Mike Kueber's Blog

April 30, 2013

What are “special interests”?

Yesterday, while participating in a campaign forum on Texas Public Radio’s The Source, I charged that my two opponents were being compromised by campaign contributions from special interests.  The moderator David Martin Davies followed up by asking me to define what I meant by special interests.   

My opponent Ron Nirenberg typically tries to stave off my charge by claiming that his “special interests” are his neighbors, even though many of his contributions come from 78209 (Alamo Heights), 78205 (downtown business), and lobbying law firms, so I gave Davies a definition to block Nirenberg’s evasive tactic – i.e., I said that special interests are people and businesses outside of District 8.  To which Nirenberg responded by saying that, based on my definition, his dad would be a special interest because he lives in Austin.  And Moderator Davies piled on by concluding the forum by saying to Ron, “You’re not just representing the District; you are a powerful voice for the city.”     

Immediately after we went off the air, I jokingly chided Davies for rebuffing my argument without giving me a chance to respond.  Davies acted a little surprised, as if he had said something that incontrovertible. 

Truth be told, though, I was probably lucky that Davies had run out of show-time because this is an issue that I had not previously thought through completely, and therefore it would have been dangerous to go through the mental gymnastics for the first time on live radio.  My blog is a much safer place to explore this issue.

As I indicated in my blog yesterday, I have never been receptive to the argument that small gifts will not affect a person of normal integrity.  Small gifts affect me and most of the people I have known in my life.  I still remember receiving (and appreciating) the bottles of booze I received as a State Farm adjuster at Christmas time from Minot body shops.  Of course, I don’t hang around with fat cats and moneyed people.  Reed Williams lives out at the Dominion and perhaps it is no big thing for him to receive some Spurs tickets or a free round of golf, but most normal people don’t live in that sort of environment. 

This topic was discussed in some detail at this morning’s Chamber of Commerce forum, and afterwards a former Councilperson came up to me and expressed broad agreement with my positions except for the issue of campaign contributions.  His tack was almost the same as Reed’s – i.e., $1,000 won’t buy or even influence him. 

I recognize that I am cheaper than the average Joe, but I think most voters would tell aspiring politicians that, even though you may not feel you can be bought for a couple of Spurs tickets, as long as you are representing us, we will insist that you indulge us by restraining your lax gifting habits until you no longer work for us.

Getting back to David Martin Davies original question – what is a special interest? – I suggest that there is a spectrum of answers.  The broadest definition would be anyone who gives you money in return for access or influence.  If the person or business is outside your district, the contribution is more suspect.  And the most suspicious of all is money that comes from a PAC or lobbyist, whose raison d’être is access and influence.

April 29, 2013

Reed Williams enters the fray

Filed under: Culture,Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:55 pm
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The District 8 race for the City Council was turned upside down this weekend, with Rolando Briones initially being hit by a broadside attack on Page One of the San Antonio Express-News.  Later in the day, however, Briones received the endorsement of perhaps the most influential politician in District 8, the incumbent Reed Williams.

According to an article published on-line by Texas Public Radio, Williams endorsed Briones because a negative mailer by Nirenberg unfairly maligned the integrity of the San Antonio City Council:

  • Mr. Nirenberg believes that our political personnel, political bodies, can be bought off for $6,500, and that’s just not acceptable,” he said.

Count me with Nirenberg on this one.  Whenever I’ve heard a politician or businessman say that they can’t be bought for a free Spurs ticket or a round of golf, I ask them why they thought the other person was giving them the freebie.  I would assure them that the freebies would disappear as soon as their position of influence was gone.

Furthermore, I am surprised that Williams would get so upset about Nirenberg’s ethical sensitivities because I thought Williams shared those sensitivities.  A few months ago I visited with Williams’s chief of staff, who incidentally is now a paid staffer for Briones, and she told me that whenever Williams had substantive meetings with a city supplicant, he made sure, in advance, to return any political contribution the supplicant had previously made. 

