Mike Kueber's Blog

August 1, 2012

Chick-fil-A, guns, and religion

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:49 pm
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Today, as I was returning from my morning gym/yoga, I drove by a Chick-fil-A and noticed the drive-thru was backed up for blocks.  It appears that the people in San Antonio are clinging to their guns and religion while the people in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and Boston are ready to give up theirs.  That’s the great thing about federalism – as Rick Perry said in his book Fed Up, Americans can choose to live amongst kindred spirits in states and cities with laws they are comfortable with.

April 18, 2011

Federalism and graduated licensing for teens

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:54 am
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My former employer USAA made the news last week by endorsing a proposed federal law called the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act (STANDUP) urging states to adopt the federal version of graduated licensing for teens.    According to an article in The Street, the proposed law encouraged states by withholding federal highway dollars unless they enacted the federal version of graduated licensing.  In addition to exposing the heavy hand of the federal government, this bill provides an excellent example of the adage, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

When I worked at USAA, I was on the USAA PAC Board of Directors for four years, and part of our responsibility was to approve contributions to candidates who were supportive of business in general and financial services in particular.  Not surprisingly, most of those candidates were Republican, and it seemed like we had to employ a variation of affirmative action to find a modicum number of pro-business Democrats to support.

In the past few years, Republicans have made a big issue out of federalism and the tenth amendment – i.e., all powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states.  As Rick Perry said recently in his book Fed Up, the federal government should quit telling the states how to govern and should instead focus on their core responsibility of national security.

The proposed graduated-license law is typical of the way that the feds have encroached on state authority for years.  They tell states that federal highway dollars will be withheld unless they enact a specific law.  In the past, the feds have used this tactic to require national uniformity with respect to DUI at 0.08% BAC, a prohibition of open containers, and a speed limit of 55mph (since repealed). 

USAA’s position on STANDUP is not surprising because it is probably focused on the merits of the graduated-licensing law.  It is also not surprising that, according to the article in The Street, STANDUP is being pushed almost exclusively be Democrats.  Republicans may agree or disagree with the merits of the law, but as a matter of principle they have become apoplectic over federal overreaching.  They think that overreaching is a greater danger than having an array of state laws that may not be equally enlightened. 

So with this legislation, USAA will probably be working with the representatives that they opposed in the election.  Strange bedfellows, indeed.

March 9, 2011

Federalism and graduated licensing for teens

My former employer USAA made the news this morning.  According to an article in the San Antonio Express-News, USAA was endorsing a proposed federal law called the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act (STANDUP) “urging” states to adopt the federal version of graduated licensing for teens.   According to an article in The Street, the proposed law would “urge” states by withholding federal highway dollars unless they enacted the federal version of graduated licensing.  In addition to showing the heavy hand of the federal government, this bill provides an excellent example of the adage, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

When I worked at USAA, I was on the USAA PAC Board of Directors for four years, and part of our responsibility was to approve contributions to candidates who were supportive of business in general and financial services in particular.  Not surprisingly, most of those candidates were Republican, and it seemed like we had to employ a variation of affirmative action to find a modicum number of pro-business Democrats to support.

In the past few years, Republicans have made a big issue out of federalism and the tenth amendment, which provides that all powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states.  As Rick Perry said recently in his book Fed Up, the federal government should quit telling the states how to govern and should instead focus on their core responsibility of national security.

The proposed graduated-license law is typical of the way that the feds have encroached on state authority for years – i.e., they tell states that federal highway dollars will be withheld unless they enact a specific law.  In the past, the feds have used this tactic to require national uniformity with respect to DUI at 0.10% BAC, a prohibition of open containers, and a speed limit of 55mph (since repealed). 

USAA’s position on STANDUP is not surprising because it is probably focused on the merits of the graduated-licensing law.  It is also not surprising that, according to the article in The Street, STANDUP is being pushed almost exclusively be Democrats.  Republicans may agree or disagree with the merits of the law, but as a matter of principle, they have become apoplectic over federal overreaching.  They think that overreaching is a greater danger than having an array of state laws that may not be equally enlightened. 

So with this legislation, USAA will probably be working with the representatives that they opposed in the election.  Strange bedfellows, indeed.

February 3, 2011

Secession in the 21st century

I recently blogged that I admire Rick Perry’s vision of federalism, as described in his book Fed Up.  My estimable historian friend from Austin, Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez, responded that Perry’s version of federalism, with some reference to secession, dated back to ante-bellum days and was supposedly extirpated by the Civil War.

