Mike Kueber's Blog

August 21, 2015

An open letter to Bill O’Reilly

Filed under: Law/justice,Media,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:43 pm
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Bill, the word for the day is “sophomoric.”  Used in a sentence, “Your reportage this week on anchor babies was sophomoric.”

Why do I think your reportage was “conceited and overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and immature”?  The Bill of Particulars against you contains two items:

  1. False statements.  In your Trump interview on anchor babies, you paraphrased the 14th Amendment as saying, “If you are born in America, you are a citizen.”  Your omission of the critical middle clause, “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” is flagrant journalistic malpractice.  Then you imperiously declared the sentence could have only one legal meaning.  Yes, the sentence you read could only have one meaning, but what is the meaning of the clause you didn’t read?  In law, there is a strong presumption against construing a clause to be redundant or irrelevant.
  2. Two days later, you attempted to buttress your legal opinion by interviewing two legal experts – one a conservative and one a liberal – who agreed with you. In law, a judge will pit two advocates against each other and then decide.  Couldn’t you find anyone to articulate an argument contrary to your position?  What about one of America’s most popular constitutional authorities, Mark Levin, who earlier in the week spoke out strongly against your position?  What about one of America’s most respected federal judges, Richard Posner, who opined about anchor babies in a 2003 appellate decision, “Congress would not be flouting the Constitution if it amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to put an end to the nonsense.  A constitutional amendment may be required to change the rule whereby birth in this country automatically confers U.S. citizenship, but I doubt it.”

It’s not too late to redeem your reputation by apologizing to your viewers and presenting them with a full-throated argument on the meaning of “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”  Is it directed narrowly at foreign diplomats or more broadly at anyone who has allegiance to another country?

August 11, 2015

The GOP debate, Megyn Kelly, and Carly Fiorina

Filed under: Media,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:11 pm
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Yesterday, I blogged that the Republican debate was “riveting” because each question “attacked the candidates at their most vulnerable point.”  Since then, however, I have been persuaded by conservative talk-show guy, Mark Levin, that I was wrong.

Levin has described the event as a National Inquirer debate because of its focus on embarrassing issues instead of on substantive policy.   His prime example of this conduct was the second question of the debate, by which Megyn Kelly suggested that poll-leading candidate Trump was a misogynist who was waging a war on women.  During a 30-minute expose on his show, Levin showed how the question was unfair and inappropriate.  How could Trump possibly explain in 60 seconds the context of each one of the charges?  Levin did take the time to defend/explain the charges relating to Rosie O’Donnell and the “on your knees” comment taken from an Apprentice show.  Levin pointed out that Kelly had been a practicing lawyer, and I wonder if this was her version of the famous legal question – “Yes or no, have you quit beating your wife?”

Aside from Trump and Kelly, the story of the Republican debate seems to be Carly Fiorina vaulting to the top tier.  I’ve never liked Fiorina and she is often described as colder and more calculating than Hillary Clinton, but I decided to watch a tape of the Happy Hour debate to see what all the fuss was about.  After watching, my position remains unchanged.  During my working career, I’ve encountered several people like her who give great briefings by sounding like they know everything, but over time they invariably fail miserably because they don’t know as much as they think and they don’t know how to work with others.

But aside from this substantive weakness, there is another reason why Fiorina did so well last Thursday – i.e., she participated in the Happy Hour debate, where the questioners allowed the candidates to address substantive issues, and this is her forte.  Imagine if, instead of substantive questions, she had been asked only embarrassing questions, such as:

  • You’ve been married twice, but never had any children.  Why?
  • Your claim to fame is being the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, but you were fired after six years, with the company losing 50% of its value.  Including your golden parachute, how much were you paid by H-P to lose 50% of its value and how does that compare to the pay of an average employee during that time?
  • Your only political race was a landslide loss to Senator Boxer in California.  What was your thinking in that such an electoral failure should lead to running for president?

I suggest that Carly Fiorina would not have vaulted to the top tier if those were her questions.

September 13, 2012

Secular government and government charity

Yesterday, while driving home 1400 miles from North Dakota, I had the opportunity to experience non-stop conservative talk radio – Rush, Ingraham, Hannity, Miller, and Levin.  I found Rush to be funny, Hannity earnest, Miller witty, and Ingraham panderous.  And Mark Levin was the Great One.

