Mike Kueber's Blog

July 20, 2010

Is San Antonio ready for public financing of political campaigns?

Several weeks ago, there was a column in the SA Express-News endorsing the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA), a bill in Congress that provides for public financing of congressional campaigns.  The premise of the FENA is that the corrupting influence of money in politics will be reduced by public financing of campaigns.  Because I agree wholeheartedly with this premise, I wrote to my congressman Ciro Rodriguez urging him to support the bill.  Rodriguez responded with a lengthy description of the bill, but failed to indicate whether he would support it.  (See his response attached below.)

The issue of public financing of campaigns was fading from my radar until I saw an article in the NYTimes about NYC’s Campaign Finance Program.  The article prompted an obvious question – why not adopt public financing of campaigns for local elections in San Antonio?  Voters in San Antonio are so cynical about corruption in city government that they have adopted a draconian term-limits ordinance.  Although this has helped some, there is still a prevailing view that people with money have too much influence in San Antonio government.  Public financing of political campaigns would potentially minimize that influence.

How does the NYC program differ from the federal proposal?  Qualifying in NYC is much less onerous.  Whereas the federal proposal requires 1,500 in-state contributions of no more than $100 each for a total of at least $50k, the NYC program requires only 75 in-district contributors of no more than $175 for a total of at least $5,000.  The federal payout to the campaign is also much larger – $360k for a primary, $540k for a general election, plus $4 for every dollar raised above $50k.  By comparison, the NYC program pays candidates $6 for every $1 of qualifying contributions, up to a maximum of $92.4k in public financing and $168k total campaign spending.  Both programs allow non-qualifying contributions above the $100/$175 qualifying caps.  The NYC program seems clearly preferable for two reasons:

  1. Accessibility.  The qualification requirements of the NYC program enable candidates without broad-based, well-organized campaigns to benefit from public financing.  Because of the onerous requirements in the federal proposal, the rich will get richer and the poor will be marginalized even more. 
  2. Controlling spending.  The NYC program attempts to control the costs of campaigns by limiting participating candidates to absolute maximums, whereas the federal proposal merely sweetens the pot without placing any absolute maximums.   

While researching the NYC program, I learned that two states – Maine and Arizona – have more than a decade of experience with public financing of campaigns and that two cities – Albuquerque, NM and Portland, OR – have experience with public financing since 2005.  All four of these jurisdictions have adopted what is generally called “Clean Elections” systems.  Under a generic Clean Elections system, candidates wishing to receive public financing must collect a certain number of small qualifying contributions, usually $5, from registered voters. In return, the candidates are paid a flat sum by the government to run their campaigns, and they agree not to raise money from private sources.  The following is a thumbnail description of each jurisdiction:

  • Maine adopted its Maine Clean Election Act via voter initiative in 1996.  Legislative candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 60 voters in a state rep’s district and 175 for a senator.  The total payout to the campaign equals the average campaign costs in the two previous elections.  The qualifying period is more than three months and there is a $100-contribution limit on seed money to assist in collecting contributions, up to a total of $500 for state reps and $1,500 for senators. 
  • Arizona adopted its Citizen’s Clean Election Act via a voter initiative in 1998.  Legislative candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 220 voters.  A qualified candidate is entitled to $14,319 in the primary and $21,479 in the general election – approx. 20×1.  Seed money is limited to a total of $3,580, with $140 per contribution and $640 for a personal contribution.
  • Albuquerque, NM adopted its Open and Ethical Election system in 2005.  Candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 1% of the registered voters in their district during a 45-day window.  In the mayoral contest, a candidate would need to obtain $5 contributions from 3,280 registered voters and then would receive $328,000 for the campaign.  Essentially the public financing is 20×1. 
  • Portland, OR adopted its Voter-Owned Elections system in 2005.  Candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 1,000 registered voters.  They are also allowed to collect seed money of up to $100 ($20k total).  Qualified candidates receive $200,000 (less their seed money and qualifying contributions) for their campaign – 40×1.  The qualifying period is over four months long.

From the four jurisdictions with Clean Election laws, we can glean that qualifying contributions of $5 seems to be a good number.  For some reason, the two cities require a relatively high number of qualifying contributions (around 1% of the voters), whereas the two states require a more attainable number.  All the systems place an absolute cap on the total amount of spending allowed, and private money plays no role except as “seed money.”  The amount of the cap seems to depend on the cost of communications in the jurisdiction.

How would public financing work in San Antonio.  Currently, the only campaign restrictions in SA are contribution limits of $500 for council positions and $1,000 for mayor.  The municipal code provides the following objective for these limits:

  • “It is essential in a democratic system that the public has confidence in the integrity, independence, and impartiality of those who are elected to act on their behalf in government. There is a public perception that a relationship exists between substantial contributions and access to elected officials. To diminish the perceived or actual connection between contributions and influence, the City adopts this Campaign Finance Code to promote public confidence and, it is hoped, a greater degree of citizen participation in the electoral process.”