Robert is a lifelong Texan who was doubly blessed to graduate from both Texas A&M and UT-Austin Law, yet he is an unabashed supporter of the Union.  By way of contrast, I am a transplanted Texas from North Dakota who is drawn to the principle of States’ Rights. 

Robert recently earned his Masters Degree in History with a Civil-War emphasis, and during one of my visits to Austin a couple of years ago, we discussed the issue of States’ Rights in the context of secession.  I wondered how the northern states could have felt so strongly about the Union in 1860 that they were willing to go to engage in America’s deadliest war to prevent secession.  After all, this country had seceded from England less than a century earlier. 

I suggested to Robert that there was no way people in the 21st century would fight and die over whether a state – e.g., California – should be allowed to leave the union; especially if the war did not involve a huge moral evil like slavery (or some would say abortion).  Academics call my position “The Choice” theory of secession.  As Thomas Jefferson said:

  • If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation…to a continuance in union… I have no hesitation in saying, let us separate.”

Robert disagreed with Jefferson and me.  He believed that Americans still adhere to the precedent established by Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.  This is called “The Just Cause” theory of secession – i.e., secession only to rectify grave injustice.  The problem with that theory is that a grave in justice to me might be a minor accommodation to you. 

Since then, I have asked other friends the same question, and they tend to agree with Robert.  Further, a Zogby poll in 2008 reported that only 22% of Americans believe a state or region should have the right to secede.  Union, forever. 

Perhaps I am fundamentally a pacifist – like Jimmy Stewart in the movie Shenandoah or Mel Gibson in The Patriot.  I believe in what America stands for, but if some part of America doesn’t want to be a part of that team, I wouldn’t block their exit.

Wikipedia provides an interesting list of reasons to allow secession and a contrary list to prohibit it.  Maybe it’s just me, but the pro-secession list seems long and substantive while the anti-secession list seems short and fluffy.

Arguments to allow secession:

  • The right to liberty, freedom of association, and private property
  • Consent as important democratic principle; will of majority to secede should be recognized
  • Making it easier for states to join with others in an experimental union
  • Dissolving such union when goals for which it was constituted are not achieved
  • Self-defense when larger group presents lethal threat to minority or the government cannot adequately defend an area
  • Self-determination of peoples
  • Preserving culture, language, etc. from assimilation or destruction by a larger or more powerful group
  • Furthering diversity by allowing diverse cultures to keep their identity
  • Rectifying past injustices, especially past conquest by a larger power
  • Escaping “discriminatory redistribution,” i.e., tax schemes, regulatory policies, economic programs, etc. that distribute resources away to another area, especially in an undemocratic fashion
  • Enhanced efficiency when the state or empire becomes too large to administer efficiently
  • Preserving “liberal purity” (or “conservative purity”) by allowing less (or more) liberal regions to secede
  • Providing superior constitutional systems which allow flexibility of secession
  • Keeping political entities small and human scale through right to secession

Aleksandar Pavkovic, associate professor in Australia and the author of several books on secession describes five justifications for a general right of secession within liberal political theory:

  • Anarcho-Capitalism: individual liberty to form political associations and private property rights together justify right to secede and to create a “viable political order” with like-minded individuals.
  • Democratic Secessionism: the right of secession, as a variant of the right of self-determination, is vested in a “territorial community” which wishes to secede from “their existing political community”; the group wishing to secede then proceeds to delimit “its” territory by the majority.
  • Communitarian Secessionism: any group with a particular “participation-enhancing” identity, concentrated in a particular territory, which desires to improve its members’ political participation has a prima facie right to secede.
  • Cultural Secessionism: any group which was previously in a minority has a right to protect and develop its own culture and distinct national identity through seceding into an independent state.
  • The Secessionism of Threatened Cultures: if a minority culture is threatened within a state that has a majority culture, the minority needs a right to form a state of its own which would protect its culture.

