Mike Kueber's Blog

July 15, 2015

Shifting the goalposts

Filed under: Facebook,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:07 pm
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Progressives and liberals are continually posting graphics on Facebook re: the accomplishments of President Obama.  Yesterday my cousin Pam posted the latest such chart from Occupy Democrats, updated July 13, 2015.  According to the chart, the key metrics that reveal Obama’s greatness are as follows:

  • The Dow
  • The S&P
  • GDP growth
  • Unemployment
  • Deficit percentage of GDP
  • Consumer confidence

I suggested to my cousin that the chart was misleading because of two problems:

  • Seems a bit misleading to compare Obama’s numbers to the bottom of the Great Recession. And since when did progressives start thinking that the Dow and S&P were important metrics of presidential success?

When my cousin responded by pointing out that the starting date (January 9, 2009) was Obama’s inauguration date, I countered:

  • That’s like Ann Richard’s joke that George W. was born on third base and thought he had hit a triple. But getting back to my major point, this chart is a major shifting of the goalposts for the anointed one. Surely, you didn’t elect him president in order to increase the stock market or shore up consumer confidence. Most Americans wanted him to strengthen the middle class, reduce poverty, deal with our illegal immigration problem, and make health insurance affordable. His only ostensible success is ObamaCare, which made health insurance affordable mostly by turning it into a federal welfare program.

I think a fairer chart would comprise the following metrics:

  1. Median income, adjusted for inflation
  2. Rate of poverty.
  3. Number of illegal immigrants in America
  4. Percentage of Americans who can afford to buy health insurance

According to FactCheck.org, median income has gone down and rate of poverty has gone up.   The number of illegal immigrants appears to have plateaued because of several demographic forces (e.g., the tepid American economy is not as great a magnet, while the number of people in other countries who are attracted to America is down).  And finally, CNN says the percentage of uninsured Americans has gone down from 18% to 12% under ObamaCare.  According to the NY Times, 86% of the 11.7 million Americans with ObamaCare received a government subsidy. According to US News, ObamaCare added 10.8 million people to Medicaid so that now almost 70 million people are covered under Medicaid or CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program).

Some progressives might argue that President Obama has been hamstrung by a Republican Congress, but that argument fails to appreciate that Americans turned the Congress from blue to red because of its antipathy toward ObamaCare.  Indeed, even Massachusetts replaced Teddy Kennedy with a Republican senator in an unsuccessful effort to defeat ObamaCare.

Based on President Obama’s achievements, I don’t think the progressives should be dusting off a place on Mt. Rushmore for him.

February 21, 2015

Does President Obama love America?

Filed under: Culture,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:21 pm
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Rudy Giuliani is catching a lot of liberal flack for suggesting that President Obama doesn’t love America. According to a Politico story, Giuliani said the following at a private fundraiser in NYC for Wisc. Governor Scott Walker:

  • I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

(Incidentally, private fundraisers are proving to be a boon for political journalism. That is where Romney talked about the 47% and Obama talked about people clinging to their guns and religion.)

Of course, Giuliani is not especially relevant nowadays, so the liberal media are using his comments to attack the candidacy of Governor Walker, who, according to the Washington Post, sat spinelessly at the fundraiser where the calumny was spoken.

The NY Times in a follow-up interview had Giuliani respond to charges that he was prejudiced:

  • Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people. This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

(The Times outrageously titled this article, “Giuliani: Obama Had a White Mother, So I’m Not a Racist.”  Talk about taking something out of context.)

Giuliani also challenged reporters to find examples of Mr. Obama expressing love for his country:

  • I’m happy for him to give a speech where he talks about what’s good about America and doesn’t include all the criticism…. I want an American president to raise our spirits again, like a Ronald Reagan…. What I don’t find with Obama — this will get me in more trouble again — is a really deep knowledge of history. I think it’s a dilettante’s knowledge of history.”

Not surprisingly, this challenge has gone unanswered.

It’s impossible to know what is in someone’s heart, and Christians are frequently enjoined from judging others (judge not, lest ye be judged), but I think politics are different. Voters must make judgments in choosing who to follow.

