Saturday, March 16, 2019

A Minor Musing On Justice And Power And Implied Threats Of Violence

I was fortunate to coach some excellent Lincoln-Douglas debaters. (Whether they succeeded with my coaching or in spite of my coaching is an open question.) Lincoln-Douglas debaters debate propositions of value and frequently open their cases with the phrase "I will be upholding the value of justice. . . " The young'uns I coached and those they debated against would frequently argue whether justice meant rendering each their due or a more Rawlsian concept which aregued justice as fairness

Donald Trump swore to uphold a Constitutions designed to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. . . " Trump, however, doesn't see justice as rendering each his or her due or fairness. Instead, he relies on a Sophist argument: "Justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger." Earlier this week, he told Breitbart News:
. . . I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad....
These words are a not-so-veiled threat premised on the idea that might makes right. It's unlikely that those who drafted the Constitution understood justice in those terms nor is it clear how the threat of violence promotes the general welfare or insures domestic tranquility. (If I may be forgiven a bit of snark, one wonders if those words constitute "riot boosting" in South Dakota under the recently passed SB 189 and 190.)

This recent rhetoric is just another example of Trump attempting to obliterate political norms. This particular violation moves politics one step further from debate and one step closer to angry confrontation and reveals Trump once again to be a weak man posing as a strong one. More importantly, it confuses the debate about what justice is or should be and returns the debate to what do the strongest and richest want it to be.

For those interested, John Tristan posts what may be a more coherent take.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

One Question For The South Dakota Democratic Party Chair Candidates

At Dakota Free Press, Cory has a couple of posts up about the candidates for South Dakota Democratic Party Chairperson. One updates the lunchroom saga. The other presents candidate Cunningham's plan for the Democratic Party. (If I may be permitted a moment of snark, Cunningham was running for the position in early January; the plan is not so deep and detailed that it could not have been ready for the Yankton forum on March 2.)

I don't have a vote or a favorite candidate, but I always have questions. In this case, however, I'll ask only one.

Your friends and neighbors may like you, but when they hear the word Democrat, they don't see you; they see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC). Even though she's a rookie congresswoman, they immediately start worrying that someone is going to take their guns and their cars. Some who listen to too much Limbaugh, Hannity, Ingraham, Hewitt along with the crazier folk on talk radio or YouTube likely worry they'll be forced to eat jicama gruel through a metal straw at least four days a week. What can you do to change that perception? (In fairness, some of you mentioned this problem in Yankton, but no one really discussed how to deal with it.)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Senate Bill 140: A Minor Musing

There were a couple of comments on this partisan divides post that got me thinking. The big question became: is it really possible that South Dakota or the entire United States can devolve into the Northern Ireland of the Troubles and is there an ounce of prevention available in South Dakota? 

Over the weekend, I read this David Brooks column wherein he announces his support for reparations for the decedents of slaves. He also alludes to Native Americans:
From these thoughts we can appreciate the truth that while there have been many types of discrimination in our history, the African-American (and the Native American) experiences are unique and different. Theirs are not immigrant experiences but involve a moral injury that simply isn’t there for other groups. 
Slavery and the continuing pattern of discrimination aren’t only an attempt to steal labor; they are an attempt to cover over a person’s soul, a whole people’s soul.
Let's be clear, these words were written by David Brooks, a writer who espouses radical ideas with the same frequency that Sanka causes caffeine jitters. If Brooks recognizes that Native Americans have suffered "a moral injury that simply isn't there for other groups," then surely South Dakota legislators should recognize the harm that has been done to Native Americans within the state.

No one should be naive enough to expect that the South Dakota legislature will seriously take up the topic of reparations for Native Americans. They should, however, be able to unanimously pass some small measures to help. Senate Bill 140 is indeed a small measure:

The Board of Regents is hereby authorized to develop programs to increase enrollment and improve retention and student supports for any student who is a member of one of the nine federally recognized tribes in South Dakota at state institutions, including exploration of tuition assistance or waiver programs.

The Board of Regents shall report to the Legislature by July first of each year on the activities and progress made in regard to this Act, beginning July 1, 2020.

The bill appropriates no money. The Board of Regents is not authorized to grant "tuition assistance or waiver programs." It is merely authorized to explore such programs. If any piece of legislation can be called anodyne, SB 140 should be the top example.

