Archive for January 2010

Don’t Lower The Bar

Posted: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 7:38 pm
By: Joel Rosenthal
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The “Argus Leader” this morning had a front page story about a Legislative Bill being introduced by Senator Dan Ahlers and Representative Todd Schleckeway that would substantially lower the requirements to pass a bond issue by local units of government.

Current law provides that 60% of voters in a bond issue election must approve. Senate Bill 146 of it becomes law would lower the approval percentage to 50% provided that a majority (50%) participated in the election.

Changing the current requirements would change long standing conservative governance in South Dakota. The very important yet simple reason there is a 60% requirement is that future taxpayers are being taxed without having a say in the election. Worth noting the reason and logic for the higher adoption requirement was not mentioned in the “Argus Leader” story. Bond issues can be for 20 years or longer.

In a manner bond issues could be characterize it as Taxation without Representation.

I am always troubled when Bills like this one are introduced because of a local problem. The 60% threshold is not a Statewide problem. If the law is changed to address a parochial need, it affects the entire State. Also troubling is the effect of changing the law may make it easier to pass local bond issues. This is not Conservative.

There seems to be no pressing or emergency need anywhere in South Dakota that warrants any change at this time. The higher Standard is Conservative fiscal policy and appropriate.

To comment on this post go to South Dakota Straight Talk.

Dome gnomes and phrigs

Posted: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 3:08 pm
By: David Newquist
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Sunday, January 31, 2010

 

This happened when pranks were done for their diversion and entertainment value.  I was there for this one, as reported on my alma mater’s Facebook site.  The subject of the piece is on how the dome at Augustana College’s Old Main was turned into a teapot during a night in November 1955.

This collage shows how much paraphenalia and skill was needed by workmen to maintain the dome, the teapot, and the young man who carried out this mission, Road Fryxell, scaling the outside of the building.  The college’s account of the phrig is fairly accurate, as it seems to have been researched from the student newspaper.  However, I was there, and remember the details of  how this came about a bit differently.

Old Main sits on a bluff above the street and high above the Mississippi River some blocks to the north.  A long stairway leads up from the street.  It was not exactly a handicapped accessible site.  Well, that’s not true.   One young woman who was wheel chair bound was brought by taxi to the foot of the stairs each day for her 8 o’clock class.  Any young men who passed by on their way to class would carry her up the stairs in the wheel chair.   It usually took four of them.  They not only carried her up the outside stairs to the building’s entrance, but once inside they carried her to the 2nd or 3rd floor where her class was.  After class, another bunch of young men would carry her down to wherewever she needed to go for her next class.
Understanding how this building was situated and built is necessary to fully appreciate the story I am about to tell. 

It begins with an elaborate phrig, titled Crazy Connie’s Used Car Lot.  Crazy Connie was Dr. Conrad Bergendoff, president of Augustana College.  It happened in the early 1950s when there were still World War II veterans going to school on the G.I. Bill.  Many of them brought small cars to campus–VWs, MGs, Austin Healy’s,  economical little sports cars. 

One morning when students came to school, they found a group of these little cars parked around the entrance of Old Main and some were inside on the ground floor under the dome with a big sign proclaiming Crazy Connie’s Used Car Lot.  The best part of the phrig was leaving people wondering how in the heck those cars got up that long flight of stairs and inside the building.  Well, many of those young men who hauled wheel chairs and other things up those steps when needed got together and carried VWs and MGs up there.  It was a massive undertaking.

The administration was not so concerned about the cars outside the entrance as it was the ones inside.  It was concerned because the building was being breached.  Crazy Connie’s used car lot was just one occasion.  The school was proud of a carillon that was installed in the dome.  It’s keyboard was on the chapel pipe organ which was on the seecond and third floor of Old Main.   Every Sunday afternoon at about 4 o’clock,  a music professor would give a carillon concert that would echo out over the river valley in lower Rock Island.  One night some enterprising phriggers broke into Old Main,  ascended to the carrillon in the dome,  unhooked one of  the electrical wires to a carillon chime, and replace it with a fog horn, so that every time that note was struck, it sent an oooh-aaaah blast out in the midst of the music.
I understand that the professor threatened to resign if something was not done to prevent such shenanigans with the organ.

