Mike Kueber's Blog

April 30, 2012

Texas alimony and justice

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 8:52 pm
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The state of Texas is famous for not allowing alimony following a divorce.  Instead of alimony, it affords justice to both parties by splitting in half the marital estate (property acquired during the marriage).  This is what is meant in calling Texas a community-property state.  There are nine community-property states in America, and all but one (Wisconsin) are on the southwestern rim of this country stretching from Louisiana to Washington.

In 1995, however, Texas decided that, in addition to splitting the community property, a narrow form of alimony – so-called spousal maintenance – should be allowed in limited circumstances.  Spousal maintenance has a three-year maximum of $2,500 a month or 20% of gross income, whichever is less.  Many critics of the law made the slippery-slope (or camel’s nose under the tent) argument that once a limited alimony was adopted, it would be only a matter of time before Texas adopted the full-scale, lifetime alimony that some other states allow.  Well, I guess that slope wasn’t as slippery as suspected because the authorized amounts have not been adjusted, even for inflation. 

(Incidentally, child support in Texas is typically limited to $1,200 a month or 20% of income, whichever is less.  I wonder why an ex-spouse of a high-income person deserves more than twice as much as the child of a high-income person.  That difference doesn’t make sense.)

I have friends who complain that a spouse shouldn’t automatically be entitled to half of a marital estate if the other spouse generated nearly all the income.  For example – Michael Jordan.  I disagree, and instead subscribe to the statement made by a California divorce lawyer:

  • In California, we live in a community property state. Community property exists to ensure that the roles of each party to a marriage is given equal importance for purposes of dividing the property that was acquired by the marriage.

Just because Mitt Romney’s wife stayed at home raising their five boys while he was making $700 million, it is ludicrous in my mind to think that she is not entitled to half of that money if they were to divorce.

Last week, it dawned on me that there is a strong argument that awarding half of the marital estate to the low-earning individual is inadequate.  The argument came to me when I was discussing with a friend USAA’s elimination of its pension a few years ago.  USAA acknowledged to us older employees that the value of a pension balloons in an employee’s last few years of employment, and therefore those of us over 45 years of age would be seriously and negatively affected by the elimination of the USAA pension just as we were entering those years.  To make up for that negative effect, USAA promised to provide us older employees with a so-called bridge-to-retirement benefit.  As I recall, the bridge benefit was an additional 8% contributed to our 401k for about eight years.

Why does the value of a pension balloon at the end?  Everyone knows that the value of a 401k grows greatly at the end because of compounding, but pensions grow almost exponentially because their payout is based not only on years of service, but also on final average pay.  Thus, instead of calculating the pension payment on what an individual has earned, and thereby contributed, to the pension, a pension payout considers only what individuals earned in their highest 1, 3, or 5 years of pay.  In almost all situations, an individual’s compensation continues to rise all the way to retirement (sometimes dramatically), and those highest years are considered for the calculation and those low-paying years are disregarded. 

If you apply this thinking to divorce settlements, it becomes obvious that the low-paying spouses are short-changed because often the divorce will take place at a time when the couple has been spending their income on their family and have not yet entered the asset-accumulation phase.  In such situations it seems that justice would be served by either giving more than half of the assets to the low-income spouse or to require a more significant amount of alimony.

April 29, 2012

Cliches that are almost always misused – begging the question and a slippery slope

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 6:33 pm

I recently blogged about my love of Bryan Garner’s books on usage.  Although the books are stuffed with great writing and ever greater insights, some stand out.  My favorite Garner entry can be found in A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, and the entry is titled “begging the question”:

  • “Begging the question” does mean evading the issue or inviting the obvious questions, as some mistakenly believe.  (In my opinion, virtually all believe this.)  The proper meaning of begging the question is basing a conclusion on an assumption that is as much in need of proof or demonstration as the conclusion itself.

While on the subject of clichés that are almost always misused, my mind drifted to “slippery slope.”  I had previously read an explanation of the cliché that was devastating, and I was disappointed to see that Garner wasn’t the author.  Garner’s description of the cliché is not particularly insightful – “a once-clever metaphor – a way of saying that if we take the first step there will be no stopping.”  Then I remembered that I previously blogged about slippery slopes.  The essence of that posting was that the concept of a slippery slope was sometimes categorized as an informal fallacy because it was often not true.  However, my posting did quote extensively from Eugene Volokh, who provided an example of a situation where the possibility of stopping at a middle ground was indeed highly unlikely.

