Mike Kueber's Blog

February 1, 2011

Same-sex marriage in Texas

Earlier today, there was a news report that Barbara Bush, the daughter of Bush-43, was endorsing same-sex marriage in her new home state of New York, where she runs a nonprofit health organization.    In a video released by The Human Rights Campaign, Bush said:

  • “I’m a New Yorker for marriage equality.  New York is about fairness and equality and everyone should have the right to marry the person that they love.”

The video was released in connection with a legislative effort in New York to legalize gay marriage.  Last year, a similar effort in NY succeeded in the State House, but was voted down in the State Senate.  Although Barbara appears to be giving unqualified support for gay marriage, a close reading of her statement suggests that she might be limiting her argument to New York. 

Obviously Barbara is famous as a Texan, and gay marriage in Texas was resoundingly defeated by the Texas voters in 2005 when they voted to amend the Texas Constitution to limit marriage to the union of one man and one women.  Proposition Two was supported by 76% of the voters and passed in 253 of 254 counties, with Travis County being the only outlier.

I hope that Barbara in her statement isn’t suggesting that Texans aren’t “about fairness and equality.”  According to the American judicial system, each state has the right to decide whether to recognize same-sex marriage, and Texans have clearly exercised their right. 

As Rick Perry opined in his book, Fed Up, people who like same-sex marriage and don’t like a lot of guns can either choose to live somewhere other than Texas or they can work toward changing the laws in Texas.  I don’t think there is any question that Texas will eventually legalize same-sex marriage, but that legalization should come when the people are ready for it.  I hope the rest of the country respects our decision and doesn’t start threatening boycotts, like they did will the MLK-holiday issue.

January 24, 2011

Agricultural exemption in Colorado

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:27 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Let’s hope there is a groundswell in Colorado for revising its ag-land tax exemption.  Earlier today, the issue was reported on FOX News today, which was probably prompted by an article in the Denver Post a couple of months ago. 

The current Colorado law allows landowners to avoid taxes based on their land’s market value if they claim that their land is used for agricultural purposes.  According to multiple reports, including one involved Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, there are a multitude of multi-million dollar mansions surrounded 20 pristine acres, and the surrounding land escapes taxation because some sheep are allowed to graze on the land for a couple of days or some hay is taken off the land.

The initial Denver Post article appears to have been effective because the Post now reports that there is now legislation in Colorado to fix this tax loophole.  Texas has an ag-exemption law that works, and is abused, much like the Colorado law.  Several months ago, I sent an open letter to the Texas Budget chairman Rene Oliveriera suggesting that Texas reform its law.  Let’s hope Colorado sets an example that we can follow.

January 22, 2011

The budgetary bomb in state government

All of the political news in Texas concerns how the Republican-dominated legislature is going to resolve the state’s budgetary “shortfall.”  But Texas is not alone.  A majority of the states have shortfalls that range from manageable (Texas) to unmanageable (California and Illinois). 

Please note that the term “shortfall” is used instead of “deficit” because most states, like Texas, are prohibited from running deficits – i.e., they can’t spend more than they take in.  The term “shortfall” signifies that projected revenues in the future do not equal projected spending, and therefore the state legislatures must do something to bring the amounts into balance.  What a quaint thought! 

Yesterday at a Happy Hour with my fanatical radio-talk friend, he suggested that states with unmanageable shortfalls may have to repudiate their bloated pension obligations and union contracts that are causing the shortfalls.  That sounds a lot like what happened to General Motors and Chrysler.  I didn’t take my friend’s suggestion seriously because a sovereign government repudiating its debt is ten times more draconian than the traditional fixer of shortfalls – reducing projected expenses or increasing projected revenues.

I should have known that my radio-talk friend didn’t come up with this idea on his own.  So today, as I was listening to FOX News, I heard anchor Martha McCollum asking Judge Napolitano whether states could repudiate their union contracts and pension debt.  The judge said states could not because of constitutional prohibitions, but I didn’t hear what the precise prohibition was. 

