Mike Kueber's Blog

May 31, 2011

Foreign policy – above my pay grade

This past Sunday, “60 Minutes” included a segment that described the tough slogging in Afghanistan.  Coincidentally, at a Saturday bar-b-q I met an Army infantryman who had recently returned from Afghanistan.  Both “60 Minutes” and the infantryman told stories that were remarkably similar – i.e., the fighting is intense and Americans are decisively winning every battle and nearly all engagements, yet the enemy Taliban keeps coming.  Sounds like Vietnam, except that the American public is not being fed body counts.

Back in Vietnam days, the military publicized the enemy body count to show that we were winning the war, and the media publicized our body count to show that we were paying an exorbitant cost for our win.  Although the military has never publicized enemy body counts in Iraq or Afghanistan, the media publicized American body counts while their enemy Bush was in office, but discontinued the practice when their hero Obama took over the wars.

I usually take the position that foreign-policy decisions are above my pay grade and have previously recommended that politics should “end at the water’s edge.”  The war in Afghanistan is a perfect example of that.  If President Obama concludes that America should withdraw from Afghanistan now that Osama bin Laden has been killed and al Qaeda has been decimated, I will accept his judgment.  If he decides that we need to further decimate the Taliban, I will accept that, too.  I don’t think these options should be argued with the American public in the upcoming presidential election.

Israel v. Palestine is an exception to my rule that foreign-policy issues should play a role in domestic politics.  Because Jewish Americans have a special interest in America’s relationship with Israel, they will naturally comprise a large voting block that politicians will be tempted to pander to, not unlike the ethanol pandering that politicians do for the Iowa presidential caucus.

The best protection against that pandering is for the vast majority of voters, who aren’t a part of the special interest (whether pro-ethanol or pro-Israel) to punish the politician to panders.

Saturday Night at the Movies #8 – Just Wright

Common created some controversy last week by being invited by Michelle Obama to a White House function.  According to conservative talk-show hosts, he is a disgraceful hip-hop singer who says good things about cop killers.  I didn’t know anything about that and, in fact, had never heard of the guy before this controversy, but last night I watched a movie starring Queen Latifah called Just Wright.  When scrolling through the credits, I saw that the male lead, supposedly a NJ Net basketball player, was played by Common.

By doing some internet research, I learned that Common (nee Lonnie Lynn, Jr.) is a vegan who has pledged to stop using anti-gay lyrics in his songs, a Christian who has been a life-long member of Jeremiah Wright’s church in Chicago, and an Obama supporter who has claimed, “The one
thing that shouldn’t be questioned is my support for the police officers and troops that protect us every day.”

I was surprised at how likeable Common was in the movie, Just Wright.  Sure, it was only a role, but likeability is hard to manufacture.  I think the conservative talk-show hosts need to find better things to do than micro-manage the White House invitation list.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, it scored only 45% on the Rotten Tomatoes.  Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars, and although he conceded it was a formulaic film, he said the formula works.  What is the formula? – Beauty is only skin deep and a person is better served looking for a partner with character, personality, and integrity.

In Just Wright, the NBA basketball player must decide whether he would rather marry a party girl with a sparkling, outgoing personality who looks like Halle Berry or her best friend who works as a physical therapist and looks and sounds like Oprah Winfrey.

Coincidentally, earlier the same day I saw Shallow Hal, which follows essentially the same formula.  Although I thoroughly enjoyed Just
, I consider Shallow Hal one of my all-time favorite movies.  They both give hope, albeit a short-lived false hope, to those of us who look like Oprah or Jack Black.

Doctors are trending Democratic

I remember reading many years ago prescient, influential book by Kevin Phillips book called The Emerging Republican Majority.  Although Phillips is now a scathing critic of the Republican Party (he recently wrote American Theocracy), he was at the time a Nixon strategist.  The main point that I took from the book was that the Upper Midwest, including my home state of North Dakota, was trending Democratic because so many farmers were staying in business by sucking on the government teat.  Sure enough, over the next few years, North Dakota switched from a state with strong Republican congressional representation to a state with exclusively Democratic congressional representation (although it continued to vote Republican in presidential elections).