The problem with usage books is that they are so interesting that you get distracted from what you were intending to do.

Sunday Book Review #72 – See Me Naked by Amy Frykholm

Filed under: Book reviews,Culture,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 1:25 pm
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See Me Naked should not be confused with the more popular Does This Mean You Will See Me Naked: Field Notes from a Funeral Director.  See Me Naked is subtitled Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity, and it concerns the difficulty that many Christians have in reconciling their spirituality and their sexuality:

  • [W]e can look at this dilemma culturally and recognize that we come by it naturally.  In a body-obsessed yet body-hating culture, where sex is for sale 24 hours a day, perhaps it is a relief to check our bodies at the door when we go to church.  American Christianity has taught that the only viable relationship between body and spirit is a proper following of the rules.  “God’s plan” for human sexuality is a familiar theme in churches, and while this “plan” may or may not live up to our experiences, we judge ourselves by it.  American Christianity promises a life lived happily ever after to anyone who waits for sex until marriage, marries a religious person, and raises children in the church.  The fact that this scenario describes fewer and fewer of us with each passing day is of little account.  The problem, however, is that “the rules” as they are taught us and presented as an alternative to an out-of-control culture of sexual obsession actually serves to make matters worse.  They underscore a fundamental divide between the body and the spirit, and they deprive us of one of the key insights of Christianity: that the body, with all its struggles, pains, and difficulties, can lead us into a more full relationship with God.  And not only when we follow the rules and do everything right – even when life is complicated, beautiful, and strange, as life nearly always is.

Frykholm begins See Me Naked by telling the story of the 2006 sex-related downfall of mega-church pastor Ted Haggard of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs.  Haggard was a spiritual counselor to Bush-43 and Frykholm describes Haggard’s New Life Church as “a microcosm of American religion with its strange blend of marketing, charismatic personalities, ‘Bible-based’ teaching, and latte bars….  Both before and after Haggard’s demise, I’d sensed an erotic energy that intrigued me.  Certainly it wasn’t overt, and I am expecting readers may laugh at me when I mention it.  But my sense is, on the level of instinct, that people are drawn to New Life Church in part because of a potent sexual energy.  They project their desires onto the shaggy-haired men with guitars on stage.  They feel caught up in the enlivening energy of being something larger than themselves – something more spectacular and more beautiful than themselves. When Gayle and Ted occupied their places front and center, members of the congregation projected their own fantasies and hopes about heterosexual marriage onto the handsome couple and idolized their intimacy.”

In a documentary titled Friends of God, Haggard is quoted telling a journalist, “You know, all the studies say that evangelicals have better sex than anyone else.”  To support his thesis, Haggard questioned two young men from the church – “How often do you have sex with your wives?”  One responded with, “Every day.  Sometimes twice a day.”  “And out of a hundred times that you have sex with your wife, how often does she climax?”  Every one, they responded.  Rather the being assured by this exchange, Frykholm is troubled – “Christianity does very little, if anything, to protect us against abuse, manipulation, objectification, and betrayal.”   

See Me Naked comprises three parts – Wilderness, Incarnation, and Resurrection – and each part contains three lengthy stories of individuals attempting to bring together their spirituality and their sexuality.  Frykholm focuses on Protestant Christians “because the problem I am trying to diagnose has significant Protestant roots.  While Catholic stories might have similarities with those told here, they will also have differences, and those differences should not be papered over.”     

The Wilderness section is named after the biblical “wilderness,” which is generally a place of threat, chaos and alienation; a place or state of withdrawal from the world to face the reality of God, oneself and one’s neighbor, and to overcome the power of evil.  “While it is confusing, disorienting, and frightening, it is also a place where God can be met.”  The three subjects of this section find themselves in a wilderness and have varying levels of success in dealing with it.  “Sarah, Mark, and Megan, as well as many others of us, have spent significant time in what I’ve called the wilderness, where religious faith and sexuality do not find an easy relationship, where confusion and uncertainty mar the landscape and the way forward is not clear.  But in a way that should not surprise us – wilderness is also a place where God meets us and whispers new possibilities and coaxes us into a bigger world, full of more grace than our worlds held before.” 