Since then, I have researched the issue on the internet and learned that the issue of bankruptcy-for-states has been percolating since November 2010, when Newt Gingrich gave a speech and The Weekly Standard magazine published an article titled, “Give States a Way to Go Bankrupt.”  

Pundits are currently discussing the merits of a adding a new chapter to the federal bankruptcy code that enables states to voluntarily enter bankruptcy, like the existing Chapter Nine already authorizes cities to do.  Some of the pundits focus on state bankruptcy to alter union contracts, while others include pension obligations with retirees.  Some, like David Adkins of the Huffington Post, think that a sovereign state should never be able to claim bankruptcy, while others, like Gingrich, think that a state, like any other entity, must have an escape outlet from an unmanageable budget.  Gingrich thinks this outlet will take the pressure off Washington to provide a bailout.

Personally, I think that state bankruptcy should not be legalized.  Although personal bankruptcy is sometimes needed because individuals are so deep in debt that they have no possibility of working their way out, and although business or municipal bankruptcy is sometimes needed to enable a business or municipality to regain its footing, bankruptcy-for-states is different.  If states want to be treated like the sovereign they are, they cannot welch on their obligations.

January 21, 2011

Illicit super-majorities

Illicit rules for super-majorities are getting in the way with functional government. 

The filibuster in the U.S. Senate, which requires 60 votes to bring a bill to a vote, essentially requires a super-majority in the Senate for a law to be enacted.  Although the U.S. Constitution wasn’t divinely inspired, I do think it worth noting that that document specifically identifies situations that require a super-majority (ratify a treaty, override a presidential veto, and amend the Constitution), enacting a law is not one of those situations.  Thus, be adopting the filibuster rule by a simple majority, the U.S. Senate has effectively amended the Constitution.  Not only does that procedure stink, the result stinks because the rule has turned the Senate into a dysfunctional legislative body that is often gridlocked by overly empowered minorities.

This dysfunction caused by rules for super-majorities is not limited to the halls of Congress.  California requires a two-thirds vote to adopt a budget or raise taxes.  I thought this was a new development, but research reveals that the provision has been in the California constitution for 75 years.  The fact that this provision hasn’t caused significant problems in the past suggests that reports of dramatically increased partisanship are not exaggerated.  California’s inability to deal rationally with its dire financial situation is well reported.  But at least California’s requiremetn is constitutionally required.  Texas’s not so.   

An article in the San Antonio Express-News earlier this week reported that the Texas Senate recently reaffirmed a similar super-majority rule for its 2011 legislative session.   According to the article, the Senate rule, which requires an agreement of two-thirds of its 30 members to bring a bill to the floor for debate, was adopted by an 18-11 vote.  (Only a majority is needed to adopt a rule at the beginning of a session.) 

Most of the minority Democrats voted against the rule, not because they want the majority to rule, but because the Republicans carved out a single exception (Voter ID) to the two-thirds requirement.  The Republicans made an exception for Voter ID because Democrats used the two-thirds rule in the last legislative session and the Republicans wanted to ensure that wouldn’t happen in this session.

Senator Dan Patrick from Houston provided the simple argument for eliminating the rule – i.e., it thwarts the will of the majority.  Senator John Whitmire, also from Houston, provided a more convoluted argument in favor of the rule:

  • The rule requires members to speak to each other in efforts to forge supermajority support.  It requires us to be the greatest deliberative body on Earth.  Without the rule, rural lawmakers, for example, could get run over by urban members, with farm-to-market transportation money ending up in big cities where most Texans live. And without the rule, gambling opponents would have a harder time blocking pro-gambling legislation.  The two-thirds rule requires us to sit down and talk, creating a calmer atmosphere than the more raucous House chamber, where bill passage needs only a simple majority.

Whitmire is a 28-year member of the Senate, and he may be nostalgic for antebellum days, but times change and things need to get done.  If the writers of your constitution didn’t require a super-majority, don’t go making one up.

January 19, 2011

Nativism in Texas?

