Mike Kueber's Blog

March 7, 2015

Critical thinking – racial discrimination in San Antonio and Ferguson

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Media — Mike Kueber @ 2:04 pm
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Following up on my recent post about logic and critical thinking, this week’s media reporting included two glaring examples of failing to use the aforementioned abilities.  The first, an article in the San Antonio Express-News, suggested that racial bias was behind the fact that a disproportionate percentage of blacks and Latinos were suspended from school in San Antonio and Bexar County.

  • “Among racial groups, in the 19 school districts that are all or partly in Bexar County, black students are far fewer in numbers, but about 15 percent of them were suspended out of school in the 2011-12 school year, compared to 10 percent of all Latino students and 5 percent of white students.”
  • “The findings ‘bring up civil rights issues,’ said Daniel J. Losen, the center’s director and the report’s principal author. ‘We know from studying the data that suspensions are strong indicators of lower academic achievement and higher numbers of dropouts. It doesn’t help anyone much, from what we can tell.’”

I comment as follows to the author of the article:

  • Francisco, your article seems to suggest that the disproportionate suspensions of blacks and Latinos raise civil-rights issues. If that is your point, I think you (or your cited experts) should explain why this is causation, not mere correlation. Further, I don’t understand why the reported numbers don’t include Asian students. If suspensions are the converse of academic achievement, you would expect Asian students to be subjected to fewer suspensions.”

In addition to the causation-correlation delusion described in The Halo Effect, the article is also guilty of the delusion of single explanations. There is no attempt to consider other possible causes of the connection between racial status and school suspensions, such as academic achievement. The lazy writer simply makes an incendiary, politically-correct assertion.

The New York Times took a similar path in reporting on the Justice Departments findings about Ferguson policing.  In an article titled, “Racially Discriminatory Policing Was the Norm,” the Times dutifully reported the Justice Department findings:

  • Black people are two-thirds of Ferguson’s population, but from 2012 to 2014, they accounted for 85 percent of police traffic stops, 90 percent of citations issued, and 93 percent of arrests. The Municipal Court also treats blacks more harshly, according to the Justice Department’s findings. The harms of Ferguson’s police and court practices are borne disproportionately by African Americans, and there is evidence that this is due in part to intentional discrimination on the basis of race…. Our investigation has revealed that these disparities occur, at least in part, because of unlawful bias against and stereotypes about African Americans. We have found substantial evidence of racial bias among police and court staff in Ferguson. For example, we discovered emails circulated by police supervisors and court staff that stereotype racial minorities as criminals, including one email that joked about an abortion by an African-American woman being a means of crime control.”

Notice the skillful use, twice, of the qualifier, “at least in part.” Technically, this relieves the Times from the obligation to report on other, possibly more significant causes, outside of racism, for blacks to be involved with the Ferguson PD.   The actual Justice Department report, not the Times article, seems to consider and reject this possibility:

  • City officials have frequently asserted that the harsh and disparate results of Ferguson’s law enforcement system do not indicate problems with police or court practices, but instead reflect a pervasive lack of ‘personal responsibility’ among ‘certain segments’ of the community. Our investigation has found that the practices about which area residents have complained are in fact unconstitutional and unduly harsh. But the City’s personal-responsibility refrain is telling: it reflects many of the same racial stereotypes found in the emails between police and court supervisors. This evidence of bias and stereotyping, together with evidence that Ferguson has long recognized but failed to correct the consistent racial disparities caused by its police and court practices, demonstrates that the discriminatory effects of Ferguson’s conduct are driven at least in part by discriminatory intent in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Talk about conclusory, unsubstantiated allegations! And the ubiquitous, “at least in part.”

Of course, even if we can’t expect the media to report on complex issues of causation, we might hope that it discusses solutions. And the only obvious solution is that the system must be jury-rigged so that 13% of all school suspensions, nationwide, go to blacks, 17% go to Hispanics, and the remaining 70% go to others.  But I’m not sure that is the color-blind society that MLK dreamed of.

June 1, 2011


Filed under: Business,Culture — Mike Kueber @ 3:55 pm
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A recent article in the SA Express-News was descriptively titled “Smart Purchases for New Grads.”  Among the not-surprising items on the list
were renter’s insurance and a couple of quality suits.  But the first item on the list was surprising – going out for lunch.

