Mike Kueber's Blog

January 31, 2011

America’s unmatched military capability

This weekend, I was thinking about President Obama’s description of American exceptionalism to include the world’s largest economy and our unmatched military capability.  Although his use of those superlatives doesn’t really get at the essence of American exceptionalism, he also noted that Americans rightfully took great pride in America’s critical role in WWII.  (I don’t know why he didn’t proudly claim that his grandfather marched with Patton across Europe.) 

WWII was one of America’s defining moments, when we were the only thing that stood between liberty and world-wide totalitarianism.  As Tom Brokaw accurately said, that was America’s greatest generation.  But there is another military moment that is almost as momentous in the American mind – and it has nothing to do with unmatched military might.  In 1836, 180-odd Texans died heroically while unsuccessfully defending the Alamo.  While some of the details of that defense are debated to this day, there is no question that the legend of Alamo heroism resonates with Americans.  That legend symbolizes a lot of what is now called American exceptionalism.  

As Gerald O’Hara said in Gone with the Wind, these are values worth fighting for and worth dying for.

Sunday book review #12 – Because It Is Wrong by Charles & Gregory Fried

I was planning to publish this review yesterday, but was distracted.  Lo siento.

Although the issue of torture received a lot of publicity in the past few years, I thought the reporting was superficial and the issue was left unresolved.  That is why I was pleased to stumble across a new book on the subject at my local library.  By reading the book, I hoped to gain a better understanding, while incidentally answering two questions that the extensive reporting never managed to accomplish:

  1. What is torture? 
  2. The U.S. apparently used several questionable “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  Waterboarding was the example always mentioned; what are some other examples?

Because It Is Wrong is subtitled, “Torture, Privacy, and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror.”  As the sub-title suggests, it discusses the threats to America posed by Bush-43 using torture and “warrantless surveillance of cyberspace” to fight the post 9/11 war against terror. 

As luck would have it, Bush-43 discusses both torture and privacy in a chapter titled “War Footing” in his new book, Decision Points, which was published late in 2010.  Because Because It Is Wrong was published in early 2010, the Frieds did not have the opportunity to address Bush’s contentions in Decision Points, but I got the impression that Bush did not make any new arguments in his book.

The Frieds are a father-son team.  Father Charles teaches constitutional law at Harvard, while son Gregory teaches philosophy at Suffolk University.  I like Charles because, just as I did, he initially supported McCain, but later felt compelled to shift to Obama because of McCain’s selection of Palin as his running mate. 

Not surprisingly, Charles is the conservative in this tandem and Gregory is the liberal – you know the saying about a young conservative has no heart and an old liberal has no brain.  Surprisingly, the tandem was able to write as a single unit until the final chapter, where they finally noted an issue on which they disagreed.

In the preface to Because It Is Wrong, the authors discuss a philosophy called deontology, which they describe as a belief that some acts are bad or good, regardless of their consequences.  They call the contrasting philosophy utilitarianism – i.e., “no act is inherently right or wrong in itself and the standard of the right action must always be the net good produced or the net evil avoided.”  The authors also admitted that they generally support the deontological position.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to predict that their support for deontology would probably affect their analysis of torture.

Absolutely Wrong

 The first chapter in the Frieds’ book is titled, “Absolutely Wrong.”  As this suggests, it is essentially an application of deontology to torture.  The authors note that very few philosophers are willing to hold that torture is absolutely wrong, often citing “ticking time-bomb” and kidnapper justifications.  Through several pages of tortured reasoning, the authors ineffectively explain why the damage done to the human race by sanctioning torture in even those extreme situations is worse than the damage done by the time-bomb or kidnapper.  “Survival is not the ultimate value, but how we survive, what we survive as, is.” 

Initially, I found it impossible to consider anything to be “absolutely wrong.”  Rather, I felt that the benefits could always justify the means.  Then I thought about my congressional campaign and my position that it is always wrong to accept big campaign contributions.  That seemed like a perfect example of a situation where I would rather lose than be compromised by the big contribution.  Based on that example, I learned to appreciate deontology to be more practical and less abstract.  

Bordering on Torture

The second chapter is titled, “Bordering on Torture.”  Speaking of torture – what exactly is it?  According to the authors, torture is worse than killing a person because torture can never be justified, whereas killing can – in self-defense, in war, and in capital punishment. 