Although the $500 limit on contributions to council elections avoids the most egregious forms of political corruption, there can be no question that lowering the contribution limit to $5 would truly level the playing field.  The main issue is whether the number of required contributions should be set (a) high so that only broad-based, well-organized campaigns can qualify for public financing or (b) low so that new, unknown candidates are encouraged to enter the arena.  Because the latter is clearly preferable, I suggest a threshold of only .5% of the registered voters, which would be about 300 contributors for a council district in San Antonio.  (I collected 600 signatures in 60 days to get on the 23rd Congressional district ballot, and that was no mean feat even without a $5 contribution.) 

The second most important issue is to establish a maximum amount that a campaign is authorized to spend.  According to 18-month campaign finance filings by SA’s current council members, their campaign spending varies significantly from district to district – from a low of $16k in District 5 to a high of $58k in District 1, with an average of about $40k.  From this we can conclude that $45k is enough to run an adequate campaign.  If we were to allow candidates to collect up to 600 $5 contributions, and then match each contribution with public financing of $70, a campaign could have a total of $45k when combining public financing and $5 contributions.        

This is a winning plan that I will present to the Council for their consideration.  I will also need to follow-up with Ciro to suggest that, although public financing is a good idea, the federal Fair Elections Now Act is seriously flawed.

Ciro’s responsive email

Ciro provided me with the following lengthy response, but didn’t really take a position:

Dear Mr. Kueber:

Thank you for your support of H.R. 1826, the Fair Elections Now Act. I appreciate your comments and I am pleased to respond to your inquiry.

The Fair Elections Now Act was introduced by Rep John B. Larson (D-CT) on March 31, 2009. This legislation amends the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA). The purpose of H.R.1826 is to encourage federal candidates to run for office without depending on big donors for contribution. This will limit influence on elected officials as well as limit “political paybacks.” Furthermore, this will encourage candidates to seek support from their communities, and pay attention to the needs of their community.

In brief, the bill would create a Fair Election Fund to match small contributions of less than $100 from individuals in their state.  Qualified candidates would receive Fair Elections funding in the primary, and if they win, in their general election at a level to run a competitive campaign.

Please be assured that I understand the importance of curbing campaign contributions from corporations, which may lead to an unfair election process. It is imperative to hold lawmakers accountable to the American people. The citizens of this country should be able to trust the integrity of the Houses of Representatives and their elected officials.  This act attempts to address these concerns. 

H.R. 1826 has been referred to the House Committees on Energy & Commerce, Administration, and Ways & Means of which several committee hearings have been held. Although I do not sit on those committees, should the H.R. 1826 come up in the House for a vote, I will keep your concerns in mind. Again, thank you for your comments regarding this issue. If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact my office.    

Sincerely,

Ciro D. Rodriguez

Member of Congress

July 19, 2010

An open letter to the Express-News re: their coverage of Quico Canseco

Your coverage of Quico Canseco’s inspiring congressional campaign has been disgraceful.  Although your opinion columnists are entitled to have opinions, their continual abuse of this decent man goes beyond the pale.  For example: 

  • On January 22nd, columnist Scott Stroud started the onslaught by highly recommending Canseco’s heretofore unknown opponent, Will Hurd.  Stroud warned that voters might have a hard time comparing Hurd to Canseco because Canseco was a moneybags who would dominate the media advertizing.  Stroud described Hurd as “out-financed and little known….  He’s impressive enough to give GOP voters something to think about before they vote for the candidate they see on TV the most.  That’s likely to be Francisco ‘Quico’ Canseco, who bankrolled his own campaign.”  The truth of the story was that the Hurd campaign would out-spend Canseco’s. 

 

  • On January 26th, several weeks before the primary election, Bruce Davidson wrote in his E-N blog that Canseco was being cocky because he loaned his phone bank to Scott Brown in Massachusetts for a few days to support Brown’s critical campaign.  The title of the blog entry – “Cocky Canseco campaigns in Massachusetts.”  Has there ever been a more apt example of “no good deed goes unpunished”?

 

  • On February 14th, shortly before the primary election, Maria Anglin wrote a column complaining about excessive robo-calls.  Her column focused almost exclusively on calls from Canseco’s campaign, and she said the disrespect for her time was enough to cause her to vote for someone else.  With Davidson complaining that Canseco loaned out his phone bank and Anglin complaining that Canseco called too much, what’s a guy to do?

 

With the primary and run-off completed, the Express-News seemed to let up on Canseco for a while, but now it has started again:

  • On July 8th, I woke to see Quico’s picture on the front page of the Express-News with some headline about tax liens and wondered what he was being indicted for.  Upon reading the fine print, the story was much ado about nothing and seemed intended as a subterfuge to re-report some unseemly campaigning that occurred during the Canseco-Larson campaign two years earlier.  This material might be appropriate for a Rodriguez campaign mailer, but front-page news in the Express-News?

