Mike Kueber's Blog

November 30, 2012

On the ninth day, the Spurs rest

Filed under: Entertainment,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 2:29 pm
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Last night, San Antonio Spur head coach Gregg “Pop” Popovich created controversy by holding out his three star players (Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker) in a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat.  NBA President David Stern responded by declaring that the fans deserve better and, therefore, sanctions against the Spurs would be forthcoming. 

The problem with Stern’s threat is that the Spurs have rested their star players before, and as pointed out by local columnist Buck Harvey, the only significant difference is that this game was on national TV.   

The situation reminds me of pre-season NFL games.  Those games are irrelevant, and the fans accept (albeit reluctantly) that the teams are mostly going through the motions.  That is essentially what Popovich decided – i.e., his team has a better chance to win the league title with one less regular-season win and one more night of rest for his stars. 

Yes, the Popovich move reflects a lack of respect for the regular season games, and yes, the fans at some of those games are shortchanged.  And although the NBA is in the business of entertainment, David Stern needs to remember that what sets sports apart is that a team’s complete focus is on winning the championship, not on putting on a good show, and there is no compelling reason for him to risk messing with that fundamental.

The fiscal cliff or a game of chicken

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:47 am

Yesterday I blogged about how the progressives were planning to reduce the deficit – i.e., do nothing but raise taxes.  As crazy as that sounds, the White House has confirmed that that, indeed, is their plan. 

As reported today in the New York Times, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner formally described the Obama administration’s plan to avoid the year-end fiscal cliff – $1.6 trillion in tax increases, $50 billion in additional stimulus spending, abolition of the debt ceiling, and a promise (“with no guarantees”) to look for social-spending savings of $400 billion sometime next year. 

Talk about chutzpah!  It was just a few months ago when Republicans were being ridiculed by the media for refusing to accept a hypothetical budgetary compromise of $10 in cuts for every $1 in tax increase.  Now the Republicans are being told that, to avoid the fiscal cliff, they must accept astronomical tax increases plus increased spending. 

If Americans wanted that, why didn’t they elect a Democratic House of Representatives?

Let’s hope that this is mere posturing.

November 29, 2012

How do the progressives propose to fix Medicare/Medicaid?

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:07 pm
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One of the most fatuous charges made by Democrats during the recent presidential election was that Republicans plan to eliminate Medicare “as we know it.”  That charge is fatuous because every sentient person knows that Medicare as we know it is unsustainable and must be reformed.  At least, I thought every sentient person knew that. 

Before the election prompted both sides into making ridiculous statements, the conventional wisdom was that, because Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid comprised such a large percentage of federal spending, the out-of-control federal deficit could not be tamed without making significant changes to those entitlement programs.  Everyone agreed on that.

Post-election, however, I have read a series of disturbing reports indicating that progressives/liberals are opposed to making significant changes to those programs.  Huh?  That doesn’t make any sense, but for some reason the mainstream media doesn’t press these people to explain their nonsensical position. 

An explanation for the media’s negligent conduct can, perhaps, be found in today’s editorial in the NY Times.  In that editorial, the Times asserts that neither Medicare or Medicaid can be touched without “hurting the most vulnerable Americans.” 

So, if the Times opposes any cuts, how does it propose to bring fiscal sanity to these programs?  Ironically, it suggests something that reminds me of the Republican plan to balance the budget through so-called dynamic scoring – i.e., a booming economy.  The Times claims that the costs of Medicare and Medicaid will become manageable in the future because ObamaCare will reform healthcare in America by making it better and more efficient.

There may have been a time in America’s past when we could afford to make economic decisions on the basis of what George H.W. Bush called voodoo economics, but that time is passed.  Neither party should be presenting budgetary proposals that depend on rosy, highly speculative scenarios.     


Saturday Night at the Movies #57 – Click

Filed under: Movie reviews,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 3:05 am
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One of my favorite philosophical discussions concerns whether a life in pain is worth living.  For most people, the context for this discussion involves a person with a terminal illness.  I, however, sometimes take these discussions in a different direction by asserting that I would rather not live those days when I am in the throes of a bad flu or cold.

Most people initially react by scoffing at my assertion because no reasonable person should want to die because of a relatively mild, temporary affliction.  But then I explain that I’m not talking about dying; rather, I’m talking about fast-forwarding past those uncomfortable days.  My point is that because of my low pain threshold, those days with a bad cold or flu are so bad for me that I would rather not live them.

