The difference I hear Libertarians wheeze about, that the United States is a Republic Not a Democracy™, is practically irrelevant. My conservative friends and I should agree that the much greater problem is that we are not a democracy but an oligarchy. Research says so:

study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, "Who governs? Who really rules?" in this country, is:

"Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, ..." and then they go on to say, it's not true, and that, "America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened" by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead "the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy" [Eric Zuesse, "US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study," Common Dreams, 2014.04.14].

A PDF draft of the paper Zuesse cites, by Princeton's Martin Gilens and Northwestern's Benjamin I. Page, is available online. Gilens and Page anticipate the possible objection that perhaps wealthy elites are better at making policy than the masses, and they dismiss that objection in favor of faith in the demos:

A possible objection to populistic democracy is that average citizens are inattentive to politics and ignorant about public policy; why should we worry if their poorly informed preferences do not influence policy making? Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect.50 Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status. Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one's own interests or a determination to work for the common good.

All in all, we believe that the public is likely to be a more certain guardian of its own interests than any feasible alternative [Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," draft, Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming Fall 2014; posted online at Princeton 2014.04.09].

For hope against research, I look across the border to Canada, where citizens of Kitimat just voted against a Big Oil alternative to Keystone XL:

In a vote cheered as a victory for democracy, one community in British Columbia has given a flat rejection to a proposed tar sands pipeline.

Over 58 percent of voters who headed to the polls in the North Coast municipality of Kitimat on Saturday said "no" to Enbridge's Northern Gateway project.

That project would include a pipeline to carry tar sands crude from near Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat.

..."The people have spoken. That’s what we wanted — it’s a democratic process," Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan said in a statement following the vote. "We’ll be talking about this Monday night at Council, and then we’ll go from there with whatever Council decides" [Andrea Germanos, "In Small Canadian Town Democracy Wins, Tar Sands Loses," Common Dreams, 2014.04.14].

Voting can beat money. Democracy can beat oligarchy. But we have to work at it. Fellow citizens, keep hope alive.


Sioux Falls will be popping with provocative political discourse tomorrow. Greg Belfrage has invited me converse with him on KELO-AM Friday morning at 8:20 a.m. about petition law, public discourse, and South Dakota's Senate campaign. Sioux Falls commuters, watch out for drivers distracted by a "self-proclaimed communist atheist blogger who lives out of state" speaking on conservative South Dakota talk radio.

If that interview doesn't burn the city down, the Sioux Falls Democratic Forum (brave sponsors of this blog!) will host their Friday Forum at the Sioux Falls VFW. In more cross-partisan craziness, these Dems have invited Republican turned Independent Larry Pressler to speak to them. That program starts at noon.

Pressler may get questions about an anonymous website set up to attack his record. Pressler's real website,, is somewhat sparse on issues, so someone has poached and redirected to throw up details on Pressler's record. The latter site attacks Pressler as a big-spending, self-serving Washington insider beholden to PAC money.

It's hard to tell who's behind that website. Its derogatory tone smells like the work of Mike Rounds's man Dick Wadhams. But the Pressler attacks, based as they are on reminding people of Pressler's record, could be coming from Democrats concerned that nostalgia might lure potential Weiland voters to Pressler's professed moderation.

Pressler knows he's in for hard questions; nobody gets off easy at Democratic Forum!


The South Dakota Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee is evidently so distracted by the GOP primary circus (or perhaps so beholden its frontrunner?) that it forgot that it was supposed to be reviewing the Governor's Office of Economic Development and the EB-5 visa investment program. Here's a draft agenda of GOAC's next interim meeting, May 7, 2014:

Government Operations and Audit Committee draft agenda, received 2014.04.16 (click to enlarge)

Government Operations and Audit Committee draft agenda, received 2014.04.16 (click to enlarge)

Corrections, Governor's office (maybe?), Department of Agriculture... hmm... no explicit mention of EB-5 and Northern Beef Packers. No subpoenaed testimony from Joop Bollen or Jeff Sveen. No apparent fuflillment of House Concurrent Resolution 1010, which the Legislative leadership used to defuse pressure for immediate legislative action on improprieties in the Governor's Office of Economic Development by promising that GOAC would "conduct hearings" (plural!) "on issues related to the Governor's Office of Economic Development, beginning this 89th Legislative Session upon receipt of three independent audits." HCR 1010 authorized GOAC's GOED hearings to "include a review of all available audits and other information, ordering of additional audits, questioning of persons involved in related economic development projects, and opportunities for public testimony."