In defining torture, the authors first look to the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Army Field Manual, which distinguishes permissible and impermissible interrogation techniques.  A key requirement in the Field Manual is that prisoners and their guards must be treated the same way with respect to food, shelter, clothing, rest, and exercise.  Permissible techniques seek to influence a person’s will, whereas torture seeks to destroy it.  Examples of possible torture include:

  • Water boarding;
  • Walling;
  • Stress positions;
  • Electric shocks;
  • Sleep deprivation; and
  • Sexual humiliation.

The Bush-43 administration relied on memos from CIA lawyers to assert that cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment was equivalent to conduct that shocks the conscience.  Furthermore, “shocks the conscience” is a highly context-specific and fact-dependent question, and the Supreme Court has been unable to set forth a specific test.  Inflicting pain amounts to torture only if it is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.”  Dictum in one Supreme Court case referred to “exercise of power without any reasonable justification in the service of a legitimate government objection.”  That sounds like utilitarianism, not deontology.

Regarding waterboarding, which the Bush-43 administration felt was by far the most severe of the enhanced interrogation techniques, it was authorized only when there was credible evidence that a terrorist attack is imminent and the suspect can help to defeat the attack.  It has been used on only three terrorists and not since March 2003. 

Regarding enhanced interrogation techniques, there are three categories:

  1. Conditioning techniques – control over basic human needs, such as clothing, food, sleep deprivation in shackles w/ diapers
  2. Corrective techniques – mild physical interaction, such as facial slap, ab slap, facial hold
  3. Coercive techniques – water dousing, stress positions, wall standing, and cramped confinement.

The Big Ear

The third chapter in the book is titled, “The Big Ear,” and it concerns the post-9/11 invasion of privacy.  The authors noted that there has been more resistance to these efforts because: 

  • The cynic might say that there is a privacy panic but not torture panic because ordinary citizens do not expect that they or anyone they know is likely to be tortured.  But we all fear that the government’s big ear may be listening in on even our most intimate whispered conversations, ferreting out our smallest indiscretions, most trivial peccadilloes….  After 9/11, the government, in its desperate search for knowledge, both tortured and eavesdropped in violation of the law, but it is grotesque to equate the two and to agitate more against eavesdropping than against torture.”

Although some of us aren’t very worried about our privacy being invaded, the authors forcefully argue that people in general throughout history have held dear the right to have many parts of their lives shielded from public inspection – kind of like saying that we all have huge dark sides that need to be kept from the world.

Each society must find a balance between enabling government to prevent and detect evil and leaving individuals “some substantial domain somewhere to which he can safely withdraw, free from unsought intrusions….  Political wisdom guides how we adjust those boundaries given changes in customs and technology, but the touchstone must always be a determination to balance the state’s need to know with the state’s inability to know perfectly and so its potential to do injustice.”

No Beginning or No End

The fourth chapter is titled, “No Beginning or No End.”  The authors noted that Bush-43 came into office with no sense of personal risk – only the risk of failure of “an amiable domestic project.”  But because of 9/11, he suddenly faced great “moral danger for him, his officers, and the American people.”  The authors equated the moral danger confronting Bush-43 with a similar danger faced by Jefferson in 1807 (the Chesapeake incident) and Lincoln in 1861 (suspending habeas corpus).  Jefferson and Lincoln intentionally broke the law, just as surely as Bush-43 did with his approval of “harsh interrogation and ubiquitous electronic surveillance.” 

Learning Not To Be Good

In the fifth chapter, titled “Learning Not To Be Good,” the authors place Bush-43’s illegal surveillance in the same categories as Jefferson’s and Lincoln’s law-breaking – i.e., acts that are not inherently bad, but which could have been authorized by Congress.  In fact, Congress did retro-actively approve all of the actions.  Thus, the acts were not dangerous to American government because the executive realized he was making an exception that was necessitated by an unforeseen emergency.  This type of conduct, according to the authors, is analogous to the best tradition of civil disobedience.  

By way of contrast, Bush-43’s authorization of torture has not been authorized by Congress, and there was no attempt to justify it.  Rather, it was hidden from the public.  Furthermore, it can never be authorized because it is inherently bad.   

