Mike Kueber's Blog

February 17, 2014

Sunday Book Review #124 – Unintimidated by Scott Walker

Filed under: Biography,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:18 pm
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Scott Walker is the governor of Wisconsin who became famous for presiding over the state when it took away collective bargaining from public-employee unions in 2011.  Unintimidated recounts that story from the genesis of the policy in Walker’s mind through the legislature’s adoption of it and finally to its ultimate survival despite several recall efforts.

According to Walker, this policy change ultimately prevailed, not because Wisconsinites disliked unions, but because the change enabled cash-strapped local government to effect billions of dollars of savings without any substantive reductions in services.  The book is replete with examples of wasteful spending and inefficiencies mandated by union contracts.

Although I followed the Wisconsin story as it occurred, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees, and a book like this is an excellent way to put things in a better perspective.

Of course, the book has a secondary purpose of depicting Walker as presidential timber, and in that sense, the book failed with me.  Although Walker appears competent, he comes across as simple-minded and lacking in charisma.  And his gratuitous criticism of the Romney campaign is irritating.

Scott Walker, you are no Mitt Romney.

November 27, 2012

Sore losers

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:36 am
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I’ve always felt Joe Klein of Time magazine was a liberal masquerading as moderate, and his column in this week’s issue confirmed that feeling.  When I saw the column’s title on the cover of the magazine – “Sore Losers” by Joe Klein – I had a strong suspicion that Joe was about to pile on poor Mitt Romney, and he surely did:

  • Has there ever been a less gracious presidential loser than Mitt Romney?  I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt during the campaign.  I figured he was just dialing for dollars when he massaged the Boca Raton fat cats’ fantasies about the lack of ‘responsibility’ on the part of the 47% who don’t pay income taxes.  But it turns out he really believes that stuff.

Poor, Mitt, he just can’t satisfy the mainstream press.  First they criticize him for being insufficiently conservative – I believe it was George Will who first suggested that Romney speaks as if conservatism is his second-language – and now they accuse him of really believing that stuff.

Make no mistake, Romney’s comment about the 47% is pure conservatism.  Yes, you can make picayune attacks on his comment by pointing out that many of the 47% are not on the government dole, but that is not the point.  Conservative pundits throughout the country for many months have been using the 47% figure as a proxy for the rise of government dependence and to emphasize that America may soon reach a tipping point in favor of a Europe-like welfare state.  And since the election, those same pundits, like Dennis Miller, have resigned themselves to accept the America has tipped.   

Romney’s post-election comment about “gifting” to young and minority voters, which launched Klein’s latest bitter diatribe, is just as bedrock conservative, but it goes back centuries, not months or years.  As Ronald Reagan said:

  • Perhaps what he had in mind was what Prof. Alexander Frazer Tytler has written, that a democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury. From that moment on the majority, he said, always vote for the candidate promising the most benefits from the treasury with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship. Unfortunately, we can’t argue with the professor because when he wrote that we were still colonials of Great Britain and he was explaining what had destroyed the Athenian Republic more than 2000 years before.”

It is standard Republican orthodoxy to accuse the Democrats of pandering to its motley collection of special interests – unions, public employees, minorities, feminists – and Romney’s “gifting” comments were completely in line with that orthodoxy.  That is why Klein’s diatribe, although consistent with his liberal philosophy, is unjustified. 

More troubling for me, however, is the “gifting” criticism that has emanated from conservative politicians.  LA governor Bobby Jindal declared, “That is absolutely wrong….  We need to go after 100% of the votes, not 53%.”  And one of my favorites, SC senator Lindsey Graham said, “Most people on public assistance don’t have a character flaw.  They just have a tough life.” 

Jindal’s comment bothers me because it seems to be unnecessary piling on.  Romney retracted his 47% comment almost as soon as he made it – just as Obama did with his “guns and religion” comment – and although I wouldn’t expect the mainstream media to let it go away, I don’t understand why a leading Republican governor wants to emphasize it.

