Mike Kueber's Blog

September 30, 2010

Constitutional conservatives and the separation of church and state

When I decided to run for Congress, one of my first tasks was to create a campaign brochure that described my position on various important issues.  I didn’t initially think that the relationship of government and religion was an important issue, but my primary opponent, Quico Canseco, did.  His website said the following: 

  • Faith and a Respect for Life:  Our country was founded on Christian principles but now secular liberals are trying to wipe our Christian identity from the public domain. Nativity scenes, the Ten Commandments and the name Jesus Christ are now being removed from common public areas. Our schools teach “tolerance” and understanding of other faiths but the subject of Christianity is avoided at all cost. We must fight back against turning our country into an atheist nation. The consequences would be far-reaching. We see it now in the disrespect our society shows for human life. Babies are now a choice that some make like deciding what color car they want. We must vigilantly fight back against these evil forces and defend our Christian values at all costs. The alternative is an unacceptable legacy to leave our children and could ultimately end our nation as we currently know it.

Because Canseco’s position struck me as extreme, I decided to include a paragraph in my first campaign brochure supporting the separation of church and state.  My brochure said the following:

            SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

  • Don’t ostracize those who don’t worship Christ.  I disagree with Quico Canseco’s suggestion that Congress should sponsor Christianity.  Christianity and religion in America will survive without sponsorship from Congress.   

My two conservative friends/advisors – Kevin Brown and Kent Cochran – warned me that the separation of church and state was some fallacy created by liberals to justify their secular positions, but I had studied enough government and constitutional law to reject their warning as misinformed.  As I went door-to-door with my brochure, however, I quickly learned that a lot of conservative voters were similarly misinformed.  A surprising number of voters specifically told me that there was no such thing as “separation of church and state” in the constitution, and many even knew that the U.S. Supreme Court had created the concept based on a letter written by Thomas Jefferson (which made Jefferson persona non grata to many conservatives).  Furthermore, they were upset that Islam and other minority religions seemed to receive more favorable treatment than Christianity in many forums.

Based on this voter feedback, I revised my brochure prior to my mass-mailing to 28,000 Republican primary voters.  The revision, as follows, accommodated conservative concerns without sacrificing fundamental principle:

            RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE

  • The Bill of Rights prohibits government from establishing a religion or limiting the free exercise of religion.  While this clearly means that government can’t discriminate in favor of our country’s dominant religion – Christianity – it does not mean that minority religions should be afforded a preferred status – like affirmative action.  I disagree with Quico Canseco’s suggestion that Congress should sponsor Christianity.  Christianity and religion in America will survive – and thrive – without sponsorship from Congress.   

Even as revised, however, several constituents subsequently objected to the provision, and I assume they were reading between the lines to conclude that I was not their type of guy.

The “separation of church and state” dispute reveals a bigger problem that I have with so-called constitutional conservatives.  They demagogue difficult constitutional issues by suggesting that the issues are simple.  For example, the most popular provision in the Tea Party’s Contract from America requires “each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.”  Do they really think that the Democrats will be unable to identify a provision that authorizes ObamaCare?  Do they really think this requirement will improve governance?  Although this provision seems, at best, innocuous, the Republican leaders in Washington decided to further demagogue it by including it in their Pledge to America.

(Incidentally, the fourth most popular provision in the Tea Party’s Contract from America requires that the federal government adopt “a simple and fair single-rate tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words—the length of the original Constitution.”  What does the length of the original Constitution have to do with the tax code?  It seems than any reference, however misplaced, to the original Constitution elevates an argument in the eyes of a constitutional conservative.)

Getting back to the original argument about the separation of church and state, the constitutional conservatives are correct in stating that those words are not in the Constitution, but they are fundamentally wrong to suggest that the Constitution must be read narrowly or strictly.  A document of only 4,543 words must speak in general terms, and a government must have the ability to act in reasonable accord with those general terms.  Even the conservatives’ patron saint, Justice Anthony Scalia, says the Constitution should be construed reasonably, not strictly.

There are a plethora of unchallenged reasonable constructions – the Constitution doesn’t say anything about “one person, one vote,” but Americans accept that is fundamental law under the “equal protection” clause.  Similarly, Americans accept that it is unconstitutional to discriminate or to have separate, but equal schools, but there is no such language in the Constitution. 

Responsible leaders should refuse to encourage this misinformation about constitutional construction and should certainly decline to demagogue it.  Quit bashing the Supreme Court.  If constitutional conservatives seriously think the Supreme Court has misinterpreted the Constitution, that document is very clearly about how to amend it.

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September 28, 2010

NFL – Week #3

Filed under: Sports — Mike Kueber @ 4:01 pm
Tags: , ,

Finally, I had a week with solid picks, yet I finished tied for 9th, with a 10-6 record.  How can that be?

Week #3 was full of upsets.  The Dallas Cowboys upset the Houston Texans; the KC Chiefs upset the SF 49ers; the Atlanta Falcons upset the NO Saints; the Tennessee Titans upset the NY Giants; the St. Louis Rams upset the Washington Redskins; the Seattle Seahawks upset the SD Chargers; the NY Jets upset the Miami Dolphins; and the Chicago Bears upset the Green Bay Packers.  Thus, the Las Vegas line was a horrible 8-8.  Amongst the Hills & Dale pool of 38, only four players did worse than the LV line (7 or fewer wins) and 25 did better than Vegas (9 or more wins).  Carl Nelson won the pool with an incredible 13-3, beating Vegas by 5 wins.  At 6 p.m. Sunday, he was 13-1, having only missed the Saints/Falcons game.  Then he missed the Sunday night and Monday night games – Jets/Dolphins and Packers/Bears.  He picked the Seahawks to beat the Chargers.  I can’t imagine a week like that.

I am shocked that we Hills & Dales poolsters outsmarted Vegas, and I am encouraged that so many players bet against the LV line.  That bodes well for the future because the house usually wins, and I like betting with the house.

