A Few Misconceptions

Just trying to clear up a few misconceptions that I’ve read in posts or comments on  Facebook or “news” websites recently.

  • Democratic presidents have presided over the greatest increase in the national debt. Franklin D. Roosevelt increased it the most and Barack Obama was second. Harry Truman was third. It could be argued that economic circumstances mandated these increases, but everyone certainly does not accept that argument.
  • The argument that Democrats tend to accept more welfare than Republicans is false. Republican-leaning “red states” (though states are represented by shades of green in the map presented here ) overwhelmingly accept more federal welfare money than do “blue states” that lean Democratic.  Further, Republican states are significantly more dependent on federal money than are Democratic states.
  • Liberals tend to believe they are more tolerant of alternative points of view, but that is not necessarily true. The number of student protests on college and university campuses over invitations to conservative speakers has led even liberal sources to express concerns over censorship. In 2016 alone at least 43 speakers were disinvited from college speaking engagements because of their political or social views. At least some protests became violent resulting in injury to individuals. Colleges and universities should be THE place open dialogue is welcome.
  • The 2nd Amendment protects an individual’s right to gun ownership (see District of Columbia v Heller), but that right does not extend to the unrestricted ownership of every type of firearm. Justice Scalia said so in the Heller case. Should everyone have the right to private ownership of anti-aircraft weaponry or M1A1 Abrams tanks? The idea that firearm ownership should be unrestricted emerged in the 1970’s when the National Rifle Association, an organization created to promote sportsmanship and responsible gun ownership, was taken over by radical groups focused on absolute gun ownership. Prior to the takeover the NRA actually supported reasonable restrictions on gun ownership such as permits and waiting periods. Conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger once said that the 2nd Amendment’s development since the 1970s “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word –fraud — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime”.
  • James Comey hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances for reelection, but Hillary mostly did it to herself. She never grasped the impact her private email server was having on the public’s trust of her as a candidate. A recent CNN Report makes it pretty clear that this one issue doomed her candidacy. Other factors contributed to the public’s lack of trust, but the email issue was most important in the eyes of the voters.
  • President Trump won the Electoral College in the 2016 election by 306 to 232 electors but he lost the popular vote by 2,868,691 votes. In spite of President Trump’s claims to the contrary, there is no credible evidence  that voter fraud had a significant impact on the final vote tallies. Some voter fraud is to be expected when over 120 million people vote, but the number of fraudulent voters is very small.
  • Christopher Columbus did not “discover” America. Although the time reference cannot yet be agreed upon, we certainly know that Native Americans came here thousands of years before Columbus. Evidence also suggests that Vikings Leif Eriksson and Thorfinn Karlsefni arrived centuries earlier.
  • According to most economists and other pundits, including  conservative writer Juan Williams and contributors to the conservative leaning Washington Examiner, President Trump’s proposed budget would most hurt the very voters who put him in office.  The cuts affect sick children, loans for students to attend college, people confined to nursing homes, and other healthcare for the elderly. The wealthiest Americans would apparently do very well because of tax breaks, the elimination of estate taxes, and similar provisions in the plan. This would continue a three-decade trend concentrating wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. The impact on the middle class is uncertain because the proposed budget is apparently pretty vague in a number of areas.
  • A pie chart circulating on Facebook indicates that 57% of federal expenditures are dedicated to the military and only 1% to food and agriculture. The truth is that we spend about 16.4% of our budget on the military and about 4% on food-related expenditures. Still, we spend more than $550 billion per year on the military and that will grow to more than $600 billion if President Trump’s current budget proposal passes Congress.
  • American citizens pay significantly more for healthcare than do citizens in other similar nations, but we have a lower life expectancy.  Americans spent an estimated $3.4 trillion on medical care in 2016, and forecasters say that may grow to $5.5 trillion by 2025 because our population is aging and because costs of medical services and drugs are growing at a rapid pace. By 2025 healthcare may consume 1/5 of our total economy. So the belief held by many that the free market will take care of healthcare costs appears false.
  • Even though a good many Americans do not believe it, the truth is that less than 1% of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid. That money goes for such things as HIV/AIDS prevention and other health-related projects, helping maintain forests (which produce clean air for everyone regardless of nationality), combatting drug trafficking, economic development, and various other humanitarian projects.  Opinions regarding whether we should be spending money for these projects depend on one’s ideology. We spend in the neighborhood of $50 billion per year on foreign aid. By comparison, after paying medical and other benefits to soldiers we will have spent more than $2 trillion (about 40 times as much) on the War in Iraq. We also spend well over $200 billion per year in interest on the debt. Interest on the debt doesn’t impact AIDS or forests.