Graham’s comment bothers me more because it seems to deny the conservative argument for accountability and personal responsibility.  When a Brookings Institute study in 2009 showed that individuals can almost certainly avoid poverty by (1) graduating from high school, (2) getting a job, and (c) marrying before having kids, the conservative consensus was that this was something we already knew.  Most individuals don’t end up on public assistance because of bad luck, but rather because of bad decisions, and Lindsay’s comment fails to recognize that.       

I understand Jindal and Graham trying, as smooth-talking politicians, to soften the harshness of Romney’s comments, both of which were supposed to be off-the-record.  But I don’t appreciate their attempt to gain points at the expense of a good man who waged a good battle.

October 4, 2012

The morning after

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:34 am
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By all accounts, Mitt Romney won last night’s debate.  Even the talking heads on MSNBC quickly and decisively conceded the issue.  Talk-show host Ed Schultz was almost apoplectic in bitterly criticizing President Obama for inadequately defending liberal causes and for failing to attack Romney’s pro-business, anti-consumer positions.

I was not surprised by Romney’s victory.  He debated superbly in virtually every debate during the Republican primaries, and he did again last night.  By contrast, President Obama came across as bored and dismissive. 

President Obama seems to be undergoing a transformation similar to that experienced by Bryant Gumbel, who as a young sports guy in the late 70s was refreshing and smart.  But Gumbel didn’t age gracefully.  By the time he went to the Today show in 1982, he was smarmy and smug.  One of President Obama’s strong suits has been his likeability, but there was minimal likeability on display last night.        

Some pundits suggested that Mitt Romney’s decisive victory was merely a first step and would not translate into a large immediate shift toward Romney by the electorate.   I disagreed with that suggestion, but the betting market appears to confirm the pundits.  According to Intrade.com this morning, President Obama continues to be the 66%-34% favorite to win the election in November. 

I made the same mistake back in 1992 following a commanding debate performance by Ross Perot.  I was sure that his bravura performance ensured that we would have a serious third-party candidate for the first time in my lifetime.  Sadly, however, Perot faded badly and turned out to be merely a spoiler.  Mitt Romney needs to keep up his attack on President Obama while simultaneously putting forward his positive message, and I have no doubt that he will.

September 10, 2012

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan make news this Sunday

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:17 am
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Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan made some news this morning on the Sunday morning talk shows.  While on Meet the Press, Romney reaffirmed that he planned to replace ObamaCare with something better instead of merely repealing it and returning to the status quo.  His comments caused a stir, however, when he suggested that his replacement of ObamaCare would include coverage for pre-existing conditions and older children. 

The media has often pointed out that both of these provisions in ObamaCare are popular with most voters and repealing them would be problematic.  Thus, Romney’s support for them is not surprising.  What is surprising, however, is how Romney has developed positions that retain the provisions while remaining consistent with conservative principles.

With respect to pre-existing conditions, as pointed out by Sarah Kliff in Ezra Klein’s blog, Romney’s longstanding position is that people with pre-existing conditions should be able to move from one insurance company to another.  Such portability is already in effect with employee health insurance, and Romney is merely extending the practice to private health insurance.  Significantly, Romney’s proposal does not require insurance companies to provide insurance to uninsured individuals with pre-existing conditions, and he thereby avoids the need for the individual mandate in ObamaCare, which was developed to prevent individuals from going without insurance until they became sick or injured. 

Romney’s proposal appears willing to allow individuals the right to live without health insurance, and that is consistent with conservatives’ understanding of liberty.  Furthermore, a federal requirement on portability does not offend the Interstate Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

Romney’s second endorsement of an ObamaCare provision involves its coverage for older children.  ObamaCare famously required that family health insurance extend to dependents up to the age of 27.  I haven’t seen any news reports on this comment, but I noted that during the Meet the Press interview that Romney referred to the free market.  According to an MSNBC transcript, he said – “… to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they may like.”  Thus, he seems to be suggesting that insurance companies would be able to charge extra premium for the extra coverage, which contrasts with the coverage under ObamaCare that often comes without an additional premium.  As with pre-existing conditions, Romney’s position is consistent with conservative sensibilities.