The article doesn’t recommend taking friends to lunch, but rather it recommends taking senior colleagues, recruiters, or mentors at a previous employer.  According to one advisor, “It’s not written about much, but you can create so much more value in your career than putting $200 a month into your 401(k) is ever going to turn into.”

Although that last piece of advice is not appropriate for everyone (you should be able to find lunch money while still funding your 401(k)), I think that most people would benefit by considering these lunches of this type as an investment.

Personally, I’ve always been turned off by discussions about networking because the concept seems so phony.  In essence, you and another person pretend to be friends, when actually you are using each other for business purposes.  But the bottom line is that networking makes you not only more marketable, but also more effective.  And it hurts no one.

So, if you want to get ahead in business, disabuse yourself of the notion that networking is phony.  And start investing in lunch.

April 17, 2011

Horse-race reporting on the San Antonio City Council races

Earlier this week, I had business over at the Quarry, and during my drive I noticed streets lined with large, colorful political billboards.  Must be an election in the offing, I concluded.  Sure enough, an article in the SA Express-News yesterday did some horse-race reporting on the City Council races.   

FYI – “horse-race reporting” refers to reporting not on the substantive positions of the candidates, but instead on who is apparently winning.  If that weren’t bad enough, most local reporters don’t have access to polling that shows who is winning with voters, so instead they rely on money as a proxy for voters – i.e., whoever is raising the most money must be in the process of winning the voters.

There are, however, some limitations to the “money equal voters” theory.  For instance, one candidate, Carlton Soules, has raised most of his money from a personal loan, and the reporters don’t appear to consider Soules’ $75,000 as powerful as another candidate’s 59 contributions of $500 each or the $23k raised by one of their brethren, a retired reporter “who has been considered the shoo-in candidate.”  Considered the shoo-in by whom? 

Incidentally, those $500 contributions appear to be the maximum amount allowed by city ordinance, and the recipient of those 59 contributions, Ralph Medina, is a retired captain from the San Antonio Fire Department.  Do you remember the complaint in Wisconsin about how the public-employee unions controlled the politicians who determined the employees’ pay, benefits, and pensions?  Well, I suggest that electing Ralph Medina would be like putting a fox in the henhouse.  Our city’s police and fire departments already are paid so well that experienced police and fire personnel from all over try to find a position in San Antonio. 

An opponent of Medina, Gloria Rodriguez, argued implausibly that her small contributions were worth as much as Medina’s maximum contributions: 

  • My $25 contribution is just as important as some other $500 contribution,” she said. “It’s people who believe in you and want you elected.”

I agree that one vote is as good as another, and that is ultimately how you get elected.  But unfortunately money matters because voters choose to be controlled by big-money campaigns.  As long as money matters, (a) a candidate can do a lot more with $500 than you can with $25, and (b) elections will be controlled by those who expect to receive a return on their $500 investment.

Horce-race reporting like this actually defeats the purpose of campaign-finance disclosure laws.  Because raising boatloads of money is highly predictive of winning an election, the article serves to reward the money-grubbing politicians with favorable, free publicity.  Campaign-finance disclosure laws are intended to reveal “who” is giving “what” to “whom,” and the article should have focused on which special interests have decided to invest up to $500 to see a particular candidate win election to a part-time, nominal-paying job.  Those candidates should be tarred with their special interests, who surely are expecting a return on their investment.

January 12, 2011

Lawsuit lotteries – San Antonio style

Earlier this week I read about a lawsuit filed by band member Ricardo Vega against Tejano singer Emilio Navaira.  Navaira was .019 drunk when he wrecked the band’s tour bus and injured Vega.  The story interested me because I have always been opposed to lawsuit lotteries (plaintiffs rolling the dice with a hope of convincing a jury to reward them with an outrageous award), and according to the SA Express-News Navaira’s attorney Larry Goldman seemed to be betting that a San Antonio jury would not be complicit in such a travesty: 

  • It isn’t about punishment. It’s about greed. It’s about [Brownsville] lawyers wanting blood money in this case,” he said, accusing the plaintiff’s attorneys of asking for an absurd amount in hopes of getting a fraction of it. “Remember, this is real money that we’re talking about. This is not a lottery system.”  He suggested jurors send a different message: That San Antonio isn’t Brownsville, which has a reputation for high-dollar personal injury rewards.