I noted earlier that the authors parted company only at the end of the book.  The issue that separated them was the potential prosecution of the Bush-43 administration for the torture committed on its behalf.  Author Gregory said unequivocally, yes, to restore America’s moral integrity.  Author Charles said he wasn’t sure.  Although he would not issue a pardon, he was very reluctant to create a precedent for “the criminal prosecution of the defeated administration.”  (This seems to overlook the fact that Bush-43 was never defeated.)  Charles thinks that such a decision, based on prudence, discretion, and Aristotle’s epieikeia, should be modeled, not after Cheney, but Nelson Mandela.

War Footing

Bush-43’s perspective concerning torture and surveillance was addressed in a single chapter titled, “War Footing.”  His primary defense for his actions, especially the warrantless surveillance, was the congressional war resolution passed on 9/14, which authorized him to use all necessary force against persons and organizations that were involved in 9/11 to prevent any future acts of terrorism.  He decided against going to Congress for timely approval of the surveillance because legislative debate would have exposed our methods to the enemy.  Eventually, in 2006, Bush-43 started pushing for modernization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to conform to the actions he had already taken, and this modernization was finally secured in the summer of 2008. 

Congress also authorized extensive government snooping in the USA Patriot Act.  Although Attorney General Ashcroft took the lead in drafting the bill, people in Congress titled it, and Bush opposed the title because he didn’t want to suggest that those in Congress who opposed the act were unpatriotic.  That viewpoint runs counter to the caricature of Bush as someone who uses patriotism as a divisive issue.

Regarding torture, Bush-43 doesn’t spend any time on legalities other than to declare that DOJ and CIA lawyers conducted careful legal reviews and concluded that the enhanced interrogation techniques were legal.  In fact, Bush-43 says that he disapproved of two CIA techniques “that went too far,” even though the CIA counsel had concluded they were legal.  I wonder what those techniques were. 

Bush-43 humanized his decision on torture by noting that, when he personally authorized the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

  • “I thought about my meeting with Danny Pearl’s widow, who was pregnant with his son when he was murdered.  I thought about the 2,973 people stolen from their families by al Qaeda on 9/11.  And I thought about my duty to protect the country from another act of terror.”

Although the Frieds may have thought that 9/11 had placed Bush-43 in a position of great moral danger, it seems that Bush-43, like Harry Truman with the atomic-bomb decision, is not losing any sleep over his decision to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

January 30, 2011

More fixing on San Antonio’s schools

An article in Sunday’s San Antonio Express-News reported that a local state representative had introduced a bill that authorizes the mayor to appoint three of the seven school-board members in any district that has been deemed academically unacceptable by the State Board of Education.  The author of the bill, Rep. Mike Villarreal, claims that he has been working on the bill for over a year, but his announcement follows by only a week the announcement by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro that he planned to interject himself into school governance of San Antonio’s failing urban school districts, including behemoth San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD).  I don’t think it is coincidence that Villarreal’s wife, Jeanne Russell, is an education advisor to Mayor Castro and a former education reporter for the Express-News.  Talk about a tangled web.

Personally, I think the idea has merit, but is too timid.  If a district is failing, I think the entire board should be held accountable and be replaced.  That is a concept endorsed by Bush-43’s No Child Left Behind program.  It’s unfortunate that the voters won’t, on their own volition, replace the board in an election, but down-ballot elections simply don’t receive the requisite attention from the voters.  One can hope that the voters would pay more attention to a board election after this recall-type provision was triggered.

January 29, 2011

Sunday book review #11 – Crimes Against Liberty by David Limbaugh

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:11 pm
Tags: , , ,

I decided to read this book after reading in a Rush Limbaugh biography that brother David was the smarter, less buffoonish one.  But as Don Imus often says, a sense of humor and intelligence often go together.  Perhaps David has a sense of humor, but it is well hidden in this book, aptly subtitled, “An Indictment of President Barack Obama.” 

In the book’s conclusion, David Limbaugh claims:

  • This book has meticulously documented Obama’s efforts to systematically undermine America’s founding principles and its heritage of liberty in his quest to transform our economy and very form of government.  The facts speak for themselves, as does Obama’s destructive record.”

Limbaugh’s claim of meticulous documentation is accurate.  The book is nearly 400 pages long, followed by nearly 100 pages of footnotes. 