I picked the Dallas, KC, and Chicago upsets, but went with the favorite in the other five upset games.  I also predicted an additional upset that didn’t happen – Pittsburg Steelers at Tampa Bay Bucs.  So I deviated from Vegas four times and was right three times.  Normally, that would be a good week, but not this week.

For the season, I am tied for 10th place with 29 wins.  Currently, Toxie Wright has first place with 33 wins; Danny Wyatt is 2nd with 32, and Roy McNeil is 3rd with 31.  I like my chances.  Vegas is only 27-21, which would qualify for 21st place in our pool.  I fully expect Vegas to rise as the weeks go by.

Sneak peak at Week #4:  Only 14 games, with Minnesota, Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City on their bye week.  Lots of predicted blowouts – eight teams picked by at least five points; only three teams picked by less than three points – Pittsburg at home over Baltimore; Seattle on the road over St. Louis; and New England on the road over Miami.  I’ve been betting against Pitt all year, so why stop now.  I’ve really soured on them because of their QB Roethlisberger, but they are playing without him now, so maybe I should cut them some slack.  I like their coach Tomlin a lot.  I don’t know a lot about Seattle or St. Louis – Seattle has a better pedigree with their QB Hasselbeck and GM Holmgren, but I’ve heard that St. Louis QB Bradford is changing things for the better for the Rams.  New England is reminding me of the SA Spurs – i.e., dynasties that appear to be past their prime – whereas GM Parcels has things going in the right direction in Miami.  I think I will follow Vegas except for Baltimore over Pittsburg and Miami over New England.

September 27, 2010

The Republican legislators’ Pledge to America

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:41 pm
Tags: , ,

I previously expressed my disappointment with the Tea Party’s Contract from America in a blog entry – https://mkueber001.wordpress.com/2010/04/25/the-tea-party-and-a-contract-from-america/.  I was especially disappointed with its focus on constitutional arguments because I think constitutional arguments should be presented to the courts, not to the voters.  But the Contract from America was generated by voters, so what could I expect.  

Last week, Republican legislators in Washington attempted to fine-tune the Contract by developing a Pledge to America with philosophically similar provisions that are more amenable to legislative action in Washington.  Although the legislator’s Pledge is more sophisticated than the Tea Party’s Contract, it has been criticized for containing nothing new.

The Pledge comprises four sections:

  1. Jobs
  • Stop job-killing tax hikes
  • Allow small businesses to take a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their income
  • Require congressional approval for any new federal regulation that would add to the deficit
  • Repeal small business mandates in the new health care law

     2.  Cutting spending

  • Repeal and Replace health care
  • Roll back non-discretionary spending to 2008 levels before TARP and stimulus (will save $100 billion in first year alone)
  • Establish strict budget caps to limit federal spending going forward
  • Cancel all future TARP payments and reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

     3.  Reforming Congress

  • Will require that every bill have a citation of constitutional authority
  • Give members at least 3 days to read bills before a vote

     4.  Defense

  • Provide resources to troops
  • Fund missile defense
  • Enforce sanctions in Iran

To summarize – after repealing ObamaCare and cancelling the TARP, the Republican legislators are pledging to cut taxes, cut domestic spending, and increase defense spending.  That sounds like Reagan all over again.  But Reagan took office at a time when taxes were much higher and our national defenses were much weaker.  Today, our taxes are already much lower, our defenses are much stronger, and the USSR doesn’t exist.  Applying the Reagan playbook to a different situation is dumb. 

Even dumber is the reiteration of the nonsensical Tea Party plank that requires each bill to cite its constitutional authority.  Does any legislator seriously claim to not know the constitutional authority for a bill?  Or to need three days to read the bill before a vote?

The biggest flaw with the Pledge is its failure to say anything new or creative, which is what many people are demanding.  A few days ago, when I wrote about Kevin Brown’s three-pronged conservatism of a balanced budget, a national sales tax, and term limits, I suggested that the 2nd and 3rd items – the national sales tax and term limits – were  risky, but the voters wanted to take a chance.  https://mkueber001.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/a-three-pronged-conservatism-balanced-budget-national-sales-tax-and-term-limits/.  Well, the Republican legislators have meekly declined to take a chance.  Although they give lip service to fiscal restraint needed to balance the budget, they actually implicitly ensure Reaganesque deficits by cutting taxes and increasing defense spending. 

The Pledge totally ignores a national sales tax or any significant tax reform.  At least the Tea Party’s Contract addressed this issue by nonsensically asking for a tax code no longer than the U.S. Constitution. 

And finally, the Pledge said nothing about term limits.  At least the Tea Party could explain that term limits was 11th highest in its voting for favorite provisions and only the top-ten provisions were included in its Contract.

Based on my understanding of the Republican legislators’ Pledge, I think that Americans have an excellent understanding of the November election – i.e., they have no confidence in the ability of the Republicans, but they know that they want the Democrats out of power.

September 25, 2010

Lists from a 57-year-old man

Yesterday was my 57th birthday, but, no, I have not decided to create a bucket list.  Instead the following is more like The Book of Lists, which was a popular book first published in 1977 when I was attending law school.  The Book of Lists was written by David Wallechinsky, his father Irving Wallace (author of porn classic The Fan Club), and his sister Amy Wallace, and it contained hundreds of interesting lists.  I hope you find these lists interesting. 