The physical plant went to work and found ways to secure the doors and windows to make it near-impossible to break into Old Main and phrig it.  This challenge was answered after a heavy snow fall when
a bunch of people shoveled snow up against the entrance doors making it impossible to gain entrance until it was all shoveled away again.  (Which was done with volunteers, many of whom probably did the original shoveling.)  Classes were canceled that morning.

The challenge to breach Old Main was responsible for Teapot Dome.  Students could no longer find a way to phrig the bulding from the inside, so they devised a way to do it from the outside.  The culprit was Roald Fryxell, son of the geology professor, Fritioff Fryxell, an expert mountain climber who as part of his doctoral dissertation climbed and named the peaks in Grand Teton National Park.  Roald borrowed his dad’s mountain climbing gear and went up the sandstone outside of Old Main, as shown in the picture.  The picture shows the technique, but not the actual place he made the ascent that night.  However, the sandstone blocks of Old Main still bear the pinion holes that were made for the ascent.  Once Roald made it to the top of the dome,  the teapot spout and handle had to be hauled up and put in place, which involved feats of engineering and ingenuity. 

(Sadly, Roald whose specialty was paleontology was well on his way to becoming as prominent a geologist as his father when he was killed in an automobile accident.)

Augustana College also claims to be where panty raids orginated.,  They were also devised and carried out by G.I.s who had learned a thing or two about mounting military-like operations.

Nothing encaptures the concept of higher education like scaling the dome of a a towering sandstone building.  People admired the initiative and ingenuity, even if grudgingly.  The closest thing to it of late was the young people from Greenpeace last summer who asended Mount Rushmore and dropped a huge banner over the presidential faces.  Education doesn’t get much higher than than. 

The grammar of libel

Posted: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 11:15 am
By: David Newquist
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I received e-mails and blog comments asking why I said what I said.  I had made an error.  Not an error of fact but an error of judgment swayed largely by my growing conviction that the Internet, which has the potential and sometimes the realization of being one of the most useful tools devised by humankind, is often rendered worthless and intellectually  carcinogenic.  The error was made in my previous post in which I ridiculed the Supreme Court for engaging in semantic shysterism in defining corporations as persons in the same sense that individual humans are.

The statement for which clarifications were suggested is:

The English lexicon has from its inception defined a person as a human, an individual of specified character, the personality of a human self. To contend that a corporation, which is a political contrivance of humans with an agenda, is in any way a person is to fly in the face of an essential linguistic and semantic distinction that is deeply rooted in the language.

My mistake was in eliding a paragraph that defined more thoroughly what  “essential linguistic and semantic distinction” exists regarding the word “person,’  In composing the original post, I had a paragraph that gave some etymologic history of the word person.  In transferring the post to the blog composer,  part of the post was cut because of some technical glitch in trying to copy it. I decided not to try to recall and rewrite that section because it seemed a bit overly pedantic in relation to the rest of the post.   I thought the phrase “essential linguistic and semantic distinction” would be a sufficient qualification for literate readers.

The word person has been the subject of contention throughout the history of literacy.  The evidence is in the way the word is handled in most dictionary entries.  They provide the definition of a person as an invidividual human as the prime one and list other usages and meanings in the  sub-entries.  Good descriptive dictionaries (as opposed to prescriptive dictionaries) provide lists of all the usages that one might encounter for a word.  The American Heritage Dictionary, for example, has a sub-entry under the category law that lists a usage as a human or organization that has rights and duties.

From the earliest attempts to codify the usage, the writers of dictionaries have stressed that “essential linguistic and semantic distinction.”  The early lexicographers were careful to make clear that a humanperson is a “natural person” and an organizational person is an “artificial person.”  This distinction is alluded to in Justice Kennedy’s dissent to the United Citizens Supreme Court decision.  The literature of America deals extensively with the idea that inalienable rights accrue to natural persons but not to artificial ones.

The issue with the Supreme Court decision is that the majority opinion does not adhere to that distinction of what is considered an authentic person and equates corporations with natural persons in defining that matter of rights.