Levin pontificated provocatively on two subjects, and I disagreed with him on both.  His first provocation was his attack on the wall of separation between church and religion in America.  According to Levin, the wall of separation was constructed by Justice Hugo Black in a 1947 Supreme Court decision that referred to an 1802 letter written by Thomas Jefferson.  Levin then attacked the legitimacy of the doctrine by pointing out that young-lawyer Hugo Black was an anti-Catholic member of the KKK and that Jefferson had not been involved in the Constitutional Convention.  For his coup-de-grace, Levin pointed out that God was mentioned several times in our Founding document, the Declaration of Independence.

What Levin failed to note was that America’s ultimate Founding document, the U.S. Constitution, fails to mention God.  And its only reference to religion is contained in the First Amendment, where it prohibits the establishment of religion and guarantees the free exercise of religion.  Based on that Amendment, I don’t think it is unreasonable for a reasonable reader to conclude that our Founders did not want government involved in religion.

Levin concluded this segment of his show by noting that, although he doesn’t want America to become a theocracy, he feels just as strongly that he doesn’t want America to be a secular government.  I haven’t heard this issue posed that way before, and I am open to persuasion, but my initial inclination is that, based on a straight-forward reading of the Constitution, the Founders were creating a secular government.    

Levin’s second provocative topic was whether American government should engage in charity.  According to Levin, most liberals were extremely niggardly with their person charity, and they made themselves feel better by advocating vigorously for more charity from their government. 

Levin is correct that liberals aren’t as charitable as are conservatives, and there are numerous studies that confirm this.  Furthermore, it is indisputable that liberals want their government to be more charitable than do conservatives.  The question, however, that I hadn’t previously considered was whether government should engage in charity, and I think Levin is wrong to conclude it should not.

Charity is defined as the voluntary giving of help to those in need.  Obviously, the paying of taxes is not a voluntary giving, but despite Levin’s protestations, it is not unreasonable to respond that democratically advocating for higher taxes could be a form of voluntary giving.  Levin’s stronger argument, however, is that it is morally superior to make charitable contributions out of your assets than out of America’s tax base. 

I reject Levin’s position against government charity because most Americans, although they don’t want to encourage dependency found in welfare-state Europe, want their government to serve as the backstop for life’s vicissitudes, not a motley assortment of private, mostly religious charitable organizations.

I supposed these two issues – secular government and government charity – are related.  Ironically, as American government becomes more secular, it may expand into responsibilities previously held by religions.

January 26, 2012

Sunday Book Review #60 – Ameritopia by Mark Levin

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 6:39 pm
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Mark Levin is one of the most popular personalities on conservative-talk radio.  Nicknamed “The Great One” by Sean Hannity, he has a brash, confrontational personality.  Educated to be a lawyer, he first worked in the Reagan administration before becoming an advocate for conservatism and finally seguing into radio broadcasting through the support of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

Ameritopia seems to be Levin’s attempt to burnish his credentials as a historian, to be more than a mere blowhard.  Like Gingrich claiming to be a historian for Freddie Mac, or like Bill O’Reilly writing about Lincoln or Glen Beck writing about Washington, the bona fides of a true conservative must include an intense interest in early American history.

Levin’s objective with Ameritopia is to show how America is deviating dangerously toward the failed politics of Utopia.  The first part of the book strips the bark off the term “Utopia” and reveals it for what it is – tyranny and the destruction of the human soul – and then describes several famous variations – Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.  According to Levin, the idea of Utopia had nothing to do with the founding of America   

In the second part of the book, Levin discusses the two men who actually were the philosophical influences on the founding of America – John Locke for recognizing the ultimate importance and sovereignty of the individual (liberty and the social contract), and Charles de Montesquieu for the decentralization and check-and-balances (separation of powers) that keep government from destroying the individual.

In the third part of the book, Levin shows how far America has deviated from its founding principles, with most of his focus on Presidents Wilson, FDR, and Obama.  Documenting how the tentacles of Washington have spread throughout the American economy did not require much research. 

Although I have a degree in political science and am fascinated by the subject, I found Ameritopia too dry and abstract.  I agree with Levin’s thesis, but have no interest in being able to distinguish between Hobbes and Locke.