An even easier example for me concerns the week or so following my motorcycle accident back in 1980, when I received a bad case of road rash that required my then-girlfriend to rip off the bandage several times a day and scrub the rash with a brush.  No question about fast-forwarding past those days.

Last Thanksgiving weekend, I was having this philosophical discussion with two of my sons when my eldest, Bobby, told me that he had seen a movie called Click that is based on nearly the same philosophical premise.  Although I was initially disappointed to learn, once more, that my original thinking was not original, I was even more excited to see the movie.

Click (2006) is a sci-fi comedy drama starring Adam Sandler as a workaholic who receives from Christopher Walken a magical remote control that enables Sandler to fast-forward past times that he deems not worth living.  Not surprisingly, Sandler uses the device too often and ends up missing most of his life.  Critics note that the movie seems to rip-off, unsuccessfully, It’s a Wonderful Life and Back to the Future and give it a middling Rotten Tomato score of 33, but its audience likes it better at 72. 

I like Click even better than the Rotten Tomato audience and give it three and a half stars out of four because it makes me re-think my life philosophy.  Although I doubt that I will ever be able to soldier on through a terminal illness like my dad did, I will be a helluva a lot more motivated to get something positive out of all each one of my days, even those filled with, but not dominated by, pain or drudgery.   






November 28, 2012

Food stamps and food banks

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:31 pm
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Mark Bittman recently blogged in the New York Times about the failure of food stamps and food banks to eliminate hunger in America.  What’s worse, according to Bittman, these programs are being trimmed instead of being beefed-up.  Unfortunately, Bittman’s post provides no evidence that the programs are failing or that the proposed trimmings are inappropriate. 

Bittman’s most interesting comment is his suggestion that the current food-stamp participation of a record-high 47 million people is too low because perhaps another 15 million people who are entitled to the benefit are not aware of their eligibility.  I suggest that many of the nonparticipants are aware of their eligibility but refuse to accept this welfare as a matter of personal pride.  In fact, I was speaking to someone last night who said he was eligible, but his pride wouldn’t let him use food stamps.

Technically, the food-stamp program (SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) eliminated the stamps many years ago and replaced them with debit cards for exactly the reason described by my friend – i.e., to prevent participants from being embarrassed.  And many states are aggressively trying to recruit participants because the food-stamp program represents a huge dollar flow from the federal government into the state.

Personally, I think people should be able to collect their welfare without being humiliated, although I find it interesting to read about beneficiaries who get defensive when people in the check-out line question them about their cell-phone, designer shoes, and pedicured nails.  One of them opined that being on welfare shouldn’t require a person to live like a pauper.

But I also think government should respect individuals who decline to use food stamps as a matter of pride.  This is often a healthy pride, and despite Bittman’s assertions to the contrary, these people are not going to bed hungry.

Socialistic democrats

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:53 am
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Democratic socialists

Joe Klein’s recent column in Time magazine accused Mitt Romney of being a sore loser, and I blogged that this accusation was unjustified.  This unjustified accusation almost obscured another of Klein’s unreasonable assertions in the column – i.e., blacks, young people, and liberals may have more positive feelings toward socialism than toward capitalism, but they are referring to good socialism, not bad socialism.  

Klein concedes that if these people are endorsing the traditional definition of socialism (a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state), he thinks they are crazy.  “That sort of socialism has been an utter failure, and regulated capitalism has been the greatest eradicator of poverty in the history of the world.”  But rather than characterizing his fellow idealists crazy, Klein suggests, “But I suspect–and this would be wonderfully ironic, if true–that all those blacks and young people got their definition of socialism from Rush Limbaugh and the other wing-nut foghorns: socialism is when the government helps people out.” 

That suggestion doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Since when are blacks and young people listening to Rush Limbaugh and the other wing-nut foghorns?  But I concede that the traditional definition of socialism is not what most Pew respondents were referring to.  Rather, their responses were based on the modern definition of socialism, which is similar to the European welfare state with a cradle-to-grave safety net – i.e., government intervention to guarantee citizens a minimum level of health care, education, food, housing, and retirement benefits.

In his column, Klein suggests that most people want that European-style safety net, and future debate will be limited to “how extensive those regulations and supports should be.”  Sad to say, I think he’s correct. 