 

  • On July 16th, Gary Martin wrote a story about the status of local congressional-campaign finances, but instead of reporting the important story (which would be pro-Canseco), he focused on two misleading facts (that were anti-Canseco).  The misleading facts were that (1) Rodriguez had more cash on hand (because Canseco he had recently competed in a competitive primary and run-off) and (2) Canseco had a large debt to himself from his previous congressional campaign (which is totally irrelevant to this campaign).  The important story that should have been reported was that Canseco had replenished his campaign coffers by actually raising more money in the last quarter than did Rodriguez, and that Canseco’s money came almost exclusively from individual contributors, whereas Rodriguez’s came primarily from out-of-state PACs.

 

  • Finally, on July 18th, Maria Anglin urged Canseco and his general-election opponent Ciro Rodriguez to start campaigning like grown-ups.  What was their immature behavior?  At a town-hall meeting, Rodriguez had exploded at two female constituents who suggested that he was not telling the truth.  Rodriguez’s explosion had been video-taped, and it was shown on nationwide cable TV.  There was also a link to it on Canseco’s website.  What was Canseco’s immature behavior?  According to Maria, Canseco shouldn’t have publicized the incident.  Does anyone believe Rodriguez’s rant didn’t deserve publicity?  Obviously, the news people at the Express-News thought it was newsworthy because they covered it.       

 

Quico Canseco is a well-qualified, mainstream Republican who is waging a serious campaign against a mainstream Democrat in a swing district.  Please don’t gang up on Quico.  If you have substantive reasons for supporting Ciro Rodriguez over Quico, please state them.  But spare us from further snarky, oblique innuendo.     

Mike Kueber

San Antonio

210.380.7436

July 17, 2010

I used to be a narcissist

Is saying that you used to be a narcissist the same thing as saying, “I used to be a perfectionist” – i.e., you recognize the fault and are still trying unsuccessfully to eliminate it?  Is writing an introspective blog entry about former narcissism a narcissistic excuse to write about yourself?  I hope not. 

David Brooks, my favorite columnist, has a column in the NYTimes today about narcissism.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/opinion/16brooks.html?_r=1.  A Mel Gibson phone rant, which I haven’t heard, prompted the article.

Growing up I was not familiar with the term “narcissist,” but our words “self-centered” or “conceited” probably served the same purpose.  In his column, Brooks provides a fuller definition: 

  • A person “marked by a grandiose self-image, a constant need for admiration, and a general lack of empathy for others.”

Brooks further notes, “There used to be theories that deep down narcissists felt unworthy, but recent research doesn’t support this.  Instead it seems, the narcissist’s self-directed passion is deep and sincere.”  I would be interested in seeing the research that Brooks refers to because the common wisdom where I grew in North Dakota was that the conceited people were actually insecure, and my personal story provides anecdotal support for the common wisdom.

I went through high school severely insecure about my looks.  As I surveyed the looks of the other 25 boys in my high school, I could identify only one or two who looked worse than me.  You can imagine my shock when a “personality poll” of the student body at the end of my senior year listed me as the best-looking boy.  It also listed me as tied for the most intelligent boy.  That was almost as much of a shock because I thought I was the third-ranking boy academically in the senior class.  And I was no slouch at athletics, having been named to the All-Conference team for basketball, even though I was continually worried about whether I could hold onto a starting position on the team.

Shortly after high-school graduation, I was talking to the brother of a female classmate, and he said that she thought I was nice enough, but conceited.  That floored me.  Other people apparently thought I had all of these gifts, while I thought I was struggling mightily just to keep my head above water.

My classmates, however, were onto something.  Looking back, I see traits that reveal some unhealthy narcissism, such as a general lack of empathy for others and a lack on interest in warm and caring interpersonal relationships. 

But no one has to stay stuck on stupid.  According to the National Institutes of Health, a Narcissistic Personality Disorder is more prevalent in young people (9.4% of those in their 20s), as compared to the general population (6.2%).  So maybe I outgrew my unhealthy narcissism.  I do know that one of my favorite expressions the past few years is “being comfortable in your own skin.”  During my last years working at USAA, I waged a war against “conversational narcissists” (those who want to talk ad nauseum about themselves and their family) and “medical narcissists” (professionals who pretend to know everything and who never make a mistake).  And finally, on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder Inventory, I scored 13, which is below the national average of 15.3. 

For your fun, I have attached the Inventory below.  If you take the test, be sure to be honest to yourself.

1. A. I have a natural talent for influencing people.                                                     
B. I am not good at influencing people.

2. A. Modesty doesn’t become me.                                                                                 
B. I am essentially a modest person.

3. A. I would do almost anything on a dare.                                                                  
B. I tend to be a fairly cautious person.

4. A. When people compliment me I sometimes get embarrassed.                                  B. I know that I am good because everybody keeps telling me so.

5. A. The thought of ruling the world frightens the hell out of me.                            
B. If I ruled the world it would be a better place.

6. A. I can usually talk my way out of anything.                                                            
B. I try to accept the consequences of my behavior.

7. A. I prefer to blend in with the crowd.                                                                         
B. I like to be the center of attention.

8. A. I will be a success.                                                                                                    
B. I am not too concerned about success.