In putting the legal usage of person down under specialized sections, dictionary writers are also demonstrating that there is an inherent contradiction in the usages.  In the natural sense, a person is an individual with distinctive identity traits.  In the legal sense, a person is a collective amalgamation in which those distinctive traits are lost.  Norman Mailer once commented that totalitarianism is the obliteration of distinctions.  He was referring to the loss of individual identity that corporatization imposes.

The use of the word person is dealt with in manuals of writing style to preserve the essential, natural definition,  The meanings of words come out o.0f their history.  Tone style book used at a newspaper for which I worked, anytime we referred to corporations in terms of their rights and obligations, we were required to refer to them as “corporate entities” to emphasize that they were contrivances that had no claim to natural, inalienable rights.

But this obliteration of distinction by the Supreme Court has deeper implications.  Every state legal code has statement that one of the rights held by persons is the right not to be defamed.

In South Dakota law it is stated thusly:  “Obligation to refrain from defamation.  Every person is obligated to refrain from infringing upon the right of others not to be defamed.”

The state constitution lays out the grounds for holding people responsible when their exercise of free speech defames:

§ 5.   Freedom of speech–Truth as defense–Jury trial. Every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right. In all trials for libel, both civil and criminal, the truth, when published with good motives and for justifiable ends, shall be a sufficient defense. The jury shall have the right to determine the fact and the law under the direction of the court.

The United Citizens case before the Supreme Court was about a film that the court termed “perjorative” about Hillary Clinton.  While public figures do not have the right to seek action against defamation in political speech about them,  the matter of the right not to be defamed and the right to exercise free speech to the point of defamation is in conflict.

Now that corporations have no restrictions on their right to use their profits for engaging in political speech, it might be time to find ways to hold defamers truly responsible for what they say.

But that could put an end to the blogosphere as we know it.  And it could elevate the level of persons we encounter.

Baraq’s First SOTU: Seriously Flawed at Best

Posted: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 11:04 am
By: RadioActive Chief
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Well, Baraq Hussein’s first State of the Union is wrapped up and in the can for what it’s worth. (Not much, IMHO.)

Firstly, Herr Doktor Professor Baraq Hussein would have gotten a serious downgrade in MY class for screwing up a fundamental reference, that one could venture to say is symptomatic of a deep lack of respect for the fundamental principles of the founding of the American Republic:

“We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution, the notion that we’re all created equal…”

First off, downgrading what is the one of the fundamentally unique principles of our Republic to a mere “notion”…words fail. Also…checking my trusty pocket reference copy of the Constitution and Declaraction of Independence indicates that said reference is NOT “enshrined in our Constitution”…but IS found in the Declaration, in close and immediate context of “…they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

Key concept there: Our equality, and our “unalienable rights” are NOT granted by any act of man, even the Constitution! They are directly bestowed as a part of the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”. Once that relationship is disestablished nothing is left except ultimately as Mao stated and one of B.O.’s appointed “czars” (and how American is THAT title!?) reiterated “Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun”, or the other one who stated that if they couldn’t prevail “by means of the power of persuasion, then they would use the persuasion of power.”

Otherwise, some additional highlights of the less-than-edifying experience:

FACT CHECK: Obama and a toothless commission

There were also OTHER notable instances of B.O. playing fast and loose with reality:

President Barack Obama told Americans the bipartisan deficit commission he will appoint won’t just be “one of those Washington gimmicks.” Left unspoken in that assurance was the fact that the commission won’t have any teeth.

Obama confronted some tough realities in his State of the Union speech Wednesday night, chief among them that Americans are continuing to lose their health insurance as Congress struggles to pass an overhaul.

Yet some of his ideas for moving ahead skirted the complex political circumstances standing in his way.

Go to the original piece for all the gory details…it’s a reminder of the old Warren Zevon lyric: “It ain’t that pretty at all!”

Another historic aspect of the SOTU is the dissing of the Supremes, and for that matter of Congress at the same time. The congressional part of this is here:

…the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. That’s why I’ve called for a bipartisan fiscal commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. (Applause.) This can’t be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. The commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.
Now, yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I’ll issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward…[emphasis added]

Without getting into the argument about this idea for a budgetary fig-leaf, the stated relationship here can be summarized as “I don’t need no steenking Congress, I’ll just do what I want by proclamation regardless of the vote of the people’s representatives.”