My favorite sports teams

Having grown up as a provincial, parochial rube in North Dakota, I had five predictable favorite teams as a kid:

  1. Milwaukee Braves (with Hank Aaron) – the Braves were the MLB team closest to North Dakota until the Washington team moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1961.  I stuck with the Braves while my brother Greg switched to the Twins.
  2. The Green Bay Packers (with Paul Horning and Bart Starr) – the Packers were the NFL team closest to North Dakota until Minneapolis/St. Paul was awarded a franchise in 1961.  I would rather fight than switch (an old cigarette commercial), but my brother Greg switched to the Vikings.
  3. Los Angeles Lakers (with Jerry West) – the Lakers were the NBA team closest to North Dakota until they moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960.
  4. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (with Ara Parseghian, John Huarte, and Terry Hanratty) – although the school’s Catholicism probably had something to do with my fandom, it probably was due to their Midwestern base and nationwide network and prominence.
  5. The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux (with Dave Osborn and Phil Jackson) – I only knew one other area team (North Dakota State Bison).  UND was a liberal-arts school while NDSU was a science/agriculture school.  I was a liberal-arts guy who planned to go to law school.

Forty years later, I have evolved into a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, worldly guy and my favorite teams reflect that evolution:

  1. Minnesota Vikings.  If only one of my teams could win its championship, I would want it to be the Vikings, and Brett Favre is the reason.  Two years ago, when he was at the Jets, they were my favorite team.  And before that, the Packers.
  2. San Antonio Spurs.  Although they are the only MLB team in San Antonio, I suspect they would be one of my favorites even if I lived elsewhere.  Pop is my kind of coach (reminds me of Tom Laughlin of the NY football Giants), and Duncan, Ginobli, Parker, and owner Holt are great.  What’s not to love?
  3. Texas Longhorns.  I fell hard for the Longhorns during my law-school years, during which I experienced first-hand Darrell Royal’s last year of coaching and Earl Campbell’s Heisman victory.  My love for the Horns ensured that I had no mixed emotions when the Horns played and lost to Notre Dame for the national title in the 1978 Cotton Bowl, and I’ve never rooted the Irish since, except when I felt sorry for their coach Jerry Faust.
  4. Dallas Cowboys.  I have almost forgiven Jerry Jones for firing Barry Switzer.  Although Switzer was a mortal enemy of my all-time favorite coach Darrell Royal, I took a shine to Switzer and rooted against the Cowboys for several years after his firing, but Wade Phillips and Tony Romo are winning me back.
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers.  My love for New York City caused me to switch from the Braves to the Yankees many years ago, and their Torre years were the best.  But when the Steinbrenners rudely showed Torre the door, I went with him to LA.

My five least favorite teams: 

  1. New Orleans Saints.  If I could only one team to lose its championship, it would be the Saints because they are the only team that can threaten my most cherished record in sports – the Green Bay Packers under Vince Lombardi won three NFL titles in a row (1966-68).  The Saints have only won one, but any streak that reaches two is too close for comfort.  (I know this sounds like the small-minded Dolphins rooting against any unbeaten team.)
  2. Miami Heat.  It’s natural to hate a team that is loaded with dominating talent.  Thus, the Heat should be the most hated team of all time.
  3. USC Trojans.  I hate coaches who show no loyalty to their school.  Lane Kiffen appears to be the quintessential opportunist.
  4. San Diego Chargers.  Ever since they discarded Drew Brees for Phillip Rivers, I’ve been rooting for Rivers to fail.
  5. St. Louis baseball Cardinals.  I’m tired of hearing that LaRussa is a genius, and I don’t want Puhols to replace Aaron as the greatest home-run hitter of all time.

My favorite politicians

Although not nearly as important as sport teams, politicians are one of my fascinations.  My favorites are the following:

  1. Richard Nixon.  I like to describe Nixon as a junkyard dog.  By that, I mean that he grew up having to scrap for everything he got; kind of like a kid in a big family with not enough money.  That’s why some characterize him as having a chip on his shoulder and not fully refined or civilized.  I have some of those same traits, and I attribute some of it as due to affirmative action, which became popular in government and large corporations just as I was looking to get ahead in the world.  All of a sudden, these employers that were traditionally a route for all disadvantaged people to get ahead were reserved primarily for women and minorities.  Disadvantaged white males were supposed to “take one for the team.”  
  2. Dwight Eisenhower.  Although Nixon and Eisenhower grew up in similar circumstances, Eisenhower’s personality was diametrically different in that he was always a graceful winner and comfortable in his own skin.  His biographers describe him as not particularly creative or brilliant, but someone with integrity, intelligence, personal skills, and an abundance of judgment and common sense.  I wanted to be like him, and when Debbie wouldn’t let me name our third son after Nixon (she hated the nickname Dick), I compromised with Thomas Dwight.
  3. George W. Bush.  W. is a Texan, a sports guy, a patriot, and a right-center politician who transformed education policy and tried to fix immigration.  And he was just what America needed after 9/11.  His big mistake was to cut taxes instead of raising them to pay for our wars.
  4. Ronald Reagan.  I was a huge Reagan fan during his administration and was so happy when Bush-41’s election provided the ultimate popular ratification of Reagan’s tenure.  But I grew tired of the Reagan revolution by the end of Bush’s term and voted for Perot.  By that time I had become a deficit hawk, and although Reagan made fundamental changes to America’s direction by cutting taxes and increasing defense spending, he sacrificed fiscal responsibility by failing to cut domestic spending.  
  5. Mitt Romney.  While looking for a presidential candidate for 2012, I read Romney’s No Apologies and found his positions to be a perfect match for right-of-center me and America.  Just as importantly, his positions were based on a sound analysis.  My only concern is that, although his book stayed away from social issues like abortion because they are not as amenable to analysis, he revealed some intolerant righteousness when he discussed legalization of marijuana.