I recently had an extensive exchange of opinions with Samuel Freeman, a professor from the University of Texas–Pan American in the Rio Grande Valley, about American exceptionalism.  He opined that “the belief in American exceptionalism generally, but not necessarily always, is associated with nativism, racism, and xenophobia.”

I was familiar with the terms racism and xenophobia, but not with nativism, so I turned to my favorite teacher, Wikipedia:

  • “Nativism typically means opposition to immigration or efforts to lower the political or legal status of specific ethnic or cultural groups because the groups are considered hostile or alien to the natural culture, and it is assumed that they cannot be assimilated.” 

Thus, it seems that Freeman is doing what liberals often do – i.e., distorting conservative opposition to illegal immigration to mean opposition to all immigration.  Why let facts get in the way of making an attractive argument?  I am not aware of any conservative who is arguing that America has too much legal immigration. 

Yesterday’s Texas Tribune included another liberal foray into the world of nativism.  Reporter Ross Ramsey wrote an article on Governor Rick Perry’s recent declaration to end sanctuary cities in Texas.  Ramsey attributed Perry’s declaration to three reasons – (1) a nativist electorate, (2) a reluctance to mimic Arizona on immigration law, and (3) the closing commercial in his campaign for re-election last year.

It’s amazing that a Texas reporter would accuse the Texas electorate as being nativist simply because it is tired of rampant illegal immigration, so I asked Ramsey to provide some support for his accusation.  He responded as follows: 

  • Here’s the dictionary definition of nativist: ‘the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants.’ That seems to me a fair description of the mood, as reflected in polling and in what lawmakers say they’re doing and why.

Why does the media refuse to distinguish between opposition to illegal immigrants and opposition to legal immigrants?  The difference is not insignificant.  With all of the antipathy by many Texans against illegal immigrants, you would be hard pressed to find any extension of that antipathy toward legal immigrants.  I would be interested in knowing what polling or proposed legislation reflects Texans’ antipathy toward legal immigration.

December 30, 2010

Are Democrats on the run?

Although I am a conservative, I try to listen to what liberals are saying.  I regularly read the liberal columnists in the NY Times and occasionally change channels from FOX to MSNBC.  But regardless of where I am getting my news, the subject seems to be the same – i.e., the conservative agenda.  

It seems a paradox for conservatives to be proactive and on the offensive while liberals are reactive and on the defensive.  Traditionally, conservatives are in the posture of reacting by rejecting change and maintaining the lame status quo, whereas liberals are nobly working toward a utopia.  Surely, liberals are not happy with conservatives setting the agenda and framing the discussion.  As they say in football, it’s damn hard to score when you don’t have the ball. 

One of the liberal problems may be that they have not clearly defined their agenda.  I was recently reading a publication issued by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is self-described as a non-partisan research institute whose mission is “to promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas.”  Its mission is an eloquent, succinct description of the conservative agenda that everyone can quickly recognize and no one would argue against.    

By way of contrast, what is the liberal (Democratic) agenda?  I had no idea, so I decided to look it up.  And the Democratic Party of Texas platform of 2010, seemed a good place to start.

The Democrat’s 2010 platform for Texas proclaims the party’s belief in (a) freedom, (b) equal opportunity, (c) a safety net, and (d) ensuring that capitalists operate fairly vis-à-vis workers, customers, and the environment.  Who would argue with that? 

As always, the devil is in the details, so I read the individual planks in the 42-page document, and attached the most interesting below (with my comments bolded and underlined).  But the overarching theme of the platform is attractive and powerful – i.e., individual liberty and economic justice.  (I just made that up, but I suspect it’s been said before.)

All of which confirms what I often said during my congressional campaign – liberals are not bad people; they are people who have bad judgment.  They care about the same things that conservatives care about – namely, for each person to be able to flourish.  We simply disagree over the best way to get there.

Are Democrats on the run?  Obviously, there are.  And the reason for that is that Barack Obama was able to take this country further to the left than people wanted to go.  Because we live in a democracy, the people will pull the country back, and that is what is happening now.