I blogged previously about President Obama, American exceptionalism, and patriotism, and I believe Giuliana’s charge is essentially the same thing as those earlier charges that President Obama didn’t believe in American exceptionalism, or that he wasn’t patriotic because he refused to wear a flag in his lapel, or that Michelle Obama in 2008 responded to her husband’s electoral success by saying, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”

Patriotism or love of country are not “all or nothing” things. Rather, they are continuums. I believe that cosmopolitan progressives are generally not as far on the continuum of patriotic love as are provincial conservatives. And President Obama is by far the most cosmopolitan progressive ever elected president of the United States.

Rudy is probably thinking, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

March 26, 2014

Crimea

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:54 am
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I have not closely followed the Russian take-over of Crimea, but I was stuck by a recent news article revealing that 80% of the people in Crimea were Russians. This made me think of the analogous situation in Northern Ireland, where most of the people were Protestants although Ireland as a whole is controlled by the dominant majority, Catholics. Should Protestant Northern Ireland be allowed to align itself with Protestant Great Britain or be forced to stay with Catholic Ireland? Similarly, should Crimea with its dominant Russian majority be allowed to align itself to Russia or be forced to stay with Ukraine where it will be a small minority? The fitting adage is damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Any article in this week’s Time magazine provided further support for the Russian takeover of Crimea.  The article described the circumstances of how Russia originally gave up sovereignty over Crimea:

  • That gift was made in 1954 on the whim of Nikita Khrushchev, who was then the leader of the Soviet Union. He decided to take Crimea away from Russia and transfer it to Ukraine at a time when the placement of their borders didn’t really matter. (Legend has it that Khrushchev was drunk when he signed the papers.) All three were part of the Soviet Union, whose collapse seemed unthinkable. But when it all broke apart in 1991, Crimea and its majority-Russian population found themselves in what felt like a foreign land.”

Based on this background, I think President Obama has reacted appropriately to the Russian take-over – i.e., he mildly objected, but did nothing significant, because this was not an unreasonable action by the Russians.

January 6, 2014

Sunday Book Review #119 – This Town by Mark Leibovich

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 9:48 pm
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This Town is a book about the dynamic relationships in Washington, D.C. among the politicians and their staffers, the influence peddlers, and the media.  I loved the book because:

  1. I find the characters in all three institutions to be fascinating, albeit the peddlers in a bad, disgusting way.
  2. Author Leibovich is exceptionally perceptive and wonderfully witty.
  3. Author Leibovich shares my sensibilities toward these characters – i.e., he is a cynical, jaded idealist.

From a personal perspective, I often feel an obligation to puncture the inflated opinion that others have about themselves or something they have done.  Leibovich does this with skill and efficiency that I can only dream of.  Most of the characters in the book seem to be afflicted with severe cases of insecurity and narcissism.  The only two that come off really well are President Obama and VP candidate Paul Ryan.  Not so much for Darrel Issa and Richard Holbrooke.  Tim Russert casts a big shadow.

Great read for all 368 pages.

October 11, 2013

Media bias

Filed under: Issues,Media,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:56 pm
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After returning from my road trip to North Dakota, I had a conversation with my favorite liberal, Mike Callen, about media bias.  Mike doesn’t believe the allegations that mainstream journalists are biased in favor of Democratic policy.  Instead, he believes the strong conservative bias of Fox News, which has become a news behemoth, outweighs the slight liberal bias of CBS, NBC, ABC, and CNN.  Although MSNBC has a strong liberal bias, its lack of viewers renders it almost irrelevant to this discussion.