In 2010, the trend that Phillips detected in 1969 was finally reversed.  North Dakota elected a Republican senator (long-serving Senator Dorgan retired) and turned out its lone, long-serving Congressman Earl Pomeroy (who graduated with me at UND in 1975).  In 2012, Democratic Senator Kent Conrad will be voluntarily stepping down, and a Republican is expected to take the seat.  So in the space of two years, North Dakota is likely to go from all Democrats in Congress to all Republicans. That suggests that farmers are no longer looking to Washington, D.C. to take care of them.

The same cannot be said for doctors. According to an article in the NY Times today, doctors are trending Democratic.  I believe this analogous to ND farmers in the 1960s.  Young, female, salaried doctors see that their future is going to be controlled, not by themselves, but by the
federal government.  And if you want to influence the direction of big government, you get involved in the Democratic (big D) process.

May 30, 2011

E-Verify on steroids

Once again the U.S. Supreme Court has rendered a decision that is based on its traditional ideological division.  On one side are the conservatives, who can be depended on to rule as any card-carrying Republican would.  One the other side are the liberals, who can be depended on to rule like any card-carrying Democrat would.  You might think that in a honest world, judicial ideology wouldn’t parallel political ideology, but that is not the world we live in.

Late last week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting that an Arizona law requiring employers to use E-Verify when hiring an employee was not pre-empted by federal law.    The four true-blue conservative judges – Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito – voted in favor, as did the moderate conservative – Kennedy.  The three dyed-in-the-wool liberals – Breyer, Ginsberg, and Sotomayor voted against, while liberal Kagan did not participate for some unspecified reason.

The federal laws in this decision are relatively simple.  In 1952 Congress enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which established a “comprehensive federal statutory scheme for regulation of immigration and naturalization” and set “the terms and conditions of admission to the country and the subsequent treatment of aliens lawfully in the country.”

Following the enactment of the INA, several states enacted companion laws that levied fines on employers who hired unauthorized aliens.  In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in De Canas v. Bica that these laws were not pre-empted by the INA:

  • We recognized that the “power to regulate immigration is unquestionably . . . a federal power.”  At the same time, however, we noted that the “States possess broad authority under their police
    powers to regulate the employment relationship to protect workers within the State,” that “prohibiting the knowing employment . . . of persons not entitled to lawful residence in the United States, let alone to work here, is certainly within the mainstream of the State’s police power,” and that the Federal Government had “at best” expressed “a peripheral concern with [the] employment
    of illegal entrants” at that point in time.  As a result, we declined to hold that a state law assessing civil fines for the employment of unauthorized aliens was preempted by federal immigration law.

In 1986, Congress expressed its unhappiness with the De Canas decision by enacting the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).  Although the IRCA declared it unlawful for an employer to hire an unauthorized alien and required employers to review an employee’s (passport, green card, driver’s license, social-security card, etc.), it also restricted the ability of individual states to combat employment of unauthorized workers. The Act expressly preempted:

  • “…any State or local law imposing civil or criminal sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws) upon those who employ, or recruit or refer for a fee for employment, unauthorized aliens.”

Thus, the IRCA expressly preempted laws like the one that upheld of unauthorized workers like the one was upheld in De Canas.

In 1996 Congress attempted to improve IRCA’s employment-verification system by enacting the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).  The IIRIRA created an experimental program called E-Verify, which is a federal internet-based system that allows an employer to verify an employee’s work-authorization status.”  The IIRIRA prohibited the federal government from requiring employers to use E-Verify, but did not say anything about state requirements.

Several states subsequently passed laws (such as Arizona’s The Legal Arizona Worker’s Act of 2007) that, on the basis of the IRCA licensing exception, revoke the business licenses of any entity that fails to use E-Verify to confirm whether an employee is legally authorized to work in America.

The Arizona Act was the subject of the Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting decision, with the conservatives holding that the meaning of “licensing” was sufficiently broad to provide safe harbor to the Arizona law, whereas the liberals unsuccessfully argued that the spirit of the IIRIRA indicated that the federal government did not intend to allow E-Verify to be used in such a draconian way.

As usual, political ideology seems more important than judicial ideology to our current crop of Supreme Court justices.




May 29, 2011

Academic honors

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 8:37 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

It’s that time of the year – i.e., graduation.  Three of my four sons are graduating – one from high school, one from college, and one from medical school.  My college graduate had me worried for a while because he started slowly at UTSA and finished his first semester on academic probation.  But he recovered nicely and eventually earned a B.S. in Chemistry with a 3.5 GPA.  When I asked him whether he was graduating with honors, he had no idea, so I decided to learn what the status of honors were at UTSA.