September 15, 2011

Buying American

Filed under: Business,Economics,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 12:25 pm
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When I started in the insurance business as an adjuster back in 1981, the best perk was a company car.  My new employer, State Farm Insurance, handed me a list of authorized cars and told me to make a deal with a local dealer.  The cars on the list were nice-sized 4-doors, but they were all American.  Because of the tough economic times, State Farm required its adjusters to buy a Ford, GM, or Chrysler.

Since then, the discrimination against foreign car companies has subsided, and Toyota, Honda, and Nissan have become large players in the American market.  A major explanation for that change is that the foreign car companies have built assembly plants in America.  Furthermore, the foreign-owned plants are staffed by workers with competitive non-union wages, while the American-owned plants are staffed by workers with noncompetitive union wages.

I am troubled by the Buy American movement.  Not only does it run counter to the principle of free trade, but also it contributes to nationalistic xenophobia.

For some unknown reason, conservative talk shows appear to have recently decided to revive the Buy American Cars movement.  In the last week, I heard both Bill O’Reilly and Mark Levin preach that buying an American car is a patriotic gesture.

When choosing between free trade and nationalistic xenophobia, Bill and Mark came down on the dark side.

August 2, 2011

Mark Levin vs. Laura Ingalls

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:43 am
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While listening to Mark Levin’s conservative talk show on Friday, I heard him repetitively identify and thank the 22 congressional Republicans who defied Speaker Boehner and voted against the speaker’s debt-ceiling solution.  Eventually Levin decided to put their names on an honor roll.

Because of the 22 defections, Boehner’s bill barely passed with two votes to spare – a mere 218 votes.  Today, the final compromise debt-ceiling solution, agreed upon by President Obama and all four leaders in the House and Senate, passed in the House by 269-161, with Republicans voting 174-66 and Democrats voting 95-95.

What do these votes say about those who voted no?  Do they deserve to be added to Levin’s honor roll?  Or should they be characterized as fringe, rogue legislators who are a part of the problem and will never be part of the solution?

Although the TEA Party is being blamed for holding government hostage for the past few weeks, I think that today’s vote shows that there are just as many, if not more, fringe, rogue legislators is the Democratic Party.  While Speaker Boehner originally proposed a debt-ceiling bill that appeased his TEA Party wing,  Majority Leader Reid responded by proposing a bill that appeased the socialist wing of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic senator from Missouri, Claire McCaskill, made an excellent point this Sunday on Meet the Press, when she suggested that the moderate wings of both parties need to be more vocal:

  • “I hope that more Americans realize that what we have to have is more volume from
    the moderate middle. We have a lot of volume around Washington from the two
    extremes, the talking heads, the cable T.V.  The people who are most agitated are the
    people that are most divided.  We need those people who want compromise.”

Although I agree with McCaskill, I’m not sure how we get there.  I’ve previously suggested if we combined the party primaries and then let the top-two candidates move onto the general election, we would be more likely to have moderate candidates instead of extremist candidates making it to the general election.

But the vote in the House today suggests that the process in Congress tends to work the same as the election process – i.e., extremists working within their caucus are able to exert influence that greatly exceeds their numbers.  The vast majority in Congress, just like the vast majority of Americans, wanted a debt-ceiling compromise, but the radicals in both parties prevented the process from functioning properly.

As Laura Ingalls said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”  Good luck, Senator McCaskill in finding a way.

May 18, 2011

Counting non-voters

 While visiting a friend tonight, we watched the muted Mavericks-Thunder basketball game and listened to conservative talk-show host Mark Levin.  Aside from calling erstwhile North Dakotan Ed Shultz a red, fat slime-ball, Levin focused on his discussion on constitutional conservatism. 

One if Mark’s interesting points was that the constitutional provision for counting a Negro as only five-eighths of a person was a provision insisted on by the northern states to minimalize the electoral heft of the southern states.  According to Levin, this reflected American and northern morality.

While I don’t necessarily agree with Levin’s point, I told my friend that the same moral principle should apply to illegal immigrants – why should states with a large number of illegal immigrants be given additional congressional representation based on the number of their illegal immigrants?  My friend suggested that I was joking – surely illegal immigrants weren’t counted in apportioning Congress.  I regretted to inform him that they were.

