Mike Kueber's Blog

August 30, 2014

Should all kids go to college?

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 4:37 pm
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I was reading a book recently about whether all kids should go to college. According to the book, this question had become an issue in the latest presidential campaign, with Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan apparently taking the position that only the liberal elites thought everyone should go to college, while broad-minded Republicans understood that success could be achieved in life without a college degree.

I wasn’t aware that this question had become an issue in the presidential campaign, but it has always been important to me. When I was parenting four young boys, I recall frequently pontificating that, although I wasn’t planning to push my sons toward college, I would be mightily disappointed if any of them didn’t want a college education.

Many years later – mission mostly accomplished. As with most kids of the upper-middle class, my kids graduated from high school and just assumed that they would go to college. Three of them have already graduated (two of them have graduate degrees, too) and the fourth is in his third year.

But how does this jibe with Paul Ryan’s suggestion that it is elitist to expect all kids to go to college?

As with most thought-provoking questions, my first reaction is to conduct some internet research. When I googled, “Should all kids go to college,” I was referred to an article by Dana Goldstein in The Nation titled, “Should all kids go to college?”

According to the 2011 article, the question is commonly phrased as follows:

  • Do poor and working-class kids have the same need for a liberal arts education as their middle-class and affluent peers? Or does the reality of inequality in America—the sheer unlikeliness of climbing from poverty into the intelligentsia within a single generation—call for a more practical approach to educating the poor, with a focus on technical skills that prepare a child for the world of work?

I think that framing the question this way, much like Paul Ryan did, forces a person to take a practical perspective. By contrast, my pontificating is more of an aspirational perspective – i.e., all parents should try to raise kids who want an education beyond high school, even if the kids don’t eventually plan to have a job that requires a college degree.

College is not the same thing as a trade school that is supposed to prepare you to get a job and make a lot of money. College should jumpstart you on a satisfying and fulfilling lifelong journey, and that is something we want for all of our kids.

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August 26, 2014

Paul Ryan and the Ice Bucket Challenge

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:45 pm
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Facebook is plastered with posts making fun of Paul Ryan for taking the Ice Bucket Challenge despite previously trying to eliminate federal funding of ALS research. Because Ryan and Romney are two of my favorite politicians, I decided to investigate whether the posters had a point. Not surprisingly, the facts expose the posts are inaccurate and misleading:

  • Inaccurate.  Ryan did not vote to eliminate funding of ALS research. Rather he voted to reduce federal funding for the National Institutes of Health, which resulted in federal funding for ALS research being reduced from $44 million to $39 million.
  • Misleading.  It is not hypocritical for a conservative politicians to decline spending taxpayer money on charitable/altruistic activities while privately spending their personal money on those activities. To the contrary, that is entirely consistent with their personal and political philosophy. Liberal politicians, on the other hand, are noted for their quick willingness to spend taxpayer money on good causes, but exceptionally reluctant to devote their personal assets to those causes.

The happy ending? Thanks to Paul Ryan and other participants, over $30 million has been raised by the Ice Bucket Challenge, more than enough to offset any reductions in federal spending.

p.s., as of August 28, the Challenge has raised almost $100 million.

March 16, 2014

Dog whistling

Filed under: Culture,Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:34 pm
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Several months ago, a liberal Facebook friend started criticizing politicians for communicating with a dog whistle.  Although the term first came into use in 1988 in the context of political polling, it only recently came to be oft used by liberals to disparage conservative messages as racist or homophobic.  A couple of definitions from two of my favorite resources:

  • The Urban Dictionary defines this term as “a type of strategy of communication that sends a message that the general population will take a certain meaning from, but a certain group that is ‘in the know’ will take away the secret, intended message.”
  • Wikipedia describes dog-whistle politics as “political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is only used as a pejorative, because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the dog-whistle messages are frequently themselves distasteful, for example by empathizing with racist or revolutionary attitudes. It is an analogy to dog whistles, which are built in such a way that their high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs, but is inaudible to humans.”