My top-ten BFFs (girls and family excluded)

  1. Landis Tande
  2. David Odegaard
  3. Mike Crocker
  4. Marv Leibowitz
  5. Tom Wynne
  6. Mike Vigus
  7. Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez
  8. Kevin Brown
  9. Don Iverson
  10. Mike Callen
  11. George Joy – not
  12. Michael Foley – not

My top-ten favorite books of fiction

  1. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  3. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  4. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  5. The Fan Club by Irving Wallace
  6. Sayonara by James Michener
  7. Wheels by Arthur Hailey
  8. Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig
  9. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

My top-ten favorite books of non-fiction

  1. The Great Bridge by David McCullough
  2. The Power Broker by Robert Caro
  3. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  4. A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen
  5. The Next 100 Years by George Friedman
  6. Free to Choose by Milton Friedman
  7. Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
  8. The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams
  9. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  10. The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch

My top-ten favorite movies

  1. Lonesome Dove
  2. Hud
  3. Casablanca
  4. Gone With The Wind
  5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
  6. Shane
  7. Centennial
  8. Patton
  9. Pretty Woman
  10. American President

My top-ten movie stars

  1. John Wayne
  2. Clint Eastwood
  3. Paul Newman
  4. Robert Redford
  5. Marilyn Monroe
  6. Mel Gibson
  7. Clark Gable
  8. Humphrey Bogart
  9. Robert Duvall
  10. Angelina Jolie

My top-twenty favorite songs

  1. Universal Soldier by Donovan
  2. Father & Son by Cat Stevens
  3. Amarillo by Morning by Terry Stafford
  4. Wrapped by George Strait
  5. Ringo by Lorne Greene
  6. It Must Have Been Love by Roxette
  7. Wild Geese by Joan Armatrading
  8. Austin by Blake Shelton
  9. I’m Gonna Be Strong by Gene Pitney
  10. Angie by The Rolling Stones
  11. No Place That Far by Sara Evans w/ Vince Gill
  12. Burn by Johnny Cash
  13. The Poor Side of Town by Johnny Rivers
  14. The Lady in Red by Chris de Burgh
  15. I Will Always Love You by Vince Gill and Dolly Parton
  16. I Want to Love You Forever by Jessica Simpson
  17. Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers
  18. Something in Red by Lorrie Morgan
  19. El Paso by Marty Robbins
  20. Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler and Meatloaf

My top-ten evocative songs

  1. Rumors by Fleetwood Mac – Valerie Lebeaux and Tom Wynne
  2. Fire & Rain by James Taylor – Katie Taylor and Julie Ophaug
  3. Kind of a Drag by the Buckinghams – Debbie Lee
  4. Tiny Dancer by Elton John – Larry Honnel, West Hall, UND
  5. Billy & Sue by B.J. Thomas – Mark Kueber in Korea
  6. Mr. Lonely by Bobby Vinton – Winter chores in ND
  7. He’ll Have to Go by Jim Reeves – Dad
  8. Foolish Games by Jewel – Sakina Hassonjee
  9. Should’ve Never by JLo – Tejana Temptress
  10. Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground and anything else by Willie Nelson or John Denver – Debbie Kueber
  11. She’s in Love with the Boy by Trisha Yearwood – Stephanie Melain
  12. I Wanna Talk About Me – Tina Spencer

Upon further reflection, maybe I haven’t evolved into a wordly, cosmopolitan, sophisticated person after all.

September 22, 2010

Statistics in sports

 There are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies, and statistics.  Although attributed to Mark Twain, it was actually British politician Benjamin Disraeli who coined that expression.  I don’t think statistics in sports have reached that level of mendacity, but there are often misleading.

I’ve been a statistics aficionado every since I was a kid collecting hundreds of baseball cards.  (I could have retired from USAA earlier if I hadn’t misplaced those cards sometime along the way.)  One of my favorite games when I was a kid was to compare one baseball card against another to determine which player had the better year.  Because I gave each category of statistic on the card equal value (e.g., triples and RBIs), I remember certain non-star players with a large number of doubles, triples, stolen bases, and runs would stack up surprisingly well against slugging stars.  I also gave the same credit for winning a category by one or by 50.  Thus, having one more triple would be worth the same as 50 more RBIs.  These rules made the game fun and a bit unpredictable, but even then I realized that baseball-card statistics could be misleading.  

Statistician Bill James has done more than anyone to make sports statistics meaningful.  Starting in 1977, he self-published The Bill James Baseball Abstract, which contains his statistical analysis of baseball strategy, productivity, and effectiveness, and his influence in the baseball world has grown continually ever since.  James has developed countless statistics that reveal a player’s offensive and defensive effectiveness (e.g., runs created and range factor), and he has shown that certain time-honored managerial strategies are incorrect (e.g., when to hit-and-run or bunt).  In 2006, James was named by Time magazine as one of the hundred most influential people in the world (in the Thinking category).  He has also been the subject of a profile on “60 Minutes.”

The reliance on statistics in baseball is called sabermetrics, which refers to the acronym of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), of which Bill James is the most prominent member.  Another famous practitioner of sabermetrics is Oakland GM Billy Beane, about whom the book Moneyball was written in 2003.  According to Wikipedia:

  • The central premise of Moneyball is that the collected wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts, and the front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed. Statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average, typically used to gauge players, are relics of a 19th century view of the game and the statistics that were available at the time. The book argues that the Oakland A’s’ front office took advantage of more empirical gauges of player performance to field a team that could compete successfully against richer competitors in Major League Baseball.   

Examples of sabermetrics include:

  • OPS – on-base plus slugging
  • LIPS – late-inning pressure situations
  • DIPS – defense independent pitching situations
  • WHIP – walks plus hits per inning pitched

As sabermetrics became generally accepted in baseball, it made gradual in-roads into other sports, too, like basketball and football.  In fact, I was prompted to write about this subject by a recent Happy Hour with Kevin Brown during which he complained about some misleading basketball statistics.  He thinks scoring, rebounds, and assists should be modified to reflect so many per minute.  (I think Kevin’s favorite player doesn’t play a lot of minutes, but generates a lot of numbers in those minutes.)  Kevin also complained that quarterback ratings in football should consider dropped passes and interceptions off of deflections.