My experience was with the University of North Dakota (UND), from which I graduated back in 1975 with a 3.4 GPA.  At that time, any UND graduate with a 3.2 to 3.5 GPA graduated with honors – cum laude.  If your GPA was 3.5 to 3.8, you graduated with high honors – magna cum  laude.  And if your GPA was 3.8 or higher, you graduated with highest honors – summa cum laude.

But times have changed.  Each university is able to set its own standards for graduating with honors, and because of the oft-reported GPA inflation since I went to college, I suspected that GPA standards for graduating with honors have also inflated.

According to UND’s latest catalog, they now require a 3.5 GPA to graduate cum laude, 3.7 GPA for magna cum laude, and 3.9 for summa  cum laude.  Tommy’s college, UTSA, has very similar standards – 3.5 for cum laude, 3.75 for magna cum laude, and 3.9 for  summa cum laude.

The University of Texas in Austin takes a different approach by requiring that a graduate be in the top 20% of his school (not the entire university) to graduate cum laude, the top 10% to graduate magna cum laude, and the top 4% to graduate summa cum laude.  This approach seems fairer because some schools (math & sciences) have a tradition of being stingier about handing out an “A.”

Harvard University (where I have heard that the average GPA is 3.5) takes the same approach as UT, except it grants honorary degrees to 50% of its kids, with 20% graduating magna cum laude or summa cum laude.  That suggests that the academic achievement of a kid who finishes in the top half at Harvard is comparable to that of a kid who finishes in the top 20% at UT.  I would love to confirm that by comparing LSATs or MCATs of those graduates.  Harvard also requires that magna cum laude honors be limited to the top 20%.  And if all of that isn’t generous enough, Harvard grants academic honors to an additional 10% of its graduates based on faculty recommendations if their GPA exceeds 3.480 (cum laude) or 3.750 (magna cum laude).

Unfortunately, Tommy’s precise GPA at UTSA was 3.48 (in a very difficult major – Chemistry), so he did not graduate with honors, and my recollection is that my son Mikey who previously graduated from UT-Austin finished barely out of their top 20%, so no honors there either.  And my oldest son Bobby, who previously graduated from UTSA, did not reach the honors level.  That leaves my current high-school graduate Jimmy as my last hope for an honors graduate.

I’m not worried about that pressure weighing on Jimmy.  I previously told him that I had always wanted a son who played varsity football, and Jimmy came through.  He can do it again.

Sunday Book Review #32 – Don’t Count on It!

“Don’t Count on It!” was written by John Bogle.  Bogle created the mutual fund Vanguard, the world’s second largest mutual fund, and since retiring in 1999 has spent his golden years continuing to extoll the virtues of index investing.  The book is an anthology of essays and speeches on business and investing that Bogle has authored during the past decade.

To embody the quintessential businessman, a paragon of capitalism, Ayn Rand created Howard Roark, John Galt, and Hank Reardon.  I don’t have to use my imagination to create my paragon of capitalism – that would be John Bogle, along with Warren Buffett.  Both Bogle and Buffett recognize the fundamental value of running an efficient, productive business, but also realize that the underpinning of capitalism is not greed but rather integrity and community.

Although Bogle is a Renaissance man in many regards, his life also reveals a narrow-minded focus on mutual funds (and index investing).  In 1951, while he was an undergraduate at Princeton University, he wrote his senior thesis on mutual funds and opined that, “Future industry growth can be maximized by a reduction of sales loads and management fees.  Bogle then went to work for Wellington, a large mutual-fund company and eventually rose to CEO.  But he was fired in 1974 because of a disastrous merger decision.

In 1975, Bogle founded Vanguard and introduced the Vanguard 500 Index Fund, the first index fund available to the general public,
and the rest is history.  Vanguard grew to become the 2nd largest mutual-fund company in the world (after Fidelity) and the Vanguard 500 Index Fund is the largest single mutual fund in the world, with more than $100 billion in deposits.

But Bogle’s focus has never been to become the biggest and most profitable.  Rather, it is to provide a valuable service to the customer.  With that in mind, he created Vanguard as a customer-owned mutual company – just like insurers USAA and State Farm Insurance.  This enables Vanguard to concentrate on benefiting the customer instead of increasing its stock price.