An article in Politico today provides a perfect example of a conservative politician being attacked by liberals for being racist based on comments that seem unassailable.  Former Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan said the following about one of America’s greatest problems:

  • “The Wisconsin Republican and self-styled budget wonk linked poverty to ‘this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.’”

But Politico does not think the statement is unassailable:

  • “Setting aside the factual claim—the notion that poverty is especially concentrated in America’s inner cities is an increasingly antiquated one—these comments elicited a quick and forceful rebuke from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who decried them as ‘a thinly veiled racial attack.’ She explained: ‘[W]hen Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’”

Let’s not set aside the factual claim.  Politico provides a link to a NY Times article that ostensibly refutes the factual claim, but for readers those who take the time to go to the link, they will find an article that states the following:

  • “Few topics in American society have more myths and stereotypes surrounding them than poverty, misconceptions that distort both our politics and our domestic policy making.  They include the notion that poverty affects a relatively small number of Americans, that the poor are impoverished for years at a time, that most of those in poverty live in inner cities, that too much welfare assistance is provided and that poverty is ultimately a result of not working hard enough. Although pervasive, each assumption is flat-out wrong.”

If you read closely, you will see that the Times says nothing contrary to poverty being especially concentrated in America’s inner cities.  This is the same sort of argument made about the food-stamp president.  Just as there are more whites than blacks on food stamps, there is more white poverty than black poverty.  But food stamps and poverty are clearly more concentrated with minorities.

When the critics say that “inner city” is a code word for “black,” I admit that most people think that most inner cities are populated by mostly minorities.  So?  Most people don’t think most black people live in inner cities.

Ryan is talking about something different than poverty alone.  Rather, he is talking about a subset of impoverished people who are surrounded by or immersed in a hopeless culture where men generally do not work.  Ryan suggests that this problem is especially bad in the inner cities, and if the critics can provide any other segment of society that is similarly afflicted, then I will listen.

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 12, 2012

The Ryan-Biden debate

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:11 am
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I think Joe Biden won the debate because he was the most presidential, which is supposed to be the number-one factor in selecting a vice president.  Yes, Ryan is better qualified than his predecessor Sarah Palin, but his inexperience vis-à-vis Biden was obvious.  And moderator Martha Raddatz exacerbated Ryan’s weakness by centering the debate on foreign policy, where Ryan is particularly weak and Biden is especially strong.  On most subjects, Biden seemed to be talking from the heart while Ryan tried to regurgitate Romney talking points.  Even with entitlement reforms, Ryan is too much of a wonk to effectively sell the reform. 

Both candidates tended to ignore the Raddatz’s questions to get to their talking points, but only Biden had enough listening skills to call the other guy on it.  If you think Barack Obama’s debating skills were rusty, you should know that Ryan reportedly hasn’t debated for eight years.

Why is it that Bush-41, McCain, and Romney say they wanted a vice president who could become president on day one, and then pick someone who clearly isn’t ready for prime time?  Obama didn’t make that mistake, and neither did Reagan or Bush-43?      

Aside from asking too many foreign-policy questions, I think Raddatz did an excellent job as moderator.  She gave the candidates a chance to sell themselves (as did Jim Lehrer), and one of them was a better salesman than the other.

September 10, 2012

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan make news this Sunday

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:17 am
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Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan made some news this morning on the Sunday morning talk shows.  While on Meet the Press, Romney reaffirmed that he planned to replace ObamaCare with something better instead of merely repealing it and returning to the status quo.  His comments caused a stir, however, when he suggested that his replacement of ObamaCare would include coverage for pre-existing conditions and older children. 

The media has often pointed out that both of these provisions in ObamaCare are popular with most voters and repealing them would be problematic.  Thus, Romney’s support for them is not surprising.  What is surprising, however, is how Romney has developed positions that retain the provisions while remaining consistent with conservative principles.