Paul Ryan’s comment on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that caused a stir resulted from a question about whether he agreed with all of the Republican presidential candidates who said during a debate that they would reject a budget compromise comprising ten parts of budget cuts and one part of tax increases.  Romney was one of those candidates who rejected the compromise, so it should have been automatic for Ryan to defend that position (even though the moderate middle ridicules it).  But he didn’t.  Instead Ryan attempted to articulate a nuanced position by declaring that the initial question, with its focus on proportionality, was flawed – “… it depends on the quality of the agreement.  It depends on the quality of the policy. … what really matters to me is not ratios — but what matters is the quality of the policy.”  This sort of elaboration is rarely helpful and should be avoided in the future. 

The New York Times noted today that, “A television interview with Mitt Romney seemed to mark the emergence of a less openly partisan, more general-election-oriented Republican nominee.”  Because I am hopeful that Romney will govern from the middle right, I believe this shift in tone is a good thing.

April 5, 2012

Nikki Haley is not ready for primetime

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:47 am
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South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was on Don Imus’s talk show yesterday morning to promote her new book titled Can’t Is Not an Option.  At the end of the Imus interview, Haley took a Sherman-esque position regarding the vice-presidency, saying that she had promised the voters of South Carolina that she would complete the job they elected her to do. 

Haley’s position vis-à-vis the vice-presidency seems just as strong as that other Southern prodigy Marco Rubio.  I suspected that both are taking this principled position because they realize that Mitt Romney would not consider selecting someone so unqualified.  Unlike John McCain, Mitt Romney plans to be a solid decision-maker who doesn’t gamble on long-shots like Sarah Palin.

Although Nikki Haley is more qualified than Sarah Palin to be vice president, the difference is not great.  Haley is only 40-years old, and only spent four years in the South Carolina House of Representatives before being elected governor less than two years ago.  She has enormous charisma and a compelling life story, but she needs at least four more years of seasoning, and possibly a couple years in the U.S. Senate, like Democratic wunderkind Barack Obama.

March 25, 2012

Spineless politicians

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:04 am
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The biggest issue in this year’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination is whether Mitt Romney is a dependable conservative or someone who is running as a conservative but will govern as a moderate.  This charge resonates with Romney because he has a history of governing as a moderate when he was governor of Massachusetts, and now his campaign positions are more conservative.  As all litigators know, whenever individuals have given two different answers to the same question, they are vulnerable to charge that they were either lying then or they are lying now.  Either way the individual is shown to be a liar.

A Texas example of shifting positions was recently reported in the Texas Tribune.      Texas Comptroller Susan Combs is planning to run for lieutenant governor in 2014, but such a run is problematic because she started her career as a pro-choice state rep in Travis County, where being pro-choice is acceptable.  Such a position is not acceptable, however, in a state-wide race for lieutenant governor in the Republican Party.  Not surprisingly, Combs changed her abortion position last year and now opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or the life-threatening complications.  But the true believers wonder whether Combs is dependable.

President Obama is in the process of doing the same conversion thing in connection with the issue of same-sex marriage.  During his campaign in 2008, he opposed same-sex marriage because otherwise he would have been hammered by Hilary Clinton on the issue.  But the country (and even more so, the Democratic Party) is moving left on this issue, and President Obama last year started laying the groundwork for reversing his position by declaring that his position was beginning to “evolve.”  I don’t think there is any question the he has always favored same-sex marriage, but declined to take a principled position because it would hurt him electorally.  Now he is making an electoral calculation that being in favor of same-sex marriage will no longer hurt him.

I agree that voters have a right to be skeptical about politicians who significantly modify their positions to accommodate political considerations.  But ultimately that is what politicians should do in a democracy.  Politicians retain their legitimacy only as long as they faithfully represent their constituents.  Furthermore, although politicians might occasionally take principled positions contrary to the wishes of their constituents, they can’t do it very often if they want to retain the support of those constituents.