Yesterday, the San Antonio jury delivered justice.  The plaintiff had asked for almost $1 million, consisting of $41k for medical expenses, $25k for a scar, $125k for past physical impairment, $300k for pain & suffering, and $500k for punitive damages.  The jury found that Navaira was grossly negligent, which justifies punitive damages, but awarded only $94k, consisting of $41k for medical expenses, $15k for past impairment, $17k for pain & suffering, and $20k for punitive damages.

San Antonio jury – thank you for your service.

October 25, 2010

Assimilation vs. multi-culturalism

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 7:07 pm
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I have a friend, Sakina Hassonjee, who emigrated from India to Staten Island when she was 13-years old.  She subsequently went to college at NYU and law school at Brooklyn Law.  After a few years working in Chicago for Allstate, she found her way to San Antonio and USAA because her sister’s family lived here. 

This past weekend, Sakina invited me to an event for Diwali, which is a five-day Hindu celebration.  The event was presented by the India Association of San Antonio (IASA) at the majestic Scottish Rite Auditorium and consisted of 30 performances, mostly dancing with some singing.  The performers were primarily children of all ages dressed in traditional, dressy Hindu garb.  The women in the audience were similarly dressed, while the men had the option of wearing Hindu garb (much more casual looking than female garb) or a coat & tie.  A few went western casual. 

While I was watching the performances, I thought of a recent column in the SA Express-News that suggested America needs to think about its process for assimilation of immigrants.  The author, Esther J. Cepeda, who seemed to favor robust immigration, acknowledged that, although assimilation has a negative connotation, it was still to be preferred over multi-culturalism.  http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/nurturing_melting_pot_key_to_immigration_issue_105387488.html.  I wondered whether Diwali and IASA were consistent with assimilation or multi-culturalism.

San Antonio probably has the largest assimilation problem of any major American city because of its large Hispanic population and its proximity to Mexico.  By contrast, the assimilation of Indians fits typical historical patterns of immigration.  Sociologists evaluate the assimilation of immigrants based on four factors: socioeconomic status, geographical distribution, second language attainment, and intermarriage. 

Based on my personal observations in San Antonio, Hispanic immigrants who are here legally seem to be making a lot of progress toward assimilation; illegal immigrants, not so much.  Americans are open and welcoming to those newcomers who want to be a part of this great country.  The problem with illegal immigrants is that they, by necessity, must live in the shadows as second-class residents.  This causes distrust and resentment between those here legally and those here illegally.  

Based on my experience with Diwali and IASA, they are not an obstacle to assimilation by Indians in America.  Indians already have a huge head start toward assimilation because so many of them speak English.  Although the songs at Diwali 2010 were sung in Hindi, virtually all of the speech was in English.  Although Indians may tend to cluster in some parts of town, they are already geographically distributed widely throughout SA.  Because many Indians are highly educated, they already populate the middle and upper classes.  Like Hispanics, Indian parents generally prefer intra-marriage, but this is more of an obstacle for Indians because they are more deferential to their parents than Hispanics are.

Getting back to Esther Cededa’s column – San Antonio is showing that America can avoid the multi-culturalism that afflicts Europe, especially if we avoid regressing into a welfare state.  Free enterprise is the principle that units us – immigrants and native born.

September 21, 2010

Using signs in political campaigns

 Last week, the local paper published an article on the (mis)use of large signs in political campaigns.  http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/election_signs_serious_business_103220994.html.  The article wasn’t concerned with yard signs, but rather with large 4’ x 6’ signs that are plastered along major streets in San Antonio.  According to the article, these signs are like weeds in more ways than one – they spring up everywhere, especially places where the landowners don’t want them.