I responded to Kevin that I had some pet-peeve statistics, too:

  • Basketball – points per possession consumed.  Whereas Kevin wants statistics to show points per minute, I want show points per possession consumed.  You might think that the number of shots taken would fully reflect this, but it doesn’t because it fails count possessions that end in free throws.  For example, Kobe Bryan may shoot 4 of 14 and score 14 points because he made 6 of 8 free throws.  According to my statistic, he scored 14 points out of 18 possessions (or 20 possessions if you count his two turnovers).  I would be interested in comparing Kobe, LeBron, and Durant with this statistic.  
  • Football – time-of-possession.  Virtually every commentator thinks that time-of-possession is a significant statistic, whereas I think it is easily inferior to the total number of plays.  I concede that a football team wants the offense on the field because they can score easier than a defense can and because defenses tend to get worn down, but it shouldn’t matter whether the clock is running (because of running plays and short passes over the middle) or is stopped (because of sideline passes or incompletions).  Furthermore, running the clock may be good if you are ahead, but it also reduces the number of possessions in a game, and only the weaker team wants to reduce the number of possessions.      
  • Baseball – errors.  A batter who gets on base because of an error is charged with an out for purposes of his batting average.  That always struck me as misleading (and unfair) because, as a relatively fast softball player, I felt that my ability to run would cause the infielder to make an error and this should be reflected in my batting average. 

Interestingly, football and basketball numbers crunchers use the term sabermetics even though, technically, the term is based on the term, “Society of American Baseball Research.” 

In my opinion, managerial hunches has been have been vastly overrated; not much more than an excuse for not doing the necessary study and thinking.  With all of the money involved in professional sports, statistical analysis should be a part of Management 101.

September 21, 2010

Using signs in political campaigns

 Last week, the local paper published an article on the (mis)use of large signs in political campaigns.  http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/election_signs_serious_business_103220994.html.  The article wasn’t concerned with yard signs, but rather with large 4’ x 6’ signs that are plastered along major streets in San Antonio.  According to the article, these signs are like weeds in more ways than one – they spring up everywhere, especially places where the landowners don’t want them.

Earlier this year, several people criticized my congressional campaign for failing to use political signs, and I told them that my non-sign strategy was both practical and principled.  As a practical matter, signs cost a lot of money and both of my campaigning books – Winning Your Election the Wellstone Way and How to Win a Local Election – advised that signs were generally ineffective.  As a matter of principle, signs insult a voter’s intelligence because they provide no substantive information. 

I suspect, however, that my campaign books provided their advice because of principle instead of practice.  Actual experience in San Antonio suggests that signs are effective.  Because there are a multitude of low-visibility races and low-cost campaigns in which the voters are exposed to minimal substantive information, the only thing the voters may know about a contest is a name they saw on some signs.  If the signs weren’t effective, candidates would stop spending money on them. 

If I ever run for office again, I will reconsider using highway signs because they will earn some votes, but I would rather leave that campaign technique to those who try to buy an election victory.

NFL – Week 2

Filed under: Entertainment,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 1:28 pm
Tags: ,

Picking NFL winners is proving more difficult than I expected.  For Week 1, I followed the Vegas line for every game and finished in the middle of the Hill’s & Dale’s pack at 10-6.  I would have done 11-5 if I had simply picked the home team for every game. 

This week I decided to go more with my gut, and I picked four upsets:

  • I picked the Cincinnati Bengals at home to upset the Baltimore Ravens because the Ravens would have a let-down after their big victory last week over the Jets – I win, Bengals win by five!
  • I picked the Kansas City Chiefs on the road to upset the Browns at Cleveland because the Browns are losers – I win, the Browns played to their pedigree.
  •  I picked the Detroit Lions at home to upset the Philadelphia Eagles because the Eagles stunk last week and the Lions played well in a loss to the Bears – I lose, what the hell was I thinking?  Philadelphia is a winner and Detroit is a loser.  A famous coach once said that a team is never as bad as it feels after a loss and never as good as it feels after a win.  I need to remember that.
  • I picked the New York Giants on the road to upset the Indianapolis Colts because I thought the game was in New York and Indy looked bad in their first game – I lose, the Colts are winners, the game was in Indy and they slaughtered the Giants.  I don’t know how I made that mistake.  The Colts were picked by 5 points, and I wouldn’t have considered picking against them on a home game.

Although I was 2-2 on the upsets, I once again finished in the middle of the Hill’s & Dale’s pack with a record of 9-7.  Despite everyone’s expectation that picking winners would become easier as we developed a better understanding of each team’s ability, Week 2 was more difficult than Week 1 for everyone:

  • Las Vegas regressed from 10-6 in Week 1 to 9-7 in Week 2.
  • The home team regressed from 11-5 in Week 1 to 7-9 in Week 2.
  • The Hill’s & Dale’s pool winner regressed from 13-3 in Week 1 to 12-4 in Week 2.

Overall, I am 19-13 and tied for 13th place out of 37 players.  Vegas is also 19-13.  Mike Shanzer leads with 23-9.  Next week I plan to eliminate both the mental (Eagles/Lions) and physical mistakes (Giants/Indy) and make some money.

September 20, 2010

Extending the Bush tax cuts?

Currently, the biggest debate in Washington is whether to extend the 10% Bush tax cuts, which were enacted in the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003.  Obama and most Democrats want to retain the cuts for low- and middle-income individuals (those making less than $200k or for a family $250k), but to repeal the cuts for high-income individuals.  They argue that the deficit-reduction benefit of a tax increase on the rich will outweigh any possible damage to the economy caused by higher taxes.  Republicans counter that higher taxes will do serious damage to an economy that is already in a recession, and this will result in reduced revenues, not increased revenues.

I share the conservative position that it is a bad idea to increase taxes on anybody during a recession.  In fact, the consensus among economists is that a mix of tax cuts and spending increases is the best way to get out of a recession.  Thus, our current recession is not the right time to increase the income-tax rate for the rich.  But what about increasing those taxes next year? 