Planks in the 2010 Democratic Party of Texas platform

  • Education
    • Opposition to the “drill and kill” teach-to-the-test policy that Republicans have forced on students and teachers.  Does this mean they oppose Obama’s Race to the Top program?
    • Opposition to “inequitable, unaccountable voucher and privatization schemes.”  No mention of charter schools, which are a variation of public schools.
    • Rejection of efforts to destroy bilingual education; promote multi-language instruction.  Bilingual education is great, but not at the cost of assimilation.
    • Raise teacher pay to levels exceeding the national average.  This will cost more, and there is not indication where the money will come from.
    • Support innovative approaches to ensure diversity in every Texas institution of higher learning.  More social engineering.

 

  • Economy – a market system that is checked and balanced by government to prevent financial abuses and excesses
    • Raise the minimum wage.
    • Pass the Employee Free Choice Act.  How can you title an act “Free Choice” when it calls for the elimination of secret ballots in union elections?
    • Emergency action to protect those with sub-prime mortgages from losing their homes, while suing the Wall Street speculators who caused the financial meltdown on 2007-2008. 
    • State government should contract with Texas and American companies, to the extent possible.  Protectionism.
    • Trade policy – “level up” wages and working conditions by ensuring that foreign workers share in their countries’ gains and become customers for American goods.  And how are we supposed to do that?

 

  • State Fiscal Policy
    • Oppose a national sales tax.  I agree with this, but I think most Americans would prefer a sales tax to an income tax.
    • Oppose extending the Texas sales tax to food or medicine.  I agree with this, but I think most Texas would prefer anything over the implementation of an income tax.  The platform neglects to discuss an income tax or any other means to balance our budget this cycle.

 

  • Health care – is a right, not a privilege reserved for those with resources.
    • Yes on ObamaCare.
    • Yes to stem-cell research.
    • Yes on a woman’s choice to abort.

 

  • Security
    • No to privatization of social security.
    • Insurance rates should be approved or denied by commissioner.  A big step toward a government-run economy.
    • Allow mortgage victims to re-finance, except for 2nd homes, high-end homes, or speculative home investors.

 

  • Public safety
    • Moratorium on the Death Penalty pending further study

 

  • Rural Texas and agriculture
    • Yes on price supports.
    • Yes on “preserving proper use of agricultural property tax exemptions and restructuring the current land appraisal system to insure a fair property tax system for all Texans.”  But does that mean the current system is good or bad?  The current system of exemptions is totally corrupted and should be eliminated. 

 

  • Immigration – America is a nation of immigrants and we honor them, both legal and undocumented.
    • Help Mexico develop its economy so that its citizens don’t feel compelled to emigrate.  Maybe we should fix our own economy first.
    • Continue birthright citizenship.  There is no rational argument for continuing this, so the Democrats don’t bother trying to make one.
    • Create a path to citizenship for all immigrants.

 

  • Freedom and rights
    • Equal opportunity and equal protection
    • Human and civil rights
    • Freedom from government interference in our personal lives and decisions
    • Freedom of religion and individual conscience.  What about same-sex marriage?  The party ideologues rightly declined to reject the will of the people expressed in a recent election on this issue.

 

  • Foreign policy and national security – “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”  JFK

 

  • Access to Justice - Right to trial by jury can’t be waived by contract or mandatory-arbitration provisions.  I like this, having seen mandatory arbitration imposed by USAA as a condition of employment.

 

  • Religious freedom
    • Separation of church and state.
    • Entangling government with religion is dangerous to both religion and the state.
    • Never use the power of government to impose our personal religious observances on others.

 

  • Protecting the democratic process
    • Prohibiting the revolving door in lobbying.
    • Oppose voter ID because there is no proof of impersonation at the polls.
    • Continue to elect judges while working toward judicial campaign finance reform.  But the Access to Justice plank recommended the nomination and appointment of qualified, competent persons to serve as judges.  Did you guys not read each others planks?