I disagree with Mike.  Because Fox and MSNBC are unabashedly partisan, they tend to attract like-minded viewers and serve to “preach to the choir.”  This minimizes their influence over those in the middle.  By contrast, the so-called mainstream media pretends to be unbiased and objective, which gives them credibility to Americans who aren’t partisan.  Fortunately, Americans are gradually learning the truth about liberal bias in the mainstream media and this will ultimately force the media to reform itself or join MSNBC as an irrelevancy.

p.s., I rarely listen to conservative talk radio because it is highly inefficient in delivering relevant information, but when I’m driving to and from North Dakota, there are not any more productive uses of my time.  During my recent return drive to Texas, Rush Limbaugh provided me with an object lesson in CNN’s liberal bias.  Rush played a clip from around 2006 during which Wolf Blitzer was almost apoplectic about George W. Bush’s approval rating dropping to 36%.  According to Wolf, this was clearly the public’s repudiation of Bush’s leadership, especially on foreign policy.

Fast-forward a few years, and Rush reports that a new AP poll shows President Obama’s approval rating just dropped to 37%.  Do any of the mainstream anchors report on this development?  Not a thing, even though you’d think Wolf Blitzer would be shamed into mentioning it.  At a minimum, this disparate treatment of Bush and Obama should cause Wolf and the mainstream media to do some soul-searching.

July 20, 2013

President Obama speaks out on the Zimmerman verdict

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:41 am
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Earlier today President Obama finally provided America with his reaction to the Zimmerman verdict.  According to an article in the NY Times, he said that, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”  I doubt that Obama was that angry and violent.

The most interesting comment in the article was Obama’s lament that young African-American males are treated as suspicious by the American public, and he listed the following examples:

  • “… being followed while shopping in a department store, hearing the click of car doors locking as they cross a street, or watching as women clutch their purses nervously when they step onto an elevator.”

My question is how do we address this concern.  Are department stores supposed to look the other way or drivers and women supposed to ignore their concerns?  Or should we recognize these are natural symptoms to a culture where young African-American males inordinately commit in crime.  Some may call this a chicken-egg conundrum; I suggest that President Obama is treating the symptom instead of the cure.

May 10, 2013

Obama, his legacy, and excessive partisanship

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:05 pm
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George Will penned an interesting column in the Washington Post this week about President Obama and his legacy.   According to Will, the president’s only chance for a strong legacy is for the Democratic Party to hold control of the Senate in 2014 and take control of the House.  Otherwise, the Republican Party will stymie his overarching objectives of an expanded government and redistributed wealth.  Assuming that all presidents are driven to create a legacy, Will deducts that that President Obama will work this year’s two big issues – guns and immigration – not on their merits, but rather on their effect on the 2014 congressional election. 

Furthermore, according to Will, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander – i.e., if President Obama can have an objective of defeating the Republican Congress in the 2014 elections, why was is improper for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to express his fervent objective in 2010 of making President Obama a one-term president?  Will might have added the analogous comment by talk-show maestro Russ Limbaugh wishing for President Obama to fail. 

Let me suggest to George why that is wrong.  It is wrong because Americans don’t want their politicians positioning themselves for elections unless it is impossible to resolve the disputes through reasonable compromise.  The refusal to make reasonable compromises is a major reason why both the TEA Party and the Republican Party lost their 2010 momentum and suffered their 2012 electoral losses.

There is an old saying about a belief being so stupid that it could belong only to an academic or intellectual, someone without a lick of common sense.  Ironically, Will declares that McConnell’s statement was “common-sensical.”  That is ridiculous.  People in this country want effective policies and functional politicians, and they don’t want partisan posturing until Labor Day.   

 

 

February 16, 2013

High-quality early education

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 10:58 pm
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In his State of the Union speech, President Obama called for America to provide Pre-K schooling for all of its kids.  He characterized this initiative as an investment because “every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than $7 later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.” 

Two components of Obama’s assertion caught my eye:

  1. High-quality.  By using this modifier, President Obama’s statistical analysis would be able to exclude data from any early-education program that was ineffective.  By definition, this is cherry-picking.
  2. More than $7 savings for every dollar spent.  This is a very large return on investment, and I wondered how squishy the data was.