Unlike most Republicans, I don’t think that you can routinely increase government revenue by cutting taxes.  That defies common sense.  As an old sage once said, “That’s so stupid that only an intellectual (ideologue) could believe it.”  There are, however, unusual situations where a tax cut could result in a long-term increase in government revenues, and those situations are described by the Laffer Curve.  This is an the economic theory from Arthur Laffer suggesting that increasing tax rates beyond a certain point will become counterproductive for raising further tax revenue because of diminishing returns.  The problem with the Laffer Curve is that it doesn’t lend itself to objective analysis and, therefore, there has been no consensus about what is the revenue-maximizing tax rate – some suggest 70%; others say 20%.  The Laffer Curve was first articulated in 1974 and became a part of Ronald Reagan’s Reaganomics – i.e., supply-side economics.

Similar to the Laffer curve is the Hauser’s Law, a theory proposed in 1993 by an investment economist – Kurt Hauser.  According to Hauser, federal tax revenues in post-War America will be equal to approximately 19.5% of GDP, regardless of what the top marginal tax rate is.  In 2009, however, tax receipts dropped to 15%, and many critics believe this theory reflects past experience, but does little to predict future results.  I agree – Hauser’s Law defies common sense and is so stupid that only an ideologue could believe it.  If it were to be believed, federal government will always be approximately one-fifth of the America’s GDP.  That makes no sense.  Americans will decide how socialistic we want our government to be.  If Obama has his way, and America becomes a welfare state like Europe, I have no doubt that government receipts will exceed 19.5%, just like they do in Europe.  Although most Americans are opposed to a Europe-style economy, there is no question that those economies are not total disasters for those democracies.  Rather, the citizens are receiving the government they want and are willing to pay for.

The situation in Europe leads to my common-sense position that taxes must be considered, not in a vacuum, but rather in connection with expenditures.  Except in times of recession (when deficit spending is beneficial), the federal government should decide what government services are sufficiently important to justify taking enough money from the people to pay for the services.  As Henry Butler famously said, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”  Democrats want to provide generous government services without paying for them, and Republicans want to cut taxes without cutting generous government services.  If the federal government had to balance its budget every non-recessionary year, just like state governments do, the legislators would be forced to do their job in the right way – jointly considering taxes and spending – just like Texas legislators will have to do with this session’s $18 billion revenue-expense mismatch.     

Based on my analysis of the American tax-rate for income since 1913 (when the 16th Amendment was adopted), the current rate for high-income people is relatively low.  (See my chart below.)  Thus, in my judgment, increasing the rate would not trigger the negative-Laffer Curve or significantly damage America’s economy.  Furthermore, income data indicates that high-income people have been doing better than low- and middle-income people for several years, and therefore adding some progressivity to the rates is appropriate. 

I got into some trouble during my congressional campaign for refusing to adopt the standard Republican position that permanently cutting taxes will increase long-term revenue, and I remain convinced that there is no easy route to getting America’s fiscal affairs in order.  If cutting tax rates was a surefire way to increase government revenue, I think the Democrats would be advocating tax cuts just as hard as the Republicans.  But common sense suggests that, if a government needs more money, it needs to increase its tax rates, not decrease them.  Determining how much money is needed depends on how many government services are needed.  These are two sides to the same question.

p.s., please note in the highest tax bracket during the Great Depression – 63% and 79%.  That partially explains why conservatives believe that FDR is falsely credited with leading American out of the Great Depression.  To the contrary, his policies exacerbated a bad situation.

Tax rate in America

(married filing separately) 

Year              Highest Bracket   Lowest Bracket    # of brackets                                

1913                7% over $500k            1% under $20k            7

1914                “          “                      “          “                      “

1915                “          “                      “          “                      “

1916                15% over $2M                        2% under $20k            14

1917                67% over $2M                        2% under $2k              21

1918                77% over $1M                        6% under $4k              56

1919                73% over $1M                        4% under $4k              56

1920                “          “                      “          “                      “         

1921                “          “                      “          “                      “

1922                58% over $200k          “          “                      50

1923                “          “                      “          “                      “

1924                46% over $500k          2% under $4k              43

1925                25% over $100k          1.5% under $4k           23

1926                “          “                      “          “                      “

1927                “          “                      “          “                      “

1928                “          “                      “          “                      “

1929                “          “                      “          “                      “

1930                “          “                      “          “                      “

1931                “          “                      “          “                      “

1932                63% over $1M                        4% under $4k              56

1933                “          “                      “          “                      “

1934                “          “                      “          “                      “

1935                “          “                      “          “                      “

1936                79% over $5M                        “          “                      33

1937                “          “                      “          “                      “

1938                “          “                      “          “                      “

1939                “          “                      “          “                      “

1940                “          “                      “          “                      “

1941                81% over $5M                        10% under $2k            32

1942                88% over $200k          19% under $2k            24

1943                “          “                      “          “                      24

1944                94% over $200k          23% under $2k            “

1945                “          “                      “          “                      24

1946                91% over $200k          20% under $2k            24

1947                “          “                      “          “                      “

1948                “          “                      “          “                      “

1949                “          “                      “          “                      “

1950                “          “                      “          “                      “

1951                “          “                      “          “                      “

1952                92% over $200k          22% under $2k            “

1953                “          “                      “          “                      “

1954                91% over $200k          20% under $2k            “

1955                “          “                      “          “                      “                     

1956                “          “                      “          “                      “

1957                “          “                      “          “                      “

1958                “          “                      “          “                      “

1959                “          “                      “          “                      “

1960                “          “                      “          “                      “

1961                “          “                      “          “                      “

1962                “          “                      “          “                      “

1963                “          “                      “          “                      “

1964                “          “                      “          “                      “

1965                70% over $200k          14% under $500          25

1966                70% over $100k          “          “                      “

1967                “          “                      “          “                      “

1968                “          “                      “          “                      “

1969                “          “                      “          “                      “

1970                “          “                      “          “                      “

1971                “          “                      “          “                      “

1972                “          “                      “          “                      “