Why wouldn’t Williams’s care to avoid an appearance of impropriety cause him to be troubled by the intersection of Briones’s contributions and winning government business?

April 26, 2013

Cybersquatting in San Antonio

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:09 pm
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About a month ago, one of my City Council opponents, Ron Nirenberg, earned some well-deserved notoriety because of his purchase of another candidate’s domain name – rolandobriones.com.  According to local columnist Brian Chasnoff:

  • The website that Nirenberg created “tars Briones as an unethical liar….  By hitting the ‘low road’ with such verve, Nirenberg’s actions certainly stray from his rhetoric [against taking the low road].”   

My reaction to this campaign development was that it hurt both Briones and Nirenberg.  About Briones, it confirmed that he was a prolific campaign contributor to Democrats prior to his City Council campaign and to Republicans after he initiated his campaign.  About Nirenberg, it revealed that despite his high-minded Good Government, anti-politics sales pitch, he is not above sleazy politics.  

Surprisingly, Chasnoff concluded his column by suggesting that Briones was partially to blame for this incident – “Not registering his name online definitely was a mistake.”  I responded on-line to the column by challenging Chasnoff’s suggestion:

  • “I don’t understand why Kelton Morgan and Ron Nirenberg would think that an unused domain name presents such an irresistible opportunity. Or why Brian Chasnoff would affirm that same position by suggesting that Rolando Briones was careless in not preempting the Nirenberg purchase. I think Kelton, Ron, and Brian need a reality check. Any politician who thinks it is a good idea to buy an opponent’s domain name would fit in well at the Nixon White House.”

This morning’s Express-New brought another example of domain-name mischief.  According to a Gilbert Garcia column titled “The Castro Internet takedown,” some unknown entity has purchased the domain name of JulianCastro.org. and has published unflattering stuff on the website.  Athough Garcia characterizes the stuff as “a brutal (albeit professionally designed) cybersquatting parade of attacks on Julián Castro… extremely slanted takedown,” he eventually concedes that it is “scrupulously sourced” and “backed by statistics.”  He concludes the column by saying:

  • While the info presented on the site is technically accurate, it also left me thinking about the deficiencies of facts when they’re presented without nuance, balance, or context. As Bob Dylan once put it: ‘All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.’”

All of which brings us to the issue of cybersquatting.  Yesterday, while watching a Nirenberg interview on-line, I heard him respond to a charge that he might be guilty of cybersquatting.  According to Nirenberg, he was not guilty of cybersquatting because he actually built a website instead of simply buying the domain name and then trying to sell it the person who by right should have access to it.  Because I was only vaguely familiar with the term cybersquatting, I decided to dig a little deeper to learn if there were cybersquatting issues with RolandoBriones.com or JulianCastro.org.

According to my Bible, a/k/a Wikipedia:

  • The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d), is an American law enacted in 1999 and that established a cause of action for registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name confusingly similar to, or dilutive of, a trademark or personal name.  The law was designed to thwart “cybersquatters” who register Internet domain names containing trademarks with no intention of creating a legitimate web site, but instead plan to sell the domain name to the trademark owner or a third party…..  Under the ACPA, a trademark owner may bring a cause of action against a domain name registrant who (1) has a bad faith intent to profit from the mark and (2) registers, traffics in, or uses a domain name that is (a) identical or confusingly similar to a distinctive mark.

Thus, although there appear to be a plethora of technical legal issues associated with trademarks, the spirit of the law appears directed toward “a bad faith intent to profit from the mark.”  In that sense, the JulianCastro.org conduct does not seem to violate the spirit of the law because the owner is not trying to profit from using Castro’s name.  If the site started advertising, however, that would change things.

But the case of the RolandoBriones.com site is more problematic.  Nirenberg is not only using the site to publicize his campaign, but he is also using his ownership of the site as leverage to force Briones to take specific actions – specifically, when asked on Talk Now SA whether he would be willing to sell the site for-cost to Briones, Nirenberg said he would do that only if Briones agreed to answer specific questions about his campaign contributions.