With respect to pre-existing conditions, as pointed out by Sarah Kliff in Ezra Klein’s blog, Romney’s longstanding position is that people with pre-existing conditions should be able to move from one insurance company to another.  Such portability is already in effect with employee health insurance, and Romney is merely extending the practice to private health insurance.  Significantly, Romney’s proposal does not require insurance companies to provide insurance to uninsured individuals with pre-existing conditions, and he thereby avoids the need for the individual mandate in ObamaCare, which was developed to prevent individuals from going without insurance until they became sick or injured. 

Romney’s proposal appears willing to allow individuals the right to live without health insurance, and that is consistent with conservatives’ understanding of liberty.  Furthermore, a federal requirement on portability does not offend the Interstate Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

Romney’s second endorsement of an ObamaCare provision involves its coverage for older children.  ObamaCare famously required that family health insurance extend to dependents up to the age of 27.  I haven’t seen any news reports on this comment, but I noted that during the Meet the Press interview that Romney referred to the free market.  According to an MSNBC transcript, he said – “… to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they may like.”  Thus, he seems to be suggesting that insurance companies would be able to charge extra premium for the extra coverage, which contrasts with the coverage under ObamaCare that often comes without an additional premium.  As with pre-existing conditions, Romney’s position is consistent with conservative sensibilities.

Paul Ryan’s comment on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that caused a stir resulted from a question about whether he agreed with all of the Republican presidential candidates who said during a debate that they would reject a budget compromise comprising ten parts of budget cuts and one part of tax increases.  Romney was one of those candidates who rejected the compromise, so it should have been automatic for Ryan to defend that position (even though the moderate middle ridicules it).  But he didn’t.  Instead Ryan attempted to articulate a nuanced position by declaring that the initial question, with its focus on proportionality, was flawed – “… it depends on the quality of the agreement.  It depends on the quality of the policy. … what really matters to me is not ratios — but what matters is the quality of the policy.”  This sort of elaboration is rarely helpful and should be avoided in the future. 

The New York Times noted today that, “A television interview with Mitt Romney seemed to mark the emergence of a less openly partisan, more general-election-oriented Republican nominee.”  Because I am hopeful that Romney will govern from the middle right, I believe this shift in tone is a good thing.

August 11, 2012

Paul Ryan – VP

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 4:23 am
Tags: ,

According to news reports, Mitt Romney will announce tomorrow that he has selected Paul Ryan as his VP nominee.  Intrade.com has him listed as a 90% probability. 

If I were Romney, I would make the same selection.  Although Ryan is a career politician, having been elected to Congress at the age of 28 after working in Congress for a few years and has minimal foreign-policy credentials, he has the budgetary expertise and the integrity that will be invaluable in balancing the budget.  In 2010 he bravely proposed legislation to reform both Medicare (privatize with premium support) and Medicaid (block grants), which resulted in him being cast him as the villain in negative Democratic ads pushing a grandmother over a cliff.    

In reading Ryan’s profile on Wikipedia, I was disappointed to learn that, although he expressed admiration early in his career toward the inspirational Ayn Rand, he later disavowed that admiration and shifted toward the politically correct Thomas Aquinas, which is more appropriate for a politician, especially a Catholic one.   

Come on, Paul, be true to yourself.

August 3, 2011

The Mack-Penny Plan

Talk-show commentator Sean Hannity is hawking the Mack-Penny Plan (a/k/a “The One Percent Spending Reduction Act”) as a conservative response to the Boehner-Reid debt-ceiling compromise, which Hannity deems totally inadequate.  Hannity loves the Mack-Penny Plan because it is so simple – i.e., if we cut federal spending by 1% a year for six years and then plateau spending at 18% of GDP, the budget will be balanced in eight years.

Well, Sean, it’s not as simple as you think.