The Incarnation section discusses the role of incarnation – i.e., a deity becoming human – in reconciling spirituality and sex.  In the author’s view, the three subjects in this section “took steps toward a deeper understanding of their incarnation and so moved toward a fully embodied faith.”

The Resurrection section focuses on the ability of someone who, in spite of pain and suffering, allows themselves to be vulnerable again.

In the end, Frykholm provides her readers with an alternative sexual ethic.  She suggests that individuals move their focus away from rules and judgments about whether a particular action is right or wrong.  Instead she suggests discernment – i.e., thinking about things and understanding “what behavior is truly damaging to ourselves and to others….  We can also discern when sexuality that might ‘break the rules’ is a source of joy and hope.  Because nonjudgment means that we no longer look to an external list of rules to tell us what is right and wrong, it also means that we have to hone our powers of discernment.  This principle is threatening to those terrified of the very freedom to which our religious freedom calls us, but it is essential if we are to find an alternative to our current state of alienation between body and spirit.”

Well said, Amy Frykholm, but with me, you have been preaching to the choir. 

p.s., Amy notes in her conclusion that her dislike of photographs of herself was a form of youthful self-consciousness, akin to narcissism.  Interesting thought.

Saturday Night at the Movies #24 – Falling Down and Moneyball

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 5:03 am
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Falling Down is almost 20 years old and on its surface it is reminiscent of the Dirty Harry movies.  But it holds up much better than those movies because the protagonist (Michael Douglas) comes across as a modern-day conservative doing battle against the liberal secularists who are destroying his world.  Robert Duvall co-stars as the policeman who has the responsibility for stopping Douglas’s war on society.  Both Duvall and Douglas are excellent.  Rachel Ticotin is also noteworthy as Duval’s fellow officer, and her emotional connection with Duvall is eerily similar to the connection of Duvall and Diane Lane in Lonesome Dove.  As a lover of all things Lonesome Dove, that is no small compliment.  The Rotten Tomato critics gave Falling Down a 73% grade and its audience gave it 79%.  I agree with the audience and give it three and a half stars out of four.

Moneyball is a new movie (2011) starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman that is based on a best-selling 2003 book of the same title.  The story revolves around the general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) of the cash-starved Oakland A’s baseball team in 2002 attempting to keep up with its big-spending rivals such as the Boston Red Sox and, especially, the New York Yankees.  With necessity being the mother of invention, Beane attempts to pull off this feat by relying on innovative statistics instead of intuition and judgment to evaluate baseball players.

The key to sabermetrics is a belief that you should evaluate a player, not on intangible, subjective skill sets, but rather on his ability to generate wins, which depend on his ability to produce runs (for position players).  Based on the success of the A’s, sabermetrics has spread throughout the sporting world.  In essence, it is very similar to Graham and Buffett’s approach to investing – so-called value investing in which the buyer searches for stocks (players) that are not adequately valued.  With sabermetrics, a team can produce the same amount of wins for less money or more wins for the same amount of money.

Moneyball is an outstanding movie because it is a great story and because of Pitt’s great acting.  You can’t help but be rooting heartily for him to succeed.  Although Kerris Dorsey has only a small role as Beane’s daughter, she is very much responsible for giving this movie a huge amount of emotional appeal.  The movie was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and Pitt for the Best Actor Oscar, but neither won.  The Rotten Tomato critics loved Moneyball to the tune of 94%; the audience not so much – 87%.  I can’t quite give it four stars because there wasn’t enough romance in it, but it was a strong three and a half stars.

April 27, 2012

Keeping the interest rate on student loans artificially low

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 11:58 pm

I recently blogged about Pell Grants after learning that my youngest son was not eligible because his parents apparently made too much money or had too many assets.    In my blog, I took the magnanimous position that, although government spending that enabled poor kids to afford college was money well spent, I had no objection to stopping that spending for kids (and their families) who could already afford it.  The federal government, after all, doesn’t have unlimited resources.

Today a friend forwarded a related opinion article by Mike Brownfield from the Heritage Foundry.  In the article Brownfield criticized President Obama for proposing that the federal government should continue to subsidize the student-loan interest rate so that its stays artificially low at 3.4% instead of rising to its free-market level of 6.8%.  Brownfield said Obama’s proposal was election-year pandering.  I’m surprised Brownfield didn’t mention how critical Obama was of John McCain in 2008 when McCain proposed suspending the federal gas tax.  Obama called McCain a panderer for his gas-tax proposal, yet four years later Obama is making a proposal that is highly analogous.  Does the word hypocrite come to mind?