That sounds a lot like “bad faith intent to profit.”

April 21, 2013

Saturday Night at the Movies #69 – Bullitt and Django Unchained

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:43 pm
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Bullitt (1968) is an obvious precursor to “24.”  The number of similarities is striking:

  1. Steve McQueen is an early version of Jack Bauer – i.e., a mid-level, mid-career law-enforcement operator who is well known within his agency as high-risk, high-reward.
  2. He has a beautiful, sensitive girlfriend (Jacqueline Bisset) who worries that his law-enforcement activities are causing him to be insensitive and callous.
  3. Some superiors try to restrain him to standard protocols while others trust his judgment. 
  4. Every time that a lead dead-ends, another one magically materializes.

 But there are also significant differences because the world in 1968 is vastly different than the world post 9/11:

  1. Bullitt is a hot-shot police lieutenant who is supposed to protect a mob target, so he plans to do it with only three men, each working an 8-hour shift.  Security today would be vast. 
  2. Professional hit men shoot their victim only one time in the shoulder and his cop protector only one time in the leg.  Professionals today would riddle the body with bullets and not leave behind any witnesses.  (The Boston-marathon murderers proved the unprofessional status by abducting a guy and later letting him go.)
  3. Twice Bullitt allows a slow-moving assailant to escape on foot.
  4. A criminal takes a gun on a commercial jet without any problem.

Frank Bullitt can’t hold a candle to Jack.  Same thing for the movie.  Rotten Tomatoes gives it 97% from the critics and 83% from the audience.  Boy, we’ve come a long way since 1968.  I give the movie three stars out of four. 

Django Unchained (2012) received a lot of buzz because of its graphic violence and its treatment of slavery.  I recall hearing that black director Spike Lee was upset, arguing that the subject of slavery could not be accurately handled by the film’s white director Quentin Tarantino.  Since watching the movie, however, I have read that Lee’s main criticism was that Tarantino treated slavery like a spaghetti western instead of like the Holocaust.  That seems like a valid criticism, but I don’t know if most blacks in America today have such horrid images of slavery that they feel any treatment of it has to be serious and grave. 

With respect to the film’s graphic violence, Tarantino has a history of it – Kill Bill, Inglourious Bastards, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, etc.  I lost count of the number of evil white people dispatched by protagonists Jamie Foxx and Christopher Waltz, but the victims seemed to be like balloons full of nothing but blood that explode when shot.  Rotten Tomato critics scored the movie at 89 and the audience liked it even more at 94.  That is too high for me because I like movies that make me think, or at least have a solid romance.  This movie was fun and entertaining, but there was nothing to think about and the romance was utterly superficial.  I give it three stars out of four.

April 20, 2013

Candidate questionnaire from KSAT

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:21 pm
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Yesterday, I received a candidate questionnaire from KSAT TV 12, which they are using “to profile candidates on air and on our website.”  This is just another example of how some in the media are trying to do the right, civic-minded thing.  In my opinion, this questionnaire is exceptionally well designed, and I found it challenging to complete.  My completed response is as follows:

KSAT questionnaire

Mike Kueber

Age: 59

Occupation: Insurance-compliance lawyer who retired from USAA in 2009

Education: Law degree from the University of Texas and B.A. in political science from the University of North Dakota

Family: father of four sons, all graduates of Clark HS – my oldest graduated from UTSA and is a captain in the Army in San Antonio, my second graduated from UT and St. Louis U Med School and is an E.R. doctor at the Mayo Clinic in MN, my third graduated from UTSA and works in acquisitions for Blackbrush Oil in San Antonio, and my baby is a student at Franciscan University in Ohio.

Why are you running for the city council?  Because I have the time, energy, finances, and inclination to serve and because my background, critical-thinking skills, and governing values (a fiscal conservative who will not mortgage this position to special interests) will enable me to effectively represent the residents of District 8.