Earlier this year, several people criticized my congressional campaign for failing to use political signs, and I told them that my non-sign strategy was both practical and principled.  As a practical matter, signs cost a lot of money and both of my campaigning books – Winning Your Election the Wellstone Way and How to Win a Local Election – advised that signs were generally ineffective.  As a matter of principle, signs insult a voter’s intelligence because they provide no substantive information. 

I suspect, however, that my campaign books provided their advice because of principle instead of practice.  Actual experience in San Antonio suggests that signs are effective.  Because there are a multitude of low-visibility races and low-cost campaigns in which the voters are exposed to minimal substantive information, the only thing the voters may know about a contest is a name they saw on some signs.  If the signs weren’t effective, candidates would stop spending money on them. 

If I ever run for office again, I will reconsider using highway signs because they will earn some votes, but I would rather leave that campaign technique to those who try to buy an election victory.

August 4, 2010

Affirmative action at UT-Austin

Last week, I posted a blog entry about the death knell for affirmative action.  https://mkueber001.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/death-knell-for-affirmative-action/.  The entry was prompted by a prominent Democratic senator concluding that the practice did more harm than good.  This week, there are additional news reports about conservatives waging a frontal assault against this pernicious practice at the University of Texas at Austin. 

The news reports describe a federal lawsuit by Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz brought after they were denied admission to UT’s undergraduate school.  Fisher v. State of Texas.  Their lawsuit reveals that UT stopped giving preference to African-Americans and Hispanics in 1997 following the Hopwood decision in the 5th Circuit and then promptly resumed the preferential treatment in 2004 after Hopwood was repudiated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger.

UT’s post-Grutter affirmative-action program attempted to find “safe harbor” in that decision by designing the program that works much like the Michigan program approved in Grutter – i.e., there are no quotas or specific points given for minority status, but rather many general factors are considered along with race in a “holistic” review of the entire person.  An overview of the UT admissions equation is as follows:

  • Admission is based on a combination of an Academic Index or AI (grades and test scores) and Personal Achievement Index (PAI).  The PAI consists of two essays and a Personal Achievement Score (PAS), with the PAS counting more than the combined score for the essays.  The PAS consists of a holistic review of leadership, extracurricular, work, awards, service, and special circumstances.  Special circumstances consist of a holistic review of the family’s socio-economic status, school’s socio-economic status, family responsibilities, single-parent home, English as 2nd language, SAT compared to school’s average, and race. 

The plaintiffs in the Fisher lawsuit have at least two ingenious arguments to attack UT’s Grutter-based defense:

  1. Top-10% is working.  Prior to the Grutter decision, the UT administration was continually extolling the virtues and success of the state’s Top-10% law, which required UT to admit any students who finished in the Top-10% of their graduating class.  According to the administrators, minority representation at UT has actually increased post-Hopwood because of the 10% law and improved outreach.  Thus, race-neutral actions had succeeded, affirmative action was not needed. 
  2. Critical mass.  The main rationale in Grutter for allowing race-based discrimination is to enable colleges to enroll a “critical mass” of minorities.  The plaintiffs in Fisher argue that the current 20% student-population for minorities at UT has achieved the critical-mass objective.  Furthermore, UT has failed to define what percentages amount to a critical mass, which reveals that UT has no exit strategy from affirmative action, something that is required by Grutter.

On August 17, 2009, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled against the plaintiffs and in favor of UT.  He based his ruling on the fact that, if he accepted the plaintiffs’ argument that the race-neutral 10% rule solves the problem, then the Supreme Court in the Grutter decision would have required Michigan to a adopt a 10% rule.  I disagree with that argument because the Supreme Court in Grutter didn’t have the UT’s statistical information.  Furthermore, the effectiveness of the 10% rule is likely to vary from state to state, based on each state’s demographics. 

Sparks also concluded that the search for a critical mass did not prevent a university from giving preference to one minority (Hispanics) and not to another (Asians) even though there were more Hispanics than Asians attending the university.  This conclusion was based on the fact that Hispanics were “underrepresented,” while Asians were not.  I disagree because having an objective of a “critical mass” for educational purposes is completely different from having each race adequately represented based on their population in the state, which is actually what Texas is trying to do and which isn’t authorized by Grutter.       