My friend forwarded the article to me because he thought Brownfield made some devastating points, but I disagree.  In my opinion, Brownfield is making irrational and/or cheap political points.

For instance, Brownfield criticizes Obama for proposing to fund the $5.9, one-year extension by taking money out of ObamaCare.  In almost the same breath, Brownfield asserts that ObamaCare needs to be repealed.  There is an old saying that one shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Instead of criticizing the downsizing of ObamaCare, Brownfield should graciously accept this small improvement.  Isn’t it a better idea to spend $5.9 billion on subsidizing poor kids’ college loans instead of having ObamaCare’s Prevention and Public Health Fund spend the money?

And to show that he is not the only pundit who rhetorically believes that the perfect can be the enemy of the good, Brownfield quotes approvingly from another pundit:

                The supposed benefits of keeping the interest rates at 3.4 percent are largely illusory, and the president is selling students a bag of magic beans. Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin explains on National Review‘s “The Corner”:

  • “[The interest rate increase] sounds serious. After all, there are 39 million Americans with student loans owing over a trillion dollars of debt, and interest rates doubling from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent would be a huge hit at a time when households are already struggling.  Serious, except that the president’s plan would apply only to those 23 million loans being borrowed directly from the federal government. Except that not all of those would benefit; it would apply only to the 9.5 million loans being borrowed through the so-called subsidized Stafford loans. Except the lower rate would apply only to new borrowers who apply this year. Except that no payments are made until after graduation, so it would not help anyone for several years. Except that it would lower monthly payments by an average of only $7.”

              In other words, for an incredibly high cost, students are realizing very little benefit.

 Actually in other words the program doesn’t help enough kids, therefore it should be eliminated?  That would be like arguing that the current Pell Grants should be going to more kids (currently they go only to kids from families that make less than $50k a year) and because America can’t afford to extend it to kids from families making between $50k and $100k, we should end it for all kids.  I wonder where Brownfield and Holtz-Eiken learned logic and reasoning.  Hmmm – Brownfield has a J.D. from Loyola Law and Holtz-Eiken has a Ph.D. from Princeton.  That figures.  Only someone with a doctorate could think such crazy thoughts.   

Brownfield concludes his column by arguing that government subsidies are a bad idea for two reasons:

  1. None of this is to say that the federal government should spend even more to subsidize student loans in an effort to make college more affordable. It absolutely should not. Federally subsidized student loans are handed out to millions of college students regardless of risk — let alone whether they can handle college-level work. Thanks to taxpayer backing, the loans are offered at rates far below what private lenders would offer. When the students can’t afford to pay, the American people are stuck with the bill.
  2. On top of all this, government intervention in the higher education marketplace hasn’t even succeeded in bringing down college costs. In fact, the price of a degree has risen right along with government spending. Pell grants have increased 475 percent since 1980, and yet the cost of attending college has increased 439 percent since 1982. It’s a vicious cycle that will only get worse with more government subsidies.

I disagree with Brownfield’s first argument because, as Ronald Reagan said, when you subsidize something, you get more of it.  America wants more kids going to college.  Of course, there are some kids going to college that are not motivated and are financially irresponsible (also, there are predatory, for-profit schools), and the government programs should be tweaked to address those problems.  But to recall an old public-policy cliché – mend it; don’t end it.

I disagree with Brownfield’s second argument because, unlike the housing bubble that resulted from too-easy money, I don’t think reasonable people believe that the college industry is in the midst of a pricing bubble artificially propped up by kids with too much “easy money.”

I hope my conservative friend who forwarded Brownfield’s keen observations to me doesn’t read this posting.  My friend already calls me a RINO and pretty soon he will be calling me a deserter or at least AWOL.

An open letter to the Washington Post’s columnist Eugene Robinson

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:49 pm
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Thank you for your recent column on immigration reform.   In the column you suggest that now is the perfect time for Congress to finally resolve our seemingly insoluble illegal-immigration problem. 

