Mike Kueber's Blog

February 28, 2013

My second candidate debate/forum

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:33 am
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Just returned from my second candidate debate/forum.  This one was put on by the Mockingbird Hill Neighborhood Association, a well-to-do enclave just north of Callahan between Fred Rd. and IH-10.  Briones and Nirenberg also participated.  The format was similar to last week’s Pachyderm forum, except this event was more of a debate because we were each allowed to respond to the initial answers, which enabled us to point out the flaws in those answers.  The questions were suspiciously similar to last week’s, and one of the hosts later admitted that they had called around for help in developing good questions. 

The questions were as follows:

  1. What exactly do you consider to be the responsibilities of a City Councilman and what assets do you bring that you feel make you particularly qualified to do the job?  A councilman serves like a director on a board, but also like a legislator.  I am particularly qualified because of my background (growing up on a farm), my education (UND & UT), my experience (lawyer at USAA), and most importantly my values and politics (limited government, fiscal conservative).
  2. The city capped the only permanent water source for the pond in Denman Estate Park and failed to find a suitable replacement.  This has resulted in very low water levels which endangers the heritage trees and aesthetics of the park.  What would you do to help allocate funds to find a permanent water source for the park?  I don’t know anything about whether I could obtain funds for water.  That is something I would have to investigate.
  3. Discussion of the Express/News coverage of the District 8 race.  The reporting of the Express-News has been appropriate and the information revealed has been relevant to the voters, but the E-N does seem to relish exposing Briones.  By contrast, the coverage for Nirenberg has been cloyingly fulsome and totally lacking in any attempt to vet.
  4. What do you consider to be the responsibility of the city to fund social programs?  As a fiscal conservative, I think city government needs to focus on core responsibilities (streets and public safety), and resist the temptation to social engineer.  But the city does have a responsibility to fill any gaps in the safety net established by state, county, and federal programs.
  5. What are your views on development in the district, the roles of developers and lobbyists in the district an how do you intend to operate the zoning and development process?  Developers have property rights that must be respected, but lobbyists will have no special access to me.  I will listen to all stakeholders, but ultimately I will make decisions based on the best interest of our district as a whole.
  6. What is your view of metrodistricting?  I had never heard of this term, but a preliminary call to the moderator revealed that the term means the same thing as city-county consolidation.  This is obviously a good idea, but not a big priority for me because, as a practical matter, some players with vested interests are usually able to obstruct the consolidation.
  7. Why do you want to obtain the low paying, relatively thankless job of City Councilman?  The politically correct answer is that I want to serve the public and give something back, but the truth is I think the job would be enjoyable and satisfying.  As I recently learned in a book called Drive, the ultimate job affords autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  The job of Councilman is one of those ultimate jobs.

After the debate, I was interviewed by Ryan Lloyd, a reporter for Texas Public Radio, and he asked me if I had a persona while I was debating.  I told him that was an interesting idea, but I hadn’t given it any thought.  Perhaps I was like a boxer who was feeling out his opponent in the first rounds to see what works and what doesn’t. 

While chatting with people after the debate, I was told by some that they appreciated my plain talk and authentic nature.  That prompted me to realize while driving home that my persona was Jimmy Steward in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with me as the citizen politician who is contending with Briones and Nirenberg as the unauthentic guys who will say whatever will make themselves sound good. 

I called Lloyd and thanked him for my new mindset.  Can’t wait for the next debate to try it out.

February 27, 2013

Sunday Book Review #99 – Ghosts of Manhattan by Douglas Brunt

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 6:13 pm
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Ghosts of Manhattan by Douglas Brunt received a spot on my reading list because Brunt appeared on Imus in the Morning and several people on the show commented on what a good read it was.  Plus, his wife is FOX anchorwoman Megyn Kelly.

Although I was led to believe that the story revolved around the financial meltdown of Wall Street, the story actually preceded the meltdown by a few months.  It did, however, focus on the lifestyle of the Wall Street traders and bond salesmen in the months leading up to meltdown.

I have always been fascinated by life in Manhattan, and when you add the glamour of young men with seven-figure salaries, and I am easy to satisfy.  But Brunt does much more in his first novel, with really good writing.