And yet, Representatives Beal, Dennert, Frye-Mueller, Gosch, Lana Greenfield, Hammock, Howard, Karr, Mulally, Pischke, Post, and Weiss could not bring themselves to allow someone to make it a little easier for Native Americans to attend state colleges and universities.

David Brooks has come out in support of reparations, but these 12 South Dakota legislators cannot support efforts "to increase enrollment and improve retention and student supports" for Native Americans in South Dakota. It does make one wonder if South Africa may be a better analogy than Northern Ireland.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

What's The Difference Between South Dakota's Political Leaders And A Junior High Student Council?

Sadly, the answer appears to be nothing.

Bob Mercer reports that legislators, like the young'uns, are leaving their homework until the last minute.

Then appropriators left a long list of agencies hanging Thursday because of a scheduling quirk that senators needed to be at their desks by mid-morning to start casting votes.
The panel isn't scheduled to official return to work until Tuesday, facing an agenda that has 16 big areas of spending, including state government’s largest departments such as social services, education, corrections, the state universities and the court system.

To make the analogy more cringeworthy, Mercer reports that Governor Noem is using candy as a thank you for votes. The treats apparently also served as a message to let everyone know who is and is not her friend.

14 senators who voted against industrial hemp last week found on their desks Thursday boxes of Dots candy and thank-you notes from Noem for sticking with her. 

The small treats strengthened the feeling among legislators and lobbyists that the governor indeed might veto the hemp bill, especially after two Senate votes went 21-14 in a chamber where a veto override requires at least 24.

Democrats then decided to squander their chance to look like adults by resorting to juvenile behavior of their own. Dakota Free Press reports that Ann Tornberg, the current party chair, and Larry Lucas her running mate as vice-chair candidate offered to buy voting delegates lunch when the South Dakota Democratic Party Executive Board and State Central Committee Members meet later this month. Commenters on the DFP post claim that the email did not go out to all members of the party's Central Committee. They implied that those who were not voting for Tornberg did not get the email invitation. Like the the young'uns, the Democrats' apparently have a tribal lunch room. 

The farm economy is hurting; nursing homes are closing, and schools are not being fully funded. Meanwhile, leaders in government and members of the loyal opposition are passing notes asking "Will you be my friend? Circle yes or no."


Monday, March 4, 2019

How Much Partisan Prejudice Do South Dakotans Exhibit?

This afternoon, I spent a little too much time clicking on South Dakota counties in the maps that accompanied this Atlantic article "The Geography of Partisan Prejudice."

First a caveat, I'm not vouching for the methodology behind the ratings.
To do this assessment, PredictWise first partnered with Pollfish to run a nationwide poll of 2,000 adults to capture people’s feelings about the other party. The survey asked how people would feel if a close family member married a Republican or a Democrat; how well they think the terms selfish, compassionate, or patriotic describe Democrats versus Republicans; and other questions designed to capture sentiments about political differences. 
Based on the survey results, Tobias Konitzer, the co-founder of PredictWise, investigated which demographic characteristics seemed to correlate with partisan prejudice. He found, for example, that age, race, urbanicity, partisan loyalty, and education did coincide with more prejudice (but gender did not). In this way, he created a kind of profile of contemporary partisan prejudice. 
Next, Konitzer projected this profile onto the broader American population, under the assumption that people with similar demographics and levels of partisan loyalty, living in neighborhoods with comparable amounts of political diversity, tend to hold similar attitudes about political difference. He did this using voter files acquired by PredictWise from TargetSmart, a commercial vendor. Voter files are essentially data snapshots about all American adults, based on publicly available records of voter registration and turnout from past elections, along with data about neighborhood variables and demographic traits. In this way, PredictWise was able to rank all 3,000 counties in the country based on the estimated level of partisan prejudice in each place. “What I find most striking is that we find a good degree of variation,” Konitzer says. Some states, like Texas, show a real mix of prejudiced and nonprejudiced counties; whereas Florida is very consistent—and fairly prejudiced—from place to place.
South Dakota, like Texas, has a mix of counties. According to the survey, Faulk County is in the 1st percentile which means that "99 out of every 100 counties are more prejudiced against the political 'other.'" On the other hand, Sully, Stanley, and Haakon counties are all in the 100th percentile which means no other counties are statistically likely to be more prejudiced against the other party.

If one looks at the home counties of a few random bloggers, Yankton is in the 56th percentile, Brookings is in the 85th percentile, and Brown is in the 96th percentile. As for South Dakota's county, Minnehaha is in the 93rd percentile.