As far as the Supremes go, they were verbally flogged in an unprecedented display of inter-branch criticism reminiscent of some of the worst of FDR, but PERHAPS not as egregious as Jackson’s refusal to abide by the Marshall court’s decision on the Cherokee removal.

At least Justice Alito wasn’t buying B.O.’s mis-statements:
Justice Alito mouths ‘not true’

POLITICO’s Kasie Hunt, who was in the House chamber, reports that Justice Samuel Alito mouthed the words “not true” when President Barack Obama criticized the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision.

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said. “Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”

So what was wrong? Approx. a century ago corporations were banned from making direct contributions to candidates for election funds. This was not addressed, nor affected by the current ruling. Also, foreign corporations are STILL banned from involvement in U.S. political campaigns (although admittedly the presence of Chinese money in Bubba Clinton’s and B.O.’s fundraising was noteworthy as cases of sometimes intercepted interventions.)
Result? Read on:
Supreme Court Historian: After President’s “Insult,” Won’t Be Surprised If Supreme Court Doesn’t Attend Next Year’s State of the Union Address

A noted Supreme Court historian who “enthusiastically” voted for President Obama in November 2008 today called President Obama’s criticism of the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address last night “really unusual” and said he wouldn’t be surprised if no Supreme Court Justices attend the speech next year.

“It was really unusual in my mind to see the president going after the Supreme Court in such a forum,” said author and Law Professor Lucas Powe, the Anne Green Regents Chair in Law, and a Professor of Government at the University of Texas-Austin School of Law. “I’m willing to bet a lot of money there will be no Supreme Court justice at the next State of the Union speech.”

Added Professor Powe, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, “you don’t go to be insulted. I can’t see the Justices wanting to be there and be insulted by the president.”

But this is just a negative reaction from a myrmidon of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, right?…er…not this time:

His opinion has nothing to do with animus towards the President, for whom Powe said he voted enthusiastically.

Chief’s overall grading: D-minus  for content.

I won’t even approach what I actually thought of the delivery except to ask if you can pronounce a-r-r-o-g-a-n-t.  ’nuff said.

Corporate Personhood & the English Lexicon

Posted: Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:23 am
By: Ken Blanchard
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My esteemed Keloland colleague and NSU colleague Emeritus, David Newquist, joined the discussion of corporate personhood initiated by Cory Heidelberger and carried on by Doug Wiken and myself.  In the midst of Professor Newquist’s short essay, he has this:

Those who snickered at the corporations-are-persons contention were immediately assailed by the wing-dingers and informed that they were confused and ignorant and stupid.

Now I am not sure who the “wing-dingers” are, or what a wing-dinger is.  The good professor is fond of attacking nameless parties.  I did state that, in my opinion, Cory was confused about certain aspects of Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC.  But I did not call him ignorant and would never call him stupid.  While we frequently and fruitfully disagree, I think Cory is one of the best informed and most intelligent voices in the local blogosphere.

I am afraid I cannot say the same about Professor Newquist.  The above paragraph continues as follows:

The English lexicon has from its inception defined a person as a human, an individual of specified character, the personality of a human self. To contend that a corporation, which is a political contrivance of humans with an agenda, is in any way a person is to fly in the face of an essential linguistic and semantic distinction that is deeply rooted in the language.  But such affronts to literacy are not something new.

Now that underlined part is very bold and admits of no ambiguity.  Individual human beings are persons, in Newquist’s view; but to contend that a corporation is “in any way a person” is an affront to literacy.

Well, when there is a dispute about the English lexicon, the thing to do is to consult an English lexicon.  So I did.  I looked up the word person in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online.  I found this:

6: one (as a human being, a partnership, or a corporation) that is recognized by law as the subject of rights and duties

Apparently, Merriam-Webster and its parent company, Encyclopedia Britannica, have committed an affront to literacy.  M-W clearly defines partnerships and corporations as persons if the former are recognized by law as the subject of rights and duties, which they are.