I remember a friend/co-worker who grew up in Brooklyn and taught me to love good writing.  Marv Leibowitz would sometimes point to examples in Maureen Dowd’s NY Times columns.  As I was reading Ghosts, I started noticing Brunt’s writing wit, and when I was about halfway through the book, I noticed an especially good piece:

  • Nick Farmer, our hero, and his wife Julia are having problems, primarily because his job as a Wall Street trader is robbing him of his humanity.  One day, after their first sex in more than a week, Nick compliments Julia by telling her, “You’re even more beautiful today than the day we met.”  Her response – “It’s like you’re caught up in the bad crowd of an eighth-grade class. Some of the people you run around with at least actually are almost adolescent.  You’re thirty-five, Nick.  Thirty-five!”  She’s screaming now.   This feels out of nowhere and I wonder what cue I’ve missed.  She takes a breath and hesitates.  “You were a better man when we met than you are today.  How do you like that?  You think I’ve gotten more beautiful?  I think you’ve gotten more ridiculous.”  Powerful.

That’s when I started highlighting the really good stuff so that I could save it here:

  • A co-worker that Nick despises, Oliver, asks Julia a solicitous question about one of her decorating clients, which causes Nick to realize that he had never indicated much of an interest in his wife’s decorating business – “Even through my gin rinse I’m clear enough to recognize that I don’t know about any of Julia’s clients, let alone particular paintings they have.  I never ask and she rarely volunteers.  I realize I had been thinking of her career as one notch about a hobby.  I feel a pulse of remorse, the way I would if inadvertently cutting off a person in traffic and finding the best I can do is give a meek wave and hope it didn’t hurt anyone or wasn’t even much notices.”   Been there, done that.
  • Julia later tells a heart-rending story, and the despicable Oliver warmly calls her “such a romantic.”  The drunken Nick rejects that sentiment – “She’s not romantic.  Julia is always in control.  Romance is giving yourself over to emotion and losing control.   When your heart takes over your mind.  When you do things not out of logic or reason, but out of passion.  You know she lost her virginity her senior year in high school.  How do you suppose it happened?  It wasn’t to some boy she had been dating and fallen in love with, or even didn’t love but was lusting to have sex with.  It wasn’t even on a night when she’d had too much to drink and things went too far.  It was because she knew she was going to college the next year and she wanted to have that experience before she went.  The whole thing was a logically laid-out plan to prepare herself, and she knew a guy well enough to do the job.”  Nick later recognizes that he acted like a sociopath.
  • When Nick first starts entertaining doubts about an affair between Julia and scum Oliver – “I have an awful tightness in my stomach and groin.  I know the feeling has nothing to do with Oliver.  He’s irrelevant.  He’s a single utensil at a great banquet.  He can fawn on Julia all he wants, but he’s not of her caliber.”  I’ve felt the same way about a rival before.  Of course, if Julia had such high standards, what was she doing with Nick in the first place?  It’s interesting how Nick can dismiss a rival so easily even though that rival had earlier proven to be the alpha male at the dinner table
  • When Nick arrived his nephew’s birthday party, his brother-in-law asks him to help retrieve some refreshments from the fridge, and Nick responds – “Sure.  If you have a mop, I can do the kitchen floor.  Maybe sweep out the garage.  I must have missed the part of the invitation that said this is a barn raising.”  As I say this, I realize I must be in a worse mood than I thought.  But the fact is I do hate people that host a party, then hand out chores to arriving guests.  “Hasn’t anyone ever told you that you can hire people who come over and do this sort of thing so your guests can actually be guests?”  Pretty spoiled, I’d say, but funny.   
  • When Nick explains to his sister Sue that his job is changing him into a bad person, Sue tells him – “Nick.  You’re focused on the wrong thing.  People’s lives are the way they are because of the choices they make.  So before you focus on the job as the issue, you need to focus on you as the issue.  What is it about you that got you here?”  Good insight.
  • Co-worker Jack tells Nick that 35 is a good age for having kids – “There are real advantages to starting at this age.  When you divorce, you can date a gal twenty years younger and she’s still plenty older than your kids.”  Great insight.
  • Nick describes the CEO’s assistant – “When he’s not around Dale Brown, he assumes the full authority of the office of the president to throw his weight around and acts like a jackass.  When he is around Dale Brown, he acts like a manservant.”  I’ve known guys just like that.     
  • When the CEO is given the bad news about the company’s inevitable downfall – “Dale knows that Freddie is brilliant and he also knows that he himself is incapable of grasping the analysis in Freddie’s report.  The root of his disdain for Freddie is fear.  Dale’s belief system about success is that men get ahead on guts, vision, and persuasion.  Freddie doesn’t lead; he’s someone you pay a salary to play a supporting role.  If Freddie challenges this belief, Dale will defend himself in the way insecure people in authority do.”  Good insight.
  • When a loser subordinate accused of raping a hooker asks Nick to be a character witness, Nick says, “If you want a character reference, try your fiancé.”  “Nick, I can’t.  She can’t know about this.”  He pauses.  “Oh, were you kidding?”  “No.”  This sounds like an exchange between Ugarte and Bogart in Casablanca.
  • When Nick starts thinking he could lose Julia – “I’m about to lose this woman.  She’s on her way out of my life.  We’re no longer two people in love but two people held together by a contract without the magic that makes you see the other person in a generous light.  That spell is broken.”  So true.
  • When Oliver’s wife Sybil brags about Oliver helping an alcoholic abuser – “Rehab is for quitters.  I think Keith Richards said that.”  Cute.
  • When describing his milquetoast dad (a cardiologist) compared to his domineering mother – “We wrap up the conversation in a bow.  He’s a kind man, but Mom is the dominant person.  I think every kid needs to like at least one of his parents, so I suppose I’m lucky to have him.”  Kind of cold, but I know the feeling.
  • When Julia is kicking Nick out of their apartment – “I want to ask if she means forever or just for now.  Even if she means just for now, once I’m gone, she’ll probably feel such relief that she’ll realize she means forever, so it’s better not to ask and make her face the question yet.”  My mind sometimes works like that.