Arguments against secession:

Allen Buchanan, who supports secession under limited circumstances, lists arguments that might be used against secession:

  • “Protecting Legitimate Expectations” of those who now occupy territory claimed by secessionists, even in cases where that land was stolen
  • “Self Defense” if losing part of the state would make it difficult to defend the rest of it
  • “Protecting Majority Rule” and the principle that minorities must abide by them
  • “Minimization of Strategic Bargaining” by making it difficult to secede, such as by imposing an exit tax
  • “Soft Paternalism” because secession will be bad for secessionists or others
  • “Threat of Anarchy” because smaller and smaller entities may choose to secede until there is chaos
  • “Preventing Wrongful Taking” such as the state’s previous investment in infrastructure
  • “Distributive Justice” arguments that wealthier areas cannot secede from poorer ones

February 1, 2011

Same-sex marriage in Texas

Earlier today, there was a news report that Barbara Bush, the daughter of Bush-43, was endorsing same-sex marriage in her new home state of New York, where she runs a nonprofit health organization.    In a video released by The Human Rights Campaign, Bush said:

  • “I’m a New Yorker for marriage equality.  New York is about fairness and equality and everyone should have the right to marry the person that they love.”

The video was released in connection with a legislative effort in New York to legalize gay marriage.  Last year, a similar effort in NY succeeded in the State House, but was voted down in the State Senate.  Although Barbara appears to be giving unqualified support for gay marriage, a close reading of her statement suggests that she might be limiting her argument to New York. 

Obviously Barbara is famous as a Texan, and gay marriage in Texas was resoundingly defeated by the Texas voters in 2005 when they voted to amend the Texas Constitution to limit marriage to the union of one man and one women.  Proposition Two was supported by 76% of the voters and passed in 253 of 254 counties, with Travis County being the only outlier.

I hope that Barbara in her statement isn’t suggesting that Texans aren’t “about fairness and equality.”  According to the American judicial system, each state has the right to decide whether to recognize same-sex marriage, and Texans have clearly exercised their right. 

As Rick Perry opined in his book, Fed Up, people who like same-sex marriage and don’t like a lot of guns can either choose to live somewhere other than Texas or they can work toward changing the laws in Texas.  I don’t think there is any question that Texas will eventually legalize same-sex marriage, but that legalization should come when the people are ready for it.  I hope the rest of the country respects our decision and doesn’t start threatening boycotts, like they did will the MLK-holiday issue.

December 24, 2010

Four more Texas congressmen – not necessarily good news?

In a column in today’s San Antonio Express-News, Veronica Flores-Paniagua declared that Texas gaining four more congressmen in 2012 was “not necessarily good news.”   According to Veronica, Texas earned the additional congressmen because of its growing Hispanic population (legal and illegal), but because of political machinations, the additional congressmen would likely be conservatives who won’t cater to the Hispanic population. 

To support her claim, Veronica resorted to an analysis and criticism of the Republican Party of Texas platform.  (I have noticed this technique applied recently in several news stories, which suggest that there is a vast, coordinated liberal conspiracy to assault that platform.)  Among the planks cited by Veronica as anti-Hispanic were those opposing mandatory pre-K education and other early childhood programs.

Veronica saved her most strident criticism for the Republican Party’s opposition to Texas’ Top 10% automatic-admissions rule.  She said that the plank suggested, without explicitly stating, that the Top-10 law wasn’t based on merit.  Her response – “hogwash.”

Veronica asserted that the Top-10 law was “merit-based, race-neutral… has increased diversity at many schools, ensuring future fuel for the state’s economic engine.”

Veronica’s column has received a plethora of complaints for E-N readers.  One of the more articulate complaints (from somebody named “yo”) stated that Texas was the only state with “such an idiotic requirement” as Texas’ Top-10 law.  That is incorrect.  Texas adopted its law in 1997, and California and Florida have subsequently adopted similar laws, with California’s set at 3% and Florida’s at 20% – the so-called Talented-20 rule.  Obviously, the California universities are more selective than the TX and FL universities.   

But I disagree with Veronica’s suggestion that the Top-10% law is pure meritocracy.  Rather, it is a so-called race- and ethnicity-neutral device obviously intended to increase the enrollment of under-represented races (African-American) and ethnicities (Hispanic) at the expense of over-represented races (Anglos and Asians).  An analogy would be requiring that UT football scholarships be awarded proportionately to all high-school districts throughout the state.  Let’s see how quickly UT football would sink to the bottom with such a rule.  (Please no snide responses regarding this anomalous season.)