The Mack-Penny Plan was authored by Florida congressman Connie Mack IV (namesake great-grandson of a former baseball player, manager, and owner; son of former Senator Connie Mack; and husband of Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack).  The Plan has the support of Young Turk Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio as well as 43 congressmen.  Recently on the “Morning Joe” TV show, Mack defended his
plan by saying, “The American people . .. they want a solution to the debt and deficit problem, not more gimmicks and schemes.”

But the Mack-Penny Plan is nothing but a gimmick.

Sean Hannity grilled House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan yesterday about his support of the Boehner-Reid compromise and complained that the cuts in the compromise were not real cuts, but rather were merely cuts in projected increases.  By way of contrast, Hannity recommended that Ryan give serious consideration to Mack-Penny Plan because it called for real cuts.

Congressman Ryan attempted to explain to Hannity that (a) the Boehner-Reid compromise included unprecedented real cuts to discretionary spending and (b) the Mack-Penny Plan was misleadingly simple because it failed to explain how America was going to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid spending (which is 60% of the budget) by 1% a year at a time when Baby Boomers are beginning to retire, all Americans are living longer, and medical-care inflation is around 6% a year.

There’s a reason that government spending is projected to increase by 7-8% a year, and only a simpleton would say that it is a simple matter to reduce government spending by 1% a year.

May 27, 2011

Right-wing social engineering

Congressman Paul Ryan has proposed reforming Medicare into a program that provides senior citizens a voucher to buy private medical
coverage (so-called RyanCare) instead of directly providing unlimited government coverage.  Newt Gingrich recently created some controversy by suggesting that RyanCare was “radical right-wing social engineering.”

My response was, huh?  What is radical about this proposal?  My former employer, USAA, has a reputation for providing a top-of-the-line benefits package, but even USAA had to reform its medical coverage a few years ago to control the skyrocketing medical costs, and its reform is very similar to RyanCare.  Prior to the reform, USAA had historically paid for 90% of its employees’ health insurance premium, with the employees paying the remaining 10%.  After the reform, USAA promised to continue paying 90%, but only up to a certain amount.  If the cost of premiums continued to hyper-inflate, employee would be required to contribute a larger percentage.

The USAA reform made sense because an employer cannot assume unlimited liability for costs that it can’t control.  Ditto for Medicare.  Yes, everyone – government, medical providers, employers, and employees – needs to be working toward controlling the cost of medical care, but that is a separate matter from maintaining fiscally responsible insurance – whether employee health insurance or Medicare.

Gingrich suggested that RyanCare was not only radical, but also right-wing social engineering?  That suggestion was especially jarring because I had never heard the terms right-wing and social engineering used together.  I had only heard the term “social engineering” used in reaction to left-wing, nanny-state big government trying to convert Americans to a commune way of life.  Thus, I needed to do some research.

My research revealed that social engineering is an attempt to influence popular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale.  Usually the term refers to government action, but it can apply as well to private groups.  Social engineering is not inherently negative, but because of its usage
in the political arena, it has come to have a negative connotation.  Technically, all government laws – such as prohibitions against murder, DUI, theft, and littering – are social engineering.  Governments also engage routinely in social engineering through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy.

Conservatives and libertarians often claim that their opponents (the liberals) are engaged in social engineering, and that makes sense because liberals prefer a muscular government while conservatives and libertarians prefer a muscular private society.  But even liberals complain of social
engineering when it comes to prayer in school, abstinence-only sex education, and the English-only movement.

But getting back to Newt Gingrich, how is it social engineering to convert Medicare from an unlimited financial obligation to a limited voucher system?  It isn’t, and I think Newt admitted as much last week when he was questioned on Face the Nation.

