Thursday, February 14, 2019

What Are South Dakota Republicans In The Legislature Afraid Of?

The 2019 legislative session prompts me to return to a theme that I have blogged about before: fear, especially Republican fear.

South Dakota Republicans seem to operate under the following principles:
  1. Evil exists in the world. In fact, it might be rampant in the world
  2. Virtuous folk must be vigilant and fight evil at every opportunity.
  3. Eternal verities exist and nations and individuals violate them at their peril. (The exact nature and source of these verities seem to differ based on the Republican speaking.)
  4. Virtuous folk must be vigilante and fight to preserve these eternal verities from any alteration or amendment.
The permitless carry, ideological diversity, and petition regulation bills all illustrate these principles.  More importantly, these efforts illustrate needless fear and what happens when fear drives people to take the principles to the extreme.

Evil people may be lurking around the corner, so people need to carry concealed guns. This notion persists despite the fact that South Dakota's violent crime rate remains low.

Some professor apparently has given a lecture that questions some commonly held belief, so something must be done to prevent that those words from being heard by innocents without at least 1000 bits of correction. Once again, this fear seems to defy facts. Republicans, purportedly the conservative party, are gaining members whereas the allegedly liberal Democrats are losing members.

Clearly, the people can't be trusted to use the petition process properly when they have the temerity to disagree with the legislature.

At the state level, South Dakota has been a de facto single party state for decades, yet Republicans are proposing legislation that makes one believe they are scared of every new idea, the present, the future, and their own shadows.

(I suppose I should have linked to some of the bills, but visiting the SDLRC website is getting a bit depressing.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Senate Bill 68: Parts is Parts?

It's cold and windy and I am feeling nostalgic for my youth when I was young and foolish enough to enjoy cold and wind. I have no other excuse for wondering if the following language from Senate Bill 68 was inspired by an old Wendy's advertisement.
For the purposes of this title, the term, poultry, includes anything containing meat intended for or capable of use for human consumption, that is derived, in whole or in part, from any domesticated bird intended for human consumption.
Apparently, South Dakota will now codify the fact that big parts can be cut up into little parts and then fused into a big part because "parts is parts."

HJR 1005: The Article V Convention Silliness Returns

I've previously mused about the dangers of an Article V convention and predicted that the South Dakota Legislature would take up the proposal during the 2019 session.

House Joint Resolution 1005  
calls for a convention of the states to "to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and to limit the terms of office for federal official and members of Congress."

HJR 1005 
will be heard by the House State Affairs Committee on February 6. The committee meeting begins at 7:45 am. There's no drama about whether the resolution will emerge with a do pass. Representatives Anderson, Beal, Hansen, Haugaard,, Kevin Jensen, Kent Peterson and Qualm are all sponsors of the legislation and they constitute a majority of committee.

HJR 1005 offers no specifics. It does not define "fiscal restraints" nor does it state what federal government powers it seeks to limit or the degree to which federal government's jurisdiction shall be limited. Finally, it does not list the federal officials that its backers believe must be subject to term limits.

In my previous post, I mentioned the threat of a runaway convention. 
In order to assuage concerns, the sponsors offer this language:

This application is made with the express understanding that an amendment that in any way seeks to amend, modify, or repeal any provision of the Bill of Rights is not authorized for consideration at any stage. This application is void ab initio if ever used at any stage to consider any change to any provision of the Bill of Rights;

I am glad that Congress shall still be prevented from making laws limiting the freedom of the press, assembly, and one's ability to worship freely. I am overjoyed that the troops Donald Trump is sending to the Mexican border will not be "quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner." And although the courts have stripped away many of the protections that should be inherent in the term "unreasonable searches and seizures," I appreciate that convention will not remove what remains of that right. 

Preventing the convention from targeting the Bill of Rights does not prevent it from altering other amendments. The convention can target the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. Given that one of HJR 1005's goals is to limit the federal government, it's almost a certainty that a convention called under these vague limits will attempt to remove the equal protection clause. Further nothing in HJR 1005 prohibits the convention from repealing the Nineteenth Amendment that ensures women are allowed to vote.