The plaintiffs have appealed Judge Sparks’s decision and earlier this week, the appeal was argued to a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.  An article in the SA Express-News reported that the questioning by the judges didn’t clearly favor either side and that a decision isn’t expected for several months.

Although my previous blog entry expressed hope that affirmative action was coming to an end, it can’t be soon enough.  Despite the apparent insignificance of race in UT’s admissions equation, the practical fact is that the race/ethnicity plays a huge role in determining admission to UT-Austin.  In the class entering UT in 2007:

                                    SAT    PGPA (top 10%)       PGPA (non-top-10%)

Anglos                          1275                3.25                             2.95

Hispanics                    1135                2.70                             2.47

African-Americans      1075                2.65                             2.42

What is equal about that?

July 20, 2010

Is San Antonio ready for public financing of political campaigns?

Several weeks ago, there was a column in the SA Express-News endorsing the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA), a bill in Congress that provides for public financing of congressional campaigns.  The premise of the FENA is that the corrupting influence of money in politics will be reduced by public financing of campaigns.  Because I agree wholeheartedly with this premise, I wrote to my congressman Ciro Rodriguez urging him to support the bill.  Rodriguez responded with a lengthy description of the bill, but failed to indicate whether he would support it.  (See his response attached below.)

The issue of public financing of campaigns was fading from my radar until I saw an article in the NYTimes about NYC’s Campaign Finance Program.  The article prompted an obvious question – why not adopt public financing of campaigns for local elections in San Antonio?  Voters in San Antonio are so cynical about corruption in city government that they have adopted a draconian term-limits ordinance.  Although this has helped some, there is still a prevailing view that people with money have too much influence in San Antonio government.  Public financing of political campaigns would potentially minimize that influence.

How does the NYC program differ from the federal proposal?  Qualifying in NYC is much less onerous.  Whereas the federal proposal requires 1,500 in-state contributions of no more than $100 each for a total of at least $50k, the NYC program requires only 75 in-district contributors of no more than $175 for a total of at least $5,000.  The federal payout to the campaign is also much larger – $360k for a primary, $540k for a general election, plus $4 for every dollar raised above $50k.  By comparison, the NYC program pays candidates $6 for every $1 of qualifying contributions, up to a maximum of $92.4k in public financing and $168k total campaign spending.  Both programs allow non-qualifying contributions above the $100/$175 qualifying caps.  The NYC program seems clearly preferable for two reasons:

  1. Accessibility.  The qualification requirements of the NYC program enable candidates without broad-based, well-organized campaigns to benefit from public financing.  Because of the onerous requirements in the federal proposal, the rich will get richer and the poor will be marginalized even more. 
  2. Controlling spending.  The NYC program attempts to control the costs of campaigns by limiting participating candidates to absolute maximums, whereas the federal proposal merely sweetens the pot without placing any absolute maximums.   

While researching the NYC program, I learned that two states – Maine and Arizona – have more than a decade of experience with public financing of campaigns and that two cities – Albuquerque, NM and Portland, OR – have experience with public financing since 2005.  All four of these jurisdictions have adopted what is generally called “Clean Elections” systems.  Under a generic Clean Elections system, candidates wishing to receive public financing must collect a certain number of small qualifying contributions, usually $5, from registered voters. In return, the candidates are paid a flat sum by the government to run their campaigns, and they agree not to raise money from private sources.  The following is a thumbnail description of each jurisdiction:

  • Maine adopted its Maine Clean Election Act via voter initiative in 1996.  Legislative candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 60 voters in a state rep’s district and 175 for a senator.  The total payout to the campaign equals the average campaign costs in the two previous elections.  The qualifying period is more than three months and there is a $100-contribution limit on seed money to assist in collecting contributions, up to a total of $500 for state reps and $1,500 for senators. 
  • Arizona adopted its Citizen’s Clean Election Act via a voter initiative in 1998.  Legislative candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 220 voters.  A qualified candidate is entitled to $14,319 in the primary and $21,479 in the general election – approx. 20×1.  Seed money is limited to a total of $3,580, with $140 per contribution and $640 for a personal contribution.
  • Albuquerque, NM adopted its Open and Ethical Election system in 2005.  Candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 1% of the registered voters in their district during a 45-day window.  In the mayoral contest, a candidate would need to obtain $5 contributions from 3,280 registered voters and then would receive $328,000 for the campaign.  Essentially the public financing is 20×1. 
  • Portland, OR adopted its Voter-Owned Elections system in 2005.  Candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 1,000 registered voters.  They are also allowed to collect seed money of up to $100 ($20k total).  Qualified candidates receive $200,000 (less their seed money and qualifying contributions) for their campaign – 40×1.  The qualifying period is over four months long.