November 28, 2010

Gerrymandering in Texas

Every ten years, the federal government spends billions of dollars conducting a census.  This activity is not caused by idle curiosity; it is a constitutional mandate.  According to the 14th Amendment, congressional seats must be apportioned every ten years “among the states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.”  This amendment was required because the original language in Article I of the U.S. Constitution provided for “adding to the whole Number of free Persons… and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” 

How do illegal immigrants factor into the decennial census?  Historically, they have been counted, and because of this counting, states that serve as magnets for illegal immigrants – like New York, Florida, California, and Texas – have been awarded more than their fair share of congressional seats.  Congress has the power to modify this practice, and many conservatives have this modification on their “to do” list.

But the act of counting of illegal immigrants is a side show compared to the nationwide redistricting that follows every census.  In about ten states, redistricting is performed dispassionately by a nonpartisan or bipartisan group, but in most states it is passionately conducted by the state legislature.  Unfortunately, Texas is one of those states where the legislature jealously guards its privilege to create districts that serve their political interests.  In such states, redistricting becomes gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is almost as old as the United States.  It started in Massachusetts in 1812 (Governor Gerry shaped a district to look like a salamander), and it has continued unabated to this day.  It is one of those practices that all good-government types can agree to hate – things like vote-trading, omnibus bills, deficit spending, and straight-party voting – but can never eradicate. 

How effective is gerrymandering?  Highly effective.  For example, because Texas congressional districts were gerrymandered to favor the Democrats, the 2002 congressional elections resulted in 17 Democratic wins and 15 Republican wins, even though Republican candidates received 59% of the total votes and Democratic candidates received only 40%.  Then the Republicans (at the behest of Tom Delay) gerrymandered the districts in 2003, and the next election resulted in 21 Republican wins and 11 Democratic wins, although the Republican candidates received 58% of the total votes against 41% for the Democratic candidates.  (Personally, the 2004 results don’t seem significantly gerrymandered in favor of the Republicans.  A presidential candidate who wins the popular vote 58%-41% would be expected to win at least two-thirds of the states or congressional districts.)

Just a few weeks ago at the fitness center, I bumped into a good-government type who started talking politics and redistricting.  Surprise – he had a simple solution, which was to program a computer to design the Texas districts to minimize the length of the district boundaries.  (He liked his idea so much that he resisted my suggestion that the computer would also have to be programmed to comply with the Voting Rights Act requirements vis-à-vis minority-majority districts.  In 2006, the VRA was extended was 25 years, so it is not going away anytime soon.) 

I like my friend’s objective of minimized boundaries, and this conforms to the legal term “compactness.”  Unfortunately, Texas law, unlike the law in many other states, does not require or even suggest compactness as a desirable result in redistricting.  Furthermore, any map of congressional-district boundaries in Texas shows that compactness was not even an afterthought.  The only time that compactness is relevant is when the federal government reviews minority-majority districts.

The Texas Republican gerrymandering in 2003 that was designed to reverse the Texas Democratic gerrymandering of 1990 was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 – League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry.  Although the Court held that the redistricting of Congressional District 23 violated the Voting Rights Act, it also held that a state can redistrict as often as it wants (presumably anytime a political party retakes control of the state legislature).  Unfortunately, it deferred deciding whether partisan gerrymandering was unconstitutional. 

Although I hate gerrymandering, I would prefer that politicians resolve these matters instead of turning them over to judges to decide whether the practice violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.  One of San Antonio’s politicians is attempting to do this, as reflected in the following SA Express-News article.  I wish him success.   

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/wentworth_bills_aim_to_ease_partisan_battles_110882074.html.

November 18, 2010

In-state tuition for illegal immigrants – new developments

California is one of a dozen states, including Texas, that charges in-state tuition to students who are illegal immigrants and out-of-state tuition to students who grew up in other states.  Yet there is a federal law that prohibits giving illegal immigrants educational benefits based on residency.  Once you get by the states-rights issue, you might wonder how those dozen states do that.  

