Mike Kueber's Blog

January 31, 2013

Shake-up in the District 8 race

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:49 pm
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Only one day after I wrote about the difficulty in competing against a moneyed candidate, the moneyed candidate for the San Antonio City Council in District 8 received the worst sort of free media coverage.  In a column in today’s Express-News, columnist Brian Chasnoff revealed that candidate Rolando Briones not only lied about his reason for leaving his job in 2002 at the San Antonio Water System (SAWS), but also covered up that he had been fired “for cause” for accepting gifts from SAWS contractors.  Briones’s response – he believed accepting meals and golf outings from vendors was the normal course of doing business.

Although this conduct occurred more than a decade ago, Briones apparently has applied the same sort of ethics in building his multi-million-dollar engineering business as a government vendor.  Last May, an article in local on-line newspaper Plaza de Armas wrote the following:

  • If you’ve glanced through even a handful of local campaign finance reports, you’ve probably seen the name Rolando Briones, owner of Briones Engineering. He’s politically connected and a prolific contributor to City and County candidates. Well, Briones is also looking to make the leap from mini king-maker to candidate. We hear he’s busy lining up support to run next year in Council District 8.    

And just a couple of months ago in November, a Chasnoff column in the Express-News pointed out that Briones was actively securing engineering contracts with the city of San Antonio earlier in 2012 while concurrently running for the Council, even though this was contrary to ethical precedent established by Councilwoman Chan a few years earlier.   

In Chasnoff’s column today, Briones attempted to justify his departure from SAWS in 2002, and his justification is both surprising and ironic – “I thought [SAWS] was a very military-esque environment.”  It is surprising that an aspiring San Antonio politician would be critical of a “military-esque environment,” and it is ironic that someone who prefers a more free-wheeling environment would want so badly to serve in the capacity of an elected representative, where even the apprear of impropriety is unacceptable.



January 30, 2013

Modern campaigning

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:06 pm
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Since deciding to run for the San Antonio City Council, I have been forced to consider two presumed truisms in modern campaigning, as articulated recently by columnists for the local daily newspaper:

  • Money in politics.  Columnist Gilbert Garcia recounted the story of a candidate being asked who was running her campaign:
    • When Marisa Perez appeared before the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board last September, she was asked who was running her campaign.  It’s usually not viewed as a gotcha question. If you’re putting yourself out there in a political race, it’s a given that you’ll have to reveal how much your campaign is raising and spending, what you do for a living and who is working to get you elected.
  • Intensive work.  Columnist Brian Chasnoff described a project to reach citizens unlikely to vote: 
    • The premise is simple: Every reliable voter has a constellation of friends and relatives who don’t vote, and “we can leverage our personal relationships to encourage people to do things,” Castro says.  “It’s very intensive work.  There’s a lot of follow-through and a lot of handholding because you’ve got to help people craft the message.”

The two truisms are obviously related.  With the first truism, the media wants to know how much money you are going to spend because that indicates whether you are likely to be a serious candidate.  Although democratic idealists may object based on the principle that money is not the same thing as votes, the second truism reminds that it takes money to do the intensive work required to earn votes.

When I went to Ohio a few months ago to volunteer for Romney, I saw first-hand the immense effort expended to persuade a few undecided or, more likely, unreliable voters to go to the polls.  Campaign computers have mined the available voter data, and sliced and diced it in ways that inform all future contacts – who, how, what, when.  Of course, these swing voters become even more important when national campaigns focus on only a handful of swing states.

When I ran for Congress in 2010, I spent $15,000.  Most of the money went toward a mass-mailing of my campaign brochure to voters in the previous primary.  The remaining money went to pay for (a) the 5,000 brochures that I handed out when block-walking and (b) an ad in the Express-News, which was designed to refer voters to my website.  I did no TV or radio ads (too expensive) and no signs (non-informative), and unfortunately there was almost no free media coverage of the campaign.  My guiding principle was to get the most information to the most voters.  Obviously, the experts and professionals have decided that is inefficient and ineffective.  And probably naïve. 

