get the paperwork to catch up to reality than trying to slow reality down to the cumbersome pace of government bureaucracies.  This is not an uncommon perspective among entrepreneurs like Mr. Bollen.  And it shows a state government, including the Board of Regents, willing to tolerate this as long as there aren't any problems.

Then there were problems.

This, too, isn't unusual in entrepreneurial settings.  Bollen, being confident and active, tries to assure his bosses that the problem (lawsuit) will be resolved and is really nothing - which it turned out to be.  He is not all that concerned about Northern Beef's bankruptcy, either - when you take risks, sometimes you lose.  That's why they call it "risk."

But those bosses, thinking about that uncomfortable feeling that comes when your particular piece of the bureaucracy is suddenly noticed by the voters, pulled in the reins.  Bureaucrats are, by nature, risk-averse and if they aren't, the pressure of the bureaucracy makes them so.  Quite naturally, they started trying to micromanage what can't be micromanaged.  These competing pressures cause the relationships underlying the program to collapse.

To me, none of this shows any serious managerial deficiencies, dishonesty, or anything else that even closely approximates a scandal.  What it shows is the inherent tension between the pressures, incentives, and objectives of government, and the pressures, incentives, and objectives of business.  This strongly suggests to me the folly of private-public partnerships, of government efforts to "manage" markets, and the need to recognize the limitations of both government and private enterprise.

But then, you might just say that this is what I expected.

10.16.2014

News Cycle Favors Rounds Going in to Home Stretch

Less than three weeks until it is decided - as decided as political questions ever get, anyway.  The polling that showed the race for senate here tightening will likely return to the older pattern shortly.  But it will have served a useful purpose, frankly.

I haven't seen the raw data, but what I suspect is happening is a lot of non-political types are starting to become aware of things just as the EB-5 stuff peaked.  But they still aren't paying careful attention (some of them never will) and they really aren't locked in to who they're voting for.  They're just reacting to the news of the day.

But that's not the news of the day any more.

There's a reason we call it a news cycle and the fact is, EB-5 peaked too early in this news cycle.  It will be pushed out by other matters now as we get closer to the election date.  Among those other matters are "Pressler owns in D.C. and New York, but only rents in South Dakota" and "Weiland is a tried & true liberal who wants to make your life more expensive."  Still more, we have "Pressler and Weiland support Obama - the guy screwing up the Ebola problem and who still can't make a decision regarding ISIS."

Governor Rounds will likely expand his lead in the next 3 weeks, not only despite, but in part because of the largely negative advertising funded mostly by George Soros and family who are so far showing only a modest acquaintance with the facts and with South Dakota politics.

In the meantime, liberals are spending an awful lot of money in South Dakota this October, which means they won't be spending these millions elsewhere and conservatives have additional incentive to vote for Rounds.

Even so, the main thing that Governor Rounds has to worry about is getting his voters to go to the polls.  Given the demographics of the people who support him, that will be far easier for him than for Pressler or Weiland.  Independents sound good when conducting polls, but far less so when looking at an actual ballot.  Pressler's share of the vote won't come close to his polling.  If he's polling 30%, expect him to get about 22% and maybe less.  Weiland will peak at 30%.  Howie won't break double digits - more like 3%.

10.10.2014

Poor Pressler - Two $700K Condos, But Neither in South Dakota

Uh-oh.  This is not good (Hat tip: SD War College) for Mr. Pressler.  He is claiming he is a resident of Washington, D.C., and he is claiming he is a resident of South Dakota.

He claims it's really his wife's apartment.  Oh.  So you don't live with your wife?  You don't have the same home?  Politico points out that he rents an apartment near the airport here in Sioux Falls, owns an interest in a couple farms where he does not live, and owns an apartment in New York City, too.  Does he live in the apartment/condo in Washington, D.C. which he owns, or in the apartment he rented so he could campaign in South Dakota?  He says he's not rich and can't afford to own another home.  I can just imagine.  A $700,000 condo in Washington, D.C. and another $700,000 condo in New York City.  We can't expect him to have another $700,000 condo in South Dakota, too.  Poor man.  It must be so stressful keeping straight where he actually lives.

If he's a resident of Washington, D.C., then he is guilty of lying in his petitions and candidate filings here in South Dakota.

If he's a resident of South Dakota, then he's taking tax breaks he isn't entitled to in Washington, D.C.

So which is it, Mr. Pressler?  Are you a liar or a tax cheat?

Oh.  I get it.  That's what you mean by "reaching across the aisle" and "building coalitions" and all that stuff - you're both.  That way you can work with anybody in Washington.

Hmmph.  I believe the official phrase for it is "carpet-bagger".

10.09.2014

If You Vote, You Have to Vote For

Interesting.  Some outside groups - the kind Weiland likes to attack as bad for political discourse - are invading the state to campaign for him after a year's absence.  Why?  They're starting to see signs that Rounds' election is not a sure thing.

Nothing is a sure thing until after the fact, and not always then, either.