Besides using a complicated methodology, a few reasons exist to doubt profile. When one clicks on Pennington, stats are presented for Perkins, and Potter seems to have moved next to Harding. (As an aside, the counties that I cited stats for all seem to be in the right spot.)

That caveat aside, the article cites a couple of other studies with some disturbing conclusions: 
In general, Republicans seem to dislike Democrats more than Democrats dislike Republicans, PredictWise found. We don’t know why this is, but this is not the only study to have detected an imbalance. For example, in a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, half of consistently conservative respondents said it was important for them to live in a place where most people share their political views—compared with just 35 percent of consistent liberals. But a more recent survey, conducted in December by The Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute, found that Democrats were the ones showing more ill will—with 45 percent saying they’d be unhappy if their child married a Republican (versus 35 percent of Republicans saying they’d be unhappy if their child married a Democrat). So it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on, but what’s clear is that both sides are becoming more hostile toward one another.
It also points out how the polarization can lead to deeper problems:
We are now judging one another’s fundamental decency based on whether we eat at Chipotle or Chick-fil-A. This may seem silly—harmless, even. But it is uncomfortably reminiscent of stories from conflict zones abroad. In Northern Ireland, for example, an outsider visiting during the Troubles had no way to tell unionists and nationalists apart. They were pretty much all white Christians, after all. But the locals themselves routinely guessed one another’s identity based on their names, the spacing of their eyes, their sports jerseys, the color of their hair, their neighborhood, or even how much jewelry they wore­. This process came to be known as “telling.” If a reliable cue didn’t exist, people would make one up. It was a way to move about in the world in a time of profound tribalism, during which 3,600 people were killed.
If anybody is wondering, I prefer to eat at Arby's and get my coffee at Caribou whenever I have the option.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Let's Talk About Talk

Pat Powers continues to bang the drum for House Bill 1087, legislation that purports to ensure South Dakota's public colleges and universities protect free speech on campus. In the past 24 hours, he has devoted 3 posts to the subject.

I've opined that HB 1087 will not change anyone's mind. In fact, I believe it will do little except increase paperwork.

I consider myself as close a free speech absolutist as possible. I'll accept the fact one should not yell fire in crowded theater if there's no fire, but young'uns should be able to wear their black armbands in school; folks can wear MAGA hats or Trump is the Devil t-shirts to their hearts' content, and people I disagree with should be able to march for causes they believe in.

I'll even stipulate that no one has the right to not be offended, although a democratic republic works far better when people avoid deliberately offending others. I believe that violence that surrounded Charles Murray's speech at Middlebury to be reprehensible .

That said, the biggest problem with HB 1087 is that it begins with the premise that colleges are awash with liberal thought and that all conservative intellectuals are denied access to the ivory tower. Therefore, the power of the state must be brought to bear because no other venues exist for conservative speech in any other part of the public square.

Republicans used to be wary about state intrusion into these issues because they understood the state to be a leviathan. They would have opposed legislation like this if it had been proposed by progressives. In that case, Republicans would argue that state power is a cudgel that that will be used to destroy free speech or promote liberal speech at the expense of conservative speech.

Powers points to the USD Student Bar Association Hawaiian Day party being changed to Beach Day as proof that HB 1087 is necessary. Yet, that situation was taken care of without the legislation. Further, it's not clear what was "intellectual" about that debacle.

In addition, I keep wondering what views cannot be expressed. I'm all for bringing Noam Chomsky and Charles Murray to campus on the same night and letting them argue. I don't see anything in HB 1087 that encourages this sort of academic debate.

HB 1087 seems to go beyond debate or intellectual argument. Instead it seems to weigh all ideas as intellectually equal. As such, it prompts questions: Should a geology professor allow a young earth creationist to hold forth for a whole class period or two class periods in order to insure intellectual diversity has been developed or preserved . Should an African American history class give time to someone to espouse the virtues of blackface as an art form? If a professor contends that FDR acted properly at Yalta, does the University have to give equal time to someone who believes Yalta was an act of treason?

Powers also rejoices that the President has announced an executive order about speech on college campuses. Although the text of the order is not available, I doubt that anything in the executive order will protect someone on a college campus who contends that Trump's is likely to use his MAGA hats like Gessler used his hat in the William Tell tale. In fact, given Trump's desire to weaken libel laws, that speech might get the person sued.

