Mike Kueber's Blog

May 31, 2010

R u a libertarian?

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:39 am
Tags: ,

 While running for Congress as a Republican, my statements in favor of social tolerance made me unpopular at some candidate forums.  Republicans tend to favor economic freedom, but not personal freedom.  Although the thumping I received at the polls was probably due to factors outside of political philosophy, it still caused me to consider whether I would be more comfortable in another political party.

America currently has a two-party political system, and several friends have suggested that I belong more in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.  I have rejected that suggestion in the past because I think the Republican Party stands for small government and I am hopeful that the dominance of the Moral Majority in the party is not permanent.  But if the Moral Majority keeps its hold on the Republican Party, there is a third party in America that is trying to attract voters who are not completely comfortable in either the Republican or Democratic Party.  That party is the Libertarian Party. 

The motto of the Libertarian Party in Texas is “Fiscally Conservative, Socially Tolerant.”  The nationwide Libertarian Party has endorsed a test to help traditional Democratic or Republican voters determine whether their values should cause them to vote Libertarian instead of D or R.  (This Libertarian strategy reminds me of the current Republican strategy to suggest to Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans that their conservative fiscal and social values should place them in the Republican Party instead of the Democratic Party.  The problem with the Republican strategy is that Republicans often come across as mean, inhospitable people.)

The Libertarian test is called “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz.”  It contains ten simple questions and can be found on-line at http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz.  Unfortunately, the test, which has been taken by more than 15 million times since 1995, didn’t help me find my true party because it categorized me as, not a Libertarian, not a Republican, not a Democrat, but a Centrist:

  • Centrists espouse a “middle ground” regarding government control of the economy and personal behavior. Depending on the issue, they sometimes favor government intervention and sometimes support individual freedom of choice. Centrists pride themselves on keeping an open mind, tend to oppose “political extremes,” and emphasize what they describe as “practical” solutions to problems.

I encourage you to take The World’s Smallest Political Quiz.  Although I have listed the questions below, you should go to the link provided above to receive your score and get categorized into a political philosophy.  The questions (and my answers) are as follows:

Personal issues

  1. Government should not censor speech, press, media, or internet.  Agree.  This is a no-brainer.
  2. Military service should be voluntary. There should be no draft.  Disagree.  A draft should be available in emergencies to ensure shared sacrifice.
  3. There should be no laws regarding sex for consenting adults.  Agree.  Another no-brainer.
  4. Repeal laws prohibiting adult possession and use of drugs.  Maybe.  We should continue to prohibit excessively dangerous drugs, but we should legalize mj.
  5. There should be no National ID card.  Disagree.  We need a national ID card to combat illegal immigration.  I think historical notions of privacy are outdated.

Economic issues

  1. End “corporate welfare.” No government handouts to business.  Agree.  This is a no-brainer.
  2. End government barriers to international free trade.  Agree.  This is another no-brainer.
  3. Let people control their own retirement; privatize Social Security.  Agree.  Government SS is too inflexible to fit the wide variety of individual needs and objectives.  I recently changed my mind on this issue, so I consider it a close call.
  4. Replace government welfare with private charity.  Disagree.  The safety net is too big for private charity.
  5. Cut taxes and government spending by 50% or more.  Disagree.  Even if you privatize Social Security, I don’t think you can cut 50% of government spending.

 The four other political philosophies are:

Left (liberal)

Liberals usually embrace freedom of choice in personal matters, but tend to support significant government control of the economy. They generally support a government-funded “safety net” to help the disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation of business. Liberals tend to favor environmental regulations, defend civil liberties and free expression, support government action to promote equality, and tolerate diverse lifestyles.

Libertarian

Libertarians support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters. They advocate a much smaller government; one that is limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence. Libertarians tend to embrace individual responsibility, oppose government bureaucracy and taxes, promote private charity, tolerate diverse lifestyles, support the free market, and defend civil liberties.