One of Bogle’s pet peeves with corporate America is that it puts great effort into increasing short-term stock prices instead of creating intrinsic value.  He believes that a major reason for this misapplication of effort is the practice of paying executives with stock options that can be redeemed in the short-term.  Because of this and other perverse incentives associated with stock options, Bogle thinks they should be eliminated.

Like Buffett, Bogle has the ability to communicate clearly and simply.  Although they are both Ivy-educated, they have a sincere folksiness.  Among the simple insights that Bogle provides in “Don’t Count on It!” are the following:

  1. Investors have unfortunately shifted their perspective from owning a company to renting stock.  As everyone knows, any property
    is better cared for by owners than by renters.  Bogle endorses Buffett’s strategy of owning forever.
  2. The results of actively-managed mutual funds favorably skewed because the results usually only consider the funds that are still in existence and ignore those that were unsuccessful and shut-down.  Bogle calls this, “A bias toward optimism.”
  3. Stock-market gains depend on the profitability of the companies less the transaction costs associated with owning the stock.  Most
    stockholders have no control over the profitability of the company, but they can reduce their transaction costs by owning index funds.  “Investors as a group must fall short of the market return by the amount of the costs they incur.”
  4. Index funds not only reduce transaction costs, but also provide tax advantages by deferring capital gains.
  5. Although the long-term value of a stock is directly related the company’s profitability, the short-term value of the stock fluctuates erratically because of speculation.  Investors are better served if they focus on long-term profitability – i.e., intrinsic value – instead of the activity of speculators.  “It is the enduring reality of intrinsic value – make no mistake, the worth of a
    corporation is neither more nor less than the discounted value of its future cash flows – not the ephemeral perception of the price of a stock that carries the day.  And the enterprises that will endure are those that generate the most profits for their owners, something they do best when they take into account the interests of their customers, their employees, their communities, and indeed the interests of our society.”
  6. Accounting gimmicks enable executives to overstate or understate profitability.
  7. Mutual-fund companies need to re-claim their status as professionals – i.e., (1) a commitment to the interest of clients in particular, and the welfare of society in general, (2) a body of special knowledge, (3) a specialized set of skills and practices, (4) a developed capacity to render judgment with integrity under conditions of ethical uncertainty, (5) an organized approach to learning, and (6) the development of a professional community responsible for oversight of practitioners.

Although “Don’t Count of It!” provides Bogle’s business and investing philosophy, the anthology format probably isn’t as efficient in providing this information as his previous books, including “Common Sense on Mutual Funds,” “The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism,” and “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.”

May 27, 2011

Right-wing social engineering

Congressman Paul Ryan has proposed reforming Medicare into a program that provides senior citizens a voucher to buy private medical
coverage (so-called RyanCare) instead of directly providing unlimited government coverage.  Newt Gingrich recently created some controversy by suggesting that RyanCare was “radical right-wing social engineering.”

My response was, huh?  What is radical about this proposal?  My former employer, USAA, has a reputation for providing a top-of-the-line benefits package, but even USAA had to reform its medical coverage a few years ago to control the skyrocketing medical costs, and its reform is very similar to RyanCare.  Prior to the reform, USAA had historically paid for 90% of its employees’ health insurance premium, with the employees paying the remaining 10%.  After the reform, USAA promised to continue paying 90%, but only up to a certain amount.  If the cost of premiums continued to hyper-inflate, employee would be required to contribute a larger percentage.

The USAA reform made sense because an employer cannot assume unlimited liability for costs that it can’t control.  Ditto for Medicare.  Yes, everyone – government, medical providers, employers, and employees – needs to be working toward controlling the cost of medical care, but that is a separate matter from maintaining fiscally responsible insurance – whether employee health insurance or Medicare.

Gingrich suggested that RyanCare was not only radical, but also right-wing social engineering?  That suggestion was especially jarring because I had never heard the terms right-wing and social engineering used together.  I had only heard the term “social engineering” used in reaction to left-wing, nanny-state big government trying to convert Americans to a commune way of life.  Thus, I needed to do some research.