February 8, 2012

Santorum’s sweep

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:50 pm
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Yesterday, Rick Santorum won convincingly in Minnesota and Missouri and edged Mitt Romney in Colorado.  Including his previous win in Iowa, these wins reveal that the guy connects well with Middle America.  Although Romney remains the prohibitive betting favorite, Santorum has replaced Gingrich as the anti-Romney.  According to betting site Intrade.com:

  • Mitt Romney – 78.0%
  • Rick Santorum – 12.5%
  • Newt Gingrich – 3.3%
  • Ron Paul – 2.4%

There will be pressure for Newt Gingrich to drop out and let Santorum going mano-a-mano with Romney, but Gingrich will almost certainly hold out until the ten South-heavy contests on Super Tuesday next month on March 6.

January 22, 2012

The South Carolina primary results

Filed under: Media,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:24 pm
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Newt Gingrich decisively won the South Carolina primary with 40% of the vote, followed by Mitt Romney with 28% and Rick Santorum with 17%.  Ron Paul took up the rear with 13%.  What a mess. 

After three state contests (IA, NH, and SC), Romney has a first-place finish and two seconds, Gingrich has a first-place finish and two fourths, Santorum has a first-place finish, a third, and a fifth, and Paul has a second, a third, and a fourth.  Furthermore, Romney has the most total votes, followed by Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum.  Although those results seem to favor Romney, Gingrich has momentum and leads the delegate count with 23, compared to Romney’s 19, Santorum’s 12, and Paul’s 3.

But the betting site Intrade.com continues to believe that Gingrich is destined to be a loser.  This morning, it listed Mitt Romney as a 71.8% favorite to win the Republican nomination.  Gingrich is second with 22.5%, followed by Ron Paul with 2.6%.  The candidate who appears to have lost the most in South Carolina is Rick Santorum, who chance for the nomination is now listed at 0.7%, which trails even Mitch Daniels at 1.0%

I attribute Newt’s victory to two developments:

  1. The most recent debate in which he attacked the media for asking about his 2nd marriage and in which Romney equivocated about his tax returns.  This morning Romney finally capitulated on releasing his tax returns, so that issue will go away (if there is nothing problematic in the returns), but damage has been done.
  2. Front-runner status invariably brings the front-runner back to the pack.  Although the media seems to bring heightened energy to highlight weaknesses of the front-runner and ignore weaknesses of the contenders, I suspect the voters magnify this scrutiny by rooting for the underdog.  Everyone loves a close contest.  Now that Newt will self-proclaim himself to be the front-runner (ignoring Intrade.com), the media and the voters will look at Newt with more skepticism. 

As the campaign moves to Florida in ten days, it expect to hear a lot more about Gingrich as described on the Sunday talk shows this morning – i.e., Newt may be able to attract a lot of passion by attacking the media and the establishment, but his huge negative ratings by the majority of Americans (consistently at about 60% for almost 20 years), his lack of executive or business experience, his rocky tenure and ethics problems as Speaker, and his weak conservative credentials (cap & trade, individual mandate) will preclude him from seriously challenging Romney.

January 16, 2012

Was Mitt Romney a vulture capitalist?

Filed under: Business,Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:25 am
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If you Google “vulture capitalist,” the first entry contains an image of Mitt Romney.  That’s an indication of the publicity generated by Rick Perry’s charge against Mitt Romney. 

According to Perry, Romney was a predatory investor during his years with Bain Capital investment firm.  An article in the Houston Chronicle said that Perry claimed as governor of Texas to have created one million jobs rather than “destructing businesses or destructing jobs” the way Romney had with his investment firm. 

Defenders of Romney charge that Perry is verging on being a Republican heretic for attacking full-throated capitalism or what they prefer to call venture capitalism.  As with most disputes, this one can be ameliorated if we agree on some definitions.

According to Investopedia, a vulture capitalist is:

  1. A slang word for a venture capitalist who deprives an inventor of control over their own innovations and most of the money they should have made from the invention.
  2. A venture capitalist who invests in floundering firms in the hopes that they will turn around.