1973                “          “                      “          “                      “

1974                “          “                      “          “                      “

1975                “          “                      “          “                      “

1976                “          “                      “          “                      “

1977                “          “                      0% under $1600          26

1978                “          “                      “          “                      “

1979                “          “                      “          “                      “

1980                “          “                      “          “                      “

1981                “          “                      “          “                      “

1982                50% over $43k            “          “                      13

1983                “          “                      “          “                      “

1984                50% over $81k            “          “                      15

1985                “          “                      “          “                      15

1986                “          “                      “          “                      “

1987                38.5% over $45k         11% under $1500        5

1988                28% over $113k          15% under $15k          4

1989                “          “                      “          “                      4

1990                “          “                      “          “                      4

1991                31% over $41k            15% under $17k          3

1992                “          “                      “          “                      “

1993                39.6% over $125k       “          “                      5

1994                “          “                      “          “                      “

1995                “          “                      “          “                      “

1996                “          “                      “          “                      “

1997                “          “                      “          “                      “

1998                “          “                      “          “                      “

1999                “          “                      “          “                      “

2000                “          “                      “          “                      “

2001                “          “                      “          “                      “

2002                38.6% over $153k       10% under $6k            6

2003                35% over $156k          10% under $7k            “

2004                “          “                      “          “                      “

2005                “          “                      “          “                      “

2006                “          “                      “          “                      “

2007                “          “                      “          “                      “

2008                “          “                      “          “                      “\

2009                “          “                      “          “                      “

2010                “          “                      “          “                      “

2010                                        2002

10% up to $8375                                 10% up to $6000

15% up to $34k                                   15% up to $23,350

25% up to $68,650                              27% up to $56,425

28% up to $104,625                            30% up to $85,975

33% up to $186, 825                           35% up to $153,525

35% over $186,825                             38.6% over $153,525

September 19, 2010

A three-pronged conservatism – balanced budget, national sales tax, and term limits

My friend Kevin Brown listens to more talk radio than any person I know, and he agrees with almost everything he hears.  That is why I can get the pulse of conservative America by simply having a few drinks with Kevin every Tuesday.  If I had listened to Kevin more during my congressional campaign, I would have known (a) it’s not a good idea for a Republican candidate to be in favor of separation of church & state, and (b) it’s an oxymoron to call yourself a progressive conservative.      

This past Tuesday, Kevin reminded me that America is going to hell, but all can be saved if we adopt a balanced budget amendment, a national sales tax, and a term-limit amendment.  All three of these ideas have been around for years, but it surprised me that Kevin thought they were so critical.  I agree that requiring a balanced budget would be a monumental improvement, but the sales-tax and term-limit issues don’t seem like game-changers.  Upon further reflection, however, I have to agree with Kevin.  Adoption of these ideas would change D.C. as we know it.

What are their prospects for passage?  The Balanced Budget amendment was a part of the Republican Party’s Contract with America in 1994, and although it passed the House (300-132), it barely failed in the Senate (65-35, with two-thirds required).  All Republicans in the Senate, but not enough Democrats supported the change.  The Tea Party has included the Balanced Budget amendment in its new Contract from America, so there is a chance the idea will be voted on again.  Hope springs eternal, although the Democrats will surely monolithically resist it again.

Personally, I think the adoption of a national sale tax in lieu of an income tax is too risky, and Mitt Romney has clearly described those risks in his recent book, No Apologies.  But we live in a democracy, and most people prefer a sales tax to an income tax, so I think their representatives should give them what they want.  We just enacted a law (ObamaCare) that affects one-seventh of the U.S. economy, so I think we can manage a shift from the income tax to a national sales tax.  The Contract with America in 1994 did not include a plank for tax reform, but the Tea Party’s current Contract from America contains a plank for a simplified, single-rate tax system.  I’m not sure if that is referring to a national sales tax or a flat income tax.  Because of Tea Party sponsorship, I’m sure the Democrats would steadfastly resist this concept and would argue that because it lacks progressivity, it would be unfair to lower-income people.

The final plank in Kevin’s platform is the adoption of term limits.  This issue was a part of the Republican’s Contract with America in 1994.  Although the proposed constitutional amendment received a 227-204 majority in the House, this was well short of the 290 votes needed to achieve the two-third super-majority required for constitutional amendments.  Term limits were considered for inclusion in the Tea Party’s Contract from America, but according to party leaders, the idea finished 11th in popularity and only the top ten were included in the final document. 

I have a hard time believing that Tea Party people didn’t give term limits a higher priority.  There was a recent Fox New poll revealing that 78% of Americans want Congressional term limits, and this desire cut across party lines – Republicans (84 percent), Democrats (74 percent) and independents (74 percent) favor the idea.  Furthermore, in November of 2009, a bill for a constitutional amendment in the Senate was introduced by Senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).  So hope springs eternal again. 

As I previously mentioned, Democratic opposition to a national sales tax is not surprising because it would be a regressive tax.  And its opposition to term limits is consistent with its belief that a career in elective office is a high calling.  They prefer professional politicians to citizen legislators.  But I don’t understand why the Democrats oppose balancing the budget.  They are quick to note that Bill Clinton balanced the budget for several years, yet they inexplicably don’t want a balanced budget as a core value. 

It appears my friend Kevin has gravitated to three winning issues.  Maybe he’s a big picture guy like Reagan.  Maybe he should be the one who runs for office instead of me.  Reagan got a late start, too.

September 18, 2010

A Patriot’s History of the Reagan-Clinton years

Earlier this week, I finished reading A Patriot’s History of the United States.  Like finishing all enjoyable books, finishing this book left me with a feeling like I had lost a friend or fellow traveler.  I am grateful for his company and his memory will stay with me for a while, but I will push on without him. 

As I indicated in my recent Vietnam post, the authors’ conservative politics clearly manifested itself when they started describing the United States history that they had personally observed – i.e., the ‘60s.  Their politics became more discernable, even jarring, with their discussion of the Reagan and Clinton administrations.