GOAC held one hearing on GOED on March 7. The May 7 hearing appears not to advance the stated goals of HCR 1010. GOAC currently has no other meeting scheduled before the primary. And if EB-5 promoter Mike Rounds wins the primary, we may not hear another peep from GOAC on the topic.


Rick Weiland gives us the best campaign video of 2014. Meanwhile, Annette Bosworth calls me a plant of Satan in the worst campaign video of 2014:

KELO-AM's Greg Belfrage calls the video a train wreck. Bill Fleming says bloggers should not post this video because it demonstrates "something seriously wrong with this woman’s psyche" and it's unkind to subject her to blog ridicule. Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey says the story Bosworth tells demonstrates a lack of personal responsibility in her and her husband providing for their family.

I say the video tells us very clearly who Annette Bosworth is.

(And the plaintive audio of her on KELO-AM right now isn't helping....)


I don't care how much money you make: you will not buy a better campaign video than Rick Weiland's newest submission, a full-length music video, recorded entirely in South Dakota, with the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate himself strumming and singing. No auto-tune needed:

Original lyrics, authentic images: That's the kind of message and footage a tour of every town in the state buys you. Marvelous!

And give Rick bonus points for the metaphorical weight of pitching his merits by co-opting a song by a man named Cash.


What spell has Annette Bosworth cast over Pat Powers? This morning, Greg Belfrage refused to allow the illegitimate U.S. Senate candidate to barge unannounced into his studio and take over an interview with Rep. Steve Hickey. Belfrage says a politician has never before tried to do such a thing on his program. Belfrage actually did Bosworth two favors, offering her air time on tomorrow's program and giving her 24 hours to cool off and think about how she should respond.

Yet Powers finds fault not with Bosworth's impulsive defensiveness but with Belfrage's editorial management of his program:

Aside from blowing a chance for what would have been classic unscripted radio, why wouldn’t Belfrage give her the chance – on the spot – to explain why she’s not in the wrong?

Yes, tomorrow, people will get to hear something sterile, controlled with scripted questions for Dr. Bosworth. It’s just too bad the host has steered it towards something inauthentic [Pat Powers, "Belfrage Refuses Bosworth's Instant Rebuttal to Hickey Commentary," Dakota War College, 2014.04.16].

Here is the instant rebuttal I offered to the Powers commentary, a comment that Powers refused to publish instantly:

Hmm, let’s see: I come to your blog uninvited and ask to offer immediate, unscripted, uncontrolled responses to you and your guests, and you generally refuse me that privilege entirely. How is your editorial control of your blog any different from what you criticize Belfrage for doing this morning in controlling his program?

I'm not sure how a talk show host acts improperly by inviting a guest (Rep. Hickey) to take time out of his day to speak on the radio, granting that guest the time promised to air his views, and telling a person who tries to interrupt and claim some of that time for herself that she can come back the very next day and have time to respond herself.

Suppose Belfrage has Mike Rounds on his program. Suppose Stace Nelson happens to be in town, drives over to the studio, and demands that Belfrage interrupt Rounds and allow Nelson to say a few words. Or suppose I called and demanded Belfrage yield the microphone to let me interrogate Rounds about GOED, EB-5, and Richard Benda. I think Nelson vs. Rounds live and unannounced would be great radio. I think me vs. Rounds would be pretty good, too.