Have you run for the City Council before?  No

What previous leadership experience do you have?  During my last five years at USAA, I was in its Executive Management Group.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected to the City Council?  Famed investor Warren Buffett once said, “Our experience has been that the manager of an already high-cost operation frequently is uncommonly resourceful in finding new ways to add overhead, while the manager of a tightly run operation usually continues to find additional methods to curtail costs, even when his costs are already well below those of his competitors.”  My view is that San Antonio government is a high-cost operation and my hope is help transform it into a tightly-run operation.

What are the most difficult challenges facing the city of San Antonio?  The City Council’s most difficult challenge will be converting the police-fire pensions from defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans; the city of San Antonio’s most difficult challenge will be to enable socio-economic mobility for disadvantaged kids.

What are the biggest obstacles facing economic growth in San Antonio?  Adequate supply of water is a concern, but the biggest obstacle is an overweening city government that gets in the way of our vital, robust private sector.  If the city persists in using a heavy hand to direct private sector growth toward its southern districts, the private sector is likely to be less robust or it will migrate north of the San Antonio city limits (as this trend was recently reported in the Express-News).  

What can the city council do to help spur economic growth?  Aside from getting out of the way of our private sector and keeping taxes as low as possible, the City Council needs to ensure that San Antonio remains a destination of choice for people and businesses by providing a world-class infrastructure.  Out-of-town businesses should be solicited with incentives that are cost-effective to San Antonio.

Are there any decisions the current city council has made that you strongly disagree with?  (1) The redistricting of City Council districts violated the City Charter and was grossly inequitable; (2) The elimination of race-neutral contracting and implementation of race-based contracting was unjustified and inequitable; and (3) although I support a path to citizenship, San Antonio should not be a sanctuary city and the City Council should not have criticized Arizona for its actions to address illegal immigration.  

What items/programs would you cut from the current city budget?  The city should not be spending tax dollars on culture/arts. 

How did you vote on Pre-K 4 SA?  Although I am concerned with the diminished socio-economic mobility in America, I voted against Pre-K 4 SA because (1) local education policy should be left to our experts in the local school district, and (2) a recent study of the largest and oldest pre-k program (Head Start) revealed that all gains achieved by its students disappeared by the 3rd grade.  Instead of using the sales-tax money to create a 17th school district, I would have distributed it to the already-existing school districts in the form of a pre-k block grant.    

What more should the city do to lower gang activity and crime in San Antonio?  From a macro level, I believe that crime and gang activity are a reflection of declining morals in America and much of this is due to the growing culture of dependency on government and the resulting cycle of poverty.  Our challenge is to retain our safety net while breaking up the culture of dependency.  From a micro level, I as a City Councilperson will rely on the Chief of Police to develop initiatives that can lower gang activity and crime.  

Are there any major infrastructure improvements you would like to see the city undertake?  The city needs to direct additional resources to roads that are already needed instead of to street cars and light rail that are being proposed for the benefit of downtown developers.

April 19, 2013

Campaign update

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:56 pm
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The past week has been challenging.  There were two candidate forums on Tuesday, with the first sponsored by a group of real estate professional at the Sonterra Country Club and the second by a Dominion civic-awareness group.  On Thursday, there was another forum put on by the residents of Precinct 3074 (Woods of Shavano).  And between these events, I went downtown on Wednesday and recorded an interview with an on-line talk show titled “Talk Now SA” with Chris Duel.  The 20-minute segment was supposed to go on-line today, but for some reason it was not.  Chris mentioned that he will try to have a 3-person debate before the election. 

The forums are still a little stressful because we usually get unexpected questions about which I know nothing, but at least now I am developing some responses to deal with them.  At Sonterra, a realtor wanted to know what we could do about the conflict between gated communities and the realtors who want unlimited access.  Huh?  At the Dominion, someone wanted to know what we would do about Reed William’s broken promise to get a road-improvement done.  Huh?