9. A. I am no better or worse than most people.                                                           
B. I think I am a special person.

10. A. I am not sure if I would make a good leader.                                                    
B. I see myself as a good leader.

11. A. I am assertive.                                                                                                         
B. I wish I were more assertive.

12. A. I like to have authority over other people.                                                          
B. I don’t mind following orders.

13. A. I find it easy to manipulate people.
B. I don’t like it when I find myself manipulating people.                                            

14. A. I insist upon getting the respect that is due me.
B. I usually get the respect that I deserve.                                                                      

15. A. I don’t particularly like to show off my body.                                                      
B. I like to show off my body.

16. A. I can read people like a book.
B. People are sometimes hard to understand.                                                              

17. A. If I feel competent I am willing to take responsibility for making decisions.               
B. I like to take responsibility for making decisions.

18. A. I just want to be reasonably happy.                                                                     
B. I want to amount to something in the eyes of the world.

19. A. My body is nothing special.
B. I like to look at my body.                                                                                                                

20. A. I try not to be a show off.                                                                                        
B. I will usually show off if I get the chance.

21. A. I always know what I am doing.                                                                           
B. Sometimes I am not sure of what I am doing.

22. A. I sometimes depend on people to get things done.
B. I rarely depend on anyone else to get things done.                                                 

23. A. Sometimes I tell good stories.                                                                              
B. Everybody likes to hear my stories.

24. A. I expect a great deal from other people.
B. I like to do things for other people.                                                                              

25. A. I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve.
B. I take my satisfactions as they come.                                                                         

26. A. Compliments embarrass me.                                                 
B. I like to be complimented.

27. A. I have a strong will to power.                                                           
B. Power for its own sake doesn’t interest me.

28. A. I don’t care about new fads and fashions.                                    
B. I like to start new fads and fashions.

29. A. I like to look at myself in the mirror.
B. I am not particularly interested in looking at myself in the mirror.                

30. A. I really like to be the center of attention.
B. It makes me uncomfortable to be the center of attention.                               

31. A. I can live my life in any way I want to.                                                      
B. People can’t always live their lives in terms of what they want.

32. A. Being an authority doesn’t mean that much to me.                                          
B. People always seem to recognize my authority.

33. A. I would prefer to be a leader.                                                    
B. It makes little difference to me whether I am a leader or not.

34. A. I am going to be a great person.                                      
B. I hope I am going to be successful.

35. A. People sometimes believe what I tell them.                                    
B. I can make anybody believe anything I want them to.

36. A. I am a born leader.                                                                      
B. Leadership is a quality that takes a long time to develop.

37. A. I wish somebody would someday write my biography.                                  
B. I don’t like people to pry into my life for any reason.

38. A. I get upset when people don’t notice how I look when I go out in public.     
B. I don’t mind blending into the crowd when I go out in public.

39. A. I am more capable than other people.                                  
B. There is a lot that I can learn from other people.

40. A. I am much like everybody else.                                                          
B. I am an extraordinary person.

SCORING KEY:

Assign one point for each response that matches the key.  

1, 2 and 3: A
4, 5: B
6: A
7: B
8: A
9, 10: B
11, 12, 13, 14: A
15: B
16: A
17, 18, 19, 20: B
21: A
22, 23: B
24, 25: A
26: B
27: A
28: B
29, 30, 31: A
32: B
33, 34: A
35. B
36, 37, 38, 39: A
40: B

The average score for the general population is 15.3. The average score for celebrities is 17.8. Pinsky says he scored 16.

Young says it is important to consider which traits are dominant. For example, an overall score that reflects more points on vanity, entitlement, exhibitionism and exploitiveness is more cause for concern than someone who scores high on authority, self-sufficiency and superiority, he says.

The seven component traits by question:

• Authority: 1, 8, 10, 11, 12, 32, 33, 36

• Self-sufficiency: 17, 21, 22, 31, 34, 39

• Superiority: 4, 9, 26, 37, 40

• Exhibitionism: 2, 3, 7, 20, 28, 30, 38

• Exploitativeness: 6, 13, 16, 23, 35

• Vanity: 15, 19, 29

• Entitlement: 5, 14, 18, 24, 25, 27

July 16, 2010

Erin Andrews – tort reform – joint & several liability

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 6:16 am

A political party sometimes manages an issue so effectively that the opposing party is continually on the defensive.  The Democrats have several such winning issues – e.g., increasing the minimum wage and raising taxes on the rich.  But the Republicans have their winning issues, too – e.g., cutting taxes and tort reform.  Who doesn’t want lower taxes and fewer lawsuits?  

Yesterday there was an article in USA Today on a lawsuit that probably will cause Republicans to scream again for tort reform.  (Tort reform generally means preventing frivolous lawsuits and reining-in runaway juries.)  The USA Today article can be read at http://travel.usatoday.com/hotels/post/2010/07/espns-erin-andrews-files-suit-against-marriott-radisson-and-stalker/100089/1

According to the article, ESPN’s Erin Andrews is suing the hotels she was using when a stalker video-taped her through peep-holes.  The article doesn’t say what negligence Erin is alleging that the hotels committed, but through past experience I believe we need to give the Erin’s lawyer a chance to make an argument before concluding that this is a frivolous nuisance suit. 