And then in an incongruent attempt to be magnanimous in a column that accuses his opponents of being sore losers, Klein concludes his column by reaching out to “those disaffected white folks”:

  • I suspect they’ll find Obamacare won’t have the profound impact on the national character–or their lives–that they fear. But I worry that their sense of loss will fester and in some cases get ugly. Perhaps, as a gesture of good faith, the rest of us–those unthreatened by a polychromatic, polymorphic future–should listen to their more reasonable arguments, especially the ones that involve personal responsibility. Perhaps we should begin to think about ways that people who receive benefits like unemployment insurance, food stamps, even disability, can also give back. Because citizenship in a healthy democracy comes with responsibilities, and too many of us, of all incomes, haven’t been responsible enough.”

That is a well-spoken sentiment.  I just wonder if anyone stuck with this column long enough to read it.

November 27, 2012

Sore losers

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:36 am
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I’ve always felt Joe Klein of Time magazine was a liberal masquerading as moderate, and his column in this week’s issue confirmed that feeling.  When I saw the column’s title on the cover of the magazine – “Sore Losers” by Joe Klein – I had a strong suspicion that Joe was about to pile on poor Mitt Romney, and he surely did:

  • Has there ever been a less gracious presidential loser than Mitt Romney?  I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt during the campaign.  I figured he was just dialing for dollars when he massaged the Boca Raton fat cats’ fantasies about the lack of ‘responsibility’ on the part of the 47% who don’t pay income taxes.  But it turns out he really believes that stuff.

Poor, Mitt, he just can’t satisfy the mainstream press.  First they criticize him for being insufficiently conservative – I believe it was George Will who first suggested that Romney speaks as if conservatism is his second-language – and now they accuse him of really believing that stuff.

Make no mistake, Romney’s comment about the 47% is pure conservatism.  Yes, you can make picayune attacks on his comment by pointing out that many of the 47% are not on the government dole, but that is not the point.  Conservative pundits throughout the country for many months have been using the 47% figure as a proxy for the rise of government dependence and to emphasize that America may soon reach a tipping point in favor of a Europe-like welfare state.  And since the election, those same pundits, like Dennis Miller, have resigned themselves to accept the America has tipped.   

Romney’s post-election comment about “gifting” to young and minority voters, which launched Klein’s latest bitter diatribe, is just as bedrock conservative, but it goes back centuries, not months or years.  As Ronald Reagan said:

  • Perhaps what he had in mind was what Prof. Alexander Frazer Tytler has written, that a democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury. From that moment on the majority, he said, always vote for the candidate promising the most benefits from the treasury with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship. Unfortunately, we can’t argue with the professor because when he wrote that we were still colonials of Great Britain and he was explaining what had destroyed the Athenian Republic more than 2000 years before.”

It is standard Republican orthodoxy to accuse the Democrats of pandering to its motley collection of special interests – unions, public employees, minorities, feminists – and Romney’s “gifting” comments were completely in line with that orthodoxy.  That is why Klein’s diatribe, although consistent with his liberal philosophy, is unjustified. 

More troubling for me, however, is the “gifting” criticism that has emanated from conservative politicians.  LA governor Bobby Jindal declared, “That is absolutely wrong….  We need to go after 100% of the votes, not 53%.”  And one of my favorites, SC senator Lindsey Graham said, “Most people on public assistance don’t have a character flaw.  They just have a tough life.” 

Jindal’s comment bothers me because it seems to be unnecessary piling on.  Romney retracted his 47% comment almost as soon as he made it – just as Obama did with his “guns and religion” comment – and although I wouldn’t expect the mainstream media to let it go away, I don’t understand why a leading Republican governor wants to emphasize it.

Graham’s comment bothers me more because it seems to deny the conservative argument for accountability and personal responsibility.  When a Brookings Institute study in 2009 showed that individuals can almost certainly avoid poverty by (1) graduating from high school, (2) getting a job, and (c) marrying before having kids, the conservative consensus was that this was something we already knew.  Most individuals don’t end up on public assistance because of bad luck, but rather because of bad decisions, and Lindsay’s comment fails to recognize that.       

I understand Jindal and Graham trying, as smooth-talking politicians, to soften the harshness of Romney’s comments, both of which were supposed to be off-the-record.  But I don’t appreciate their attempt to gain points at the expense of a good man who waged a good battle.

November 26, 2012

Another losing year for the Post Office – $15.9 billion

A few days ago, a column in the Washington Post by Joe Davidson, an apologist for the federal bureaucrats, lamented Congress’s mistreatment of that venerable federal institution, the U.S. Post Office by declaring:

  • It is only appropriate that Congress act to solve a postal financial crisis that legislators had a big hand in creating. More than $11 billion of the $15.9 billion loss, by far the biggest chunk, comes from required payments to pre-fund retiree health benefits. These payments are unique to the Postal Service, and they have nothing to do with mail delivery. USPS has defaulted twice on those payments since August. Without those payments, the net loss would have been $2.5 billion, not good, but more manageable.