I enjoyed those pieces so much that I decided to skim the first part of the book again to see if I could find any of the earlier gems:

  • During Nick and Julia’s first dinner date with scum Oliver and his lame wife Sybil, Julia asks Oliver where he went to college – “I already knew the answer.  Oliver somehow finds a way to let people know within five minutes of meeting him, with all the energy and unabashed praise of a proud parent except directed toward himself.  Julia had just saved him the conversational maneuvering to get there.  ‘New Haven.’  Christ, here we go.  This clown is right out of a Salinger novel.  There’s nothing worse that  people who say New Haven or Cambridge,  pretending to be too modest to say Yale and Harvard when all they’re looking to do is draw the whole thing out.  The false modesty is irritating and shows a total lack of self-awareness of what an insecure snob he really is.  Just say Harvard or Yale and move on.  Don’t invite additional questions so you have to put on your uncomfortable act when pressed to answer the name of the school.  Loser.  Hasn’t Oliver accomplished anything more in life to be proud of than a high SAT score when he was 17.  ‘New Haven?’ asks Julia.  ‘Yale.’  Sybil steps in for Oliver with a smile and pats him on the knee, like a routine they’ve practiced for years.”  I need to be careful about this because I sometimes modestly provide the same response when asked where I went to law school – i.e., Austin.  Duh, nothing modest about that.
  • While teasing a subordinate about his 3-button suits, Nick says – “Stylish?  That crap will be in the back of your closet in a few years and you’ll be embarrassed you ever wore it.  Better to be classic than stylish – it’s the difference between Mick Jagger and Huey Lewis.”  Cute.
  • When Nick was sent away to boarding school as a young kid – “I was scared to death and remember standing on the platform with my bags on the ground under my hands, staring at them, when tears started to fill to the brim of my eyelids, enough that my mother could notice.  She looked disappointed and a little rushed to get to her [Broadway] show.  She put her hands on her hips and leaned forward and said, ‘Stop playing the victim, Nicholas.  Not attractive.’”  No wonder there was no love lost between Nick and his mom.

February 24, 2013

Sunday Book Review #98 – Drive by Daniel Pink and Renegades Write the Rules by Amy Jo Martin

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 11:29 pm
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Drive is a fascinating book by psychologist Daniel Pink that prescribes a new operating system for motivating mankind, especially employees, going into the 21st century.  This new operating system, which Pink calls Motivation 3.0, is needed to replace the first two operating systems:

  • Motivation 1.0 is essentially a biological drive to survive, and it is always the first priority.
  • Motivation 2.0 is based on seeking rewards and avoid punishment – i.e., the carrot and the stick. 