When I attempted to identify research study that supported President Obama’s assertion, I found noting from various fact-checkers of the State of the Union speech.  The following from Fox fact-checking, although helpful, was typical in that it paid no attention to either “high-quality” or “more than $7”:

  • Dozens of studies have shown Head Start graduates are more likely to complete high school than their at-risk peers who don’t participate in the program. But a study last year by the Department of Health and Human Services that found big vocabulary and social development gains for at-risk students in pre-kindergarten programs also found those effects largely faded by the time pupils reached third grade. The report didn’t explain why the kids saw a drop-off in performance or predict how they would fare as they aged.”   

The Fox fact-checking was instructive because, instead of referring to “high-quality” programs, it referred to our nation’s dominant Pre-K program – the federal Head Start program.  Head Start, which was launched in 1965 and really geared up in 1981, was designed to provide comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families (income up to 130% of the federal poverty level. 

Although Head Start spends more than $8 billion a year, and despite all of this time to fine-tune what it is doing, the Department of HHS had recently concluded that the measurably significant gains by Head Start students upon entering kindergarten largely disappear by the third grade.  The following statements were gleaned from the 2012 Executive Summary of the final report:   

  • “The study quantifies the overall impact of Head Start separately for 3- and 4-year-old children in four key program domains-cognitive development, social-emotional development, health status and services, and parenting practices–following them through early elementary school.”
  • “In summary, there were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts found for either cohort in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children.”
  • Final conclusions.  The lasting effects of Head Start and early childhood education in general on children’s outcomes have been the focus of much study. Considering only outcomes through early elementary school and middle childhood, results for the HSIS cognitive outcomes are in line with other experimental and non-experimental early education studies….   However, as we discuss later, some studies, including those that did not show differences in elementary school, reported finding positive effects later in adulthood.  Although the underlying cause of the rapid attenuation of early impacts is an area of frequent speculation, we don’t have a good understanding of this observed pattern….  We do not yet know if there will be positive outcomes for HSIS participants later in life, however, research suggests that positive outcomes later in life are possible. Despite a growing body of research about relatively rapid dissipation of early cognitive impacts, there is some evidence suggesting that positive effects of Head Start may have an impact on participants’ later life such as later school success and early adulthood outcomes.  According to a recent paper by Gibbs, Ludwig, & Miller (2011) such delayed or ‘sleeper’ effects may occur because of the Head Start benefits in the area of children’s social and emotional development, i.e., improved socialization and emotional strength may have later school-related payoffs.”

An extensive article in the NY Times recently provided much useful information regarding the current status of Pre-K in America and President Obama’s proposal: 

  • In the 2010-11 school year, the latest year for which data is available, 28 percent of all four-year-olds in the United States were enrolled in state-financed preschool programs.”
  • “Only five states, including Oklahoma and Georgia, have a stated objective of offering preschool slots to all 4-year-olds. While about 1.1 million students across the country are enrolled in federally financed Head Start programs and others attend private preschools, that still leaves millions of children on the sidelines.”
  • “The president’s plan would provide federal matching dollars to states to provide public preschool slots for four-years olds whose families earn up to 200 percent of the poverty level. President Obama would also allocate extra funds for states to expand public pre-kindergarten slots for middle-class families, who could pay on a sliding scale of tuition.”
  • “Advocates for early education frequently cite research on the long-term benefits of preschool, by James J. Heckman at the University of Chicago and others, showing a link to reduced crime rates, lower dropout rates and eventual higher incomes among those who attend preschool.”
  • “Critics say the federal government has already tested a national preschool program with Head Start. A national study sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services of 5,000 3- and 4-year-olds in 84 local programs found few lasting benefits by third grade.  ‘It’s one thing to say that there are a handful of small pre-K programs that may have had lasting and significant benefits,’ said Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Cato Center for Educational Freedom, a unit of the Cato Institute, a conservative-leaning research organization. ‘It’s another to imagine that the federal government can scale them up nationally.’”
  • “But other education analysts say that Head Start, which receives about $7 billion in federal money annually, is hampered by inconsistent standards and low pay for teachers, who are typically paid less than public school educators.”
  • “In a report released last week, the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning research organization, estimated that providing preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds would cost about $98.4 billion in federal spending over 10 years.”