For years, the argument has been that the best cure for bad free speech is more good free speech. HB 1087 doesn't seem as if it will promote an free speech.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Yankton County Democratic Party Chair Candidate Forum

About 25 Democrats gathered to hear four candidates for the South Dakota Democratic Party's chair: John Cunningham, Tom Cool, Paula Hawks, and John Claussen. Larry Lucas, a candidate for vice chair participated as a representative for current chair Ann Tornberg.

John Cunningham was given the first opportunity to speak. He claimed that the Democrats need a plan and promised to have one ready by the end of the month. He touted an Ethics in Government essay program that he funded to give high school students a chance to write about ethics in government and claimed that Democrats should have more primaries so that candidates can begin to gain name recognition in March.

During the question and answer period, Cunningham said that the party needs to spend money wisely and questioned having a staff person dedicated to working on South Dakota's reservations. He also said that former candidates who have viewed the outline of this plan have told him that party needs to enunciate values not just issues.

Next up, Tom Cool touted his experience on several statewide boards. He asserted that the Democrats need to work on branding and getting more people involved. He pointed out that several counties have no county chairperson and advocated a series of regional meetings instead of only one annual state meeting to increase involvement. Cool also said that the party needs to work with statewide candidates to have a unified campaign and a unified message. According to Cool, in 2018 the individual candidates did some unified events on their own but there was no state party effort to coordinate that cooperation.

Cool, during the Q&A session, said that Democrats need to reach out to the 20 and 30 somethings who, according to Cool, believe they are above politics. He also asserted that the Republicans are the party of small ideas.

Paula Hawks asserted that the party needs to give members something to believe in rather than just issues to fight against. She also said that party lacks a central message and has not done a good job of showing what it means to be a Democrat. She also claimed that the party needs to do more fundraising including building up the Founders Club. Finally, she claimed that the state party needs to do more with both social media and mainstream media to get the message out. She pointed out that many young voters have moved away from Facebook and rely on Snapchat or Instagram and asserted that the party needs to fashion a message to fit those platforms. 

Hawks used the Q&A session to reiterate that Republicans have used verbiage to define Democrats into a corner. Using the example of "snowflake," Hawks pointed out that snowflakes are unique and represent a beautiful part of nature not just something that melts easily. She also asserted that the national party wants to see that candidates and state parties can fundraise before the national party will provide aid.

Speaking on behalf of incumbent chair Ann Tornberg, Larry Lucas touted the Founders Club, Tornberg's efforts to increase the staff, and the fact that the party is not in debt. He said that the party has allowed Republicans at the national level to label Democrats, especially on social issues.

In response to questions, Lucas suggested that South Dakota Democrats avail themselves of opportunities to meet with national figures as they campaign in Iowa and Nebraska. He pointed out that South Dakota Democrats need Native American support because the state has the nation's third largest Native American population, trailing only Alaska and Oklahoma. Finally, he claimed that some of the loss in Democratic party registration can be blamed on dysfunction in DC.

Finally, John Claussen began by discussing what he called the three eras of modern South Dakota Democratic Party history: the McGovern Era, the Daschle and Johnson Era, and the current era of malaise. He said that the earlier eras lasted 20 to 30 years each and that the party cannot avoid to have the current situation to last that long. He then  touted his plan as presented on Dakota Free Press. He specifically mentioned the need to "[d]eputize a 100 Democrats throughout the state with a goal of registering 50,000 new Democrats in South Dakota by 2024, and the need to "[t]arget races in a proactive manner and not rely merely upon a matching funds program. Claussen also claimed that Democrats have become too sanitized and too cautious and that the party should stop trying to be Republican Lite.

During the Q&A, Claussen stayed on message, repeating the need to target winnable races, build the base, and proudly proclaim Democratic Party values.

The meeting concluded with a meet and greet session, As is my wont, I sat in the back corner talking with a half dozen friends and neighbors about important things like new grandchildren and upcoming nuptials. Only Cool and Claussen made it to the back to introduce themselves. In fairness, the meet and greet became a human maze.

I've tried to be as objective and accurate as possible with he preceding paragraphs. I have, however, spent a good portion of my time during the last 25 years judging speakers, so I can't help myself.  In that room, Hawks and Claussen were more polished speakers and best able to convey ideas concisely. When they spoke, I did not have to strain to hear or struggle to follow trains of thought. Lucas advocated for Tornberg effectively, but he's not the candidate.

If people expected fireworks, they left disappointed. There was more bluster outside when I left the event than there was during the forum.