Harnessing Motivation 2.0 was critical to the economic progress experienced since the Industrial Revolution.  The world economy, however, has changed.  Behavioral scientists describe work as either algorithmic, where a worker follows established instructions down a single path to one conclusion, or heuristic, where a worker has to be creative and experiment with possibilities to develop a novel solution.  Work in America is becoming more heuristic, with much of our algorithmic work being off-shored.  Only about 30% of America’s job growth will be in algorithmic work, with 70% of it being heuristic. 

Motivation 2.0 isn’t effective with workers doing heuristic work because it treats them as nothing much more than an animal or a machine – i.e., it isn’t “ennobling.”  Pink describes seven reasons why, according to psychological studies, the carrot & stick approach often fails:

  • It gives us less of what we want with – extinguishes intrinsic motivation, diminishes high performance, crushes creativity, and crowds out good behavior.
  • It gives us more of what we don’t want – encourages unethical behavior, becomes addicting, and fosters short-term thinking.

Enter Motivation 3.0, whose objective goes beyond compliance to engagement.  Pink begins his discussion of Motivation 3.0 by describing the self-determination theory (STD), which posits that all humans have an innate psychological need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.  When these needs are satisfied, we are motivated, productive, and happy.  Otherwise, we are not.

Individuals or businesses that operate under a carrot & stick approach are called Type X (extrinsic) because they are fueled by external rewards, whereas individuals or businesses that are fueled by inherent satisfaction are called Type I (intrinsic).  Pink has found that Type 1 behavior (Motivation 3.0) is made, not born, and almost always outperforms Type X.  Further, it is renewable and promotes greater physical and mental well-being. 

The three critical elements to Type 1 behavior are:

  1. Autonomy – an off-shoot of autonomy is a results-only work environment (ROWE). 
  2. Mastery – an important part of mastery is what Pink calls “flow.”  This occurs when a person is challenged with something not too easy, yet not too hard.  Sounds like an athlete in a “zone.”
  3. Purpose – attaching your efforts to a cause larger than yourself.  This element conflicts with Ayn Rand’s disdain of altruism. 

Pink warns that individuals who have become accustomed to Motivation 2.0 need to be gradually transitioned to Motivation 3.0.  I have spent a lifetime under the carrot & stick approach, and have seen many employees who don’t appear deserving of autonomy.  But they probably appear that way because of ineffective 2.0 management.  I think the author is correct in suggesting that the vast majority of people who are properly managed will perform much better under Motivation 3.0:

  • “Too many organizations – not just companies, but governments and nonprofits as well – still operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science….  For too long, there’s been a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.  The goal of this book is to repair that breach.”

Mission accomplished.

Renegades Write the Rules by Amy Jo Martin provides a ground-level perspective of a person who has been a leader in the commercialization of social media – specifically Twitter.  She has helped a lot of entertainers and athletes, like Shaq, Steve Nash, and The Rock, develop their social-media presence.  Personally, I don’t do twitter, so I was like a first-grader sitting in a 6th-grade communications class.  But now I have a slightly better understanding about the subject, and my curiosity has been sufficiently piqued for future study.

February 23, 2013

Saturday Night at the Movies #64 – Trouble with the Curve and Mistresses

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:42 pm
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Trouble with the Curve (2012) has Clint Eastwood playing a guy almost indistinguishable from his character, Walt Kowalski, in Gran Torino (2008).  Instead of being a widowed, retired factory worker, Gus Lobel is a widowed, aging baseball scout.  While gruff, cantankerous Walt dealt with gangs moving into his neighborhood, gruff, cantankerous Gus deals with baseball executives who care more about sabermetrics and judgment.  Both movies are excellent, but I like Curve better because it includes a romance between Gus’s daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) and a scouting protégé (Justin Timberlake).  The Rotten Tomato critics gave it only 51%, and the audience score was only marginally better at 66%.  By contrast, Gran Torino received 80% and 90%, respectively.  I give Curve three and a half stars out of four.  In looking back, I see that I gave Gran Torino four stars – that was too generous. 