From the four jurisdictions with Clean Election laws, we can glean that qualifying contributions of $5 seems to be a good number.  For some reason, the two cities require a relatively high number of qualifying contributions (around 1% of the voters), whereas the two states require a more attainable number.  All the systems place an absolute cap on the total amount of spending allowed, and private money plays no role except as “seed money.”  The amount of the cap seems to depend on the cost of communications in the jurisdiction.

How would public financing work in San Antonio.  Currently, the only campaign restrictions in SA are contribution limits of $500 for council positions and $1,000 for mayor.  The municipal code provides the following objective for these limits:

  • “It is essential in a democratic system that the public has confidence in the integrity, independence, and impartiality of those who are elected to act on their behalf in government. There is a public perception that a relationship exists between substantial contributions and access to elected officials. To diminish the perceived or actual connection between contributions and influence, the City adopts this Campaign Finance Code to promote public confidence and, it is hoped, a greater degree of citizen participation in the electoral process.”

Although the $500 limit on contributions to council elections avoids the most egregious forms of political corruption, there can be no question that lowering the contribution limit to $5 would truly level the playing field.  The main issue is whether the number of required contributions should be set (a) high so that only broad-based, well-organized campaigns can qualify for public financing or (b) low so that new, unknown candidates are encouraged to enter the arena.  Because the latter is clearly preferable, I suggest a threshold of only .5% of the registered voters, which would be about 300 contributors for a council district in San Antonio.  (I collected 600 signatures in 60 days to get on the 23rd Congressional district ballot, and that was no mean feat even without a $5 contribution.) 

The second most important issue is to establish a maximum amount that a campaign is authorized to spend.  According to 18-month campaign finance filings by SA’s current council members, their campaign spending varies significantly from district to district – from a low of $16k in District 5 to a high of $58k in District 1, with an average of about $40k.  From this we can conclude that $45k is enough to run an adequate campaign.  If we were to allow candidates to collect up to 600 $5 contributions, and then match each contribution with public financing of $70, a campaign could have a total of $45k when combining public financing and $5 contributions.        

This is a winning plan that I will present to the Council for their consideration.  I will also need to follow-up with Ciro to suggest that, although public financing is a good idea, the federal Fair Elections Now Act is seriously flawed.

Ciro’s responsive email

Ciro provided me with the following lengthy response, but didn’t really take a position:

Dear Mr. Kueber:

Thank you for your support of H.R. 1826, the Fair Elections Now Act. I appreciate your comments and I am pleased to respond to your inquiry.

The Fair Elections Now Act was introduced by Rep John B. Larson (D-CT) on March 31, 2009. This legislation amends the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA). The purpose of H.R.1826 is to encourage federal candidates to run for office without depending on big donors for contribution. This will limit influence on elected officials as well as limit “political paybacks.” Furthermore, this will encourage candidates to seek support from their communities, and pay attention to the needs of their community.

In brief, the bill would create a Fair Election Fund to match small contributions of less than $100 from individuals in their state.  Qualified candidates would receive Fair Elections funding in the primary, and if they win, in their general election at a level to run a competitive campaign.

Please be assured that I understand the importance of curbing campaign contributions from corporations, which may lead to an unfair election process. It is imperative to hold lawmakers accountable to the American people. The citizens of this country should be able to trust the integrity of the Houses of Representatives and their elected officials.  This act attempts to address these concerns. 

H.R. 1826 has been referred to the House Committees on Energy & Commerce, Administration, and Ways & Means of which several committee hearings have been held. Although I do not sit on those committees, should the H.R. 1826 come up in the House for a vote, I will keep your concerns in mind. Again, thank you for your comments regarding this issue. If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact my office.    