But if I were Mike Rounds, I'd be torqued that I took time out of my busy campaign day to have an interviewer break his promise to me as to how we'd use our time. And if I were Greg Belfrage, I'd say, "This is my radio program, and I'll talk to whom I want when I want according to the promises I make."

Belfrage is at least as free to schedule guests as Powers is to moderate comments. And in devoting an entire segment of his program to Annette Bosworth on short notice (not to mention staving off a likely ill-advised, self-damaging, heat-of-the-moment reaction), Belfrage is showing Bosworth more consideration than Powers shows to citizens who wish to share their opposing views on his proprietary public forum.


Greg Belfrage's interview with Rep. Steve Hickey this morning invites a number of conversations. Rep. Hickey said that citizens face a terrible time crunch in trying to review nominating petitions. This year, with partisan petitions due by March 25 and ballot-printing due by April 11 to allow early voting to commence April 18, citizens had a total of 16 days when they might file any sort of legal challenge against a petition they felt was invalid and have any chance of getting the Secretary of State or the courts to act.

On KELO-AM this morning, Rep. Hickey said we have two alternatives: shorten the nominating petition circulation period or shorten the early voting period. Rep. Hickey says he opposes the former and supports the latter.

Bob Mercer noted yesterday that shortening those periods isn't the only option; we could allow candidates to circulate petitions earlier, move the filing deadline earlier as well, and thus create a larger challenge window.

I see no harm in moving the petition start date earlier. If folks are ready to run, what's the harm in letting them circulate petitions during December? I do see some mild harm in requiring candidates to file earlier. Some candidates struggle with the decision to run. Some don't run into the right combination of circumstances and motivation to run until right before the deadline. Is it fair to require candidates to commit a month earlier?

I do agree that shortening the petition-circulating period is flat-out bad. Grassroots candidates need as much time as we can offer to get around their districts or around the state to contact voters, check their petitions, and make up for errors. Giving candidates less time to circulate only gives another advantage to the big-money candidates who can buy likely-voter lists and pay their circulators.

But what of shortening the early-voting period? I've expressed qualms about early voting before. Condensing the voting period puts candidates on a more even footing and reduces the number of voters who may cast their ballots before all information is available. But reducing the time for early voting inevitably means reducing the number of people who vote. Without some remedy to ensure that a shorter voting window does not disenfranchise lots of voters, I may have a hard time accepting a shorter voting time.

Let's also consider the extent of the ills each policy change would remedy. The circulation time affects every candidate. The early-voting time affects every voter. The petition challenge time in between affects only a small portion of candidates in the rare instances where attentive citizens identify flaws in ballots. That doesn't happen much, but when it does happen, a petition challenge affects the integrity of the petition, the ballot, and the whole electoral process, which is pretty darned important.

So readers, what change should we make in our electoral calendar? Or have we already struck the proper balance in the interests of candidates, voters, and electoral integrity?

Dr. Annette Bosworth flaunts her Che Guevara t-shirt, Facebook, October 16, 2012.

Dr. Annette Bosworth flaunts her Che Guevara t-shirt, Facebook, October 16, 2012.

Illegitimate U.S. Senate candidate Annette Bosworth is now taking heavy fire from the South Dakota's right flank.

Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) and KELO-AM conservative talker Greg Belfrage just unloaded a drive-time bombing on the fake campaign. Belfrage invited Rep. Hickey on air during the eight-o'clock hour this morning to discuss the lawsuit he withdrew Monday against the Secretary of State's certification of Bosworth's nominating petition. Hickey reiterated the statement he released to this blog Monday, saying Bosworth's "unscrupulous, scandalous, unChristlike" compelled him to speak out against her abuse of the electoral process.

His comments on air this morning were no less blunt. Rep. Hickey said every press release from Team Bosworth on the petition challenge has been false. Rep. Hickey (who, remember, is also a conservative pastor) said it drives him nuts to see candidate claim to be Christian and Republican and post devotions online yet brag about astroturf Facebook Likes ("we all know those aren't real") and raise money out of state with spurious fundraising companies. "Grandma in Florida is writing checks expecting that what she's reading on that mailing is the truth," said Hickey, and instead, Grandma is getting "duplicitousness" from Bosworth.