Why now?  Because of the Pew Hispanic Center report earlier this week that stated more Mexicans moved out of America than moved in between 2005 and 2010.  Based on this report you glean several unjustified conclusions:

  • You conclude that the “crisis,” if there ever was one, is over.  That assumes that the crisis was the rising numbers of illegal immigrants.  I suggest that the actual crisis is the 11 million illegal immigrants in America (60% from Mexico).  That number hasn’t changed in a significant way, even though Romney’s concept of self-deportation, which many scoffed at, is proving to be valid.
  • You contend that illegal immigrants “don’t come here to laze around and enjoy government benefits because, well, what benefits would those be?”  That statement must be a rhetorical device because I can’t believe that you really don’t know of any government benefits that illegal immigrants receive.  Just to humor you, let me list a few.  At the top of the list, birthright citizenship to any of their kids born in this country.  Some call these kids anchor babies; others use the term gateway drug because illegal immigrants can collect a plethora of government benefits (like food stamps) on behalf of their birthright babies.  Also at the top of the list is a free public education through high school.  The state of Texas tried to deny this benefit many years ago and was slapped down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which was afraid of creating a permanent underclass in America, but was not so afraid of creating a permanent, growing undocumented class.  Another benefit provided to illegal immigrants is medical care in our government-run hospitals and clinics, plus emergency care in all other hospitals and clinics.  One might argue that the best government benefit afforded to illegal immigrants is law & order.     
  • You complain about “Arizona’s ‘driving while brown’ law, which instructs police to challenge and, if necessary, apprehend anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant. The law forbids racial profiling, but the truth is that it effectively guarantees profiling.”  Can you imagine any other country where the police are not expected to arrest someone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant?  I can’t think of a better example of living in an ivory tower.
  • You warn that Obama will be hard to beat this fall unless Republicans start catering to the Hispanic special interest the way the Democrats already cater to the African-American special interest.  Of course, in doing that the Republican Party would be deviating from its principle of trying to represent all America, as opposed to the Democratic Party “principle” of catering to a motley assortment of special interests (trial lawyers, minorities, feminists, unions, and socialists).  Even from a practical perspective, however, your suggestion doesn’t make sense because, I’m sure you know, recent studies have found that the number of registered Hispanic voters has dropped precipitously since the last presidential election.

At the end of your column, you finally let the cat out of the bag regarding what Democratic intentions have been all along:

  • We need a Reagan-style amnesty that would allow the great majority of undocumented immigrants to stay.

Just because Reagan did something doesn’t make it right.  He would be the first to say that we aren’t stuck on stupid.  The answer isn’t amnesty because that would reward bad behavior and encourage future bad behavior.  The answer remains the elimination of sanctuaries in America, along with the adoption of a broadened DREAM Act that would apply to all long-term residents, not just kids who go to school or the Service.


Mike Kueber – San Antonio, TX

April 26, 2012

Bryan Garner’s usage – jealousy vs. envy

Filed under: Culture,Education,Trivia — Mike Kueber @ 11:51 pm

Last Tuesday evening, I was sitting on a patio with friends, discussing the issues of the day while enjoying some libations.  One of my friends said something about being jealous and the words weren’t even out of his mouth before my other friend suggested that the appropriate word is “envious,” not “jealous.” 

See, my punctilious friend had the distinction between jealous and envious branded on his brain by a similarly punctilious high school teacher more than 40 years ago.  According to this teacher, many people not only confuse the two words, but they also overuse jealous because envious is a bit highfalutin for them.  Thus, whenever you hear the word jealous, there is strong likelihood that the speaker should have said envious.    

What is the difference between jealous and envious?  According to Merriam-Webster, jealous means to be intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness.  That definition is essentially what my friend was taught more than 40 years ago – i.e., it meant a fear that someone was stealing the affection from another person that you want. 

By contrast, Merriam-Webster defines envious as resenting the advantage possessed by another.  My friend was taught that it means wanting what someone else has, except as applied to the affections of a third person.

A dictionary often is all that is needed to determine what word best communicates what you are thinking.  For years, I have kept one dictionary alongside my reading chair and another alongside my bed.  Lately, however, I get more enjoyment out of referring to usage manuals, which provide in-depth discussions of term(s), much of which is based on tradition or custom.

What do usage manuals say about jealous and envy?  One of my favorite usage manuals is Bryan Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage.  Garner has taught several seminars that I have attended, and I enjoy him immensely.  (In fact, he edited the most recent Black’s Law Dictionary and allowed me to submit comments on about 10-15 pages of words; I believe he even credited me in the Acknowledgement.)