Perhaps this is not good enough.  So I went to the best source of information about the English lexicon “from its inception,” the Oxford English Dictionary.  There I discovered another affront to literacy.

7. Law. An individual (NATURAL PERSON n.) or corporate body (artificial person) recognized by the law as having certain rights and duties.

Oddly enough, the OED managed to back up its definition with quotes from English writings.

1475 Rolls of Parl. VI. 150/1 Almaner Londes, Tenementes..and Pensions, which any persone Temporell, corporat or not corporat..then had, held, posseded, or occupied.

1765 W. BLACKSTONE Comm. Laws Eng. I. i. 123 Natural persons are such as the God of nature formed us; artificial are such as are created and devised by human laws for the purposes of society and government; which are called corporations or bodies politic.

1833 Act 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 74 §1 The word ‘Person’ shall extend to a Body Politic, Corporate, or Collegiate, as well as an Individual.

1900 Daily News 20 Apr. 7/5 A Bill..extending to juridical persons, that is, duly registered corporations or partnerships, the right to engage in mining.

Apparently, from 1475 to 1900, the word person was used to indicate corporations.  It has been and remains a commonplace of legal reasoning and political theory.

No one can blame an English professor for being ignorant of legal terminology.  One could expect him to consult a dictionary regarding the plain meaning of an English word before he accuses others of an Orwellian distortion of language.

Feeding useless eaters and nurturing corporations

Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:18 am
By: David Newquist
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Madville Times has lent its chortle to the incredulous laughter at the Supreme Court ruling that the McCain-Feingold bill passed in 2002 is wrong in limiting corporations from making direct contributions from its profits to use for political attack advertising.  It is not the finding of five members of the court that is cause for derision, but their reasoning demonstrated in the opinion. The ruling sounds like something George Orwell would concoct if he were a writer for The Daily Show,.

In  all, it has been a crowning week for the right-wing agenda.  Rush Limbaugh, the most pathological of the conspiracy theorists, warned that contributions for Haitian relief would contribute to something insidious.  Sarah Palin is still struggling with her reading list. The lieutenant governor of South Carolina suggested that poverty-dependency could be eliminated if school lunches were withheld from poor kids so they would die out and not breed.  And the Supreme Court majority hinged its decision on the premise that corporations are persons.  They must have been tutored at the Sarah Palin Institute for Intellectual Excellence.

Those who snickered at the corporations-are-persons contention were immediately assailed by the wing-dingers and informed that they were confused and ignorant and stupid.  The English lexicon has from its inception defined a person as a human, an individual of specified character, the personality of a human self. To contend that a corporation, which is a political contrivance of humans with an agenda, is in any way a person is to fly in the face of an essential linguistic and semantic distinction that is deeply rooted in the language.  But such affronts to literacy are not something new.

In Orwell’s 1984, the protagonist’s job in the Ministry of Truth is to purge the language of words that might convey to the people knowledge of historical realities that might cause them to question the totalitarian regimen under which they live.  If the word itself cannot be eliminated, its definition is changed.  That is what the Supreme Court had to do to bring corporations and their arbitrary uses of their power and wealth under the protetion of the First Amendment,  which has previously been understood to apply to persons, not contrived entities.  Corporate totalitarianism and the privileges of power it wants for its fascistic elite are a basic GOP premise.  The Supreme Court hacks found a crude way to bring them under a Constitutional protection.   Wily, if not particularly edified or brilliant.

The McCain-Feingold bill and previous court rulings were attempts to keep huge, powerful entities from dominating and controlling political discussion to the point of diminishing, even eliminating, the voices of private citizens in political debate.  The Supreme Court majority has found a way to employ the protections of the Constitution against the very things it was written to protect.  It has done so by demolishing the language, by purging it of the semantic content of certain words and changing definitions.  Libel, disinformation, and mendacity are endorsed as the language of the realm.

The literate will have to suffer.  And democracy will now mean that individual persons have been demoted to a powerless serfdom while corporations assume the prime mantle of personhood.