My past experience with this issue occurred in the mid-70’s when I read about another hotel lawsuit that I presumed to be frivolous.  Singer Connie Francis was raped by someone who broke into her hotel room, and I thought it was outrageous that she was able to sue the hotel for this injury.  According to an Internet website, however, Connie Francis won her lawsuit against the hotel for inadequate security, and the result influenced the hotel and motel industry to install deadbolts, viewing ports, and improved lighting.  Republicans sometimes fail to acknowledge the beneficial effect of lawsuits on corporate behavior.

If Erin Andrews is unable to prove some negligence with the hotels, her suit is arguably frivolous or a nuisance suit.  The best way to eliminate frivolous/nuisance suits is to require the loser to pay for all litigation costs, but no state has taken this step yet because of fears that it would severely discourage the poor from seeking justice in the courts.   

Even if we assume that Erin Andrews is able to prove that the hotels did something negligent and that this negligence contributed to her injuries, there still remains the fact that the person most responsible for her injuries was the stalker/videographer.  Back in the Connie Francis days, the law in America did not care whether the hotel was 1% responsible for the injuries or 99% responsible, it still had to pay the entire award.  That concept in law is called joint & several liability.  It was created hundreds of years ago by judges who felt that, in cases where the mostly-negligent defendant couldn’t afford to pay for the damages, it was better for the slightly-negligent defendant to over-pay than for an injured party to under-recover.

In the last 30 years, however, American legislators in more than 30 states have decided that joint & several liability created by judges is not fair, and they have revised it by statutes.  In Texas, for example, defendants who are 51% or more negligent in causing an injury are jointly & severally liable for the entire award, but defendants who are 50% or less negligent are responsible only for their proportionate share of the award.  A defendant 1% negligent would only owe for 1% of the damages.  

Thus, even if Erin Andrews is able to prove some negligence with the hotels, the viability of her lawsuit will depend on whether any of her hotels are located in states with out-dated joint & several laws.  If a hotel is located in a progressive state like Texas, the hotels will be in a much stronger position to defend.

p.s., a subsequent article in the San Antonio Express-News reported that Andrews was alleging that the hotels not only had revealed that she was registered at their hotel, but also had revealed her room number.  I am surprised that hotels give out room numbers, and it may be that loose-lipped employees gave out Andrew’s information despite hotel policy to the contrary.  Determining liability in this case will be interesting, and then determining damages might be even more problematic.

July 15, 2010

Consultants are a luxury the Republican Party can’t afford

In his book Real Change, Newt Gingrich asserted that the Republican Party lost power in the late 1990’s because its leaders were held captive by a swarm of consultants.  According to Gingrich, the consultants (a) led Republican leaders toward safe positions that would play well during the next election cycle, and (b) steered them away from fresh, original ideas that might require some cultivation.  Based on recent developments, Gingrich’s advice is not being heeded.

I had first-hand experience with this concept in my five-person Republican primary earlier this year.  The two candidates with a lot of money to spend spent a lot of that money on consultants even before the rest of us started campaigning.  (Canseco spent over $40,000 and Hurd spent over $30,000.)  When the campaign got going on the ground, I was struck by the similarity of the Canseco and Hurd positions.  In fact, I couldn’t detect any significant difference of opinion (other than term limits, which Hurd couldn’t support because he was only 32 years old, and district residency, which Canseco couldn’t support because he wasn’t a resident).  Even more revealing was their practice of evading tough questions by giving vague, similar responses.  By contrast, the other three candidates took positions that sometimes deviated from Republican orthodoxy and felt obligated to directly answer direct questions.

Today, there was article in the New York Times relating to the extreme reliance on consultants.  The article suggested that Republican Meg Whitman, a billionaire running for governor in California, had given $1 million to Mike Murphy, a popular Republican consultant, to prevent him from consulting for Steve Poizner, Whitman’s main rival.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/12/us/politics/12whitman.html?hpw.  The NYT article went on to say that this practice of buying up consultants is not a novel political tactic, as NYC’s Republican mayor/billionaire Michael Bloomberg commonly retained consultants whom he didn’t need, but didn’t want consulting against him. 

This practice goes beyond politics.  As an insurance-company lawyer, I heard about defendant-corporations who would place the leading attorneys in a small town on retainer as soon as it learned that the small town was the site of important litigation, not because they were going to use the lawyers, but because they wanted to prevent the other side from using them.  And in college football many years ago, the strong teams like UT-Austin would give scholarships to players they didn’t need, just to keep them from playing for rival teams like the Texas Aggies.  College football corrected their problem by limiting how many scholarships a team could give.  Unfortunately, campaign finance is not as amenable to such simple reform. 