I hope the following example is not under consideration, but one can "limit the terms of office for federal officials" by inserting the clause "With the exception of Donald Trump the 45th President of the United States and his heirs," to the beginning of Twenty-Second Amendment. Every President who is not Donald Trump or an heir is limited.  

The sponsors fancy themselves "guardians of liberty." This inflated opinion of their importance indicates that these legislators have forgotten that the Constitution is tool to protect "We the people" and that the Tenth Amendment reserves rights not only to the states but also to the people: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Nothing in HJR 1005 allows one to believe that citizens will be more free after the convention that the resolution calls for. Its loose language and lack of definitions make a runaway convention a certainty.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Besides Paperwork, What Does HB 1087 Hope To Accomplish With Its Demand For Ideological Diversity

A few decades back, a good friend told me that my job as a teacher was to "comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable." If one Googles that phrase, one will frequently find it attributed to theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In all likelihood, the statement paraphrases a statement made by the fictional Mr. Dooley, a character created by Finely Peter Dunne.

That phrase popped into my head when I read the text of House Bill 1087, "An Act to promote intellectual diversity at certain institutions of higher education." Encountering intellectual ideas that differ from one's own is indeed uncomfortable. In fact, as this Scientific American article points out,
To avoid coming to undesirable conclusions, people can fly from the facts and use other tools in their deep, belief-protecting toolbox.
This New Yorker article points out that emotional appeals may be a bit more effective, but emotions are not scientific :
Providing people with accurate information doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it. Appealing to their emotions may work better, but doing so is obviously antithetical to the goal of promoting sound science.
One should add that emotional appeals are rarely intellectual.

This is not new science. As this Atlantic article points out,

“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change,” Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schacter wrote in When Prophecy Fails, their 1957 book about this study. “Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point … Suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.” 

This doubling down in the face of conflicting evidence is a way of reducing the discomfort of dissonance, and is part of a set of behaviors known in the psychology literature as “motivated reasoning.” Motivated reasoning is how people convince themselves or remain convinced of what they want to believe—they seek out agreeable information and learn it more easily; and they avoid, ignore, devalue, forget, or argue against information that contradicts their beliefs.

One should be wary of assuming facts not in evidence, but one would hope that Representatives Sue Peterson  Haugaard, and Qualm and Senators Stalzer, Brock Greenfield , Langer, and Maher, the legislation's prime sponsors would be aware of these studies.

One would also hope that they, conservatives in good standing, would not be proposing this legislation merely to cause liberals discomfort. If so, they might be creating more committed liberals. The research indicates that people of all stripes will not change their minds merely because they are confronted by different ideas.

This desire to confirm one's beliefs despite evidence cuts both ways. Conservatives, trained from youth in the way they should go, will double down on their beliefs despite facts or theories to the contrary. The alleged liberal dominance of South Dakota Universities should not have an adverse effect on young conservatives' ideological certainty.

One wonders what the sponsors of the legislation hope to accomplish as they demand public universities expose students to a "variety of ideological and political perspectives." (As a side note, "ideological" and "political" are not necessarily synonyms for "intellectual.") Perhaps the sponsors merely want to comfort themselves as they cause discomfort for university officials who have to do the reams of paperwork this legislation necessitates.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Some More Musings About Civics

Over at Dakota Free Press, Cory provides an excellent line-by-line analysis of HB 1066, legislation designed to enact Governor Noem's proposal to mandate every South Dakota high school student pass a civics test before graduation. 

I have been snarky about the various civics requirements being advanced during the 2019 South Dakota legislative session.  This proposal and and silly sticker legislation are egregiously bad.

What is the civics test or sticker supposed to accomplish? The Brookings Institution asserts that civics education goes beyond memorizing facts:
The aim of civics education is broader and includes providing students with an understanding of how democratic processes work, as well as how to engage in these processes. A high-quality civics education thus includes opportunities for students to engage in activities within the classroom that model what democratic processes look like, as well as opportunities to participate in the civic life of their communities and learn from this participation as a formal part of their coursework.
It might be useful to adapt the goals of the Center of Civic Education to a civics curriculum. Students should, 
1. Gain "an increased understanding of the institutions of constitutional democracy and the fundamental principles and values upon which they are founded"  
2. Acquire"the skills necessary to participate as competent and responsible citizens,"  
3. Develop the "willingness to use democratic procedures for making decisions and managing conflict," 
4. Become part of "an enlightened citizenry by working to increase understanding of the principles, values, institutions, and history of constitutional democracy. . . ."
The American Federation of Teachers asserts "[w]hen civics education is taught effectively, it can equip students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to become informed and engaged citizens."