Mistresses is a UK TV miniseries that ran from 2008 to 2010 and is being developed for American TV by ABC in May of 2013.  Netflix Streaming recommended it to me with a 3.9 rating, and I’m so glad they did.  The series focuses on the love lives of four best-friend British women.  Sounds like Sex and the City, doesn’t it?  Like Sex, the women are amazingly attractive in very different ways.  One is a liberated event-planning player who is starting to like girls, one is a married lawyer who can’t get pregnant, one is a doctor who loves a patient and his son, and one is a widow whose husband was killed in 9/11.  Although I enjoyed the Sex series, I never loved it because none of the women were my type.  By contrast, all of the women in Mistresses, although dramatically distinct, are my type, and I ended up caring for each of them.  They are warm and, despite their philandering, have integrity.  Season One of Mistresses, with six episodes, was so good that I wonder if the other two seasons will disappoint me.  Three and a half stars out of four.

February 22, 2013

Profit plus social responsibility

Filed under: Business,Economics — Mike Kueber @ 11:28 pm
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While re-watching the movie Atlas Shrugged, I was struck by a comment by one of the movie’s villains, James Taggart, who argued that social responsibility dictated that Taggart Transcontinental Railroad (TTR) retain a line into Mexico because the line was vital to the economy of that impoverished nation.  Ironically, Taggart’s largesse, which was sending TTR hurtling toward bankruptcy, prevented the line from being adequately maintained.  In Ayn Rand’s world, Taggart is the obvious villain because the prosperous world is built on capitalism, with winners and losers, not on socialism, with attempts to reward everyone until it runs out of other people’s money to spend. 

But Rand’s economic philosophy remains controversial.  A book that I just finished, Drive by Daniel Pink, which advocated a new framework for motivation based, not on rewards & punishments, but rather on autonomy, mastery, & purpose, contained several favorable references to businesses that pursue something more than profits:

  • Four states have created a business-type called “low-profit limited liability corporation” (L3C) for businesses that aim to have some profit, but whose primary aim is to offer significant social benefits.  
  • A Nobel Peace prize winner is creating “social businesses” that have replaced the profit-maximization principle with the social-benefit principle.
  • The Fourth Sector Network is promoting a hybrid of an organization that is both economically self-sustaining and animated by a public purpose.
  • TOMS Shoes is a self-declared “for-profit company with giving at its core…. [The company’s] business model transforms our customers into benefactors.”

Although the ability of a social business to compete against a profit-maximizing company might seem dubious, I suspect that it can if it transforms its customers into benefactors.

Disenfranchising Northside voters by Castro’s City Council

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:13 pm
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For the past couple of years, there has been a loud political battle over Voter ID laws, both in Texas and across America.  Republicans claim that a requirement for voters to provide a photo ID is a reasonable precaution against voter fraud.  Democrats counter that there is scant evidence of a voter-fraud problem and that the actual intent of Voter ID laws is to disenfranchise Democrats (and minorities), who are more likely to not have a photo ID.  Regardless of who is right, there is no question that any disenfranchisement related to Voter ID laws is miniscule compared to disenfranchisement of San Antonio’s diverse North and Northwest sides by San Antonio’s version of Tammany Hall, the Hispanic-dominated political machine of the East, South, and West sides headed by Julian Castro.  

According to the 2010 U.S. census, San Antonio’s diverse North and Northwest sides (Districts 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, whose populations are between 21% and 56% non-Hispanic Anglo) had about 741,000 residents while the Hispanic-dominated East, South, and West sides (Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, whose populations are between 3.98% and 19.81% non-Hispanic Anglo) had about 585,000 residents.  Yet each area had five councilpersons.  What a travesty of the one-person, one-vote principle!  The extra 156,000 voters in the North and Northwest sides were essentially denied representation.  My District 8 in 2010 had 50% more residents (159,578) than District 5 (106,608) had, yet each had one councilperson.

Fortunately, this sort of travesty is supposed to end with a redistricting following each census.  San Antonio’s 2010 population of 1,326,721 means that each council district should have 132,672 residents.  (Although congressional redistricting requires that each district have almost exactly the same number of residents, cities are allowed by law to have a deviation of +5% or –5%.)  That sort of flexibility might make sense in the hands of a wise City Council, which could use the flexibility to create compact districts with communities of shared interest and easily identifiable geographic boundaries.  But this flexibility makes no sense when the Castro Council uses it to continue its outrageous disenfranchisement of the North and Northwest sides by massively diluting our votes. 