A major part of the problem is that some players (candidates or corporations) have virtually unlimited resources to spend on something that they deem to be critical.  An article in the SA Express-News today reported that Sarah Palin’s PAC (SarahPac) had received and spent almost $1 million in the last quarter.  http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/FEC_filing_shows_Palin_gave_87500_to_candidates_98231109.html.  I reviewed the filing and determined that she paid the following consultants in the first six months of this year:

  • Orion Strategies, Washington, DC                 $40,000
  • NorthStar Strategies, Alexandria, VA            $75,000
  • IzzyLene Consulting, Anchorage, AK           $22,500
  • True North L’Attitudes, Anchorage, AK       $10,833.33
  • Aries Petra Consulting, Woodbridge, VA      $28,000
  • Grey Strategies, Columbus, OH                     $45,000
  • Andrew Davis, Sacramento, CA                    $30,000
  • Pamela Pryor, Arlington, VA                         $30,000
  • Kim Daniels, Bethesda, MD                           $26,000
  • 338 Industries, Austin, TX                             $1,500
  • Callisto Consulting, Millville, NJ                    $8,000

Why does Sarah Palin need to consult with so many consultants?  The SarahPac website says it is dedicated to “supporting fresh ideas…  By supporting SarahPac, you will allow Gov. Palin to help find and create solutions for America’s most pressing problems.”  I wonder if Sarah’s contributors know that their money is going to a bunch of Beltway bobble-heads.  By turning to consultants for fresh, creative, original ideas, Sarah is obviously not heeding Newt’s advice – i.e., consultants are a luxury the Republican Party cannot afford.

American values

American immigration policy for over a century has included limits on the number of people allowed to immigrate.  Part of the objective of that policy is to keep the numbers of immigrants low enough to allow for assimilation to American values.  In response to this objective, a reader of SA Express-News recently suggested that there is no distinct American culture and that the only distinctive American value is to support and defend the U.S. Constitution.  That struck me as too simplistic.  Although the Constitution establishes our form of government – i.e., a democratic republic that is significantly restricted by individual liberty – there are certainly distinguishing American values that are not described in the Constitution. 

What are America’s values?  One of the Internet’s most popular lists was developed by Robin Williams, Jr. in 1970.  He suggested the following:

  1. Achievement and success as major personal goals;
  2. Activity and work favored above leisure and laziness, action/doing over reflection, controlling events and not just letting things happen;
  3. Moral orientation i.e. absolute judgments of good/bad, right/wrong; 
  4. Humanitarian motives as shown in charity and crisis aid; 
  5. Efficiency and practicality a preference for the quickest and shortest way to achieve a goal at the least cost;
  6. Process and progress, a belief that technology can solve all problems & that the future will be better that the past;
  7. Material comfort as the US dream;
  8. Equality as an abstract ideal OR equal opportunity, (not equality of condition);
  9. Freedom as a person’s right against the state;
  10. External conformity, the ideal of going along, joining, and not rocking the boat; 
  11. Science and rationality, as the means of masterminding the environment and securing more material comforts;
  12. Nationalism, a belief that US values and institutions represent the best on earth; 
  13. Democracy (free enterprise) based on personal quality and freedom;
  14. Individualism emphasizing personal rights and responsibilities; and 
  15. Racism and group superiority themes that periodically lead to prejudice and discrimination against those who are racially, religiously and culturally different from the northern Europeans who first settled the continent

Another popular list was developed by L. Robert Kohls in 1984.  Surprisingly, there is not a lot of overlap in the lists:

  1. Personal control over the environment;
  2. Change is a good thing;
  3. Time should be controlled and managed;
  4. Equality/egalitarianism;
  5. Individualism and privacy;
  6. Self-help;
  7. Competition and free enterprise;
  8. Futuristic orientation;
  9. Action/work orientation;
  10. Informality;
  11. Directness, openness, and honesty;
  12. Practicality and efficiency; and
  13. Materialism/acquisitiveness.
 

Kohls’s list went one step further than Williams’s by contrasting American values with some other countries:

 

U.S. Values Some Other Countries’ Values
Pers. Control over the Environment 
Change
Time & Its Control
Equality
Individualism/Privacy
Self-Help
Competition
Future Orientation
Action/Work Orientation
Informality
Directness/Openness/Honesty
Practicality/Efficiency Materialism/Acquisitiveness
Fate
Tradition
Human Interaction
Hierarchy/Rank/Status
Group’s Welfare
Birthright Inheritance
Cooperation
Past Orientation
“Being” Orientation
Formality
Indirectness/Ritual/”Face”
Idealism
Spiritualism/Detachment

The contrasting lists not only suggest that America’s values are unique, but also raise the question, Where do American values come from?  One author, Frederick Jackson Turner, has argued that it was not the Europeans who molded American values, but rather the American frontier experience.  According the Turner, the frontier is responsible for America being egalitarian, nationalistic, pragmatic, adaptive, coarse, violent, anti-intellectual, and wasteful of national resources.  See A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen.

A couple of other popular lists are mostly redundant, but with a few insights:

A list from the University of Missouri – St. Louis includes:

  1. Individualism and privacy;
  2. Equality;
  3. Informality;
  4. The future, change, and progress;
  5. Time
  6. Achievement, action, work, and materialism; and
  7. Directness and assertiveness.