I so much prefer knowing what the questions are in advance, which was the format in some of the early forums.  I doubt this is much value in being able to immediately articulate a response to a totally unexpected question.  And this is especially problematic to me because there are many areas of city policy that I am unfamiliar with, but can easily develop a position with a little research.  Of course, over time the questions become more predictable and my areas of ignorance become smaller.  But learning lessons in front of a crowd is stressful.

I’m getting much more comfortable with my stump speech.  Essentially, I suggest three factors that the voters use to distinguish the candidates:

  1. Experience.  We each claim that our experience qualifies us to serve, but mine is more substantive.  I have 22 years as a lawyer with USAA, getting promoted through the ranks, and ending with 5 years in USAA’s executive management group and being the lead attorney responsible for auto-insurance compliance. 
  2. Political philosophy.  We each claim to be fiscal conservatives, but if you drill down, you will find dramatically different fiscal philosophies.  Ron claims to be a fiscal conservative simply because he will carefully scrutinize the budget to eliminate waste.  How does this distinguish himself from anyone?  Rolando takes police, fire, and roads off the budget-cutting table.  With those off the table, there’s nothing left.  By contrast, I think a fiscal conservative wants to reduce the size of government and taxes, and that is what my mindset will be.  
  3. Money in politics.  My two opponents have raised obscene amounts of money (more than all the other candidates in the other nine district combined), and that money is bound to compromise their ability to make decisions based exclusively on the best interests of the District.  By accepting money, my opponents will be beholden to special interests.  Ron says his “special interests” are neighbors, but his latest financial filing indicates he has a lot of neighbors in 78209 (Alamo Heights) and 78205 (downtown business district).  Plus he has accepted $500 contributions (the maximum legally allowed) from three government-lobbying law firms.  By contrast I have accepted no contributions and this will allow me to make decisions based solely on the interests of our District.

As we head into the homestretch, the choice is getting clearer, at least to me.


April 18, 2013

San Antonio’s job sprawl

Filed under: Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:02 pm
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The SA Express-News today contains a fascinating article about job sprawl across America, but especially in San Antonio.  According to the article, which is based on a Brookings Institution study, jobs are moving outside of city centers, and the movement in San Antonio is greater than all but one (Phoenix) of America’s 100 largest metro areas.  Between 2000 and 2010, San Antonio has experienced a loss of 18.8% of its jobs within 3 miles of its central business district (CBD) and a gain of 56.3% of its jobs located between 10 and 35 miles of its CBD.    

The lengthy Express-News article discusses some of the implications of this movement, but fails to address the question of why sprawl is worse in San Antonio.  The answer to that question, however, is suggested by the following statistics in the underlying Brookings study:

  • In 2010, San Antonio has 702,726 jobs within 35 miles of its central business district (CBD).  
    • 13.8% or 97,268 within 3 miles of the CBD.  (Metro-100 average is 22.9%.)
    • 52.4% or 368,333 between 3 and 10 miles of CBD.  (Average is 34.1%) 
    • 33.7% or 237,125 between 10 and 35 miles of CBD.  (Average is 43.1%)

Thus, although most of San Antonio’s job growth is in the 10-35 territory, San Antonio with 33.7% of its jobs in that territory still has a ways to go to the nationwide average of 43.1%. 

These numbers, I believe, support my campaign contention that it is wasteful for City Hall to be devoting large sums of money trying to hold back the tide of growth away from the CBD.  



April 13, 2013

Saturday Night at the Movies #68 – Life of Pi and Flight

Filed under: Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 8:24 pm
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I watched Flight (2012) shortly after finishing “24” for the second time, so it’s only natural that I would compare the protagonist in Flight – the estimable Denzel Washington – against Jack Bauer.  As Senator Lloyd Bentsen famously said, “Denzel, you are no Jack Bauer.” 