In America, where armies of lawyers figure out ways to avoid the spirit of a law, twelve states have enacted laws that charge in-state tuition to anyone who attended high school in the state.  These laws ingeniously enable most illegal immigrants in those twelve states to qualify for in-state tuition.  Several out-of-state students in California were upset at having to pay more than $33,000 in annual tuition instead of the $10,000 in-state tuition, and they sued California for violating federal law.  Although the students prevailed in a lower court, the California Supreme Court earlier this week ruled unanimously that the California law-avoidance scheme was fine.  The students say they will appeal and the United States Supreme Court will get the last word on this matter.

As I mentioned above, Texas has a law similar to California’s, but the Republican electoral landslide has generated a lot of interest in repealing it.  Just this week, the Texas A&M student senate went on record as favoring the repeal, but the student body president vetoed the senate’s action, claiming that the senate had no business opining on the subject.  (Sounds like the San Antonio City Counsel opining on the AZ illegal-immigration law.)  Earlier today the student body president’s veto was upheld, according to the Texas Tribune.  http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/higher-education/am-students-vote-state-tuition-for-immigrants.  There was even a lengthy report on Fox News.

We obviously need to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with immigration.  The partisan stalemate reminds me of America’s tax-and-spend policies – i.e., one party insists on keeping high spending and the other party insists on keeping taxes low.  Well, that is dysfunctional.  We have the same problem with immigration – i.e., one party wants to banish all illegal immigrants and the other party wants to treat them like respected guests who are welcome to stay.  I think there needs to be some sort of compromise like the DREAM Act, but only if other forms of sanctuary in this country are eliminated.  For example, there are only two states (Georgia and South Carolina) that limit the enrollment of illegal immigrants in their colleges, and the United States Supreme Court has required that all states enroll them in elementary and secondary schools. 

We will never control our border if sanctuaries are allowed to flourish.

September 13, 2010

Who is a Jew?

Joel Stein writes “The Awesome Column,” a sometime witty weekly column in Time Magazine.  A few weeks ago, he got into trouble for making fun at the expense of Indian immigrants who had taken over his hometown of Edison, NJ.  This week he made a comment about Jews that confused me.  The comment was his reaction to some advice he was given on how to persuade his wife Cassandra to have a second child:

“Then Jim Bob suggested I plan a date night once a week.  Also, that we put Jesus at the center of our marriage.  I told Jim Bob that I’m Jewish, Cassandra and I are both atheists and Cassandra is in her mid-30s.  Even the Apostle Peter couldn’t slip Jesus into our marriage in time for a second child.”

Aside from being surprised at his casual admission of atheism, I wondered (a) if an American could be a Jewish atheist and (b) why Jews didn’t have a place in their religion for Jesus.  My curiosity on this subject had already been piqued earlier in the week when I read in A Patriot’s History of the United States that Barry Goldwater, not Joe Lieberman, was the first person of Jewish ancestry to run for president or vice-president of the United States.

What do I know about Jews?  My upbringing in rural North Dakota in the middle of the 20th century didn’t expose me to any Jews.  North Dakota was populated with nothing but Germans and Norwegians, Catholics and Lutherans.  I don’t recall anyone ever discussing Jews or Judaism (the Jewish religion), but it was not uncommon back then to hear someone talked about being “jewed out of money.”  I thought that meant the same thing as being “gypped out of money” because the terms seemed to be used interchangeably.  I had no idea these were ethnic slurs until I met my first Jew while attending law school in Texas.  (Many years later, a Jew became one of my best friends and a mentor at USAA – Marv Leibowitz from Brooklyn.)