Now they’re banning dictionaries

Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:04 am
By: Tim Gebhart
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Too often supposed moral outrage deprives both individuals and government bodies of common sense. The latest case in point? First, a California school district removed a dictionary from all all school shelves after a parent complained about a student finding a definition of “oral sex” in it. Now, the Menifee Union School District is forming a committee to review whether dictionaries containing the definitions for sexual terms should be permanently banned from the district’s classrooms.

The dictionaries at issue, the Merriam-Webster’s 10th edition, are used as reference works in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms and the concern is whether they are “age-appropriate.” The dictionary is college level but was purchased for the classrooms because there are students who read significantly above their grade levels.

So what is the definition that got one (repeat, one) parent so hot and bothered?

Main Entry: oral sex
Function: noun
Date: 1973
: oral stimulation of the genital

Given how racy that definition is, the school district should also consider banning computers. After all, the online definition adds the words and has links to the definitions of “cunnilingus” and “fellatio.” And teachers better not ask any of these kids to learn about or do a paper on Bill Clinton or else the schools will need to consider banning newspapers, magazines and encyclopedias.

No doubt there’s plenty of other “objectionable” words in this and other dictionaries in the school, such as prostitute, intercourse, penis or masturbation. Does that justify removing or editing all the dictionaries, even the ones in the libraries? Since when does hiding words mean the acts they describe don’t occur or that kids don’t learn about them?

I do have one suggestion. While the school district looks for those objectionable words, there’s a few others it may want to look up, such as ignorance, overreaction, irrational and asinine.

Obama Sinks His Party

Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 11:33 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
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sinking_shipIntrepid reader Erik reminds me that “It is still a long way to November.  ;-) ”  I cannot disagree, especially with the tongue in cheek emoticon.  I do not know what will happen next November, but I know all too well how wishful thinking can color my judgment.

Still, it is hard not to think that the Democratic Party is now too deep in the poop to climb out.  John B. Judis at the New Republic offers compelling evidence that the root cause of the Democratic decline is the President.

I continue to hear people saying that Martha Coakley’s defeat in Massachusetts had nothing or very little to do with the approval of the Obama administration in that state. For those who continue to adhere to this opinion, let’s look at some other states where the decline in a candidate’s polls can’t be explained away by the Democratic candidate’s ineptitude. What you find in those states is that in polling for the 2010 senate and gubernatorial elections, the Democrat was initially ahead but began to fall behind at roughly the same time as Obama’s approval ratings also began to fall.

Judis illustrates his argument with a series of charts from Pollster.com comparing election polling in a series of states with Obama’s approval rating in those same states.  I won’t reproduce any of this here: go to the link above and look at it.  He pretty much nails down his conclusion:

I am not saying that in all these cases, the Democratic candidates didn’t stumble, or that the Republican didn’t shine, but viewed as a whole, they present a picture of a national decline in public support for Democratic politics and for the Obama administration radiating outward from Washington and threatening Democratic candidates in states that Democrats must generally win to carry national elections.

Since the decline is clearly national, it can’t be just bad local candidates.  So what is it?  The national economy is clearly one drag on the party that controls the White House and both houses of Congress.  But it has also been exacerbated by the fiscal policies of that same party and by the unpopular health care legislation.  Maybe that’s enough to explain it.  But I think there is something else.

Bob Herbert, whose loathing of Republicans would win a gold medal if that were an Olympic event, thinks the problem is “Obama’s credibility gap.”  From the New York Times:

Mr. Obama may be personally very appealing, but he has positioned himself all over the political map: the anti-Iraq war candidate who escalated the war in Afghanistan; the opponent of health insurance mandates who made a mandate to buy insurance the centerpiece of his plan; the president who stocked his administration with Wall Street insiders and went to the mat for the banks and big corporations, but who is now trying to present himself as a born-again populist.

Mr. Obama is in danger of being perceived as someone whose rhetoric, however skillful, cannot always be trusted. He is creating a credibility gap for himself, and if it widens much more he won’t be able to close it.

The only thing in that passage that is questionable is the word “always” in the penultimate sentence.  The President has, as I have said before, made promises promiscuous without bothering to wonder if he could keep them.  On one important issue after another, he has blithely ignored his own word.