Actually, the comparison is unfair because Jack Bauer was designed to be a paragon of best American values, a modern-day John Wayne.  As Jack’s side-kick Chloe O’Brien said, “Jack is the most honorable person I know.”  By contrast, Denzel as an airline pilot in Flight is designed to personify American slacker values – i.e., flippant, undisciplined, spoiled.      

In addition to its exploration of Denzel’s slackerness, the movie raises an issue related to the old saying, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  This happens when Denzel, while under the influence of drugs and alcohol while piloting a plane, crashes the plane.  Even though Denzel flew the plane miraculously well, the law provides that he was guilty of a felony.  That is not justice under my way of thinking.

The Rotten Tomato critics scored Flight at 79% and the audience at 76%.  I agree and give it three and a half stars out of four.

Life of Pi (2012) was an international box office sensation that was nominated for eleven Oscars, including Best Picture, and its director Ang Lee won an Oscar.  Although it is an American movie, it is based on an Indian boy and his family. Much of the movie is computer animated with a Bengal tiger sharing a lifeboat with a 16-year-old Indian boy.  Because I wasn’t in the mood for computer animation, I found the movie so boring that I was tempted to early-eject the DVD.  The ending, however, was deeper than I expected, and it made me wish I had paid more attention throughout.  The Rotten Tomato critics scored Pi at 88% and the audience gave it 87%.  I disagree and give it only two stars out of four. 






April 12, 2013

Too old to be a Dad?

Filed under: Culture,Science — Mike Kueber @ 9:46 pm

An article in Time magazine this week had a title that was bound to catch my eye – “Too Old to be a Dad?”  As a 59-year-old single guy who loves large families, I have always thought, “Never say never,” but the article succinctly suggests, “The biological clock, science has found, ticks for both sexes.”

The science reported in the article has three sources:

  1. An April 2012 study in Nature found older fathers are more likely to sire autistic kids.
  2. A May 2012 study in American Journal of Men’s Health linked a father’s age to preterm birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth.
  3. An August 2012 study in Nature found old fathers have a significantly increased risk of producing kids with autism or schizophrenia. 

This information is becoming more relevant because, as the article points out, men in America and around the world are, for a variety of reason, becoming older when they have their kids.

The article makes two major points, one of which I agree with and the other I don’t.  I agree that both sexes, not just the women, should be cognizant of the fact that increased age results in increased health risks for the child. 

I disagree, however, with the following thinking, as expressed by a medical clinician:

  • Even if you’re Paul McCartney’s child, you get ripped off if your father dies when you’re in your early 20s.” 

That reminds me of the self-absorbed, liberal do-gooder who declares that today’s world is so evil that he doesn’t want to bring a child into it.  What do you think the to-be child would say about that?  What do you think Paul McCartney’s actual child would say about that?

Incidentally, the article, which does an excellent job in describing some practical pros and cons to being an older parent, listed the following older parents in addition to McCartney, who was 61 when his youngest was born – Clint Eastwood (66), Steve Martin (67), Rod Stewart (68), Tony Randall (78), and Rupert Murdoch (72).

Deadline for illegal immigration

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:24 pm
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A couple of months ago, I blogged about the Path to Citizenship negotiations and noted the paucity of information relating to a deadline for illegal immigration.  The status of that situation changed 180% today – i.e., instead of no information, we are presented a fait accompli.  So much for transparency.

According to an article in the NY Times, the Gang of Eight have agreed on a January 1, 2011 deadline.  Illegal immigrants who came to the United States after the deadline will not be given a path to citizenship.  This is apparently a compromise between the Democrats in the Gang, who preferred January 1, 2013, and Marco Rubio, who preferred an unspecified earlier date, although the Times article suggests that the compromise was a victory for Rubio.    

When I first started writing on this subject, I suggested an earlier date, too, but the political landscape was changed by the presidential election, and the proposed deadline now seems reasonable.

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