For the record, Limbaugh indicts Obama for taxing and spending America into bankruptcy and for being anti-American, anti-Israel, imperious (crimes against the private sector), divisive and hyper-partisan (crimes against the union), a narcissist (crimes against statesmanship), a liar (crimes against good governance), a bully (crimes against the people), a dictator (crimes against the constitution), and a commissar (crimes against American industry).

Reading this book is like listening to an organized summary of every criticism of Barack Obama on talk radio for the past two years.  I know people who listen to talk radio all day, just like the people who listen to ESPN all day, so I suppose some people will read this book, but I suspect that most people buy it as a statement of support.  If you follow the news, you are not going to learn anything in this book.   And if you don’t follow the news, you won’t be interested enough in the subject to wade through this tome.

January 28, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 4:28 pm

Yesterday, I took the day off from blogging to focus on reading a new book that I picked up at the SA library – Because It Is Wrong.  The book is about Bush-43 and post-9/11 torture and privacy in America. 

 I’m not an expert of rhetorical modes of writing, but I typically read narratives that are easy to follow.  By way of contrast, I believe Because It Is Wrong is more-difficult-to-follow exposition or argumentation, and if that weren’t enough, it is written by academics.  That is why I decided to read the book straight through instead of bouncing in and out as I usually do.

After finishing the book, I turned on the news of the day and learned that the world of politics kept on spinning even when I wasn’t paying attention.  Among the most interesting things that happened yesterday:

  • Birth-right citizenship.  An article in USA Today reported that Senators Rand Paul (R-TN) and David Vitter (R-LA) introduced a measure to amend the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The amendment would end the current practice of granting citizenship to children born in the U.S. even if their parents are here illegally.  I previously blogged about this subject and suggested that a constitutional amendment may not be necessary to effect this change, but apparently the senators have decided otherwise. 
  • Social security.  According to another USA Today article, Congress now projects that Social Security has slid into permanent deficit status – i.e., it will be sending out more money than it takes in for the foreseeable future.    Thus, the world’s biggest Ponzi scheme is finally beginning to collapse.  Instead of siphoning off money from the system, as the government has been doing for decades, it will now have to take general revenues to pay its Social Security obligations.  Everyone knew this day would come, but it wasn’t supposed to come for a few years.  The recession caused us to temporarily drop into deficit status and then the decision to reduce the Social Security tax next year made the deficit permanent.  Because there is no way that SS taxes are going to be increased, the only alternatives are to reduce or delay benefits.  For a long-term improvement, I think we need to privatize Social Security accounts so that they work like 401k accounts.  Then people will actually have assets instead of government IOUs, and they will have a lot more flexibility about when to use the money.  Power to the People.
  • Republican nativists.  A Washington Post blogger, Edward Schumacher-Matos, continued the progressive smear that Republicans were nativists – i.e., hostile toward immigrants.   I recently blogged about Texans being unfairly accused of being nativists.    Progressives refuse to distinguish between legal immigration (we favor) and illegal immigration (we oppose, but that doesn’t make us nativists).
  • American exceptionalism.  I have written quite a lot about President Obama and American exceptionalism lately, and it seems that others in the blogging world are similarly worked up about it.  Following Obama’s State of the Union speech, Speaker Boehner and pundit Kathleen Parker noted that Obama refused to use the term American exceptionalism, and a slew of Obama apologists loudly objected that the speech was stuffed with references to the concept.  Maybe his reluctance to use of the term American exceptionalism is analogous to his refusal for years to wear a flag on his lapel.  They simply run counter to his brand of cosmopolitan.

Never a dull day in the world of politics.

January 26, 2011

Naming government buildings in San Antonio

Yesterday, the Bexar County Commissioners set a new low in glorifying their “service” to us. 

I have previously blogged about politicians who name government facilities after former colleagues who are deceased or at least retired.   Other times, the honor may be bestowed on someone in another branch of government.  Even politicians, however, seemed to accept that it would be a conflict of interest to name a government facility after a current colleague.  

That is true no longer.  According to an article in the San Antonio Express-News, the Bexar County Commission has decided to name the county’s newest, most expensive tower building after current commissioner Paul Elizondo. 