Fortunately, gaps in upbringing or education can be easily remedied in the internet age.  A simple Google search and a few minutes of reading reveal that being a Jew can refer to either nationality (citizens of Israel) or religion (Judaism).  Because Stein is an American, he must have been referring to his religion.  According to Wikipedia, people like Stein are “ethnic Jews”:

“Ethnic Jew is a term generally used to describe a person of Jewish parentage and background who does not necessarily actively practice Judaism but still identifies with Judaism or other Jews culturally and fraternally, or both.  The term is sometimes used to distinguish non-practicing from practicing (religious) Jews. Other terms include ‘non-observant Jew,’ ‘non-religious Jew,’ ‘non-practicing Jew,’ and ‘secular Jew.’  The term sometimes can refer exclusively to Jews who, for whatever reasons, do not practice the religion of Judaism, or who are so casual in their connection to that religion as to be effectively not Jews in the religious sense of adherent to Judaism. Typically, ethnic Jews are cognizant of their Jewish background, and may feel strong cultural (even if not religious) ties to Jewish traditions and to the Jewish people or nation. Like people of any other ethnicity, non-religious ethnic Jews often assimilate into a surrounding non-Jewish culture, but, especially in areas where there is a strong local Jewish culture, they may remain largely part of that culture instead.  Ethnic Jews include atheists, agnostics, non-denominational deists, Jews with only casual connections to Jewish denominations or converts to other religions, such as Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam.” 

This reminds me of a phrase that Catholics used back home – “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.”

My second Jewish question concerned Stein’s surprisingly firm denial of Jesus.  I have recently learned about the religion of Muslims (Islam) and was surprised to learn that they accept the Old and New Testaments in the Bible and Jesus Christ, albeit as a prophet.  Thus, three major religions in America seem situated along a continuum, with Jews abiding by the Old Testament, Christians abiding by the Old and New Testaments, and Muslims abiding by the Old and New Testaments and the Koran.  There is friction, however, because Christians reject the Koran and the Jews rejects Jesus Christ.  One particularly interesting website explained in excruciating detail why Judaism had to reject Jesus Christ.  See http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/jewsandjesus/.  This website also explains why Islam is more consistent with Judaism than is Christianity.  http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/islamjudaism/.  

The real difference between the two religions, however, lies in their basis for belief. Judaism is based on the unique historical event of a divine revelation experienced by the entire nation. Whereas Islam is based on the prophetic claims of a single individual who subsequently convinced others to follow his ways.  Talmudic tradition says that while Abraham’s son Isaac became the forefather of the Jewish people, the Islamic line is descended from Abraham’s other son Ishmael.

This is excellent reading.

Getting back to Joel Stein, he seems to have been using some literary license in his discussion of his Jewishness and Jesus.  His status as an atheist, not his status as an ethnic Jew, defines his rejection of Jesus Christ.  And by claiming status as an ethnic Jew, Stein has attempted to ameliorated his status as an atheist.  You will rarely see someone in the mainstream proclaim their atheism or admit to having an abortion.  That would be the surest way to be forced out of the mainstream.

September 3, 2010

Beyond the Alamo – a book review

My discovery of Beyond the Alamo seemed like a godsend when I was trying to determine whether the defenders of the Alamo were a bunch of criminal mercenaries, as alleged by our mayor’s mother and others.  Although the book didn’t directly answer my question, it provided much useful information and, more importantly, provided more context to my appreciation of why some Mexican-Americans do not revere the heroes of the Alamo. 

Subtitled Forging Mexican Ethnicity in San Antonio, 1821-1861, Beyond the Alamo was written by Raul A. Ramos, an assistant professor at the University of Houston, and published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2008.  The thing that most impressed me about Beyond the Alamo was that Ramos wrote the story without a strongly slanted political view.  He described people realistically instead of stereotyping them as heroes, villains, or victims.  This reminded me of my philosophy professor in college teaching us about “historical Jesus.”  He laid out a generous portion of facts and his conclusions were narrowly drawn and explicitly described.  Ramos is my kind of historian.  

The book starts in 1821 because that is when Mexico gained independence from Spain.  At that time, the city was called Bexar, and it didn’t take on the name San Antonio until Texas won its independence in 1836.  According to a Spanish census in 1820, Bexar had almost 1,600 residents, with 58% Spanish, 20% mestizo (Spanish/Indian), 15% Indian, 6% other (Negro, mulatto, or Euro), and no Anglo-Americans.  Despite the sparse population in Bexar, it was by far the most populated city in Texas.  The Spanish government counted 2,000 residents in the entire state, and because it was unable to convince adequate numbers of Mexicans to move to Texas, it decided to allow Anglo-American immigration.  