My other problem with Veronica’s column was its unpatriotic tone.  She started the column by saying, “Don’t count me among the ranks of those rooting for the state’s Census gains,” and she concluded by asking rhetorically, “Where goes Texas, so goes the United States?  I hope not.”  Veronica’s patriotism calls to mind Rick Perry’s new book – Fed Up.  In the book, Perry notes that one of the great things about federalism is that you can vote with your feet – i.e., if you like being surrounded by same-sex marriage and medicinal marijuana, you can live in California; whereas if you like the death penalty and citizens carry pistols, you can move to Texas.  You know what Rick Perry would suggest that Veronica do.

November 26, 2010

Sunday book review #2 – Fed Up by Rick Perry

Fed Up is a remarkably simple and straightforward book (only 188 pages).  Its singular objective is to show how government in America is deviating dangerously away from the path laid out in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers.  Author Rick Perry, Texas Governor, uses the term “federalism” so often in the book that I’m surprised he didn’t use the title “The Federalist” – except that title was already taken in 1787-88 to describe the 85 essays published to advocate ratification of the U.S. Constitution.  Paradoxically, federalism at that time meant strengthening the national government, whereas today federalism means strengthening the state governments.   

Fed Up makes essentially two arguments in favor of shifting responsibilities from the national government to state government:

  • The Tenth Amendment.  This amendment provides, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  Fed Up makes a relatively brief legal argument that the national government in Washington has amassed too much power that constitutionally is reserved to the states
  • Better, more effective government.  Regardless of the Tenth Amendment, it makes practical sense for power to be shifted to the states because they can do a better job than the federal government in most areas of governmental responsibilities and, just as importantly, be less threatening to individual liberties.

According to Perry, America’s Founding Fathers wisely assigned the national government the responsibility for dealing with external matters (defense, diplomacy, immigration) and matters involving multiple states (interstate commerce), and reserved most other matters to the states.  Unfortunately, the national government is often distracted from performing its assigned responsibilities because it is preoccupied with performing the states’ duties. 

Perry describes several reasons why the federal structure works better than a more centralized government:

  1. Federalism enables people to vote with their feet.  If each state is allowed to govern differently, people will naturally gravitate towards those states that govern best or in a way agreeable to that voter.  “If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas.  If you don’t like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don’t move to California.”
  2. Laboratories for democracy.  If each state is allowed to govern differently, they will be able to experiment with ideas.  And if they are successful, other states will be able to adopt ideas that they like.  For example, Massachusetts adopted universal health insurance a few years ago, and if it proves successful, other states may choose to do the same thing or some variation.  Conversely, nationalized ObamaCare is one-size fits all that is a huge gamble when done across the country all at once.
  3. Closer to the people.  Leaders in the state and local government are more accessible than national leaders, and this causes state and local leaders to be more responsive and much less likely to infringe on individual liberties.  This accessibility also encourages active involvement in the process, which results in independence and self-reliance.  “The people of Texas do not want to be told by Nancy Pelosi, Dick Durbin, Henry Waxman – or for that matter, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, or any other Republican from another state – what to do.  And we certainly don’t want to place that kind of control in the hands of nameless, faceless, and unelected federal bureaucrats.”   

A major problem with the national government is that it tries to maintain its popularity by spending irresponsibly.  One of Perry’s pet peeves it that the national government borrows money to give to the states, but only with the condition that states perform its duties in accordance to national preferences.  Examples of this include (a) a requirement to raise the drinking age to 21 upon a threat of losing highway funding, or (b) a requirement to meet Race to the Top rules upon a threat of losing education funding.  Perry also mentions earmarks as a corrupting influence against restrained, disciplined spending.

When attacking excessive spending by Washington, D.C., Perry expresses his displeasure about some things that Bush-43 did, especially the unfunded Medicare prescription law and No Child Left Behind.  But contrary to reports that Perry trashed Bush-43 in this book, I found that Perry treated the former president respectfully and made only substantive, serious criticisms of Bush’s record.  “He famously said in a moment that caused many of us to cringe, ‘I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system.’  But what he intended to do on a temporary basis, the current regime is pursuing as permanent policy.”

How does Perry propose that America fix this mess?

  1. Repeal ObamaCare.
  2. States need to govern better – pro-active and innovative.
  3. Start a national dialogue about limited government.
  4. Elect leaders who respect limited government.
  5. Adopt certain structural reforms:
  • Restrict federal spending by constitutional amendment;
  • Reduce the power of courts, either by eliminating lifetime appointments or establishing a process for clarifying amendments.