I wish more voters took their vote seriously by proactively studying the candidates and didn’t need to be persuaded by emotional, superficial, non-informational appeals.  And I wish voters refused to vote for candidates who have already mortgaged their future votes by accepting large sums of money from contributors.     



January 29, 2013

Innovation and creativity used by Joaquin Castro against the radical, crazy Republicans

Filed under: Culture,Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:58 pm
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Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff’s column today appeared to have a two-pronged purpose:

  1. Advance the deification of the Castro twins.
  2. Create a perception that Democrats are on the verge of becoming competitive in Texas.

Chasnoff addresses the first prong by telling a three-act story involving Joaquin Castro.  In the first act, Castro is block-walking on the Republican northwest side of San Antonio.  Then in the second act, Castro is depressed because his list of targeted houses – those with reliable voters – causes him to walk past most of the houses.  And in the third act, Castro has an inspiration, which is to get the reliable voters to influence their unreliable friends and family to vote.  For melodramatic measure, Castro names his idea the “Victoria Project” after his late grandmother.

Your response to Castro’s inspiration might be, “Duh?  Tell me something I didn’t know,” but that is not how Chasnoff characterizes it.  Instead he describes it as an epiphany – “Castro’s idea, conceived that day on the campaign trail, is more modest in scale. But its creative approach might inform the myriad efforts here to revitalize Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide election in two decades.

And that brings us to the second prong of Chasnoff’s column – i.e., there is a serious movement underway to make Texas a competitive state for Democrats within the decade.  Chasnoff refers to an extensive new article in Politico.com that describes the myriad, far-reaching efforts to revitalize Democrats that might be informed by Castro’s creative approach, but instead of discussing those efforts, Chasnoff decides to elaborate on Castro’s “more modest in scale” project:

  • Each voter would cast a personal appeal powerful enough to motivate nonvoters to cast ballots.  Castro offered a fictional example: Maria Fernandez, whose father died from diabetes, emails 10 people “who really cared for her dad” with a message that “combines a personal narrative with a policy imperative.” In other words, Fernandez mourns both her father and GOP policy on health care.

The column concludes by suggesting that the Victoria Project would work perfectly against Republicans if Governor Rick Perry and party leaders persist in refusing to extend Medicaid under ObamaCare to two million poor, uninsured Texans.  According to Castro (and Chasnoff?), this position is beyond radical, it’s crazy.

Although this simple concept of trying to leverage your voters unquestionably makes sense, its effectiveness is questionable.  As Castro says, “It’s very intensive work.  There’s a lot of follow-through and a lot of handholding because you’ve got to help people craft the message.”  You think?

Think about crafting a message from your voters to their friends telling them about their poor family member who can’t afford ObamaCare, but would be eligible for free Medicaid if more people would vote Democratic.  Good luck on that in Texas.

Women in combat

Filed under: Culture,Military — Mike Kueber @ 1:58 pm
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Last week, the Obama administration’s Leon Panetta announced that women would be allowed in front-line combat units – infantry, armor, Special Forces.  I heard an excellent debate of the issue on a Sunday talk show between a female captain who has flown attack helicopters and a male general who opposes women in combat. 

The general’s principal point was that women, on average, are significantly less physically able than men, and the captain’s response was that, instead of thinking of averages, it is more reasonable to think of the physical ability of men and women as on separate, but overlapping bell curves – e.g., G.I. Jane.      

The general’s secondary point was that front-line unit cohesion would be weakened by mixing the sexes, to which the captain countered that the sexes would learn to accommodate each other.  They ultimately agree to disagree about this social engineering, with the captain saying that women should be subjected to the draft, and the general saying that in his world his daughters would not be subjected to the draft.

The San Antonio Express-News published an editorial today in which it came down on the side of the captain. 