The vote was 4-0, with Elizondo abstaining from the vote.  The naming motion was made by Kevin Wolff, the only Republican on the commission, and his dad, Judge Wolff was one of the supporting votes.  Of course, Wolff senior already has the city’s ballpark named after him.  I guess the honor of serving is not enuf. 

All of this makes San Antonio seem like a feudal aristocracy, not a thriving democracy.

Further thoughts on patriotism, American exceptionalism, and Chinese tiger-moms

In the past few days, I have blogged about patriotism, American exceptionalism, and Chinese tiger-moms, and all of these issues seem to be coming together.

While blogging about patriotism, which I defined as love and devotion to your country and a willingness to sacrifice for your country, I opined that people wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice for their country unless they believed their country was special.  I also suggested this might be equivalent to believing in American exceptionalism. 

When I noted in my blog that President Obama had “pooh-poohed” American exceptionalism, one of my favorite readers, Exasperated Liberal, challenged me.  Although we couldn’t agree on what “pooh-pooh” meant (I said it meant to downplay something, while Exasperated said it meant to express contempt), we did agree that my Obama characterization was based on the following discussion of American exceptionalism provided by Obama at a press conference in Europe:     

  • I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that. 
  • And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional. 
  • Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

I admitted to Exasperated that my characterization of Obama was based on the first sentence in Obama’s response, but I rejected his suggestion that the remainder of Obama’s response was a “mature endorsement” of American exceptionalism.  In my opinion, it was at best, “a mild endorsement of his diluted version of American exceptionalism.  It showed that Obama thought America was exceptional because of its large economy and powerful military, plus its constitutional values, ‘though imperfect,’ such as free speech and equality. By way of contrast, according to Wikipedia, America’s exceptionalism ‘stems from its emergence from a revolution, becoming the first new nation [democracy?], and developing a uniquely American ideology, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire.’

Obama’s view of American exceptionalism has nothing to do with its people and their unique set of values.  Rather it has everything to do with things that Americans have inherited – our large economy, our unmatched military, and our constitution.  It’s almost like the current Americans are spoiled trust-fund babies.  No wonder he thinks that America needs to be transformed. 

That reminds me of an Indian-American immigrant friend who thinks that America is a rich and powerful country that affords its citizens unprecedented freedoms, but whose people are lazy.  And that is not an isolated common sentiment.  Just this week in a Time magazine article on parenting, a Chinese-American tiger-mom/author said the following about American parenting: 

  • To be perfectly honest, I know a lot a lot of Asian women are secretly shocked and horrified by many aspects of Western parenting,” including “how much time Westerners allow their kids to waste – hours on Facebook and computer games – and in some ways, how poorly they prepare them for the future.”

Exasperated Liberal concluded his comments by stating, “If you think American exceptionalism means that the United States was uniquely singled out by God for leadership and a special destiny, well then you’re right: Obama doesn’t believe that. Nor do I.” 

Exasperated and Obama may not believe that America has a special leadership role to play, but most Americans do.  America was the world’s first democracy and it provides more liberty to its citizens than any nation in the world.  America doesn’t force the American Way (liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire) on anyone, but it remains a shining light on the hill for the world to see.  That is our special destiny.

January 25, 2011

A controversial parenting alternative – the Chinese, tiger-mom method

Several months ago I blogged about good parenting.   My prescription was relatively straightforward – i.e., teach your children to have self-esteem and good values, such as the seven Roman Catholic seven virtues – prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and love – plus the Protestant work ethic. 

A recent article in Time magazine described a controversial parenting alternative called the Chinese tiger-mom method.   The method is described in a best-selling book called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.  Chua is a Chinese-American immigrant (and a Yale law professor) who has raised her two daughters to succeed.  Regarding American parenting, she says:

  • To be perfectly honest, I know a lot a lot of Asian women are secretly shocked and horrified by many aspects of Western parenting,” including “how much time Westerners allow their kids to waste – hours on Facebook and computer games – and in some ways, how poorly they prepare them for the future.”

Ironically, the Time article notes that with parents and educators in China, “the trend is away from the strict traditional model and toward a more relaxed American style.”

The Time article also speculates that the highly negative reaction in America to the Chinese tiger-mom method may be because the Chinese economy is growing at such a rate that it threatens to overtake America’s, which makes apt the analogy with Russia’s Sputnik challenge in the late 50s and early 60s. 