"Character matters more than Republican talking points," said Rep. Hickey. He sees a lack of character in her false petition circulating oath and in her ever-shifting story about the Che Guevara t-shirt she flaunted on Facebook.

Anticipating a Bosworthian response (and Bosworth was apparently banging at the studio door, demanding to be allowed a response on air this morning), Belfrage asked Rep. Hickey how he'll respond to charges that he has some ax to grind. Rep. Hickey responded that he has endorsed no candidate but that Bosworth simply won't answer questions, resorting instead to "backtrack and avoidance" and "major spin." Rep. Hickey said he spoke up in part because of Bosworth's attack on me. Rep. hickey said he sees Bosworth waging an "unChristlike" attack on a citizen activist who challenges politicians in an honest way. Rep. Hickey said an attack video on Bosworth would be ten times worse than he poking at me for once losing a job.

After soothing Bosworth's off-air temper by promising to have her on for an interview tomorrow, Belfrage said he essentially agrees with Rep. Hickey: Bosworth is an illegitimate Republican candidate. Belfrage said that he initially gave the challenge no thought when it was coming from "just a liberal blogger." He said he was skeptical of reports like those I've published on Bosworth's raffle scams and unpaid employees; such stories come out in political campaigns all the time, driven by disgruntled folks with axes to grind.

But Belfrage said he now wishes he had paid attention to criticisms of Bosworth sooner. He said my argument that Bosworth submitted a fraudulent petition is a "pretty compelling case, a fairly damning case." But it took Rep. Hickey speaking up to really get Belfrage to take note.

Belfrage wrote his own damning blog post yesterday, and he reiterated that commentary for his drive-time listeners today, likening Annette Bosworth to Bill Clinton:

This is yet another mess for Bosworth, whose campaign has been plagued by allegations of scandal and wrongdoing.

I've been reflecting a great deal on this situation since it first unfolded. I've been guided by a very simple belief. Oaths matter.

Many people made excuses for former president Bill Clinton when he lied to a federal grand jury about his involvement with Monica Lewinsky.

However, I said, "Oaths matter."

I'll say the very same thing now. Oaths matter.

If you took an oath swearing that people signed petitions in your presence, but you were out of the country at the lied. It's just that simple [Greg Belfrage, "Bosworth Escapes Court Challenge," KELO-AM: The Daily Dose, 2014.04.15].

Belfrage then brought the Jesus:

As I've been contemplating Bosworth's petition troubles, I've been recalling the words of Jesus in Luke 16:10.

"The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones" [Belfrage, 2014.04.15].

Belfrage finds the other stories of Bosworth's wrongdoing hard to sort out, but he says breaking an oath is a dealbreaker.

To frost the cake, real U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Stace Nelson (R-9/Fulton) appears to be taking the same position. At yesterday's GOP Senate candidates' forum held by the Siouxland Republican Women, someone asked Bosworth about the challenges to her petition. Bosworth evaded, saying she's facing attacks because she has lots of grassroots support. Rep. Nelson stuck his neck out and said that he's read the arguments made against Bosworth's petition and agrees there are legitimate concerns about whether she should be on the ballot.

Donors, pay attention: it is not just one liberal blogger or a reporter in Pierre questioning Annette Bosworth's credentials as a Republican candidate. It is a conservative, pro-life pastor. It is the most prominent conservative talk radio host in South Dakota. It is a genuine grassroots conservative Senate candidate. It is Republicans.

Update 10:10 CDT: Belfrage tweets that he has had politicians surprise him with phone calls, but he has never had one just show up at the studio. Scott Hudson tweets that Belfrage should have let her in: "It could have been a legendary moment in South Dakota political radio. Pat Powers agrees. I say Belfrage did Bosworth a favor by giving her 24 hours to think about what word salad she wants to serve in response.


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