The obvious fix of this distressing situation is analogous to the five-eighth Negro fix.  We need a constitutional amendment providing that congressional representation must be based on, not the number of residents or even the number of citizens, but rather on the number of voting-age citizens.  Our congressional representation shouldn’t depend on how many minors or non-citizens live in a state.  That is the best way to ensure true one-person, one-vote.

February 15, 2011

Sunday book review #13 – Trickle Up Poverty by Michael Savage and Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin

A liberal friend in Austin has suggested to me that conservative radio is experiencing a decline in listeners because “they have beat a dead horse too long.  People are interested in solutions to problems not just constant fear mongering.”  I suggested to my Austin friend that he might be engaging in wishful thinking because conservative shows still dominate the airwaves and their books dominate the bestseller lists.  In fact, I just finished reading two more of those bestsellers – Trickle Up Poverty by Michael Savage and Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin.  

A conservative friend in San Antonio claims that, of all the smart guys on talk radio, Michael Savage is the smartest.  Personally, I had never heard of him or his best-selling books, but I decided to give his latest book – Trickle Up Poverty – a read.  Unfortunately, it was not a good experience.  The entire book focuses on the author’s conclusion that President Obama is a Marxist-Leninist-Socialist whose objective is to transform America.  The first and last sentences in the Author’s Note succinctly reflect this:

  • President Obama is like a destructive child who takes apart a priceless watch that was carefully passed down to him.”
  • “And for those who doubt my assertions about this destructive administration, remember this key rule of science: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

As evidence about Obama’s perfidy, Savage’s book contains fear-mongering chapters on global warming, the financial meltdown, ObamaCare, illegal immigration, education policy, voting fraud, and national defense.  The book is subtitled, “Stopping Obama’s Attack on our Borders, Economy, and Security.”  Although Savage occasionally goes after Reid and Pelosi, he clearly believes that Obama is the evil political force who deceived Americans and needs to be stopped.

Savage’s book jacket claims that he is the third-most popular host on conservative talk, whereas author Mark Levin’s book jacket says he is merely “one of the most popular talk-show hosts on conservative radio.”  He is a lawyer and has served in Republican administrations.  His book Liberty and Tyranny is subtitled “A Conservative Manifesto,” and both are apt descriptions.  Levin is more concerned with understanding philosophies than with demonizing personalities.

The book starts by describing an America that was conceived in liberty, but ever since the Great Depression has drifted toward the “soft tyranny” of statism, where individual imperfections and personal pursuits are believed to be hindrances for a national government in trying to achieve a utopia:

  • “In the midst stands the individual, who was a predominate focus of the Founders.  When living freely and pursuing his own legitimate interests, the individual displays qualities that are antithetical to the Statist’s – initiative, self-reliance, and independence.  As the Statist is building a culture of conformity and dependency, where the ideal citizen takes on drone-like qualities in service to the state, the individual must be drained of uniqueness and self-worth, and deterred from independent thought or behavior.  This is achieved through varying means of economic punishment and political suppression.”

 Levin spends several chapters describing traditional conservative standards for (a) distinguishing between reform that preserves & improves institutions as opposed to change that consists of radical departure or potentially dangerous experiments, (b) the important role to be played by religion in government, (c) the folly of a constitution as a living document, and (d) the limited responsibilities of the national government in our federal system.  Nothing controversial here.

When Levin shifts into current affairs, his analysis is similarly conventional.  He thinks the free market is disappearing because the federal government interferes with people’s right to control their private property.  More importantly, he thinks the federal government is doing something it’s not supposed to do – i.e., create a welfare state – while failing to do something that it is supposed to do – i.e., protecting our borders and achieve national security.

Levin concludes Liberty and Tyranny by providing a laundry-list of measures for Conservatives to pursue.  Most of the measures are reasonable, but two are extreme and unwise.  E.g.:

  • Eliminate the progressive tax because its purpose currently is not to fund legitimate functions of government, but rather to redistribute wealth. 
  • Eliminate withholding because it conceals the extent to which the government is confiscating income from its citizens. 

 Liberty and Tyranny does a good job of showing that American has gotten off course and needs to correct.  The book concludes with a quote from Ronald Reagan that explains why:

  • “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.  We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream.  It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” 

That Reagan was a great communicator.  And Levin makes a solid effort at communicating, whereas Savage appears to be rabble-rousing.  Either way, I’ve had my fill for a while.