Ciro D. Rodriguez

Member of Congress

July 15, 2010

Consultants are a luxury the Republican Party can’t afford

In his book Real Change, Newt Gingrich asserted that the Republican Party lost power in the late 1990’s because its leaders were held captive by a swarm of consultants.  According to Gingrich, the consultants (a) led Republican leaders toward safe positions that would play well during the next election cycle, and (b) steered them away from fresh, original ideas that might require some cultivation.  Based on recent developments, Gingrich’s advice is not being heeded.

I had first-hand experience with this concept in my five-person Republican primary earlier this year.  The two candidates with a lot of money to spend spent a lot of that money on consultants even before the rest of us started campaigning.  (Canseco spent over $40,000 and Hurd spent over $30,000.)  When the campaign got going on the ground, I was struck by the similarity of the Canseco and Hurd positions.  In fact, I couldn’t detect any significant difference of opinion (other than term limits, which Hurd couldn’t support because he was only 32 years old, and district residency, which Canseco couldn’t support because he wasn’t a resident).  Even more revealing was their practice of evading tough questions by giving vague, similar responses.  By contrast, the other three candidates took positions that sometimes deviated from Republican orthodoxy and felt obligated to directly answer direct questions.

Today, there was article in the New York Times relating to the extreme reliance on consultants.  The article suggested that Republican Meg Whitman, a billionaire running for governor in California, had given $1 million to Mike Murphy, a popular Republican consultant, to prevent him from consulting for Steve Poizner, Whitman’s main rival.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/12/us/politics/12whitman.html?hpw.  The NYT article went on to say that this practice of buying up consultants is not a novel political tactic, as NYC’s Republican mayor/billionaire Michael Bloomberg commonly retained consultants whom he didn’t need, but didn’t want consulting against him. 

This practice goes beyond politics.  As an insurance-company lawyer, I heard about defendant-corporations who would place the leading attorneys in a small town on retainer as soon as it learned that the small town was the site of important litigation, not because they were going to use the lawyers, but because they wanted to prevent the other side from using them.  And in college football many years ago, the strong teams like UT-Austin would give scholarships to players they didn’t need, just to keep them from playing for rival teams like the Texas Aggies.  College football corrected their problem by limiting how many scholarships a team could give.  Unfortunately, campaign finance is not as amenable to such simple reform. 

A major part of the problem is that some players (candidates or corporations) have virtually unlimited resources to spend on something that they deem to be critical.  An article in the SA Express-News today reported that Sarah Palin’s PAC (SarahPac) had received and spent almost $1 million in the last quarter.  http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/FEC_filing_shows_Palin_gave_87500_to_candidates_98231109.html.  I reviewed the filing and determined that she paid the following consultants in the first six months of this year:

  • Orion Strategies, Washington, DC                 $40,000
  • NorthStar Strategies, Alexandria, VA            $75,000
  • IzzyLene Consulting, Anchorage, AK           $22,500
  • True North L’Attitudes, Anchorage, AK       $10,833.33
  • Aries Petra Consulting, Woodbridge, VA      $28,000
  • Grey Strategies, Columbus, OH                     $45,000
  • Andrew Davis, Sacramento, CA                    $30,000
  • Pamela Pryor, Arlington, VA                         $30,000
  • Kim Daniels, Bethesda, MD                           $26,000
  • 338 Industries, Austin, TX                             $1,500
  • Callisto Consulting, Millville, NJ                    $8,000

Why does Sarah Palin need to consult with so many consultants?  The SarahPac website says it is dedicated to “supporting fresh ideas…  By supporting SarahPac, you will allow Gov. Palin to help find and create solutions for America’s most pressing problems.”  I wonder if Sarah’s contributors know that their money is going to a bunch of Beltway bobble-heads.  By turning to consultants for fresh, creative, original ideas, Sarah is obviously not heeding Newt’s advice – i.e., consultants are a luxury the Republican Party cannot afford.