With the average council district supposed to have 132,672 residents, the heavy-handed Castro Council decided to re-populate Districts 1-5 with between 126,616 residents and 129,002, while Districts 6-10 will have between 134,410 and 139,227.  Thus, Districts 1-5 will have about 636,000 residents while District 6-10s will have about 691,000.  The difference between the most and least populated districts after redistricting is 9.8%, the most possible without breaking the law.  

Perhaps those of us who live in northern San Antonio should be happy that, instead of the 156,000 North and Northwest side residents disenfranchised in 2011, we will only have 55,000 disenfranchised in 2013.  Of course, that is based on the 2010 Census.  Everyone knows that all of San Antonio’s population growth continues in the North and Northwest sides and that the 2020 census will reveal a repeated travesty of the one-person, one-vote principle. 

A wise City Council would have set the populations for Districts 6-10 as slightly lower than Districts 1-5, knowing that population growth would reverse that status by 2020.  (Population growth in San Antonio has been to the North and Northwest for several decades.)  But apparently, we don’t have a wise City Council.  Instead we have a City Council where the Castro machine runs roughshod over the non-Hispanics on the North and Northwest sides.

When I called my councilperson Reed Williams to complain about this inequitable treatment of his district, he responded that there was not much he could do because “they have the votes.”  Well, that’s not what civil-rights advocates said in the early 60s when their voting rights were trampled on.  Instead of turning the other cheek, Williams should be raising hell on behalf of his constituents.    

Further evidence of this bigotry by the Castro Council was recently revealed when it adopted what the Express-News called “a race-conscious approach to awarding contracts put out for bid.”  Apparently, the city’s race-neutral program had resulted in too few contracts going to minorities and women.  Because there was no evidence of discrimination, the Council’s action revealed that it was more interested in equal results than in equal opportunity.  Under its new program, every bidder except white males will receive preferences.

Further evidence of Castro’s prejudice against the North and Northwest sides – in a column last month, Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff wrote that Castro admitted to him that an employer-incentive package was especially generous because the employer was locating on the South Side – “Are we doing a little more because it’s a South Side investment? Sure,” Castro said.  Why should the creation of jobs on the South Side be more valuable to San Antonio’s mayor than the creation of jobs on the North Side?   

I just finished watching the John Adams miniseries, so I’m especially sensitive to the issue of taxation without representation, and the supercilious attitude of Castro’s Council evokes a similar feeling.  Like the colonies, we are being treated by the crown as its personal ATM machine.  So, the next time you hear about the Republican Party trying to disenfranchise a few voters who don’t have photo IDs, tell them that the Republicans are small-time amateurs compared to the big-time professionals on Castro’s City Council.

The following is District populations before and after redistricting:

District            Before             After

1                      112,466           126,616

2                      123,727           129,002

3                      118,848           127,207

4                      123,256           126,702

5                      106,608           126,228

6                      152,661           134,410

7                      137,292           139,081

8                      159,578           139,169

9                      159,189           139,227

10                    133,096           139,079





February 21, 2013

Two issues with immigration reform

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 8:13 pm

The devil is in the details, and we aren’t hearing a lot of details about the comprehensive immigration reform – either the proposal in the U.S. Senate or the one being developed by the Obama administration.  Two details that I am especially interested in are the following:

  • Arrival deadline.  There has been no discussion about limiting the Path to Citizenship to long-term residents even though that makes a lot of sense.  Without a residency requirement, there could be a wave of illegal immigrations right before the effective date of the amnesty.  Of course, I’m assuming that any illegal immigrations after the effective date will be subject to deportation.  Incidentally, recent illegal immigrants, who are less able to make a humane-treatment argument, are much more likely to self-deport.
  • Law-abiding.  Everyone agrees that a criminal-background check needs to be completed before an illegal immigrant becomes eligible for a Path to Citizenship, but what sort of criminal record would disqualify someone.  Although I haven’t seen any details from the Senate’s Group of Eight, the White House has revealed its position – illegal immigrants would be disqualified if they were imprisoned for at least one year, or a total of 90 days for three or more crimes.  That is certainly generous to someone in America illegally – someone who is imprisoned twice for a total of eleven months will be allowed stay.  I can understand the rationale for generosity, but I can also understand the argument for having reasonably high standards for those we are inviting to join us as American citizens. 