NEWT GINGRICH: No, I’m just saying. If you listen to [host David Gregory’s] words, he doesn’t say how do you feel about Paul Ryan?  I like Paul Ryan.  Didn’t even say how do you feel about Ryan’s budget?   I would have voted for Ryan’s budget.  He said should Republicans pass an unpopular plan?   And I made the mistake of accepting his premise.  I wasn’t referring to Ryan.  I was referring to a general principle.  We, the people, should not have Washington impose large-scale change on us…. my context was we Republicans have to go to the country, we have to explain what we’re trying to accomplish to save Medicare, how we would save Medicare.  The country has to have time, the American people have to have time to ask us questions, to modify the plan if necessary, to get to a point where people are comfortable with it and that was my point.  I– I probably used unfortunate language about social engineering. But my point was really a larger one that neither party should impose on the American people something that they are deeply opposed to.

That passage seems to suggest that Newt didn’t want the Republicans to ram RyanCare down the public’s throat like the Democrats did with ObamaCare.  Fair enough.  But he sure made a mess of it by misusing the term “radical right-wing social engineering.”

May 25, 2011

Hypocrital politicians or a double standard

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about Newt Gingrich’s imploding campaign for the presidency and suggested that he had committed two sins – (1) he demagogued Congressman Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare financing, and (2) he had a revolving charge account for several hundred thousand dollars with Tiffany’s jewelry store.  Although the first sin would appear to be a mortal sin while the second only a venial sin, that would be overlooking the longstanding practice in America of holding conservatives to a higher standard.

There is a tendency of conservatives to accuse the liberal media of creating a double standard – one for liberals and another for conservatives – and there might be some basis for this accusation because conservative sinners are routinely labeled as hypocrites whereas liberals are labeled as merely fallible.  For example, this week’s Time magazine included a “Misconduct Matrix” of leading politicians, and the “Massively Hypocritical” section contained six conservatives (Gingrich, Schwarzenegger, Craig, Thomas, Ensign, and Haggard) and only two liberals (Spitzer and Edwards).  By contrast, the “Just Plain Stupid” section contained no conservatives and four liberals (Clinton, Kennedy, and Hart).

But I think the more important reason for the double standard is that conservative voters demand more from their politicians than do liberal voters.  When Newt argued on “Face the Nation” that his jewelry purchases were a personal matter, the media would be forced to accept that unless it were willing to pursue this information from all candidates.  But that doesn’t mean that conservative voters have to accept it.  This issue resonates and the damage has been done regardless of Newt attempting to say the subject is off-limits.

Although I don’t remember Nixon’s “Checker’s” speech in 1952, I have read about it, and it provides a how-to guide for conservatives dealing with charges of hypocrisy from liberals.  Nixon had been elected to the Senate in 1950, and his campaign team decided to campaign continuously for his re-election in 1956.  To pay for these campaign activities, Nixon set up a fund that accepted large contributions ($1,000) from sixteen rich benefactors.

The fund was legal, and Nixon took the additional precaution of not being told who the benefactors were, but that didn’t stop his opponents from arguing that the fund was morally wrong and that a Senator who campaigned on returning integrity to the Senate shouldn’t be taking money from others so that he could live above his means.

Shortly after the existence of the fund was leaked to the press, there was an avalanche of criticism that threatened Nixon’s recently secured place on Eisenhower’s presidential ticket.  Nixon’s campaign was met with posters that read, “Pat, what are you going to do with the bribe money?” and “No Mink Coats for Nixon — Just Cold Cash.”

Unlike Gingrich, Nixon decided to meet the issue head-on.  He gave a speech to the nation that was heard by 60 million Americans.  In the speech, he said that none of the money in the fund was spent for personal use and there were no mink coats for the Nixons.  He was “proud of the fact that Pat Nixon wears a good Republican cloth coat, and she’s going to continue to.”  The only gift for personal use was a puppy by the name of Checkers for his daughters, and Nixon was keeping him.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Newt has as good an answer to give.  He seems to like buying expensive jewelry, and most frugal people would accept a vendor’s standard offer to accept payment over time with no charged interest.  Neither of these acts is particularly sinful, but together they are a lethal combination for a conservative politician.  RIP Newt.

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