American values

American immigration policy for over a century has included limits on the number of people allowed to immigrate.  Part of the objective of that policy is to keep the numbers of immigrants low enough to allow for assimilation to American values.  In response to this objective, a reader of SA Express-News recently suggested that there is no distinct American culture and that the only distinctive American value is to support and defend the U.S. Constitution.  That struck me as too simplistic.  Although the Constitution establishes our form of government – i.e., a democratic republic that is significantly restricted by individual liberty – there are certainly distinguishing American values that are not described in the Constitution. 

What are America’s values?  One of the Internet’s most popular lists was developed by Robin Williams, Jr. in 1970.  He suggested the following:

  1. Achievement and success as major personal goals;
  2. Activity and work favored above leisure and laziness, action/doing over reflection, controlling events and not just letting things happen;
  3. Moral orientation i.e. absolute judgments of good/bad, right/wrong; 
  4. Humanitarian motives as shown in charity and crisis aid; 
  5. Efficiency and practicality a preference for the quickest and shortest way to achieve a goal at the least cost;
  6. Process and progress, a belief that technology can solve all problems & that the future will be better that the past;
  7. Material comfort as the US dream;
  8. Equality as an abstract ideal OR equal opportunity, (not equality of condition);
  9. Freedom as a person’s right against the state;
  10. External conformity, the ideal of going along, joining, and not rocking the boat; 
  11. Science and rationality, as the means of masterminding the environment and securing more material comforts;
  12. Nationalism, a belief that US values and institutions represent the best on earth; 
  13. Democracy (free enterprise) based on personal quality and freedom;
  14. Individualism emphasizing personal rights and responsibilities; and 
  15. Racism and group superiority themes that periodically lead to prejudice and discrimination against those who are racially, religiously and culturally different from the northern Europeans who first settled the continent

Another popular list was developed by L. Robert Kohls in 1984.  Surprisingly, there is not a lot of overlap in the lists:

  1. Personal control over the environment;
  2. Change is a good thing;
  3. Time should be controlled and managed;
  4. Equality/egalitarianism;
  5. Individualism and privacy;
  6. Self-help;
  7. Competition and free enterprise;
  8. Futuristic orientation;
  9. Action/work orientation;
  10. Informality;
  11. Directness, openness, and honesty;
  12. Practicality and efficiency; and
  13. Materialism/acquisitiveness.

Kohls’s list went one step further than Williams’s by contrasting American values with some other countries:


U.S. Values Some Other Countries’ Values
Pers. Control over the Environment 
Time & Its Control
Future Orientation
Action/Work Orientation
Practicality/Efficiency Materialism/Acquisitiveness
Human Interaction
Group’s Welfare
Birthright Inheritance
Past Orientation
“Being” Orientation

The contrasting lists not only suggest that America’s values are unique, but also raise the question, Where do American values come from?  One author, Frederick Jackson Turner, has argued that it was not the Europeans who molded American values, but rather the American frontier experience.  According the Turner, the frontier is responsible for America being egalitarian, nationalistic, pragmatic, adaptive, coarse, violent, anti-intellectual, and wasteful of national resources.  See A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen.

A couple of other popular lists are mostly redundant, but with a few insights:

A list from the University of Missouri – St. Louis includes:

  1. Individualism and privacy;
  2. Equality;
  3. Informality;
  4. The future, change, and progress;
  5. Time
  6. Achievement, action, work, and materialism; and
  7. Directness and assertiveness.

The unique value from the U of M is the Goodness of Humanity – The future cannot be better if people are not fundamentally good and improvable. Americans assume that human nature is basically good, not basically evil. Foreign visitors will see them doing many things that are based on the assumption people are good and can make themselves better. 

A list from the Kah Zoohl blog consists of liberty, justice, and equality.  Although these might seem overly broad and obvious, I don’t think the prior lists included justice, and I think this oversight is shocking.  As an American, I believe strongly that there should be a remedy for every wrong, if possible.  Americans do not easily accept injustice and will often go to great lengths “as a matter of principle.”

Because American values are unique and not easily adopted, I believe we need to enhance assimilation by limiting immigration to manageable numbers.  To prevent excessive illegal immigration, we have to not only strengthen our border security, but also reverse the current open-arms treatment of illegal immigrants.  Sanctuary cities are an incredible insult to a nation of laws. Unfortunately, respect for the rule of law is not a distinctive American value.