The prospects for Section 5

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:29 pm
Tags: ,

Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act has outlived its usefulness, and according to an article in the NY Times, a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court will consider that position. 

Section 5 is the part of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits nine states with a history of suppressing minority voters – AL, AK, AZ, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX, and VA – from taking any action that affects voting without getting preclearance from the courts or the federal Dept. of Justice.  The most common application of Section 5 preclearance is when a jurisdiction redistricts, but it has also been called on recently in the cases of Voter ID laws and shortened early voting. 

Republicans hate Section 5 because their machinations in the voting process, although intended to disadvantage Democrats, incidentally disadvantage minorities, and thus are likely to be invalidated by the courts or the DOJ.  That fact makes it confusing why Bush-43 agreed to a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act in 2006.  It also reveals how much Congress has moved to the left since 2006 – i.e., the Times article indicates that, even if the Supreme Court rescinds Section 5 for the technical reason being argued, Congress would be constitutionally able to restore it by tweaking the law.  But the Times concedes that, in practice, any tweaking to save the VRA by the current Congress would be highly unlikely.

How ironic that Bush-43 and his Congress could achieve a more liberal agenda that Obama and his Congress since the Democratic electoral debacle in 2010.   

In the interest of fairness, the Times concludes its article by providing the opinions of an articulate opponent and proponent of Section 5:

  • Chief Justice Roberts on an earlier related decision – “Things have changed in the South….  The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.”
  • Jerome Gray, an Alabamian who recently was improperly removed from the voting register – “Section 5 allowed us to stop an election that would have been a disaster.  We need Section 5 because there are still bad actors, and Evergreen is one. They had removed almost 800 people from the voting rolls, including Jerome Gray.

I don’t think minorities in Alabama or Texas need any more legal protection of their voting rights than whites in Chicago or Philadelphia.

February 20, 2013

My first candidate debate/forum

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:51 pm
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Last night, I attend my first City Council candidate debate.  The event was put on by the Alamo Pachyderm Club, a county-wide Republican group, and all three candidates attended.  There were perhaps 25 other attendees. 

The event was called a debate, but it would be more accurate to call it a forum because, although we provided our views on 12 pre-identified topics, we did not have the back-and-forth that is essential to a debate.  The 12 topics were sandwiched by a 3-minute introduction and a 2-minute summary.

I found the event to be interesting and challenging.  Because I ran for Congress three years ago, I have some experience giving a stump speech, but then I was never able to finish within the 3- or 5-minute limit.  Last night, I pushed myself and succeeded with two minutes on my background and one minute on my political philosophy – i.e., a frugal, pragmatic conservative. 

I thought it was important to talk about who I was in the introduction, and then use the 12 topics to provide more specifics about my political philosophy.  Unfortunately, the questions focused too much on the inner workings of City Hall (not my forte, while Ron Nirenberg and Rolando Briones are the ultimate insiders) and too little on political philosophy.  The following questions were sent to me the afternoon before the debate:   