My research revealed that social engineering is an attempt to influence popular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale.  Usually the term refers to government action, but it can apply as well to private groups.  Social engineering is not inherently negative, but because of its usage
in the political arena, it has come to have a negative connotation.  Technically, all government laws – such as prohibitions against murder, DUI, theft, and littering – are social engineering.  Governments also engage routinely in social engineering through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy.

Conservatives and libertarians often claim that their opponents (the liberals) are engaged in social engineering, and that makes sense because liberals prefer a muscular government while conservatives and libertarians prefer a muscular private society.  But even liberals complain of social
engineering when it comes to prayer in school, abstinence-only sex education, and the English-only movement.

But getting back to Newt Gingrich, how is it social engineering to convert Medicare from an unlimited financial obligation to a limited voucher system?  It isn’t, and I think Newt admitted as much last week when he was questioned on Face the Nation.

NEWT GINGRICH: No, I’m just saying. If you listen to [host David Gregory’s] words, he doesn’t say how do you feel about Paul Ryan?  I like Paul Ryan.  Didn’t even say how do you feel about Ryan’s budget?   I would have voted for Ryan’s budget.  He said should Republicans pass an unpopular plan?   And I made the mistake of accepting his premise.  I wasn’t referring to Ryan.  I was referring to a general principle.  We, the people, should not have Washington impose large-scale change on us…. my context was we Republicans have to go to the country, we have to explain what we’re trying to accomplish to save Medicare, how we would save Medicare.  The country has to have time, the American people have to have time to ask us questions, to modify the plan if necessary, to get to a point where people are comfortable with it and that was my point.  I– I probably used unfortunate language about social engineering. But my point was really a larger one that neither party should impose on the American people something that they are deeply opposed to.

That passage seems to suggest that Newt didn’t want the Republicans to ram RyanCare down the public’s throat like the Democrats did with ObamaCare.  Fair enough.  But he sure made a mess of it by misusing the term “radical right-wing social engineering.”

Legislating from the bench

Ever since the Civil Rights movement in the 50s, conservatives have decried courts that “legislate from the bench.”  Although there is no generally accepted definition of the term, one blogger has succinctly described it as “a combination of at least three elements: (1) a reluctance to stray beyond the constitutional text or a commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to original intent or a combination of both; (2) a posture of judicial deference toward the Legislative and Executive Branches, as well as other government institutions; (3) a respect for precedent and a Burkean view toward making radical changes in the law.”

The landmark abortion decision – Roe v. Wade – is generally considered a prime example of legislating from the bench (sometimes called judicial activism).  Instead of allowing the will of the people to be expressed by their elected representatives, the U.S. Supreme Court imposed a one-size-fits-all solution on America.  This power play by the Supreme Court did severe damage to its credibility and legitimacy, but the Court eventually recovered to its current high standing in public opinion.

In recent years there has not been a lot of criticism of judicial activism.  Ironically, the most publicized charge was made by liberals (who generally thrive on judicial activism) when the U.S. Supreme Court favored George W. Bush over Al Gore in the 2000 election contest.  Can you imagine if that result had been

This past week, a complaint about legislating from the bench came from a surprising source.  The complaint was prompted by a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court holding that the state of California must reduce the population of its prisons because the current overcrowding violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel & unusual punishment.

The complaint was from none other than Justice Scalia, who in a dissenting opinion wrote that the majority opinion was an example of the problem of courts’ overstepping their constitutional authority and institutional expertise in issuing “structural injunctions” in “institutional-reform litigation” rather than addressing legal violations one by one.

This complaint brings to mind a criticism that I made several months ago about the decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that required Texas public schools to educate illegal immigrants – Plyler v. Doe.  The rationale provided by the Court in Plyler decision sounded more like a legislature than a court:

  • “Sheer incapability or lax enforcement of the laws barring entry into this country, coupled with the failure to establish an effective bar to the employment of undocumented aliens, has resulted in the creation of a substantial ‘shadow population’ of illegal migrants – numbering in the millions – within our borders.  This situation raises the specter of a permanent caste of undocumented resident aliens, encouraged by some to remain here as a source of cheap labor, but nevertheless denied the benefits that our society makes available to citizens and lawful residents.  The existence of such an underclass presents most difficult problems for a Nation that prides itself on adherence to principles of equality under law.”