Even so, the basics are still in place.  Rounds was not a popular governor - with Democrats.  This is not surprising, seeing as how Rounds was and is a Republican.  But with most people, he was a good governor - the kind of governor one could forget because he wasn't mucking about in things that didn't concern him.  But Rounds was governor.  Governors make decisions.  That's what executives do.  They have to decide "this, not that" over and over again on hundreds of issues and questions from the trivial to the critical.

Rounds made hundreds of decisions which were reasonable and, to use his campaign phrase, show some common sense.  Any one of those decisions, divorced from its context and circumstances, can be made to look stupid.  And in those hundreds of decisions, I'm sure anybody - even Governor Rounds - can find decisions that weren't the best.  Almost every one of those decisions irritated somebody.  When there are more than five people involved, it is simply not possible to make a decision without pissing somebody off.  It takes courage to decide.

Overall his decisions were good ones.  The state prospered during his tenure and state government ran as smoothly as state governments ever do.  Were there still problems faced by the state when he left office?  Of course.  Governors are not gods and God himself does not seem disposed to eliminate all our problems.  Was the state in decent shape?  Yes.

I'm sure someone will bring up the fact that Daugaard had to make some budget cuts his first term.  So?  Rounds managed things so we could postpone those budget cuts as long as possible.  Rest assured, the people complaining about it would still be complaining if Rounds had made the cuts a year or two earlier.  The basic economic condition of the state was and is such that a majority of those budget cuts have been restored already.  If Rounds (and Daugaard and the GOP legislature) hadn't tended to fundamentals, we'd still be in a hole, and quite a few states still are.  Strangely, almost all of those states have had Democrat majorities in their legislatures and/or Democrat governors most of the last couple decades.  South Dakota is in decent shape because our people and our state and local governments have done a good job over the last 20-30 years.

We have good reasons to vote for Mike Rounds.

But Larry Pressler and Rick Weiland have yet to offer us any good reasons to vote for them.  Both would work to maintain the status quo in D.C. - Harry Reid and Barrack Obama working diligently to undermine the Constitution, sideline the Congress, and push things through by executive fiat, just like they did Obamacare, amnesty, and everything else.  I'm not for that and most South Dakotans aren't, either.  So Pressler and Weiland are left with hiding what they're for and just trying to come up with reasons to vote against Rounds.  The problem is, almost all of the reasons they have to vote against Rounds are also valid reasons to vote against Pressler and Weiland.

Regardless, when you go into the voting booth, you don't get to vote against a candidate.  You can vote against ballot initiatives, amendments, etc., but not a candidate.  You have to either vote for or abstain.  A vote for Pressler is not a vote against Rounds.  It's a vote for Pressler - and it is a de facto endorsement of what Pressler is for, even if he's mostly tried to hide that.  Same for Weiland.  What I'm for is much closer to what Rounds is for, so I'm voting for Governor Rounds.

What are you for?

10.08.2014

Democrats Looking a Lot Like Northern Beef - Lots of Time, Money, and Effort for Nothing

That lede is not quite fair to Northern Beef, though.  There is still a beef packing plant and the new owners hope to have New Angus Beef in production shortly after the new year.  The Democrats have considerably less to show for their efforts to make a scandal out of South Dakota's economic development efforts.  Their one big court case regarding EB-5 (SDIBI) and South Dakota's Office of Economic Development was decided yesterday in arbitration.  South Dakota did not violate its contract, broke no laws, and has no liability in the case.

No smoking gun, no state liability, no evidence of law-breaking, no nothing.  So what's left?

All they have is the fact that Northern Beef Packers, after a whole lot of effort, money, and hoopla, went bankrupt.  Guess what - high risk ventures sometimes fail, even after hoopla, effort, and money.  Bad timing, bad management, bad luck, who knows?  It happens.  New owners, as I mentioned, hope to bring it on line a bit later.

Contrary to the wild Democrat claims, Joop Bollen didn't steal, cheat, swindle, or abscond with $147 million.  There was no $147 million sitting in a state piggy bank that Joop Bollen ran off with.  There was nobody thinking they were cutting a check to the state, but Bollen snuck in there and intercepted it.  If Bollen had remained a state employee with SDIBI instead of spinning it off to his SDRC, it is highly unlikely the state would have collected anything close to that much money from the investors who paid SDRC.  This accusation is, really, no more valid than the accountant I used to know who spent 30 years telling himself he should have bought Chrysler stock just before they got the loan from Jimmy Carter and Lee Iaccoca took over.  "It's not fair! I should've gotten a piece of that!"  But he didn't.  No risk, no gain.

There is an appearance of impropriety concerning Joop Bollen regarding his contract with the state, and regarding Richard Benda with about $500,000.  As for Mr. Benda, he's dead.  There's not much to do about him now.  And concerning Mr. Bollen, at this point it is merely an appearance - there is very little to suggest he actually broke any laws.  Indeed, in the accusations there is just a little tinge of xenophobia - Joop Bollen is from the Netherlands, dontchaknow.  He's a (voice sinking to a whisper) foreigner.  Joop Bollen isn't running for office and, for all I know, he's an American citizen by now.

