Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Huether Press Conference Tomorrow: Is Political Theater Afoot?

This tweet came across my Twitter feed a few minutes ago.

I honestly don't remember if Huether held a press conference to announce his little road show, so I am going to go with some insight provided when he announced he was leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an independent:
The mayor announced his decision to switch from Democrat to independent at a Monday news conference. He did not address his political future, but Northern State University political scientist Jon Schaff told the Argus Leader that people who don’t have political ambitions don’t call public press conferences.
If it is indeed "political ambitions," that would indicate a run against either Representative Dusty Johnson or Senator Mike Rounds in 2020.  When he announced his party switch, Huether "compar[ed] his own business-centric approach to running City Hall with Trump’s methodology."

Mike Rounds votes with Trump 92.1% of the time, and Dusty Johnson votes with Trump 88.4% of the time. That leaves Huether the option of running as Trump-lite or going full anti-Trump. Given the South Dakota electorate neither option seems to open a road to victory.

UPDATE: Guess I was wrong; people do hold press conferences for next to nothing, in this case a self-published book.

Monday, September 2, 2019

The Summer Of 1957 Wrecked Castles: What I Learned On My Summer Vacation.

I have spent good portions of the summer making eight hour car trips and reading books and articles written by people smarter than I am. The latter activity caused me to play too many hours of Castle Wreck on my phone as I tried to think through some subtle points. Here's what I concluded.

Conclusion 1: Populists may be correct that the educated elites who have run the nation's public and private institutions have failed. HOWEVER, the fact that intelligent educated folk have failed does create the corollary that poorly educated folks who dislike thinking or who are unable to think will succeed.

Conclusion 2: Fear dominates the national zeitgeist.

Conclusion 3: In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck writes that there's fine line between fear and anger. The current era points to a fine line between fear and languor.

Conclusion 4: Public debate was formerly dominated by disputing the implication of facts; it's now dangerously dominated by disputation of what constitutes a fact.

Conclusion 5: Personal stories still retain power, but shortened attention spans and listeners' desire to have personal biases confirmed makes people less likely to share their stories honestly.

Conclusion 6: The weaponizing of Christianity in the service to Trump has less to do with glorifying God than it does in justifying the practitioners' preferred sins.

Conclusion 7: Too many now view politics as a religion or power as a god. Those that have those attitudes increasingly view people outside of their circle as threats or evil. I doubt any democratic republic can survive once a plurality holds those views.

Conclusion 8: If being created in the image of God or endowed with inalienable rights means anything, humans should not be treated as pawns by employers or governments.

Conclusion 9: I have never been to Mt. Sinai, so I don't need ten conclusions.

By the way, Castle Wreck drains phone batteries quickly. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

A Minor Musing About Libertarians In The Age Of Trump

This Dakota Free Press post about Bob Newland's speech to the 2019 Libertarian Party Convention caused a few ideas to gel for me. (As a quick aside, I believe I have met Mr. Newland only once and he struck me as an affable gentleman.)

First, it's refreshing to see a Libertarian discuss a role for government in infrastructure. I would like to hear Libertarians also espouse Hayek's view of social insurance:
There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained , the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom. . . .there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody. . . . 
Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.
Hayek goes on to say, ". . . there is no incompatibility in principle between the state's providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom."

Libertarians' unwillingness to support a social safety net might have something to do with their view of socialism, a political theory Newland took time to attack. In 2019, however, the biggest threat to classic liberalism is not socialism but the new toxic mix of nationalism, populism, and Trumpism. 

Earlier this summer members of the conservative intelligentsia engaged in a rather heated argument about liberalism. Writing in First Things, Sohrab Ahmari attacked Never-Trumper David French because French, a cultural conservative,  "has individual autonomy [as] his lodestar: He sees 'protecting individual liberty' as the main, if not sole, purpose of government." In short, Ahmari is attacking French for being too Libertarian.