Right (Conservative)

Conservatives tend to favor economic freedom, but frequently support laws to restrict personal behavior that violates “traditional values.” They oppose excessive government control of business, while endorsing government action to defend morality and the traditional family structure. Conservatives usually support a strong military, oppose bureaucracy and high taxes, favor a free-market economy, and endorse strong law enforcement.

Statists (Big Government)

Statists want government to have a great deal of power over the economy and individual behavior. They frequently doubt whether economic liberty and individual freedom are practical options in today’s world. Statists tend to distrust the free market, support high taxes and centralized planning of the economy, oppose diverse lifestyles, and question the importance of civil liberties.

May 30, 2010

A lapsed Good Samaritan

Filed under: Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 1:30 am
Tags:

This morning, as I was driving on De Zavala Road from a car-wash to HEB, I came upon a car in front of me that was stopped.  The driver’s door was open and the operator was chasing a small dog off the road and into the ride-side ditch.  Once the dog was safely in the ditch, the man stopped chasing and the dog stopped running.  Then the man turned toward the line of cars stopped behind his car and gave us all a quizzical look.  He was apparently wondering what to do next.  The small dog was obviously someone’s house pet, not a street dog, and the man was worried that the dog would return to this heavily traveled road.  

As the man continued standing in the ditch with the dog, cars started driving around his car to resume their journey.  I was the 2nd car to go around him.  As I was driving toward HEB, I noticed that a young woman had stopped her car behind the man’s, joined him in the ditch, had lifted the dog, and was examining its collar.  What a smart thing to do.  What a good thing to do.  She was a Good Samaritan.    

As I continued on my drive, I remembered that several years ago I scolded myself for not being a Good Samaritan.  I was brought up better than that.  People in rural North Dakota, and especially my dad, considered everybody to be their neighbor and just about everyone will stop to help anyone in distress.  As for me, I got into the habit of making excuses for not helping.  Either I was in a hurry or my car was full of kids.  Eventually, I didn’t need an excuse and kept on driving without even thinking about stopping.  It was somebody else’s problem or somebody else would stop and help them; someone like my dad. 

As I mentioned above, a few years ago I tried to get back on the right track and actually helped some guy with a stalled car.  Since then, however, I have lapsed and returned to my old ways of looking out for numero uno.  But seeing that young woman spring into action on De Zavala Road has me back on track.

As luck would have it, later in the same day I am coasting down La Cantera Parkway at the beginning of my daily bike ride, and what do I see?  A car stalled in traffic with a young couple in distress.  What do I do?  Initially, I keep going (what else?), but 50 yards later I turn around and pedal back to them.  Although I didn’t have much horsepower in my biking cleats, I was able to help two guys push the vehicle to a safe place out of the traffic before resuming my ride.

Moral of the story – being a Good Samaritan does not come naturally to me.  Like the alcoholic who takes it one day at a time, I need to try being better one day at a time.

May 29, 2010

Real men and yoga

Filed under: Fitness — Mike Kueber @ 12:22 am
Tags:

When I was growing up, there was a popular record album titled, “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.”  Scholars will tell you this is a fallacious argument called “argumentum ad populum” – i.e., something isn’t necessarily true just because a lot of people believe it.  I recently read a Sunday magazine article about yoga, and it reported that there are 16,000,000 followers of yoga in America.  Let me tell you that they aren’t wrong.

For years, two friends (Bert Miller and David Hanna) at my previous employer USAA would harp at me about joining them at their noon yoga practice.  Although I was mildly interested (there were lots of pretty girls practicing, I kept putting it off because my noon workout was reserved for running, cycling, or lifting.  One day, for no special reason, I joined them, and I’ve made time for yoga ever since. 

Fortunately, my first yogi was outstanding.  Tia Pirkl had the skill to teach the fundamentals and the personality to make it fun.  Since leaving USAA, I attend a variety of classes at Lifetime Fitness.  My Lifetime has eight yogis, and although each has a unique style, they all help you with strength, flexibility, balance, and stress-relief.  Each class is categorized from one to three, based on difficulty.  The level-three classes are more difficult, either because the pace gets your heart racing or because the poses (asanas) require a lot of flexibility.