I don’t think the Investopedia definitions remain accurate in the public perception.  Perry was quoted in the LA Times as defending his “vulture capitalist” accusation by saying:

  • “We’re trying to lure more venture capitalists into my home state every day,” the Texas governor said, “but the idea that you get private equity companies to come in and, you know, take companies apart so they can make quick profits and then people lose their jobs, I don’t think that’s what America’s looking for. I hope that’s not what the Republican Party’s about.”

In the public perception (and Perry’s), a vulture capitalist is someone like Edward Norton in the movie “Pretty Woman” or Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street.”  These miscreants, sometimes called corporate raiders, would buy-up struggling companies and sell-off the assets.  By contrast, a venture capitalist, according to Wikipedia, is someone who provides capital to early-stage, high-potential, high risk, growth startup companies. The venture capital fund makes money by owning equity in the companies it invests in, which usually have a novel technology or business model in high technology industries, such as biotechnology, IT, software, etc.

According to an article in USA Today, a Wall Street Journal analysis indicated that, while Romney was in charge, Bain made most of its money on companies that were successful (most noteworthy – Staples), and therefore it wasn’t a “vulture capital” firm.    But I would be interested to know whether Bain also made money on companies that did not survive.   If it did, then Bain and Romney would qualify as vulture capitalists. 

Not that there is anything wrong with that.  Bankruptcy lawyers deserve to earn a living, and dead or dying assets need to be put out of their misery.

December 31, 2011

Citizens United takes effect in Iowa

Earlier this year, I blogged about a recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, that authorized corporations and and rich people to spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for a specific candidate, provided that the spending is not formally coordinated with the candidate’s campaign.   The Citizens United decision was based on the constitutional right of free speech.  Although many people, mostly Democrats, expressed grave concern about the decision – President Obama said, “this ruling strikes at our democracy itself.” – I downplayed its significance in my blog:

  • As George Will suggested decades ago – don’t limit the speech, just require full disclosure of who is paying for the speech.  Then let the voters decide.  I realize that many think my view is impractical and Pollyannaish – that American voters aren’t capable of avoiding manipulation by slick marketing – but I believe we can rise to the occasion.

Unfortunately, according to an article in the NY Times, my view is being refuted by the Republican presidential campaigns in Iowa.  The Times article reports that a super-PAC supporting Mitt Romney has blanketed the state with negative ads on Newt Gingrich and the ads are having a devastating effect on Gingrich’s campaign.  Even if my previous suggestion that American voters are “capable of avoiding manipulation by slick marketing” remains true, there remains a fundamental flaw that the super-PACs have an unfair advantage because of their virtually unlimited spending.

The $2,500 limit on individual contributions to presidential campaigns was designed to prevent rich people from being able to buy out-sized influence with campaigns.  Just imagine how much influence a rich person or a corporation can buy with a $1 million contribution to a super-PAC that supports the candidate.

The Times article reports that, while Mitt Romney’s campaign is clearly benefiting from the super-PAC attack ads on Newt Gingrich, Romney is not being tarred as the guy responsible for going negative.  Instead, he can accurately assert that he has no control over the super-PAC spending.  But the article also points out that Romney has been a bit disingenuous in bemoaning the out-sized influence of super-PACs:

  • “In recent days, Mr. Romney has tried to distance himself from the group. ‘We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs,’ Mr. Romney said on MSNBC.  But in July, Mr. Romney appeared before dozens of potential donors to Restore Our Future at an organizational meeting, effectively blessing its work.”

I’m not sure what the answer is.  Typically, I believe that incorrect Supreme Court decisions should be corrected by a constitutional amendment.  But I don’t think the result of Citizens United was incorrect.  If George Soros wants to spend $100 million on TV ads saying what a great president Barack Obama is, I think he should have that right.  Similarly, if the Koch brothers want to spend $100 million on TV ads saying what a horrible president Barack Obama is, they should have that right.

So, until Mitt Romney or someone else comes up with a constitutional way to “just get rid of these super PACs,” I think we are stuck with them.  Rich people will be able to buy more free speech than the rest of us.

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