This language from the Court clearly suggests that its motivation is to ameliorate the consequences of a dysfunctional federal government and its ineffectual immigration policy.  The Court in Plyler went on to explain why the Texas law fails to further a substantial goal of the state:

  • “First, appellants appear to suggest that the State may seek to protect itself from an influx of illegal immigrants.  While a State might have an interest in mitigating the potentially harsh economic effects of sudden shifts in population, 21.031 hardly offers an effective method of dealing with an urgent demographic or economic problem.  There is no evidence in the record suggesting that illegal entrants impose any significant burden on the State’s economy. To the contrary, the available evidence suggests that illegal aliens underutilize public services, while contributing their labor to the local economy and tax money to the state fisc.  The dominant incentive for illegal entry into the State of Texas is the availability of employment; few if any illegal immigrants come to this country, or presumably to the State of Texas, in order to avail themselves of a free education. Thus, even making the doubtful assumption that the net impact of illegal aliens on the economy of the State is negative, we think it clear that ‘charging tuition to undocumented children constitutes a ludicrously ineffectual attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration,’ at least when compared with the alternative of   prohibiting the employment of illegal aliens.”
  • “Second, while it is apparent that a State may ‘not . . . reduce expenditures for education by barring [some arbitrarily chosen class of] children from its schools,’ appellants suggest that undocumented children are appropriately singled out for exclusion because of the special burdens they impose on the State’s ability to provide high-quality public education. But the record in no way supports the claim that exclusion of undocumented children is likely to improve the overall quality of education in the State.  As the District Court in No. 80-1934 noted, the State failed to offer any ‘credible supporting evidence that a proportionately small diminution of the funds spent on each child [which might result from devoting some state funds to the education of the excluded group] will have a grave impact on the quality of education.’  And, after reviewing the State’s school financing mechanism, the District Court in No. 80-1538 concluded that barring undocumented children from local schools would not necessarily improve the quality of education provided in those schools.  Of course, even if improvement in the quality of education were a likely result of barring some number of children from the schools of the State, the State must support its selection of this group as the appropriate target for exclusion.  In terms of educational cost and need, however, undocumented children are ‘basically indistinguishable’ from legally resident alien children.”

Both dot points above contain examples of a court substituting its judgment for the judgment of legislators.  The most jarring were the assertions that “few if any illegal immigrants come to this country… to avail themselves of free education” and that “charging tuition to undocumented children constitutes a ludicrously ineffectual attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration, at least when compared with the alternative of prohibiting employment of illegal aliens.”

With the benefit of hindsight, these judicial assertions seem ludicrous and laughingly simplistic.  Jobs are not the only magnet for illegal immigrants.  America also offers free education and medical care, reduced crime, and freedom.  It takes a lot of chutzpah for the Supreme Court to criticize legislators for ineffectively controlling immigration, while brazenly shooting-down a good-faith effort by Texas legislators to address the problem.

A recent article in the SA Express-News reveals the mess that the Plyler v. Doe decision exacerbated.  The well-written article by Lynn Brezosky, which is titled “University’s student leader in immigration
limbo,” describes a college student in south Texas, Jose Arturo Guerra, who came to America a few years ago and is now facing deportation.

The Plyler court may have been trying to help the “shadow population” of illegal immigrants and trying to avoid the creation of a “permanent underclass,” but they failed miserably.  The high school student
whom they required Brownsville to educate was unable to attend an academic competition in Austin because of the danger of immigration checkpoints along the way.  Once educated in high school,
the individual was not eligible for federal college loans, and once graduated, is not eligible for legitimate employment.

The Express-News article concludes with three thought-provoking quotes:

  1. UT-Brownsville President Juliet Garcia: “The plight of these bright, young students that are
    prepared to become productive contributors to our society has become a human
  2. Roy Beck, executive director of the immigration-reduction group Numbers USA, said he sympathized with Guerra but felt “you can’t create policy based on individuals.”  Guerra, he said, “will be a tremendous asset to the Mexican people.  He’s bright, he’s been allowed to get his education in the United States, he’s benefited from the taxpayer education and high school.”
  3. Begging to differ is Guerra himself, who thinks he can “make a difference” in the United States.  “I don’t see why they would educate people here in the United States and spend like thousands and
    thousands of dollars and then send just them back.” 

All of this goes to show that legislating is messy, and America would be better served if the Supreme Court stuck to judging.