The unique value from the U of M is the Goodness of Humanity – The future cannot be better if people are not fundamentally good and improvable. Americans assume that human nature is basically good, not basically evil. Foreign visitors will see them doing many things that are based on the assumption people are good and can make themselves better. 

A list from the Kah Zoohl blog consists of liberty, justice, and equality.  Although these might seem overly broad and obvious, I don’t think the prior lists included justice, and I think this oversight is shocking.  As an American, I believe strongly that there should be a remedy for every wrong, if possible.  Americans do not easily accept injustice and will often go to great lengths “as a matter of principle.”

Because American values are unique and not easily adopted, I believe we need to enhance assimilation by limiting immigration to manageable numbers.  To prevent excessive illegal immigration, we have to not only strengthen our border security, but also reverse the current open-arms treatment of illegal immigrants.  Sanctuary cities are an incredible insult to a nation of laws. Unfortunately, respect for the rule of law is not a distinctive American value.

July 14, 2010

Institutional loyalty vs. personal integrity

Filed under: Business,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 4:56 pm
Tags: , ,

Most of my career was spent working for a large company with 15,000 employees in the main office.  During my early years, I often commented critically about some co-workers for failing to show a characteristic that I called institutional loyalty.  Although my co-workers would show honesty and consideration when dealing with co-workers and the public, they would be niggardly when dealing with the company.  Because I had personally internalized my company’s well-being, I was disappointed when others showed they had not bought into John Kennedy’s directive – “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Later in my career, after I had risen to a higher level, I noticed a significant increase in institutional loyalty, but unfortunately, this increase was accompanied by a decline in personal integrity.  In numerous instances, I witnessed colleagues take courses of action that were beneficial to the company but unfair to co-workers.  My conclusion was that these people cared more about their careers than about their co-workers.

It’s too bad we can’t have both institutional loyalty and personal integrity.  I think a company can establish a corporate culture where personal integrity remains paramount, but such a culture can thrive only when senior management quits rewarding ambitious employees whose first instinct is to ask, “How high?”

July 12, 2010

Brett Favre – self-absorbed?

The LeBron James story continues to reverberate through Sports Nation.  My favorite morning TV show is ESPN’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning,” and they are still talking almost exclusively about LeBron four days later.  One of their angles this morning was listing the five most self-absorbed American athletes.  In addition to LeBron, the consensus was that the other four were Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods, Chad Ochocinco, and Brett Favre.  I don’t have any problem with the first four names, but wait a minute on Brett Favre.  [Disclaimer – I was a life-long Green Bay Packer fan (until they traded Favre) and will be forever indebted to Favre for helping to bring the Packers back to Lombardi-like glory days.]

Before getting into the argument over who is or isn’t self-absorbed, we should first come to an understanding of what the term means.  Google defines self-absorbed as:

  • Being engrossed in oneself and one’s own affairs;
  • A person who cannot stop thinking about themselves and constantly reminds all others around them of their good and bad qualities;
  • Absorbed in one’s own thoughts, activities, and interests; and
  • Selfish.

I disagree with the last definition – i.e., selfish (concentrating on one’s own advantage without regard for others) – because it connotes a completely different attribute.  Whereas the self-absorbed characteristic is in-your-face obvious, a selfish trait is often hidden behind a façade.  Furthermore, self-absorbed people are always obnoxious, but there are strong arguments that a certain amount of selfishness is good.  (See Ayn Rand – “I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”)      

I like the first three definitions because they describe the sort of person that I associate with the term self-absorbed.  If you’ve ever played sports, you remember the teammates who couldn’t stop talking about their performance.  If you’ve ever gone to a happy hour, you know the people who can’t stop talking about themselves and their kids.  Self-absorbed people think their lives are so interesting that others must find them to be interesting, too.

Based on sports reports on the aforementioned LeBron, A-Rod, Tiger, and 85, a picture emerges of stars who are caught up in their own celebrity.  But why include Brett Favre in the list of notoriety?  Sure, he has equivocated over whether to retire, and he has used his stardom to avoid pre-season workouts.  Clearly, that is not enough to qualify as self-absorbed.  From all of the Favre articles that I had read or viewed, I have not gleaned that he is obsessed by his life.  He seems to care about his family, friends, and teammates. 

Mike Greenberg, a co-host on Mike & Mike in the Morning, has characterized LeBron’s prime-time announcement as an act of self-aggrandizement.  According to Goggle, this means the act of exaggerating one’s own importance, power or reputation; ego trip; drawing attention to your own importance.  I think that term perfectly captures LeBron.  Let’s stay away from the term self-absorbed, at least as relates to Brett Favre.

July 11, 2010

Facebook, the Nazi Network

I am still waiting to hear from Jayden in Facebook’s User Operations.  On July 6, I asked her/him to reconsider their decision to disable my account.  She/he didn’t respond, so on July 9, I pleaded with her/him to restore my account.  Still nothing, and I’m beginning to think that Jayden will not be responding.