When I was younger, I was oppositional and often went against the conventional wisdom.  As I’ve gotten older, I realize that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.  The 16,000,000 American fans of yoga are right.

There might be one lingering obstacle for the guys – do real men do yoga?  Yoga practitioners are reportedly almost 30% male, but my practices at Lifetime are 90% women.  Over 70% of the practitioners are college educated and 30% have graduate degrees.  So, I suspect the answer remains, “No, real men don’t do yoga.”  I’ve never been a “real man,” but I’ve been a real-man wannabe, a Neanderthal and a Philistine, and that is when I didn’t do yoga. 

 Now I’m a Renaissance-man wannabe, and those guys do yoga.

May 28, 2010

Am I an exercising fanatic?

Filed under: Fitness — Mike Kueber @ 12:08 am
Tags:

 As I was going up the stairs to my gym, I encountered a friend coming down.  She said, “I see you here all the time.  I wish I enjoyed working out as much as you do.”  I lamely responded, “Yeah, I’m pretty lucky.”  But later I started thinking about what she said, and I wondered whether I really enjoyed working, or was it a matter of having more discipline than most.  Due to my Protestant work ethic, I preferred thinking that my exercising was work, not fun.  Or as a Spartan girl’s t-shirt said, “I would rather look good than feel good.”   

A few days after encountering my friend, when I was dragging my body up those same stairs, I had an epiphany.  In a magic-genie moment, I imagined that I was given the choice between (a) experiencing the next 60 minutes on the stationary bike, and (b) fast-forwarding my life by 60 minutes to my post-workout time in the hot tub.  My quick & easy answer – see you in the hot tub. 

Then today I experienced the same phenomena.  I was riding my standard 20-mile bike route, with three consecutive grueling hills.  I remember coasting down the first hill and the next thing I remember I was climbing the 3rd hill.  If you are as old as my, you’ve probably had some short-term memory loss, but usually it is an unpleasant experience.  I assure you that losing that middle hill was one of the better feelings that I experienced on that ride.   

I have to admit, however, that I would not fast-forward past tomorrow’s ride, even if I could.  We have such a short time on this planet, and I want to experience it all.  OK, there are a few painful moments that I would be willing to miss, but they are far between.  And I am not making any representations about severe chronic pain or debilitating illnesses like my dad’s emphysema or my mom’s Alzheimer’s. 

Bottom line – my gene’s have disposed my to enjoying work outs and that makes me lucky.

 p.s., my blog entry titled White Men Can’t Run discussed a Sports Illustrated article with scientific evidence that some people were genetically blessed with a disposition for working out.

May 27, 2010

Sloganeering – health-care rationing and death panels

 Political discussion in America often fails to get beyond slogans, such as:

  • The Arizona immigration law requires racial profiling vs. the law prohibits racial profiling;
  • Drill, baby, drill vs. protect the environment;
  • Stop spending our children’s money vs. let’s invest in our future; and
  • Pathway to citizenship vs. no amnesty.

Although slogans have always been a part of America’s political history (“Tippecanoe and Tyler, too”), you would think the 24-hour news outlets would have the time go beyond the slogans.  But they don’t.  Instead the outlets go back and forth ad nauseam about which slogan is better, and this discussion polarizes us instead of moving us toward common ground.  Common ground should be the objective, and it can be found in most issues outside of abortion.

As you would expect, there was a lot of sloganeering with ObamaCare.  Conservatives took the offensive and initially charged that ObamaCare would lead to socialized medicine.  But instead of staying focused on that fundamental issue, the discussion got muddled by Sarah Palin’s charge of rationing and death panels, and this charge was quickly adopted by most opponents to ObamaCare.  Unfortunately, the charges and counter-charges never led to an in-depth consideration of an important issue – health-care rationing.

Part of the problem is that rationing is an ambiguous term.  For most Americans, rationing means the government distribution of scarce resources at reasonable prices, and, as confirmed capitalists, we don’t usually don’t like that unless we are in the middle of World War II.  But that is not the sort of rationing that may be applied to health care.  (In fact, my major criticism of ObamaCare is that it takes only baby steps towards addressing cost issues and so-called rationing.  The primary objective of ObamaCare is to make coverage affordable for all Americans, and my only objection to that is that the individual mandate is unAmerican).