Neither a test nor a sticker will help develop skills necessary to participate in local, state, or national government. More importantly, neither will solve the problem of apathy or misinformation. Earlier today, David Montgomery, a former Sioux Falls Argus Leader reporter re-tweeted the following screen grab.

The desire to seek news has decreased and headlines, not the article's content, dominate news consumption. It's doubtful that a civics test or sticker will change those habits.

If the goal of a mandated civics test is to make students better citizens, advocates of tests or stickers have the burden of proof to show how the test will change social media behavior and help develop the skills and desire to participate in civic life. As written, the bills may help students regurgitate facts, but belching facts does not help civic discourse.

Representatives Pischke and Brunner and Senator Nelson Embrace Marriage Equality

Ok, the post's title might be overselling the point a bit, but Pischke, Brunner, and Nelson are becoming more inclusive. They want South Dakota's legal definition of adultery to apply to every married person.

If their legislation passes, a married person who has voluntary sex with a person not his or her legal spouse will be guilty of adultery. It won't matter if the person is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight.

Pischke, Brunner, and Nelson are co-sponsoring HB 1107 which changes South Dakota's legal definition of adultery. If HB 1107  passes, state law will read, "Adultery is the voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person with any other person to whom he or she is not married."

Currently, the law reads, "Adultery is the voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person with one of the opposite sex to whom he or she is not married."

The definition of adultery is found in section 25-4 of South Dakota's Codified Laws. That section covers divorce. Pischke, Brunner, and Nelson are acting like social liberals and allowing aggrieved same-sex spouses to use adultery as grounds for divorce.

It is a little odd that folks who have strenuously argued for the sanctity of marriage would make it easier for anyone to divorce

In fact, some cynical folk might argue that the legislation is being being proposed as a form of sour grapes in reaction to Obergefell decision which legalized same-sex marriage. Those folks might contend that these legislators are making divorce easier for marriages that the legislators never considered valid.

I will be curious to see if anyone argues against this legislation because it removes from state law the premise that marriage is between one man and one woman. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Repeat After Me: Political Cults Of Personality Are Bad

Donald Trump ascended to the presidency and shut down the government because he has a cult like following. He demonstrated his understanding of this fact when he said, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters." Like all cults, the Trump Cult has a talisman, the MAGA cap.

Any Republican readers who stop by will undoubtedly mutter to themselves "what about Kennedy or the Clintons or Obama." Please read the post's title.

Kamala Harris declared herself a candidate for president on Monday.Today, The Hill reports that Harris will be getting her own action figure because at least one person believes she's a step ahead of us mere mortals:

“Think of the impact California has had on our culture,” FCTRY CEO Jason Feinberg said in a statement about the company’s Harris doll. “Same-sex marriage. Computers, of course. Movies. Even small things like avocado toast! As a proud New Yorker, it’s a little hard to admit this, but California always figures things out a bit before the rest of us.” 
“Right now it’s hard to look at Kamala Harris and not get that same sense,” Feinberg said.
I have nothing against action figures. I own a William Shakespeare action figure, several Wonder Woman action figures, an Albert Einstein action figure, a Xena, Warrior Princess action figure, and a Doug Mientkiewicz bobblehead. I also live in a rudderless country presided over by a megalomaniac who claimed that he "alone [could] fix it."

I also have nothing against Harris. She announced her candidacy a few days ago and has not demonstrated any of Trump's megalomania. That said, the past few years have once again shown it's best to not underestimate the idiocy of fervent people overly invested in a single person. It would be far better to replace the Trump cult with a boring, competent president rather than a person venerated by a different cult.

Excuse me while I go look for my Sigmund Freud and Annie Oakley action figures. I want to make sure the packages are in mint condition.