I agree with the captain and the Express-News.  My only concern is whether the overlap of bells curves is so slight that this social experiment is not worth it.  The overlap of bell curves does not enable women to play high-level football, basketball, or baseball, but I have heard that they could play high-level tennis.    

Perhaps the military should have studied whether there are significant numbers of women who can compete with the physicality of male soldiers on the low-end of their bell curve.  My guess is there are.

January 27, 2013

Feminism and abortion

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 10:05 pm
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The NY Times’ conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, wrote a column today positing that abortion rights and feminism are two separate things; that one can oppose abortion rights while at the same time favor feminism.  Not surprisingly, the liberal readers of the Times disagree. 

The following response by “Winning Progressive” earned the Times’ most-liked designation (liked by 390 other readers):

  • To call anti-choice activists “feminists” is to remove all meaning from that word.  Feminism is about providing women with the same choices and opportunities around education, careers, domestic affairs, and reproductive issues that men have always had. The anti-choice movement is about removing, through the hand of intrusive government, women’s ability to make those choices with regards to reproductive issues. The resulting impact is not only to force women to carry a pregnancy to term (even, in the fantasies of many anti-choicers, in the case of rape and incest) but would often be curbing women’s choices with regards to all those other areas of life, as reproductive freedom is critical to women having freedom with regards to education, careers, etc.
  • If your religion or personal values teach you that abortion is immoral, then don’t have one. In a pluralistic, secular society such as ours, however, you shouldn’t be trying to limit the freedom of everyone else to make that decision and choice for themselves. But, if you are going to impose that sort of restrictive, anti-choice agenda on the rest of us, please at least have the decency to not pretend like doing so is part of feminism.

Although Douthat neglected to provide his readers with a definition of feminism, the definition provided by Winning Progressive in the first paragraph comports with most dictionary definitions – i.e., the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.  The problem with that definition is that bearing a child is not analogous to any activity in a man’s life, and so in that sense it seems that Douthat in correct in pointing out that being for or against abortion rights has no connection to any type of equality with men.

I found the second paragraph from Winning Progressive to be similarly problematic in claiming that, because America is a secular society, people shouldn’t attempt to enforce their religious or personal values into our country’s laws.  Number One, America isn’t secular; it is one of the most religious nations in the world.  Number Two, just because the personal values of many people are informed by their religious values doesn’t render those values any less worthy of recognition.  Clearly, America’s generous safety net exists in large part due to the religious value of caring for your fellow man.  Further, religious values affect a person’s view of capital punishment, but there is no movement to somehow nullify those views.

Atheists and agnostics have no right in America to disenfranchise personal values that flow from a person’s religious beliefs.

Comprehensive immigration reform in the offing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 2:56 am
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According to the NY Times, a bipartisan group of six to nine U.S. senators (including Rubio and McCain) this Friday will propose comprehensive immigration reform.  Although the proposal will address what Senator Lindsey Graham calls the magnet for illegal immigration – i.e., porous border security, lax employer enforcement, and an inadequate system for temporary workers – the crux of the proposal will be what to do with the 12 million illegal immigrants in America.  As Senator Graham says, “How do you deal with the 12 million in a firm, fair way, realizing you can’t put them all in jail and they’re not all going to self-deport?”

I have previously suggested that a path to citizenship should be provided to those illegal immigrants who have been here so long that they have put down roots.  This result would be justified as analogous to the legal concept of adverse possession, which enables a person to claim ownership of real property if the original owner fails to kick the squatter off his property for an extended period of years.  It is not a stretch to say that America is partially culpable for allowing longstanding illegal immigrants to put down roots in this country and that it would be unfair after many years now to kick them out.   

Unfortunately, the Times article provides no hint of an answer to Graham’s question, although there is some talk of “having those who entered illegally go to the back of the line behind immigrants already waiting to enter the country legally, paying fines and back-taxes, and learning English.”  It does not, however, appear that the senators are going to distinguish between illegal immigrants based on their number of years here.  Rather, I suspect there will be no reason for any self-deportation and the only risk of government deportation will be to felons.  And citizenship, as opposed to legal residency, might be reserved for DREAMERs.