One of the most damning facts about American healthcare is that it consumes about 17% of our gross domestic product, whereas in most other countries the percentage is about 9-10%.  This indicates the free-market for health care in America isn’t working. 

The problem is that government and insurance companies have fouled-up the supply & demand pricing system.  The free-market pricing system doesn’t work when doctors and patients determine the treatment and the government and insurance companies pay the bill.  But that is exactly what the demagogues demand – i.e., “no one should come between you and your doctor.”  I agree that nothing should come between you and your doctor, but don’t expect the government or your insurance company to pay for everything that you and your doctor do.  There are limits on what your government and your insurance company can afford. 

For an excellent discussion of rationing and the out-of-control medical costs, please see the following NYT article –   http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/magazine/19healthcare-t.html.  The article makes a compelling case for removing the disconnect between the consumer and the purchaser of medical services, but we will need to be vigilant to ensure that the government doesn’t try to replace the free market in medicine.

May 26, 2010

Money in politics

When I ran for Congress, the Republican Men’s Club for Bexar County refused to let me participate in their candidates’ debate because, in their opinion, my candidacy was not adequately viable.  I asked how they determined viability, and they told me to go pound sand.  In the end, I learned that they were correct (I was 4th in a 5-person race, and received only 7% of the vote), but I never learned how they reached that conclusion without the benefit of any polling.  I do know that the two candidates who made the run-off spent about $200,000 each and the third-place candidate spent about $25,000, while I spent only $15,000.  

Is money/name-recognition everything in politics today?  The Libertarian Party of Texas seems to think so.  While reviewing their website, I learned that they have three categories of campaigns:

  1. Placeholder campaign – costs virtually nothing in money or time; does not actively campaign; gives Libertarians a chance to vote for a Libertarian.
  2. Educational campaign – appears at candidate forums; responds to questionnaires; may produce a website, brochures, or business cards.
  3. Winnable campaigns – call for more information.

My campaign fit into the category of an educational campaign.  I appeared at forums, created a website, brochures, and business cards.  But I didn’t have the money to do a lot of direct mailings, robo-calls, billboards, or TV/radio ads.  My opponents did. 

I urged in my campaign brochure that the voters should not reward candidates who had sold themselves to special interests for large amounts of money to advertize, but this message was not successful.  A major obstacle to making this argument, in addition to not having any money to communicate it, was that the media provided almost no free press.  I had been optimistic that, because congressional races are important and because my district was recognized as one of two swing districts in Texas, there would be newspaper coverage of important campaign issues, but there wasn’t.  When I provided the media with proof that outside interests were funding the campaigns of my opponents, they responded with a collective yawn.  Any voter who was depending on newspapers/TV/radio to help them make an educated vote was completely disappointed.  There was virtually no free coverage.

Elections have not always been this way.  In the book, A Patriot’s History of the United States, the authors described elections when the parties “relied on ideology – the person’s philosophy or worldview – to produce votes.”  Then, in the 1820’s, they began relying “on a much more crass principle, patronage.”  It seems that money has been the mother’s milk of politics since then. 

As for me, I will continue tilting against windmills by pursuing political objectives without pursuing money.  I dream of the day when a political campaign is a battle of substance instead of crass marketing.

May 25, 2010

Proud and patriotic liberals?

I am reading a book titled A Patriot’s History of the United States, by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, published 2004.  The authors wrote it to counter what they perceived as a liberal bias in most contemporary American history books, especially in the treatment of FDR’s New Deal and Ronald Reagan.  I decided to read the book because (1) it was reasonably priced while prominently displayed at Sam’s, and (2) my Congressional campaign had starkly revealed that my memory of important historical facts had dimmed significantly since taking two semesters of U.S. history in college in the early 1970’s.