How would you characterize Facebook’s action? 

In my previous blog post, I used the terms arbitrary, authoritarian, and un-American.  Since then, the word “imperious” has also come to mind.  But earlier today, I think I captured the perfect descriptor – Nazi. 

Although I have not studied Nazism for many years, I did watch the famous Seinfeld episode titled, “The Soup Nazi.”  According to Wikipedia, the title was based on the nickname given to a restaurateur as an exaggeration of the excessively strict regimentation he constantly demanded of his patrons.  The Soup Nazi was renowned in Manhattan, not only for his soups, but also because he demanded that all customers in his restaurant meticulously follow his strict queuing, ordering, and payment policies.  

Wikipedia also noted that the Soup Nazi character was based on a real person:

  • “Prior to his fictional counterpart’s appearance on Seinfeld, the real Al Yeganeh was unflatteringly referred to by local patrons as the ‘Terrorist.’  His soups were renowned for their excellent quality, but his interactions with customers seemed somewhat capricious. Some were granted extra side items like candy or bread, but no clear rules for this attention were ever established.”

The Soup Nazi seems to have been cut from the same cloth as the Nazi Network.

July 10, 2010

Bicycling potpourri

Filed under: Fitness,Investing,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 4:05 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

My mind has been on cycling lately.  The Tour de France probably has something to do with that.  Plus, spending an hour a day in the saddle is probably conducive to that, too.  My dad probably felt the same way when he was in the saddle on a horse when he was young and later when he spent his days on a tractor.  Among my biking thoughts are the following three: 

Flat stages in the Tour de France.  As a biking aficionado, I have enjoyed watching the Tour de France every morning for the past week.  But the event could be significantly improved if the organizers did something to make the flat stages less predictable.  Flat stages comprise about half of the 21 stages in the Tour, and they play almost no role in determining the winner of the Tour.  Instead flat stages are the days when the serious contenders usually coast anonymously in the peloton while a few undistinguished riders are allowed to breakaway from the peloton only to be caught shortly before the finish so that a few sprinters can sprint to the finish.  The only uncertainty in a flat stage is wondering whether the breakaway riders will be caught (I believe they are is caught more than 80% of the time) and which of the sprinters will win. 

In my opinion, there is no reason that all of the sprinters should be around at the finish.  In other racing events, the non-sprinters would try to push the peloton so hard that the sprinters would be left behind.  Inexplicably, this doesn’t happen in the Tour.  The peloton doesn’t allow the breakaway group to breakaway if it contains any serious contenders.  So why doesn’t a contender join the breakaway and force the peloton to follow him.  That would drain the energy from the sprinters and cause a real race by the contenders in each stage instead of giving them a bunch of days off while they rest up for the mountainous stages.

Harnessing the power of gyms.  This past winter, I would ride a stationary bike at Lifetime Fitness for an hour each day.  Although this was not as boring as you might think (I had a choice of an MP3 player or a TV with a dozen channels to distract me), my mind would sometimes wander.  One day my mind wandered into wondering whether anyone had tried to harness the energy that I was spending each day spinning that stationary wheel.  After a bit of cogitating I concluded that harnessing that energy would be much less cost-efficient than harvesting wind energy, which itself was only marginally feasible. 

Turns out that my cogitating was pretty accurate.  There was an article in the Texas Tribune today that reported on a pilot program at two Texas colleges (and about a dozen out-of-state colleges) to harness the energy expended by students in a gym on some elliptical machines.  See http://www.texastribune.org/texas-energy/energy/texas-universities-harness-human-power/.  According to the article, preliminary results indicate that the power-cost savings may not justify the cost to retrofit the gym equipment, but the sponsors are rationalizing that the program does teach students to be greener – “They think it’s neat, cool and progressive.”

The business sponsor of the project is a Florida company called ReRev, and its website (http://rerev.com/default.html) indicates that a 30-minute workout produces 50 watt-hours of electricity.  That amount of energy could power a CFL bulb for about two and a half hours, a laptop for about one hour, or a desktop computer for 30 minutes.  That’s not a lot of power, but perhaps future improvements will make this process (just like wind energy) a feasible energy source. 

Although I admire the entrepreneurial spirit of ReRev, I question whether its partners should have been for-profit gyms instead of not-for-profit public universities.         

Dying to cycle.  I am fortunate to have a 20-mile bike route beginning and ending at my apartment doorsteps.  Although the route provides an excellent training ride in a relatively rural, hilly area, I am continually passed by vehicles traveling only a few feet from me.  A few months ago, a couple were killed on my route by a distracted motorist who drove over them on the road’s shoulder.  That is a risk that I have to accept if I want to ride.  I have an exercising-fanatic friend at my apartment complex who would love to ride a bike, but he doesn’t because he thinks it is too dangerous.  That’s too bad. 

Unfortunately, I can’t imagine a time when San Antonio will be able to afford separate roads for bikes and cars, but I can dream.

« Previous PageNext Page »