Add illegal immigration to the list of failed Republican positions.

A sales-tax revival

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:59 am
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An article in yesterday’s NY Times reported that the sales tax is taking on increased importance in several states across the nation.  The movement is being led by Republican governors in LA, NE, and KS, and although Democrats traditionally oppose the sales tax because it can be regressive, the article suggests that the experience of these states might have federal implications when Congress finally attempts to effect tax reform. 

According to Times reporter Richard W. Stevenson, “Taxing consumption has the potential to lift economic growth by encouraging more savings and investment. But the shift could also increase inequality by reducing taxes predominantly for the wealthy, who spend a smaller share of their income than middle- and lower-income people.”  If these states experience relatively more economic growth, the states with high income taxes will be pressured to move in the same direction in order to prevent residents and businesses from voting with their feet. 

The Times article contained the following nuggets of sales-tax info:

  • Nationwide, sales taxes account for about 46 percent of state revenues, and personal and corporate income taxes for about 42 percent.  (Considering that many big states, like TX and FL, don’t have a state income tax, I am surprised that 42% of state revenue comes from an income tax.  Too bad for CA and NY.)
  • States with relatively low income tax rates like Louisiana, which raises about $3 billion a year from its personal and corporate income tax system, can more easily shift toward a sales tax-only system than states with much higher rates, like New York or California.  (NY and CA are facing hard times.)
  • Louisiana already has the nation’s third-highest sales tax, after Tennessee and Arizona. Combined state and local sales taxes average 8.84 percent, according to the Tax Foundation.  (We’re at 8.25% in San Antonio.)
  • And just as President Obama has raised income tax rates on upper-income families, Democratic governors including Martin O’Malley of Maryland, Jerry Brown of California and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts have supported or put in place income tax increases on the wealthy.  (Watch out for people like Phil Mikelson voting with their feet.)
  • Nearly all other wealthy countries have some version of a national consumption tax.  (I suspect their consumption tax is in addition to, not in lieu of, an income tax.

I’m a long-time fan of shifting from an income tax to a consumption tax, although, as I’ve previously blogged there would be a danger of rich people figuring a way to avoid paying taxes.  Further, as Mitt Romney warned in his book No Apologies, there would be a danger that our economy would be significantly disrupted as people reacted to a dramatic change.  Both of these dangers, however, could be ameliorated by a gradual shift from one tax to the other.

Good luck, LA, NE, and KS.

January 25, 2013

More problems with ObamaCare

Filed under: Issues,Medical,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:20 pm
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Back in November, I blogged about some growing pains as ObamaCare took shape.  The post was prompted by HHS publishing regulations that, in addition to dictating standard policy coverages and requiring coverage for pre-existing conditions, severely limited the ability of insurance companies to accurately price the policies.  Specifically, the regulation provided:

  • Premium can vary based on age (3:1), tobacco use (1.5 to 1), family size, and geography.  All other factors – such as pre-existing conditions, health status, claims history, duration of coverage, gender, occupation, and small employer size and industry – are prohibited.

Today, more than two months later, there is an Associate Press article in the Express-News that describes a potentially huge problem with the interplay of the two authorized pricing factors – age and tobacco use.    According to the article, the age limitation on pricing will cap the annual price of a 60-year old’s policy at $10,172, with a tax credit for someone making $35k taking the price down to $3,325.  But the tobacco-use surcharge of 50% or $5,086, with no additional tax credit allowed, will bring the final price back up to $8,411 or 24% of this person’s income.  That’s not affordable.