I also confess to being attracted to the word “Patriot” in the title.  As a Republican congressional candidate, I heard “patriotism” bandied about a lot.  It seems the Republicans have ownership of patriotism, whereas Democrats have claimed the term “progressive.”  Because of my oppositional nature, I naively resisted both stereotypes.

When I was developing my initial campaign brochure to describe my political philosophy, two words came to mind – conservative and progressive.  Two of my more savvy friends suggested that those terms conflicted, so I went to the dictionary and confirmed that progressive meant someone who favors progress or reform.  In my mind, a small-government conservative could still favor progress and reform.  I tilted at that windmill for two months before capitulating and changing my description to pragmatic conservative.

My principal opponent in the congressional primary, Quico Canseco, was a member of a group called Patriotic Resistance, whose objective was to resist the Obama agenda.  I looked up the meaning of term “patriotic” and learned that it meant the love of ones country and the willingness to sacrifice for it.  Based on this definition, I criticized Canseco’s membership in this group because its name implied that those who supported Obama were unpatriotic and didn’t love our country.  (Incidentally, 51% of our congressional district voted for Obama.)

Later in the campaign, during candidate forums, I argued that Republicans shouldn’t accuse Democrats of being unpatriotic just because they believed in big government and a welfare state.  We all want what’s best for the people of this country; we just have different political philosophies on how to get there.

The recent textbook debate at the Texas State Board of Education is an extension of the same argument.  The conservatives want more focus on American achievements, while the liberals want more focus on our failings.  Of course, the correct position is to balance these competing interests, and that is what politics is designed to do.  With respect to that, I agree with the conservative SBOE member who said this matter is too important not to politicize.  This is not a matter for historians to decide, but rather for historians to advise and for politicians to decide.  Common sense dictates that the discussion of American failings is best reserved for older students.

Getting back to A Patriot’s History of the United States, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the authors’ attempt to put more focus on America’s achievements.  I think it is wrong, however, for the title of the book to suggest that hyper-critical historians (or politicians or citizens) don’t love this country and wouldn’t sacrifice greatly for it.  Although liberals may not be as proud of America’s historical past as conservatives are, that doesn’t make them unpatriotic.

Why does the U.S. Census count illegal immigrants?

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:04 pm
Tags: , ,

 While reading a Census article in the SA Express-News, I was surprised to learn that the number of illegal immigrants living in a state is considered, not only for the amount of federal funding that a state receives, but also for determining the number of Congressmen that will represent the state.  The effect on federal funding is understandable because illegal immigrants draw on state services just like legal residents.  (In fact, our federal courts will not allow Texas to withhold free public education from illegal immigrants – Plyler v. Doe.)  But it makes no sense that illegal immigrants should have representation in Congress.

According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, California in 2010 will be awarded nine undeserved Congressmen because of the six million illegal immigrants among its 36 million people, and Texas will be awarded four.  The states that will be shortchanged include New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

The apportioning of Representatives is addressed by two provisions in the Constitution:

  • Article 1, Section 2 provides that representatives shall be apportioned according to their respective numbers [by adding to the whole number of free persons, three fifths of all other persons].  The actual enumeration shall be made in such manner as they shall by law direct. 
  • The 14th Amendment modifies Article 1, Section 2 by requiring “counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.”  Thus, former slaves became fully counted. 

Although there is no judicial holding on how to conduct an enumeration, the Constitution clearly gives Congress the right to conduct it “in such manner as they shall by law direct.”  Congress currently directs the Census Bureau counts all people living in the U.S. and doesn’t distinguish between those living here legally and those living here illegally.  This needs to change because there is no reasonable justification for providing additional Congressmen to states based on the number of illegal immigrants in those states.

May 24, 2010

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch

Several years ago, an employer rewarded me with a week-long junket to Sanibel Island in Florida.  The ostensible reason for the trip was to participate in an economics institute for judges and lawyers.  The institute was taught by Henry Butler, who styled himself as a renegade and a rogue working in the world of liberal academia.  Butler sent us home with his 900-page casebook titled “Economic Analysis for Lawyers” and two simple adages:

  • Incentives matter
  • TANSTAAFL

I will save incentives for another day; today I want to discuss TANSTAAFL – there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

My real-life experience with TANSTAAFL is state-mandated auto insurance (which I worked on for nearly 30 years).  Many states require car-owners to purchase not only liability insurance to protect other people, but also medical and uninsured-motorist coverages to protect themselves. 