  1. Having read the San Antonio City Charter, describe your views on the responsibilities of city government and that of a City Councilman.  What are your views on the Ethics of City Officials, Staff, Appointees, and Contractors?  Should the ethics policies be expanded / how?  Should violators be dealt with more harshly?  Do we need an Ethics Auditor?  No, we don’t need an Ethics Auditor, with its associated bureaucracy.
  2. In the area of fiscal policy and social policy where would you place yourself on a spectrum with conservative on one end and liberal on the other?  What are your priorities for our city budget and where should increases and cuts be made?  Fiscal conservative and social liberal. 
  3. What are the most important transportation issues in the city and how will you solve them?  Please comment on funding, toll roads, VIA, street cars, and light rail.  Cost-effective public transportation.  No, to toll roads or light rail; yes, to street cars.
  4. District 8 has several serious road and traffic problems. What roads do you consider problems and what are your solutions?  Please comment on any changes you plan for the Infrastructure Management Program (IMP).  What will you do about the additional traffic on Wurzbach due to completion of the Wurzbach Parkway?  I haven’t ranked the problematic roads in District 8, but the IMP appears to be an effective tool for doing that.
  5. SAWS wants city council to approve multi-year rate increases.  Please comment on SAWS multi-year rate increases, revenue requirements, expense trends, and capital expenditure projections.  The recent request for dramatically increased rates reflects problems with SAWS management and Castro’s politicization of it.  
  6. What are your views on development both in District 8 and throughout the city?  How do you view the role of developers and lobbyist in District 8?  Over the last 4 years District 8 has a remarkable record of gaining consensus on zoning issues before they reach council vote. How do you intend to operate the zoning and development processes?  The interests of property owners and neighbors must be balanced, but my ultimate priority is satisfy the District residents as a whole.
  7. The fire and police contracts are due to be renegotiated.  While the pension fund is well funded the City’s contribution is quite high.  The fire and police employees do not contribute any portion to the premium.  What is your understanding of the current costs and what changes to the benefits would you support and why?  Pension reform should be one of the most important issues facing the City Council.
  8. San Antonio civilian employees will probably push for a real contract.  Do you understand and what is your position on “meet and confer”?  Are you endorsed by or receive funds from SEIU?  “Meet and confer,” which is one level below collective bargaining, is not needed by San Antonio’s public employees.
  9. How do you intend to communicate with and solicit input from District 8 citizens? How often?  How available will you be?  Will your council votes be representative of your views or those of your constituents?  How will you gain support from other council members to gain success for your constituents’ views?  I will have an open door, and will consider having Town Halls.
  10. What is your position on salaries for City Council members?  Opposed.
  11. What are your thoughts regarding the City of San Antonio’s Pre-K for SA program?  Opposed.
  12. What plan would you propose to curtail overestimating the project costs, over-selling bonds and resulting budget diversions?  I don’t know anything about these problems.

During my responses to these questions, I twice criticized candidate Nirenberg based on his campaign literature – once for his opposition to “getting lean” with spending for police and fire and once for his rhapsodizing about the importance of the arts to San Antonio.  Unfortunately, I never found a good time to discuss Briones’s history as a fat-cat player and mover & shaker in local politics and government contracting.  In hindsight, I should have noticed that affirmative action in city contracting was not one of the listed questions and carved some time out of my introduction to broach the topic. 

Because I’d forgotten to prepare for the debate summary, I failed to make my case – i.e., Nirenberg is a big spender, Briones is too much a player with a revolving door.  Instead, I simply thanked the club for the opportunity and suggested that I was the candidate who could best represent them in the Council. 

Next time, I will do better.

New York follows a separate path on abortion

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 7:43 pm

There have been lots of reports lately about the successes of the anti-abortion movement and the defensive reactions of pro-choice people.  The anti-abortion people been able to enact laws that not only make it difficult for a woman to have an abortion, but also make it difficult for an abortion clinic to stay in operation.  There is only a single abortion clinic in several states, including my home state of North Dakota, and if proposed legislation is successful, even those single clinics might have to close.


An article in today’s NY Times, however, reports that its home state, New York, is going against the flow.  The governor of NY, Andrew Cuomo, is proposing legislation that will grant to a woman the right to an abortion of a viable fetus even if the woman’s life is not in jeopardy, provided that her health is at risk. 


According to the article, the federal courts already protect a woman’s right to a late-term abortion whenever her health is at risk, but the NY governor wants to make this protection a part of state law as a precaution should the federal courts ever back off their current position.


Because I thought Roe v. Wade (1973) had held that states could prohibit late-term abortions, I decided to find out what federal decisions the article was referring to.  What I found was that Roe v. Wade actually allowed late-term abortions when necessary “to preserve the life or health of the mother.”


Another Supreme Court decision, Doe v. Dalton, was rendered the same day as Roe v. Wade, and Doe elaborated on the meaning of the “health of the mother”:


  • Whether, in the words of the Georgia statute, “an abortion is necessary” is a professional judgment that the Georgia physician will be called upon to make routinely. We agree with the District Court, 319 F. Supp., at 1058, that the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.”


Obviously, this sort of verbiage means essentially, “abortion on demand.”  And NY Governor Cuomo wants to preserve this status even if the U.S. Supreme Court comes to its senses. 


There is a history in NY for this extreme position.  Prior to Roe v. Wade, only four states allowed abortion on demand – NY, WA, HI, and AK – so we should not be surprised that NY abortion clinics will be open for business even if Roe v. Wade or Doe v. Dalton is modified.


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