Anglo immigration started in 1821 when Mexico issued a land grant (called an empresario) to Stephen F. Austin in southeast Texas for 300 settlers, all of whom agreed to become Mexican citizens and Roman Catholics and learn Spanish.  The Austin grant had actually been initially issued by the Spanish government and was later ratified by the Mexican government after Mexico won its independence.  Between 1821 and 1828, thousands of Anglo-Americans immigrated to Texas under a number of empresarios like Stephen F. Austin.  But between 1828 and 1834, the Mexican government became concerned about excessive Anglo-American immigration and issued severe restrictions, including prohibitions on bringing in more slaves.  During those years, most immigration was technically illegal, although the Mexican government did very little to enforce its restrictions.  (One could say that immigration by Anglo-Americans post-1830 was like immigration by Mexicans a few years ago – i.e., lax enforcement with sanctuary cities.)

The Texas war with Mexico was precipitated in 1830 by the refusal of Texans to accept Santa Anna’s suspension of the Mexican constitution of 1824.  By 1835, however, Texas was no longer fighting to restore the Mexican constitution.  Instead, it was fighting for independence – i.e., to secede from Mexico.  Other than the Battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto, the most significant battle in the war was the siege of Bexar in 1835, during which the Army of Texas pushed the Mexican Army under Santa Anna’s brother-in-law Cos out of Bexar and sent them packing back to Mexico. 

The Army of Texas that laid siege on Bexar in 1835 consisted on 1,300 troops.  According to pension records, 80% percent of those troops had lived in Texas prior to the initiation of hostilities (with 50% from the Brazos area of several empresarios), but 33% had immigrated to Texas within five years, which might render them illegal immigrants.  About 10% of the troops engaged in the siege were Tejanos. 

Unfortunately, the author does not provide a similar description of the composition of the defenders of the Alamo, but he notes that after the successful siege of the Alamo, the composition shifted dramatically in terms of length of Texas residency, “with a marked increase of mercenaries and filibusters.”  Only five Tejanos died defending the Alamo because most were in a company under Juan Seguin on assignment in Gonzales.    

Regarding the comportment of the occupying Texans prior to the Battle of the Alamo, the author concluded:

“The initial occupation of Bexar made readjusting to life after the siege difficult for Bexarenos.  The ambiguous and chaotic leadership structure of the Texian army created a confusing governing system in town.  Many Anglo-Texan soldiers were mercenaries from the United States who had no home or family to go to in Texas.  Instead, they remained in Bexar at the command of charismatic captains.  Unlike the relative racial harmony practiced by long-time Anglo-Texan residents, these recent arrivals into Texas strained relations between Anglo-Americans and Bexarenos.  They lacked prior contact with Mexicans and brought with them negative stereotypical views.  As a result, the months between the fall of Bexar and the arrival of Santa Anna’s army in March proved unsettling and even dangerous for the local population of Bexar.”

Based on this passage, I think it is fair to conclude that there was not a lot of criminal behavior by the defenders of the Alamo.  If there was, the author would have certainly documented it because the principal focus of his book is on the dynamic relationship between Tejanos and Anglos in Bexar. 

The last section of Beyond the Alamo is focused on the time from Texas independence to the Civil War.  During that time, Tejanos were often disrespected and diminished because many Anglos questioned their loyalty.  Although most Tejanos did not participate in the war, the author points out that the same was true of Anglos – “Over the course of secession, a maximum of 3,685 out of about 40,000 Anglo-American immigrants fought in any battles.”

In conclusion, I think Beyond the Alamo does an excellent job in describing the Tejano perspective of the Anglo take-over, but I don’t think that take-over is a good reason for Mexican-Americans to begrudge the heroism of the Alamo defenders, who gave up their lives in defense of freedom against a despot.

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