Even that appearance of impropriety is being dealt with.  It was Republican administrators - Jackley and Daugaard - who started asking uncomfortable questions which apparently led Mr. Benda to take his own life.  It is the Republican led legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee looking into the nuts and bolts of what happened so they can propose legislative and regulatory solutions to avoid it going forward.  The Democrat gubernatorial candidate who sits on that committee has effectively acknowledged this - and to her credit she is, after a couple false starts, helping them develop those solutions instead of using her position to manipulate the committee to gain a couple of votes.

That's it.  That's all they've got - jealousy over somebody else's profits, resentment that a high risk venture didn't pan out, some not-quite-according-to-Hoyle appearances that are already being corrected by the GOP-run system in place.

Months and months of digging, hoping to find something to pin on Governor Rounds and.... Nothing.

Maybe they can sell the franchise to better managers and then next time they'll be able to field a candidate who can give us at least a couple of reasons to vote for a Democrat.  I rather doubt it, though.  Once they start admitting what they're really for, they start losing votes.

10.07.2014

Can I Get a Refund on that Half Million?

I wonder.  If somebody can get a government grant to study why fat girls get asked out less frequently than skinny girls, maybe I can get a government grant to investigate why water is wet.

Researchers got nearly half a million dollars from the federal government's National Institute of Health to investigate this obscure and troubling piece of information.

Half a million dollars to study what any sane person could tell you in about five seconds.

They have a hypothesis, though.  They want to test the hypothesis that it's not their weight or appearance, but that they have less well developed social skills.

Because everybody knows guys are attracted to women by good social skills.  Why, if only purveyors of porn were to realize this and put out videos and pictures of women practicing good social skills, I bet guys would be falling all over themselves trying to get their grubby little paws on that stuff.

Forget the bikinis and the lingerie on your wedding night, too, girls.  Go for the social skills because I'm sure your new husband is just lusting after some really good, solid conversation time...

There was a time when food was scarce and a nice plump woman was thought to indicate good health and endurance - not too fat, not too thin.  Read a novel like Jane Austen's Persuasion from the early 19th century and you'll find lines like this:
In the course of the same morning, Anne and her father chancing to be alone together, he began to compliment her on her improved looks; he thought her "less thin in her person, in her cheeks; her skin, her complexion, greatly improved; clearer, fresher. Had she been using any thing in particular?"
The days when "less thin in your person" - a polite way of saying, "a little fatter" - would be taken as a compliment have been gone for nearly 80 years at least, ever since the flat-chested flapper days of the roaring 20's.  Even so, we don't want women too thin, either.  You should not be able to see the spine by looking at her from the front.  Judging by what gets put out in places like Maxim and others, you should, however, be able to assure yourself that she still has all her ribs, her collar bone is in place, and her hip bones are in good condition.  A recent Mythbusters show also demonstrated that in addition to being able to affirm such skeletal features, guys still want big breasts, although I'm not sure how a woman is supposed to sustain such a figure without a good back brace.  But then, whoever said guys' taste in female appearance was reasonable or realistic?

Fat girls get fewer dates because they're fat and guys' willingness to ask, especially in the early get-acquainted stages, is governed in large measure by appearance.  Can I get a refund on the half million my government just blew on this project now?

Advice to Rounds re: EB-5 - Go on Offense

As is to be expected, approaching the actual election a month from now, the various races are tightening a bit.  Democrat Weiland is getting a big boost of outside advertising with a major PAC dumping $2 million in ads.  Pressler will likely get some attention in the papers, but he is highly unlikely to get that kind of ad buy.  Governor Rounds will surely respond with ads of his own.

Along with those ads, you'll see various accusations fly, some legitimate, some not so.  A lot of people are going to hear about EB-5 in the coming weeks - people who haven't heard about it before because they haven't paid attention to anything political yet.  Those of us who find this stuff interesting have been dealing with it for months.  Most people aren't like us in that regard and it would be well for Rounds' team to remember that.  They will need a solid defense on that point.  For myself, the best defense is a good offense and I would go on offense with regards to EB-5 and GOED.

Rounds says, for instance, that many businesses have prospered after being helped along with foreign investment money recruited here through GOED and using the federal EB-5 program.  Name names.  Show people working at those businesses.  Show the voters that this person here who works at this place in their town is benefiting from EB-5 and GOED work.

From that, build a theme.  Democrats want to talk about a single instance of failure and treat that as if it's the inevitable outcome of every risk ever taken.  These are high-risk ventures and it is the nature of things that sometimes high-risk ventures fail as NBP did.  But what do we do when we fail?  Quit?  No.  We keep at it, trying again, working hard to make the risks we take prosper.  Democrats think we can build a society without risk, without failures, but the only society that never fails is the society that never tries.  So if you're content with a society of government enforced mediocrity, where everyone is safely cocooned in a web of government handouts and regulations, then vote for a liberal like Rick Weiland.  But if you want a society that strives for excellence, that takes a chance in order to make things better still, that isn't going to let one solitary failure kill our hope, then you want a Republican like Mike Rounds.

At least, that's the sort of thing I'd put out there were I in his place.