May 26, 2011

God helps those who help themselves

The Joplin tornado brought incredible damage to the people of that city and served as a reminder that modern civilization cannot fully protect us from Mother Nature.  In many ways, Joplin reminds me of post-Katrina New Orleans, although the current political correctness is to blame the Katrina mess on the Army Corp of Engineers instead of Mother Nature.

A major political lesson learned from Katrina is that the president has to appear fully engaged in the post-disaster recovery.  A presidential fly-over by Bush-43 while rescue efforts were still underway might make practical sense, but it doesn’t result in effective photo-ops. 

President Obama would certainly have been to Joplin before now if he hadn’t been in Europe at the time of the disaster.  But he quickly announced that he would visit Joplin this Sunday immediately upon his return to America.  He also went on to say:

  • I know that a lot of people are wondering how they’ll get through the coming days or months or even years, but I want everybody in Joplin, everybody in Missouri, everybody in Minnesota, everybody across the Midwest to know that we are here for you.  The American people are by your side.  We’re going to stay there until every home is repaired, until every neighborhood is rebuilt, until every business is back on its feet.  That’s my commitment, and that’s the American people’s commitment.”

Although the president is entitled to a bit of rhetorical hyperbole, I think his statement goes entirely too far.  Although modern civilization cannot fully protect homes and businesses from Mother Nature, people cannot protect themselves from the financial effects of Mother Nature by buying insurance.

After a spending a career in insurance, I always have mixed emotions when government is expected to help people and business who failed to help themselves by buying insurance against natural disasters.  If the government provides free insurance after a disaster, why should people and businesses buy it prior to disasters?

Everyone knows the Bible says, “Heaven helps those who help themselves.”  Hezekiah 6:1.  Actually the verse is not from the Bible, and many commentators say that it is not even biblical.  But it does reflect the Protestant Work Ethic and the American value of self-reliance.

America would be better served if natural disasters increased awareness of the need for homes and businesses to be insured.  The role of government in disaster recoveries should be focused on government infrastructure.

RyanCare and the special congressional election in New York

On Tuesday, there was a special congressional election in a conservative New York district to replace Republican Christopher Lee, who had resigned in disgrace following the publication of some bare-chested internet-dating photos.   Based on the results of the special election, the Republicans could be in for a world of hurt come 2012.

Republicans selected a solid candidate, Jane Corwin, to replace Lee, and Corwin was heavily favored because Lee had won the previous election with 74% of the vote and John McCain had defeated President Obama in the district. 

But then the RyanCare hit the fan, and all bets were off.  The Democratic candidate, Kathy Hochul, hammered Corwin for wanting to kill Medicare.  There were political commercials showing Paul Ryan pushing his grandmother off a cliff.  Corwin, who is a wealthy, former Wall Street analyst, failed to effectively respond – “When she started making these comments, I thought, ‘This is so outrageous no one would ever believe it.’ Apparently some people did.”

I admit to being part of the crowd that didn’t think the Democrats would be able to demagogue RyanCare to old people because the plan specifically exempted people 55 and older.  Based on this special election, I was wrong.  Hochul won with 47% of the vote to 43% for Corwin and 9% for a Tea Party candidate who lost in the Republican primary to Corwin.  

The result remind me of Scott Brown’s shocking victory in Massachusetts that served as a referendum on ObamaCare.

I thought RyanCare would be palatable to Americans because it establishes financing that ensures the long-term viability of Medicare.  Although it reduces benefits for those under the age of 55, those are precisely the people who often claim that they don’t expect Social Security and Medicare to be around for them.  You would think that they would be happy to be getting more than they expected.

NY Times columnists Gail Collins and David Brooks had a interesting conversation in today’s paper about the special election, and David made the following comment:

  • I agree this is mostly about Medicare. I also believe it was entirely predictable. It’s not exactly a secret that touching Medicare in any way is deeply unpopular with voters. The average American, earning the median salary, pays about $150,000 into Medicare over the course of their career. They get back somewhere in the neighborhood of $350,000 to $450,000 in benefits. Their grandchildren are involuntarily footing a huge portion of that gap, so naturally today’s voters want to preserve this sweet deal. The Ryan plan threatens their grip on hundreds of thousands of dollars in free money.”

I have always rejected the pundits who say that America is fiscally irresponsible because the voters will kill any politician who insists on being fiscally responsible.  Let’s hope that is not the case in 2012.

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