According to the authors, Ronald Wilson Reagan was a savior.  Although they clearly admired Richard Nixon, they conceded that his presidency and the failed presidencies’ of Ford and Carter left America staring into an abyss – “On every front, the United States seemed in decline.  Economically, socially, and in international relations, by 1980 America was in retreat.  Yet at this point of weakness, the nation stood on the edge of its greatest resurgence since the months following Doolittle’s bombing of Tokyo.  The turnaround began with the upheaval within the Republican Party

The authors believed that the resurgence started with the Republican Party returning to its conservative Goldwater roots.  Although they didn’t use the term RINO (Republican in name only), they clearly felt that way about Nixon, Ford, and Rockefeller.  The authors called them “the blue-hair wing of the country-club GOP.”  You can almost sense the authors’ hero-worship of Reagan when they wrote:

Then onto the scene came a sixty-nine-year-old former actor, Goldwaterite, and governor of California – Ronald Wilson Reagan.  At one time a New Deal Democrat who had voted four times for FDR, Reagan was fond of saying he “didn’t leave the Democratic Party; it left me.”  Reagan contended the liberals of the 1970’s had abandoned the principles of John Kennedy and Harry Truman, and that those principles – anticommunism, a growing economy for middle-class-Americans, and the rule of law – were more in line with the post-Nixon Republican Party.

After telling the Gipper story, the authors revealingly took to occasionally using that term of affection throughout the book.  Other over-the-top statements included the following:

  • Never as overtly religious as Coolidge before him or George W. Bush after him, Reagan’s moral sense was acute.
  • Branded by his opponents as an extremist and an anticommunist zealot, Reagan in fact practiced the art of compromise, comparing success in politics to a batting average.
  • The debates made the incumbent look like a sincere by naïve child arguing with a wise uncle.
  • The Gipper accomplished this [replacing malaise with can-do optimism] by refusing to engage in Beltway battles with reporters or even Democrats on a personal basis.
  • Criticized as a hands-off president, he in fact was a master delegator….  This left Reagan free to do the strategic thinking and galvanize public opinion. 
  • His grasp of the details of government… shows that in one-on-one meetings over the details of tax cuts, defense, and other issues, Reagan has mastered the important specifics.
  • [Despite the recession in 1981-1982] Reagan knew in his soul that the tax cuts would work.
  • Yet despite oceans of new money and Reagan’s foot constantly on the brake, government continued to spend more than it took in.

By way of contrast, the authors made the following comments about Bill Clinton:

  • For one thing, he had dodged the draft during the Vietnam War.
  • Clinton’s flagrant disregard of traditional morals outraged large segments of the public.
  • Understanding the Clinton presidency requires an appreciation for the symbiotic relationship between Bill Clinton and his aggressive wife, Hillary….  Her personal demeanor, however, was abrasive and irritating and doused any hopes she had of winning a political seat on her own early in her life.  When she met Clinton at Yale, he seemed a perfect fit.  He was gregarious, smart, and charismatic, but not particularly deep.  A sponge for detail, Clinton lacked a consistent ideology upon which to hang his facts.  This was the yin to Hillary Rodham’s yang; the driven ideologue Hillary ran her husband’s campaigns, directed and organized his staff, and controlled his appearances.
  • Clinton had invoked quotas on nearly every cabinet position, regardless of competence.
  • Ever attuned to image and style, Clinton early in his presidency had suddenly begun attending church regularly.

The authors saw Reagan’s greatest accomplishment as the resurrection of the American economy, and this was accomplished primarily through deregulation and the 30% tax cuts in the Economic Recovery Act of 1981.  This lowered the top tax rate from 70% to 50%.  The Act also lowered the capital-gain tax from 28% to 20%.  In international affairs, “Reagan dealt with foreign usurpers quickly and decisively.”  More importantly, he developed the Reagan doctrine – i.e., instead of containing the Soviet Union, American should actively attempt to roll it back.  Among Reagan’s memorable quotes – “Marxism-Leninism would be tossed on the ash heap of history like all other forms of tyranny that preceded it,” and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  The Soviet Union finally collapsed during Bush-41’s term, but Reagan was the proximate cause.

Bill Clinton, however, did little more than coast on Reagan’s economic coattails.  Reagan’s tax cuts and deregulation caused the booming American economy for which Clinton claimed credit, and Reagan’s defeat of the Soviet Union enabled Clinton to cut military spending significantly.  Clinton’s two policy successes – NAFTA and welfare reform – were enacted because of Republican support and despite significant Democratic opposition.  Clinton’s conduct with international affairs was characterized as Missions Undefined – “Having avoided the military draft during the Vietnam era, President Clinton committed more troops to combat situations than any peacetime president in American history….  Handshake agreements with photo opportunities… played perfectly to Clinton’s own inclination for quick fixes abroad….  Another figure, whom the Clinton administration totally ignored, actually posed a more immediate threat.  Osama bin Laden….”  Clinton’s failure in foreign affairs manifested themselves for Bush-43 shortly after Clinton left office.  And, of course, the authors provided a detailed description of Clinton’s conduct that resulted in him being impeached.

Between Reagan and Clinton, there were four years of George H.W. Bush (a/k/a Bush-41), and the authors made a great insight to explain his failure to get re-elected:

  • Although Bush didn’t believe in supply-side economics and had called it voodoo-economics when he ran against Reagan in 1980, he had no choice in 1988 but to run on Reagan’s record.  “This proved to be a great mistake: by lashing himself to a mast that he had no real faith in, his convention pledge – ‘Read My Lips!  No New Taxes’ – would come back to haunt him.”

Because of his convention pledge, Bush-41 lost the presidency in 1992 to Bill Clinton.

To summarize — if the authors thought Reagan walked on water, it would be accurate to say they didn’t think Clinton deserved to carry Reagan’s water bucket.

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