An editorial in today’s NY Times discussed President Obama’s Pre-K proposal and not surprisingly said it was worth pursuing.  But it also provided the best explanation of where Obama’s $7 figure came from:

  • Countless studies have found that preschool education has real value, both for the children and for society as a whole. But design is obviously crucial. The most famous and frequently cited program was conducted at Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, Mich., during the 1960s, where the teachers focused on a creative process in which low-income children were encouraged to plan, initiate and discuss their learning activities. In addition to teaching the children for 2.5 hours during the school day, the teachers regularly visited their homes to reinforce the lessons and forge partnership with parents.”
  • “Followed into adulthood, the Perry students were found to have lower dropout and arrest rates and higher incomes than those who had not attended preschool. Research led by James Heckman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, concluded in 2009 that each $1 invested in the Perry program had returned a value of $7 to $12 to society.”

Where do I stand?  I’m all for improving Pre-K, and if the Education Department has some ideas, I’m all ears.  But, as the Cato Institute guy said, “It’s one thing to say that there are a handful of small pre-K programs that may have had lasting and significant benefits.  It’s another to imagine that the federal government can scale them up nationally.”  We already have Head Start for kids up to 130% of the poverty line.  Why not fix the $8 billion Head Start program before doubling down on it?

San Antonio recently adopted a program – Pre-K 4 SA – to do much of what President Obama is now proposing for America.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the proponents of Pre-K 4 SA used the same “high-quality” modifier in describing their proposal.  My opposition to Pre-K 4 SA, however, is different.  I oppose Pre-K 4 SA because the San Antonio City Council has no responsibility or expertise in developing education policy.  The responsibility and expertise rests with our local school boards, and we don’t need the City Council interjecting itself.  If the City had an extra $34 million a year to spend on Pre-K, it should have given the money to the school boards as block grants, which would have gone to all kids, not just poor ones.

December 29, 2012

Airbrushing Obama’s diction

Filed under: Media,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:41 pm
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In commenting on the prospects of averting the fiscal cliff this weekend, President Obama said he was “modestly optimistic.”  When I heard the comment, I immediately concluded that he meant to say “moderately optimistic” because “modesty” is totally inappropriate as a modifier in that context. 

Can you imagine how much fun Maureen Dowd and the NY Times would have with George W. Bush if he made a similar mistake?

So what did the Times do this time?  Not surprisingly, it airbrushed the mistake, even though the term was inescapably critical to news headlines around the nation.  According to the NY Times News Service, which was used in papers across the country (including the SA Express-News), what Obama actually said was the following:

  • President Barack Obama said Friday evening that progress had been made in make-or-break talks on the fiscal crisis, saying he was cautiously “optimistic” as Senate leaders worked furiously on an agreement toward a bill to avert the worst of the economic punch from landing Tuesday.”

Conservative pundits often accuse the Times and NBC News of being extensions of the Obama campaign staff, and there seems to be some truth to that.

December 8, 2012

Pew research on young voters in the presidential election

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:03 pm
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Based on Ann Coulter’s surprising revelation, based on Pew research, that young whites (18-29) preferred Romney over Obama in this year’s presidential election, I decided to go to the horse’s mouth for further information.  According to Pew: 

  • Obama won the young vote – 60% to 36%
  • Romney won the young white vote – 51% to 44%
  • Obama won the young Hispanic vote – 74% to 23%
  • Obama won the young black young – 91% to 8%
  • Romney won the young white male vote – 54% to 51%
  • Romney won the young white female vote – 49% to 48%
  • Obama won the young black male vote – 80% to 19%
  • Obama won the young black female vote – 99% to 1%.

The media loves to talk about the gender gap, but rarely discusses the racial gap, even though the racial gap is much larger.  And when the media does discuss the racial gap, it seems like the issue is usually framed about whether whites can bring themselves to vote for a minority, never the reverse.

Other conclusions from the Pew research: (a) the racial gap persists, but lessens, with young Americans, and (b) young black males are not nearly as enamored of President Obama as young black females obviously are.

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