More importantly, Ahmari uses Trump, a man whose only political philosophy is an "I alone can fix it" narcissism as a blank slate. According to Ahmari,
[Trump's] instinct has been to shift the cultural and political mix, ever so slightly, away from autonomy-above-all toward order, continuity, and social cohesion. He believes that the political community—and not just the church, family, and individual—has its own legitimate scope for action. He believes it can help protect the citizen from transnational forces beyond his control.
Trump's recent "go back" to "crime infested places from which they came" tweets put the lie to any claims that he seeks "social cohesion." However, it seems clear that Ahmari wants to use Trump's followers to impose a form of "order" that will, unironically, attempt to force people to be autonomous and virtuous in ways that bend the terms "autonomy" and "virtue" beyond recognition. In short, government will exist to force citizens to relinquish rights to achieve the nationalists' or Trumpists' order.

Finally, the Ahmari article coincides with Newland's apprehension about what he calls an "insidious threat," "squincthy-eyed evangelicals" who attempt to impose "their version of God's will" on others. Ahmari is not an evangelical. He will, however, give intellectual heft to some social conservatives' desires to quell their inchoate fears with government imposed puritanical security. That threat should have all of us keeping one foot in the Libertarian camp.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

MAGAs Revive "Love It Or Leave It," A Minor Musing About A Logical Fallacy

I was young when I first heard "America, love it or leave it." If I were to venture a guess, I probably first heard a Vietnam War supporter utter the phrase on radio or television when I was 9 or 10 years old.

During the past week, Trumpists of all ages and stations in life have trotted out the trite phrase as if were something original, witty, logical, or patriotic.

The phrase, is of course, a logical fallacy which can be succinctly defined:
When only two choices are presented yet more exist, or a spectrum of possible choices exists between two extremes.  False dilemmas are usually characterized by “either this or that” language, but can also be characterized by omissions of choices.
This afternoon, I was reminded of how everyone should know how unpatriotic that phrase is when this tweet came across my twitter feed.
Because I don't trust Blogger to allow the picture in the tweet to be enlarged, I am uploading a copy as well.

The second column of this 50 year old editorial has two important paragraphs. Sydney J. Harris writes,
Those who want to leave have a right to, but those who want to stay and work for what they consider a better society must be protected in that right--for without it, our nation would sink into stagnation and the process of change would harden into repression by those who benefit by keeping things just as they are. . . . 
Somebody who truly didn't like what America stands for ought to be invited to leave; but there is a vast difference between such a person and those who dislike what we have allowed ourselves to become, through greed and prejudice and provincial indifference to the great problems we now face. No community can afford to lose these good "agitators."
Most recent political and policy discussions have devolved into each side calling the other names bereft of context that provides meaning: fascists, socialists, racist, anti-Semitic. Nearly every devolves into whataboutism and dueling charges of hypocrisy.

Since the nation seems to have lost all of its adults, can we perhaps listen to one from 50 years ago and develop new ways to facilitate the process of change which has stagnated and hardened into repression.

Certainly, we can all be better "agitators" and refrain from the illogical and unpatriotic "love it or leave it" fallacy.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

South Dakota Democrats And Evangelicals Should Drink More Whisky And Listen To Mayor Pete

It's Mother's Day, so the best thing one should do is discuss whisky, politics, and religion. What bad can happen?

This morning, I watched two YouTube videos that I would urge every South Dakota Democrat and evangelical to watch.

One was Mayor Pete Buttigieg's speech at the Las Vegas Human Rights Campaign Dinner. It was an excellent speech. He discussed what he calls "a crisis of belonging." He alluded to the fact that many of the nation's excluded citizens are being divided by metaphoric walls that allow them to "get divided and carved up." In order to prevent divisions from continuing, Buttigieg asked the audience to be willing "to stand hand in hand with people just like you and people not at all like you." In short Buttigieg reminded people to tell person stories that welcomed rather than excluded.

Buttigieg enunciated a simple truth; politics is personal and people want their stories heard. Serendipitously, the second YouTube video I watched feature two Whisky YouTubers, Erik Wait and Daniel Whittington, who discussed "Telling the Story of Whisky." Throughout their entertaining conversation about the need for story, Whittington made two important points. First, "story doesn't eliminate information; story gives information context." A little later Whittington said directly what Buttigieg alluded to: "No one cares about your story. They care about how you become part of their story." In short, tell stories that help people belong.