When I was running for Congress against an opponent, Quico Canseco, who was a self-proclaimed Constitutional Conservative, I took essentially the same position that Rick Perry takes in Fed Up – namely, I argued that we shouldn’t waste time debating whether it was constitutional for the national government to have a Department of Education.  Instead, we needed to persuade the voters that the state governments could better handle that responsibility.  Most voters don’t consider constitutional niceties; they will go with whoever does the best job.  

Fed Up was reportedly ghost written by a group of Perry lawyers, but it certainly doesn’t read that way.  The legal arguments about the Tenth Amendment are relatively brief, and there is much more focus on the practical argument – i.e., the nationalization of America’s federal government is damaging its effectiveness.  Yes, the book is full of statistics and footnotes that Perry certainly didn’t marshal, but he specifically notes in the Acknowledgement section that several lawyers provided research assistance.  Fed Up is written for lay people, not lawyers. 

In an Author’s Note, Perry commends the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) as a group that is doing great work to promote conservative principles in Texas government – liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.  Perry is especially encouraged by a new policy center that the TPPF opened earlier this year called the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies.  Its first report, issued only a couple of weeks ago, is titled, “Reclaiming the Constitution: Towards an Agenda for State Action.”  The report is structured much like Fed Up, except the report was written by lawyers and therefore focuses on legal arguments that oppose the nationalization of American government.  It proposes an agenda for state action that is more legalistic than Perry’s grassroots proposals:

  • Interstate compact for health care reform;
  • Constitutional amendment for a balanced budget;
  • Acting in a coordinated way with other states to reject federal bribes;
  • Lawsuits against national government; and
  • Congressional legislation.

November 23, 2010

Creeping socialism?

During the ObamaCare debate, conservative pundits on FOX News, like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, started asking guests whether Barack Obama was a socialist.  My first reaction was that the question was their typical inflammatory stuff.  Although politicians shy away from being labeled the “L” word (liberal), being a socialist in my world is tantamount to being unAmerican.  You can imagine my surprise at learning, according to a 2010 Gallup poll, 36% of Americans consider socialism favorably, and that number increases to 61% for self-described liberal Americans. 

Upon further reflection, those numbers are less surprising.  I believe the fundamental difference between a conservative and a liberal is that a conservative believes in individual freedom, especially free enterprise, whereas a liberal believes that individual freedom is a dangerous thing that must be controlled by government. 

This generalization is supported by additional numbers from the Gallup poll.  Only 30% of self-described conservatives have a favorable opinion of the federal government, while 65% of liberals do.  By contrast, 57% of conservatives have a favorable opinion of big business, while only 38% of liberals do.

The Gallup pollsters pointed out that their results were affected by the fact that they did not provide a definition of socialism and that different people might have significantly different definitions.  That is something that O’Reilly and Hannity had to address when they were exploring whether Obama was a socialist.  O’Reilly used a strict, classical definition, which is someone who advocates public ownership of the means of production.  By that measure, O’Reilly concluded that, although Obama might believe in a welfare state, he was not a socialist.  Hannity’s definition, however, was not so strict.  Instead, he suggested that a socialist is someone who favors state control of capital within the framework of a market economy, and based on that definition, he concluded that Obama was clearly a supporter of creeping socialism. 

“Creeping socialism” is a good description of the American economy.  For example, there was an article in the SA Express-News last week lamenting the high cost of homeowners insurance in Texas, but instead of examining the reason for the high cost, the article focused on consumer advocates arguing that we need “comprehensive homeowners insurance reform that requires insurance companies to justify rates before they go into effect.”  The TDI explained the numbers by saying that most Texans have an unusual policy and Texans have unusual exposure to “hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe weather.”  Only in the last paragraph did the article quote an industry advocate – “Despite Texas weather, nearly 100 companies continue to sell homeowner insurance policies in the state, which makes for a competitive market and stable rates.” 

Requiring businesses in a competitive industry like Homeowners Insurance to justify their prices to a regulatory agency is a big step down the road toward converting America into a socialist state.  Ditto for ObamaCare and the GM/Chrysler bailout.  And as Rick Perry noted in his book Fed Up, this didn’t start with Obama.  Much responsibility rests with Bush-43, who said, “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system.”  While Bush was reluctantly reacting to a crisis, Obama has decided to take advantage of the Great Recession, just as FDR took advantage of the Great Depression.  To paragraph his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste on America’s road to serfdom.