This sort of requirement is objectionable to conservatives, so it is typically found in big-government states.  As you might expect, the courts in these big-government states are extremely liberal in providing expansive benefits to claimants.  This drives up the claims costs for the insurance companies, so they increase their premiums unless the state regulators prohibit the increase.  If a price increase is prohibited by a regulator, the insurance company will lose money until it quits operating in the state.  Only when big insurers leave, or threaten to leave, do the state regulators get reasonable. 

This same situation threatens Americans on a greater scale with ObamaCare.  This is insurance that everyone is required to buy.  (See Section 1501.)  The scope of the coverage will be extremely expansive because the federal government will prescribe in detail what each policy must cover – things like counseling, therapy, addiction treatment, preventative care, and 26-year dependency coverage.  (See Section 1302(b)(2)(A)). 

Who’s going to pay for this expansive coverage?  The Obama administration has already figured out what will happen.  Costs will go through the roof, and insurance companies will demand higher premiums.  But, according to Section 1003 of the law, “unreasonable price increases” will be monitored by the Administration and state regulators.  Want to bet the regulators decide the requested increases are unreasonable?  When was the last time people felt a price increase was reasonable?  Why is the free market unable to establish reasonable prices for medical insurance? 

A major difference between state regulation of auto insurance and federal regulation of health insurance is that the business providing state auto insurance can leave the jurisdiction, while the business providing national health insurance can’t.  That is why, as pointed out by Mitt Romney, ObamaCare is different than the Mass plan.    

Just remember what Henry Butler said – “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

May 23, 2010

Career Politicians

Career politicians are a pox on America’s government, and the voters know it.  

Our Founding Fathers established a republic form of government in the hope that voters would elect leaders with integrity and solid values.  Career politicians have neither.  Instead, they pander to the electorate, and their values change like the political winds.   

The problem is getting rid of them.  Term limits would help immensely, and our Founding Fathers certainly would have adopted term limits if they had envisioned this scourge.  But getting politicians to enact their own death sentences is unlikely, as the Texas Republicans have proved.     

The platform of Republican Party of Texas (RPT) is a grassroots product, and it has a plank endorsing term limits.  The RPT of Texas fills every statewide elected position and controls both houses of the legislature, so you would think that these people could enact some modest limit on terms.  But they haven’t.  They haven’t even tried.  Talk about cognitive dissonance. 

People want a return of the citizen legislator, the normal person with a full life and integrity and values who reluctantly decides to run for office as a service to the community, someone like “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.”  People don’t want a career politician who refuses to talk straight and whose values depend on the latest polls; whose only goal is to stay in office. 

The political aristocracy argues that voters have the ability to fire career politicians at any time by simply voting them out of office.  But this fails to recognize the powers of incumbency, such as money and name recognition.  In the absence of term limits, the best thing for voters to do is stop aspiring career politicians before they acquire the power of incumbency.

How do you detect an aspiring career politician?  The consuming motivation of a career politician is to stay popular, not to do the right thing.  Thus, a career politician will consistently take the popular position and when there is no popular position, the career politician will use a lot of weasel words to take a non-position. 

Also, because career politicians lack integrity and conviction, their positions will deviate over time to reflect the political wind.  This character flaw is harder to detect in young politicians because they have no record, so I have developed an additional fool-proof detector for young career politicians – i.e., running for the student counsel.

As most people know, running for the student counsel is a game played by aspiring career politicians.  Because these offices are so superficial and meaningless, there can be no reasonable argument that students are involved as a public service.  There can be no denial that their involvement is based solely on vanity and ego. 

So, if you ever have the opportunity to vote on a former student-body president, please just say “no thanks.”

Next Page »