Only in Washington would it be considered unfair to require an employer to pre-fund retiree health benefits.  You would think that any sentient American would have learned the stupidity of Social Security’s pay-as-you-go arrangement, but apparently that is not true of the denizens of Washington.

Coincidentally, the book currently on top of my reading list is Freedom Manifesto by Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Ames, and its first chapter is titled, “FedEx or the Postal Office?”  According to the authors, the U.S. Postal Service is the perfect example of service provided by a government bureaucracy – long lines and sluggish service – while FedEx exemplifies private enterprise – efficiency, reliability, and most importantly, innovation.

All of which invites the post-ObamaCare question – what if America’s healthcare industry ends up looking less like FedEx and more like the Post Office?

Sunday Book Review #90 – The Debt Bomb

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 5:41 am
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More than two years ago, I wrote a book review on No Apology by Mitt Romney.  In the review, I said that Mitt was an across-the-board social conservative, and this disappointed me because, although I was a fiscal conservative, I was a social liberal.  I concluded as follows – “As of today, I am inclined to support Romney because his economic philosophy is so consistent with mine, but I will remain open-minded to other candidates who show more social tolerance.”  This week, I read a book by Tom Coburn, M.D. titled “The Debt Bomb.”  Senator Coburn’s political philosophy is even more simpatico with mine.    

Senator Coburn is a medical doctor from Oklahoma who believes fervently in term limits.  He served three terms in the U.S. House, from 1994 to 2000, and then quit because of his self-declared three-term limit.  In 2004, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and following his re-election in 2010, he declared that he will not run for re-election.  During his service in the Senate, he gained fame for his opposition to earmarks (“the bridge to nowhere”), for endorsing the Simpson-Bowles deal, and for being a part of the Gang of Six.

As the title to his book suggests, Coburn believes, as I do, that the biggest issue facing America is its debt/deficit problem.  In his book, he describes the root of the problem as career politicians who bribe the voters with their own money and the unfortunate reluctance of the U.S. Supreme Court to reign in the expansive federal government. 

Although The Debt Bomb describes an explicit, straightforward means to defuse the debt bomb – including reforming entitlements and taxation, plus replacing ObamaCare – Coburn recognizes that America will not resolve its debt/deficit problem until its underlying culture changes – “The reality is, the debt bomb was built by a culture, and it will be defused by a culture.  As a nation, we have to make a decision to live within our means and embrace a government we can afford, not one we want.”  We will get the government we deserve.

I have no idea if Coburn will offer himself as a candidatein 2016, but as of now, he is my favorite.

November 24, 2012

Aphorism of the Week #15 – What I spent, I had; what I kept, I lost; what I gave, I have.

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 6:36 pm
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On Wednesday afternoon, I met an eHarmony woman for some get-acquainted drinks.  Because the day was gorgeous, we decided to meet at some place with a patio – Stone Werks at the Rim.  A few drinks later, a bite to eat, and a generous tip – $96.  That amount might be acceptable to many middle-class consumers, but it isn’t to me.

As I have reflected on the incident since Wednesday, I have concluded that I am currently independently wealthy only because I am willing to live like a poor man.  Henry David Thoreau once said something similar, although much deeper – “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

Although my frugality might be accentuated now that I am living off my nest egg instead of earning any money, my friends will testify that this has been a lifetime trait.  Early in my career, I had the opportunity to supplement my salary by teaching some continuing education courses, but the lure of a few hundred extra dollars was never enough incentive to take on the extra work.  If I had something extra that I wanted to buy, I would scrimp on other things instead of trying to find another source of income.  That’s just the way my brain is wired.

The habit of living off a nest egg is also something that started early in my life.  As a kid on a farm, I didn’t receive an allowance that I was free to spend and then wait for the next one.  Instead, I usually was given a farm animal to raise and then sell in the fall for a quasi-nest egg, which I had to live on until the next fall.  Living like that hard-wires your brain to defer/avoid consumption.

My mom and dad grew up in the Great Depression, and I’m sure that some of their experience rubbed off on me and became my economic imperative.  But my parents weren’t as cheap as me.  Their attitude was better reflected in a quote that I heard a few days ago during a Darrel Royal tribute on TV – What I spent, I had. What I kept, I lost. What I gave, I have. 

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