According to A Dictionary of Modern American Usage:

  • “jealousy; envy.  The careful writer distinguishes between these terms.  Jealousy is properly restricted to contexts involving affairs of the heart; envy is used more broadly of resentful contemplation of a more fortunate person.” 

Doesn’t that hit the spot?!

Garner’s first usage manual was titled A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, and it is what turned me on to Garner.  Each entry in the book is so polished that it seems a talented person spent hours on it, although that was obviously impossible.  Because of its narrower focus (the law), it is not as useful to non-lawyers.  In looking at my copy today, I noticed that Bryan inscribed it, “For Michael A. Kueber, May you always find just the right words.  Bryan Garner.”  A beautiful thought, and I have to remind myself that he didn’t actually create the expression for me. 

Just today, I sent an email to a friend who had described the stress and frustration in preparing for a complicated litigation.  Although I am generally familiar with the distinction between empathize and sympathize, I wasn’t certain which was more appropriate, so I used both – empathize/sympathize.  If I’d checked with Garner first, he would have told me, “Empathy is the ability to imagine oneself in another’s position and to experience all the sensations connected with it.  Sympathy is compassion for or commiseration with.”  That is consistent with my general understanding, but technically I probably shouldn’t have said “empathize” because I haven’t taken a chair in litigation in over 30 years and my other similar experiences probably don’t compare close enough to be able to fully empathize.    

My all-time favorite usage issue is infer vs. imply.  Like my friend with jealous and envious, whenever I hear either infer or imply, my usage antenna goes up and I immediately analyze to determine whether the usage was correct.

Of course, many of us have a shared experience regarding our first lesson on usage, and Garner tells a funny story about it in the Preface to A Dictionary of Modern American Usage:

  • Not long ago, while I was standing at a rental-car counter in Austin, a young clerk told me that a free upgrade to a Cadillac might be available.  She would have to see whether any Cadillacs were on the lot just then.  Two minutes passed as she typed, got on the phone, twirled her hair around her index finger, and then typed some more.  Finally I said, “Can I get the upgrade?”  “You mean, ‘May I get the upgrade,’ she responded.  As it happens, I had been working on the manuscript of this book only minutes before, so I couldn’t help thinking how surreal the experience was.  I felt a twinge of indignation on the one hand – the kind that anyone feels when corrected.  But I also thought that her remark was charming in a way.  She was doing her best to uphold good English.  But she was wrong and I gently told her so: “I’m not asking for your permission.  I want to know whether you have a Cadillac on the lot.  I want to know whether it’s physically possible for me to drive one of them.  So: ‘Can I get the upgrade.’”

Do you remember asking your teacher whether you can go to the bathroom?  And she would invariably respond that she doesn’t know whether you can go, but that you may go, if you want.

If you ever have a chance to look at some of the entries in Garner’s books, I encourage you to do so.

Dress codes vs. looking good

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 6:05 pm

While at the apartment pool last weekend, I noticed all the bikini-clad girls and wondered why the guys were topless and the girls weren’t.  Actually, I didn’t wonder.  I knew that conservative tradition dictated that the girls cover their breasts while the guys didn’t.  This distinction made no sense, but it was a fact.  Furthermore, it didn’t seem fair. 

This fact reminded me of life 25 years ago when a coat & tie were part of the required dress code at my place of employment, USAA.  I remember telling a co-worker back then that the coat & tie dress code was one of those things that would be looked upon in a few decades as something that made no sense and was ridiculous – i..e., why should a reasonable, thinking person wear a tie that strangled his neck?

While at the pool last weekend, I was thinking the same thought about the women wearing bikini tops – i.e., it made no sense.  Why should a woman be required to wear a top while a man isn’t?  Then it dawned on me.  The dress code is not necessarily something imposed on us by some faceless Establishment.  Rather, it is something that we have developed in our never-ending quest to look good.  Men are more attractive when they are wearing a coat & tie (at least, they were 25 years ago) and women look better with their breasts covered.

Some people over-estimate the power of the establishment.  Those people have more freedom that they realize.

Illegal immigration and racial profiling

An article in today’s San Antonio Express-News reported on a shocking report from the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based nonpartisan research group.  According to the article, between 2005 and 2010, more Mexicans left America (1.39 million) than came to America (1.37 million).  By contrast, between 1995 and 2000 670k Mexicans left America and 2.94 million came to America.