This sort of snafu is inevitable in a program this big and new, and numerous tweaks will be necessary.  But as I pointed out in my blog a few weeks ago when discussing the possibility that the employer fine of $2,000 might be low enough that employers in masse will abandon employee health insurance, congressional Republicans are in no mood to tweak ObamaCare to help it work properly.   

I don’t know how this will play out, but gosh, it would have been nice if ObamaCare had been passed by a bipartisan majority.

Crying wolf, but not crying uncle yet

President Obama’s inaugural address has been widely acknowledged as a full-throated defense of liberalism, and nary a pip has been made in the mainstream press questioning the ethics of someone who runs one way and then attempts to govern another way.  Remember how Mitt Romney was castigated in the media for running to the right in the Republican primaries and then attempting to shift to the center for the presidential election?  Is that as bad as running for president as a moderate and now promising to govern as a liberal?

Columnist Paul Krugman of the NY Times certainly is not concerned about Obama’s leftward tilt.  In his column today, Krugman gushingly praised Obama’s inaugural address for (a) its support of gay rights and big government and (b) most importantly, its rejection of deficit spending as a problem.

Krugman has been one of the strongest advocates for a Keynesian solution to America’s economic doldrums – i.e., a huge government stimulus.  He has been consistent in arguing that the stimulus of 2008 was too little too late, and relentless in arguing for more deficit spending.  By contrast, conservatives respond that America’s stagnant economy is a result of the tax & spend government and are loathe to consider any additional deficit spending. 

Like most liberals today, Krugman is brimming with hubris and feels safe to declare victory over the deficit hawks, or what he calls deficit scolds.  According to Krugman, the scolds in America have lost their clout because of four reasons:

  1. They cried wolf too many times.  That’s what they say about all bubbles until they eventually burst.
  2. Deficit and public spending are declining as a share of GDP.  That is not surprising since the emergency spending has tapered off and the revenues have naturally increased as America came out of its recession.  But the deficit and public spending remain at levels that are relatively high.   
  3. A policy of fiscal austerity during a recession has proven to be bad policy.  Conservatives are not talking about immediate fiscal austerity; rather, they want a glide path to a balanced budget.
  4. Deficit scolds were exploiting the economic crisis to advance their political agenda – i.e., a smaller government.  Talk about the kettle calling the pot black.  Liberal Rahm Emmanuel famously admitted that Obama took advantage of the economic crisis to advance the liberal political agenda – i.e., bigger government.

I am currently reading a book by conservative economist John B. Taylor, “First Principles,” and in the book Taylor agrees with Krugman’s position that deficits and debts are not the most important economic issues confronting America.  Instead, he suggests that a robust economic future requires – (a) predictable policy framework, (b) rule of law, (c) strong incentives, (d) reliance on markets, and (e) clearly limited role of government.

I’m going to entertain the possibility that Krugman and Taylor (and Dick Cheney) are right about deficits not mattering, economically speaking.  That doesn’t, however, address the moral issue of borrowing money to support the level of government that we want and then bequeathing that debt to our children.  Yes, it is sometimes dangerous to compare how you conduct yourself to how you expect government to conduct itself, but until someone explains to me otherwise, I’m going to think the right thing is to leave our kids a surplus, not Chinese debt.

January 23, 2013

No budget, no pay

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:06 pm


A few days ago, I submitted an idea to the Op-Ed people at the New York Times.  My idea was that every two years the American voters should be given the opportunity to cut congressional pay in the likely event that we were dissatisfied with congressional performance.

Today, amazingly, the Republicans and a significant number of Democrats in the House of Representatives approved a bill that will not merely cut, but rather will stop congressional pay unless both houses of Congress approve budget blueprints by April 15.  Fiscal cliffs and sequesters are nothing compared to going without a paycheck. 

This sounds too good to be true, and on closer review, I noticed that the bill doesn’t require that both houses approve the same blueprint.  So, we will likely have one blueprint by the Republican House and another by the Democratic Senate.  Plus, it appears the pay will be impounded until the end of the current session. 

But at least this is a start.

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