During this century, I recall only a handful of South Dakota Democratic candidates who were decent story tellers  There have been some good policy wonks who had a great command of the facts and some good policy positions. There were a few entertainers who could cleverly turn a phrase,  but storytellers have been rare. Meanwhile, Kristi Noem et al. were going full Horatio Alger. Maybe it's because Democrats apparently prefer clear spirits, but if they want to reverse their fortunes in the state, they need to start telling better stories that gives information context.

It is a Sunday, and and any discussion of story makes me think of two old hymns: "Tell Me the Story of Jesus" and "I Love to Tell the Story." I do wish the evangelical folk who used to sing those songs regularly would get back to telling the story of Jesus and recognizing that Trump's lies are not coherent stories. I also wish they's recognize that every time they tell the story of Trump, people who seek to be part of Christ's story are driven away from grace.

Everybody else who is sick of politics and religion, go watch this video of the greatest whisky speech ever.

Friday, May 10, 2019

South Dakota At Risk For Severe Job Losses

On Wednesday, Governor Noem tweeted,
The cynical among us might wonder why scores of businesses offering high paying jobs are not racing to the state, but it's #SmallBusinessWeek, so criticizing Governor Noem for celebrating a meaningless statistic seems to be bad form.

Today, Axios points out that automation will likely wreck havoc on jobs in the Midwest.
  • A quarter of all jobs across the U.S. have high chance of being wiped out by automation.
  • The five states with the highest share of at-risk jobs are Indiana (29%), Kentucky (29%), South Dakota (28%), Arkansas (28%), and Iowa (28%) — all of which went for President Trump in 2016.
  • Compare that to the bottom five: New York (20%), Maryland (20%), Massachusetts (21%), Connecticut (22%) and New Mexico (22%), all of which went for Hillary Clinton.
But the extent of the hit to middle America is even clearer when zooming in to the county level.
  • For example, in Jerauld County, South Dakota, 53% of jobs are hanging in the balance.
  • 48% of jobs are vulnerable in Scott County, Miss.; 48% in Dakota County, Neb.; and 46% in Colfax County, Neb.[emphasis mine]
Axios concludes, "To absorb the coming disruption, the government and corporations will have to take charge of reskilling and upskilling huge swaths of displaced workers."

There's little hope that corporations concerned about only the bottom line will bring jobs to a state that needs a quarter of its workforce retrained unless the state is willing to help shoulder the cost of retraining.  Over the past few sessions, the South Dakota legislature spent more time arguing about useless resolutions, placing the national motto in schools, civics classes, guns, and chislec than it has about funding K-12 education. There's less hope that legislators or Governor Noem will suddenly decide to fund the retraining of workers.

A Minor Musing About South Dakota's Brain Drain

A few weeks back, the Constant Commoner posted about a United States Congress's Joint Economic Committee  study on the "brain drains" in the United States. South Dakota, contrary to popular belief, is not 49th in everything. In 2017, the state had the second highest gross and third highest net departure of highly educated or highly skilled residents.

The problem starts at the top. Former Governor Daugaard routinely mocked those pursuing degrees in philosophy. In her 2012 congressional race, Governor Noem implied winning "the South Dakota Young Leader Award from the South Dakota Soybean Association" was a superior achievement to earning a Masters degree from Cambridge. If one values the life of the mind or a world class education, the message that one should leave is crystal clear.

While there may not be a trickle down effect in economics, there is one in culture. Thirty years in the classroom has taught me that intelligent kids are the ones who stretch the boundaries and the rules to the breaking point. As a rural state South Dakota creates many spaces for functionaries to develop "big fish in a small pond" syndrome. Whether it be overly uptight county commissioners, school administrators, mayors, sheriffs, or Speaker Haugaards, many of these wannabes will decry Nicholas Maduro's socialism but covet his power to squelch dissent. They have one response to everyone who questions their policies or offers suggestions for improvement: "if you don't like, leave."

In his Constant Commoner post, John Tristan made the economic point, so I won't repeat that here. The brain drain hurts South Dakota, but it will continue because the state's leadership want it to.