The Pew report does not provide an explanation for this dramatic shift in in immigration (legal and illegal combined), but it speculates that the cause was the declining availability of jobs in an American economy that was struggling with a recession, plus the increased border security and the improved Mexican economy. 

There was additional information in the report that I found even more interesting:

  • At 12 million, Mexicans are the dominant immigrant nationality in America, but more than half of them are here illegally. 
  • No other country in the world has as many as 12 million immigrants of all nationalities combined.  This fact shows how attractive America has been as a destination for foreigners and how relatively open our doors are.
  • The number of illegal Mexican immigrants in America peaked in 2007 at 7 million, and that number had dropped to 6.1 million by 2011.
  • The total number of legal Mexican immigrants in America dropped between 2007 and 2011, but the number in Texas increased during that time.
  • The number of legal Mexican immigrants increased from 5.6 million in 2007 to 5.8 million in 2011.

This information regarding the predominance of Mexican illegal immigrants relates to another issue that we the subject of a Washington Post op-ed piece earlier in the week.  The Post’s op-ed piece was written by a Louisiana judge who pointed out the obvious – i.e., law-enforcement personnel who are attempting to identify illegal immigrants will pay more attention to individuals who look like Mexicans or are brown-skinned.  The judge went on to argue that such conduct amounts to illegal racial profiling, and he is hoping the Supreme Court review of the Arizona illegal-immigrant law will put a definitive end to it.

As a practical person, I am reluctant to discard a valuable enforcement tool.  The essential question is whether the value of the enforcement tool exceeds the cost to members of the group that will be scrutinized more closely merely because of their skin color.  This is an exceedingly complicated, subjective question, and I think the U.S. Supreme Court is supremely qualified to conduct an analysis and render a decision.  Unlike the Louisiana judge, however, I will not prejudge their decision and instead will look forward to reading their analysis.




April 24, 2012

Pell Grants

Filed under: Education,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:31 pm
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Have you ever wondered what Pell Grants are?  Me, too.  Until today, all I knew was that they were the most prominent form of federal assistance to kids wanting to go to college.  Then today, after returning from the gym, I noticed my youngest son had received a response to his 2012-2013 financial-aid application – the so-called FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  According to the federal response, my son was not eligible for a Pell Grant.  Although the result did not surprise me (during my later USAA years, my level of compensation seemed to keep me from participating in any federal program worth participating in, especially the Roth IRA and personal tax exemptions), I decided to learn who was benefitting from the federal largesse of the Pell Grants.   

Not surprisingly, the information that I was looking for was not easily accessible.  Most sites, instead of providing understandable information, provided only general guidance, such as eligibility depends on financial need, which is calculated by comparing the cost of attendance at a specific college (CoA) vs. the expected family contribution (EFC).  Depending on the results of that comparison, a qualified student could receive between as much as $5,000 a year to as little as $500 a year.  An unqualified student (my son) would receive $0.       

Some sites actually provided an extremely complicated calculator to determine the most critical factor – the EFC.  Way too complicated for me.  But eventually I found an article that gave me exactly what I was looking for.  According to this article provided by U.S. News:

  • Those with EFCs above $4,041 will be disqualified for Pell grants. Almost all Pell grants go to students whose families have incomes of less than $50,000 a year.

Because I am not interested enough to analyze the inner workings of EFC calculation, I have no opinion on its merits.  But Republicans might argue, as its presumptive nominee Mitt Romney has already suggested, that the federal government seems to be concerned only about the rich and the poor, whereas the middle class is neglected.  Kids of the poor have the government stand in for their parents to provide just as much financial support as the government has calculated a middle-class family should be providing to their kids, and kids of the rich don’t have any money issues because of the generous tax loopholes granted by government.  As Mitt Romney says, no one cares about the middle class. 

Although we live in a democracy, I think Romney is right.  But I am also willing to make an exception in this case because there are few things as important in this country as encouraging motivated poor kids to go to college.  And because the federal government doesn’t have unlimited amounts of money (in fact, it has no money), a cut-off for Pell Grants has to be somewhere, and perhaps $50k is the appropriate cut-off.  Personally, I think the cut-off is a bit low, and if I were in Congress, I would push for Pell Grants to kids with parents making up to $100k a year. 

Assisting kids to go to college is one of the most important things the federal government should be doing.

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