The economy is one thing dragging the Democrats down, but it would do to remember that, in 1994, the economy was in robust recovery.  Bill Clinton was nonetheless so unpopular that the Republicans captured both houses.  Then, as now, a deeply unpopular health care adventure tarred all Democrats.

Slick Willey came back, in part because he was slick.  He may have been unscrupulous and empty of any real principles, but he was a consummate political actor.  He could play any role the script required.  Obama may be just as empty, but without the ability to appear as anything other than Obama.  If Americans have lost faith in his leadership, it is difficult to see how he fixes that.

Take A Poll: Brett Favre–God, Goat, or Goatboy?

Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:36 pm
By: Todd Epp
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Yes, Brett Favre is a great quarterback. He will be going to the Football Hall of Fame one day.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not just a ViQueen but a drama queen as well, with his “will he or won’t he” act about playing. And it doesn’t help that referees and announcers treat him like Jesus H. Christ incarnate in a football uniform.

The Vikings were only one Brett Favre away from the Super Bowl, if you believed all the preseason Vikings hype. Now, like you and me, they are watching the big game from the comfort of their own homes.

So, tell me. What is QB Brett Favre? God? Goat? Goatboy? Other?  Take a poll.

Vote early,  vote often.  The voting ends Sunday.

Go to the top of my home blog to vote or click here.

Exposing the myth of so-called activist judges

Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 8:31 am
By: Tim Gebhart
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There’s been tons of commentary on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Supreme Court said the government can’t restrict corporations from spending money to support or oppose individual candidates in elections. Yet there’s been meager discussion on one issue the decision raises — judicial activism.

For years we’ve heard the GOP rallying cry that Democrats appoint activist judges. What is an activist judge? Here’s what the 2008 Republican platform said: “Judicial activism is a grave threat to the rule of law because unaccountable federal judges are usurping democracy, ignoring the Constitution and its separation of powers, and imposing their personal opinions upon the public.” You don’t have to look much further than South Dakota’s own U.S. Sen. John Thune to find someone who loves to invoke that mantra.

He has a page on his website about the “issue” of judicial nominations, where he says, “I believe that [judicial] nominees should abide by and apply the rule of law, instead of becoming activist judges who try and create law.” When he voted to confirm U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a part of the Citizens United majority, he said that, “most importantly, [Roberts] is committed to applying the law as it is written, not according to his own opinions or philosophies.” In contrast, when he voted against Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was in the minority in Citizens United, Thune did so in part because she didn’t appear to decide cases “based on precedent and fidelity to the law.”

Thus, Citizens United presents an intriguing juxtaposition. The five justices who voted to invalidate “the law as it is written” and to overrule prior precedent are all Republican appointees. Three of the four who felt stare decisis — the doctrine that courts will follow principles of law laid down in previous cases — mandated the opposite result were appointed by Democrat presidents. Not surprisingly, stare decisis was one of the battlegrounds in the Court. “The only relevant thing that has changed since [the overruled decisions] is the composition of this Court,” said Justice John Paul Stevens in dissent joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor. Chief Justice Roberts, in turn, wrote a concurring opinion “to address the important principles of judicial restraint and stare decisis implicated in this case,” evidently wanting to show his court is not an activist court.

Despite how well the decision may fit the GOP’s “judicial activism” box, I haven’t seen Thune, GOP chairman Michael Steele or the state Republican Party decrying an “activist” Supreme Court. That reinforces the fact talk about activist judges is just so much hooey trotted out or ignored by politicians depending on who decided what issue. The term misrepresents the role of the judiciary. Even when a trial judge rules on the admissibility of evidence, he or she is “making law” for that particular case. The higher you go in the judicial hierarchy, the broader the impact of a ruling.

This doesn’t mean the law is immune from a judge’s legal outlook. Yet with rare exceptions, those views are reflected by the interpretive methodology upon which they rely (such as the originalism v. living Constitution debate in constitutional interpretation). So, the next time a politician or political party complains about activist judges, you’re simply hearing an epithet used by the addlebrained for a ruling they don’t like. Ignore that veneer and find out what reasoning led the court to its result. At least then any disagreement is based on reason, not artifice.