An even better analogy, I think, is the parenting of kids who are trained almost from their diapers to be tennis players or Olympic gymnasts.  No one thinks that is healthy.

The Chinese tiger-mom method of parenting obviously does a fantastic job of teaching the Protestant work ethic, but what about self-esteem and the values of prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and love?

Late-train money

This Sunday’s edition of the Express-News contained a fascinating article titled, “Late-train money chugs in.”  (Paper edition only, not on-line.)  The article describes the amount of money that poured into the area’s state legislators following their electoral victories in November.  Because of the timing of the contributions, this money is clearly not spent to help a candidate be elected, but rather to buy access and influence with a candidate who has already been elected. 

I previously took umbrage at my new local congressman, Quico Canseco, for traveling to Washington, D.C. a few days after his electoral victory to accept contributions from Washington fat cats such as GE and Goldman Sachs.  After reading this article, it seems that Quico was a slacker in his money grubbing.

Because Texas doesn’t want its legislators brazenly bribed by campaign contributions, it prohibits contributions during the 140-day legislative session.  Thus, all of the late-train money must be compressed into a five-week window between November 3 and December 11.

The Express-News article leads with a state-wide statistic – since the November election, the 181 winning legislators in Texas have received $11.3 million in contributions (plus $2.1 million to the governor and lt. governor).  That’s about $60,000 for each legislator.

The extraordinary article includes a financial profile (pre- and post-election) for each of the area’s four senators and ten representatives.  The profile includes the total amount raised, the largest individual and PAC donors, and the largest donor city.  Not surprisingly, Austin, not San Antonio, was the largest donor city for 10 or the 14 legislators.  This makes you wonder who the legislators feel they represent.

Each profile concluded with a tidbit that characterized the individual legislator’s money-grubbing efforts.  Among the most interesting tidbits:

  • A hospital in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) – Doctors Hospital in Pharr – was the leading PAC donor to Sen. Zaffirini ($25k), Rep. Gutierrez ($5k), Rep. Farias ($5k), Rep. Straus ($50k), and Rep. Villarreal ($5k).  Why is a RGV hospital so interested in the re-election of San Antonio legislators?  This seems like a blatant attempt to buy influence.
  • Speaker Straus collected $2.4 million, which is about $10 for every resident in his district.  This sum is troubling because it appears that Straus is selling access and influence on a vast scale.  The sum is doubly troubling because Straus can use this money, which he obviously doesn’t need for re-election to his district, to buy support from other legislators for his continued speakership.  Perhaps the Republican caucus needs to prohibit the Speaker from giving money to preferred Representatives.
  • Of all 14 legislators, Joaquin Castro collected the least money – $55,200 – and I think this reflects well on him.  He does not represent a competitive district, and this financial inactivity shows his security.  Barack Obama early in his career said that money-grubbing was a necessary evil until one establishes name identity and a record.  Although Obama later abandoned this principle, perhaps Joaquin Castro will remain a principled practitioner.

The article concluded with a detailed discussion of this issue vis-à-vis my state rep – newly-elected John Garza – who was most egregious in late-train money.  Of the $171k that he collected, 69% came in after his upset victory, including $25k from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform.  Garza’s chief of staff Art Martinez defended the late-train money:

  • “The question has two false implications – because you take money from a lobbyist, you’re automatically going to vote that way.”  No, Mr. Martinez, that is not the suggestion.  The suggestion is that the contributions buy access and influence, which should not be for sale
  • “Two, that the current system, the way it’s set up, is such that you don’t need money, you don’t need campaign funds to operate.”  Apparently, the state pays for only one district office, whereas Garza has decided to establish three.  If three offices are necessary for public business, I think the citizens of Texas would prefer that they pay for those offices instead of forcing legislators to sell their votes to contributors.  If those three offices are needed to political purposes, Martinez completely misses the point that you shouldn’t sell your office so that you have a competitive advantage in future races.

Money in politics is a major reason for public cynicism.  Although politicians will publically claim to be looking out for the little guy, their non-public actions will often ensure that the fat cats who bankroll their campaigns are protected.

January 24, 2011

Agricultural exemption in Colorado

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

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

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

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

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