I’m currently working on a webpage to host this blog, and with my technical skills this may take a while! I’m trying to save a few bucks because the current host is fairly expensive. As a consequence I’m not adding posts to the blog as frequently as I’d like, but I’ll keep it going as time permits. Let me know if there are topics you would like me to address. I may not know anything about the topic but that has never stopped me before!

False Patriotism



Love of and devotion to one’s country. ((The Free Dictionary)

Patriotism seems pretty straightforward these days. We prove love and devotion to our country by waving the flag (or wearing a flag lapel pen or wearing an American flag bikini or displaying the American flag in various ways on our vehicles), listening to Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood (but definitely not The Dixie Chicks), and supporting military intervention regardless of the truth behind its execution. Modern patriotism supports an “us” (true American) vs “them” mentality based on symbols rather than substance and discourages critical thinking.

Patriotism of this sort is dangerous because it fosters an uninformed citizenry that blindly supports pretty much anything done or said by the government or by officials who are accepted as “patriotic”, and rejection of comments by anyone not considered patriotic. This, in turn, allows the government to make decisions which citizens support whether or not those decisions are grounded in fact. Most seriously, of course, is a decision to send our citizens off to war without just cause. Good examples are Lyndon Johnson’s false evidence used to support American escalation in Vietnam and Richard Nixon extending that war for political gain. More recently President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair appear to have based the invasion of Iraq on false evidence.  Government has also been less than honest with the public on other occasions such as President Nixon’s false statements about our involvement in Chilean elections and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s false accusations that government and Hollywood were filled with communists. Prevailing notions of patriotism do not promote questioning such decisions or statements.

Our Founders would almost certainly oppose the current definition of patriotism. Remember that they themselves were radicals who overthrew the existing regime (monarchy) and replaced it with radical/liberal structures and processes proposed by political philosophers from the Enlightenment. They naturally supported questioning government and would have considered doing so patriotic. Here are a few relevant quotes:

  • Ben Franklin: “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”
  • George Washington: “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism”
  • Abraham Lincoln (obviously not a Founder): “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men”.

My favorites and, in my opinion, most relevant:

  • Thomas Jefferson: “The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.”
  • Thomas Jefferson: “An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.”

Jefferson argued that the best way to avoid tyranny was an informed public, not one that blindly follows its government.

I believe true patriotism is taking the time to understand the government and its policies and questioning governmental decisions or politicians’ statements that are not grounded in fact or science. James Madison said it best: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” In a previous post I discussed how poorly informed we are as a society and, consequently, how easy it is to manipulate our opinions. I now offer the notion that being so poorly informed is unpatriotic. True patriots demonstrate love and devotion to their country by taking the time to understand as much as possible about the critical issues of the day rather than simply displaying the American flag (which, by the way, I also support). I absolutely understand that being fully informed when our lives are so hectic is a near impossibility, but we must at least try to understand the basic arguments driving our government’s policy decisions. And we should vigilantly test the truth of statements made by our leaders.

Although I prefer listening to music by Pink Floyd, Gorillaz, and Miles Davis, I also like The Dixie Chicks. I really don’t think that makes me unpatriotic.



A Fragile Republic

The American republic is fragile.  It always has been. You probably recall that we killed about 700,000 or so of our own citizens between 1861 and 1865 over the issue of Constitutional power.  While the Civil War was certainly America’s lowest point, it is not at all the only time our republic has been endangered. More on that later.

Here is a brief summary of the constitutional framework established by our Founders (I’m sure you all know this):

  • Three branches of government; legislative, executive, judicial. This idea was borrowed from the philosopher Montesquieu. As we all learned in our high school civics classes, Congress was to pass laws, the president would execute them, and the courts would apply the laws to specific cases. Each branch would have some control over the other two so that no branch could become too powerful. The Founders almost certainly expected Congress to be more powerful since it more closely represented the citizens. And yes, I’m being overly simple here because the Constitution was vague and, at times, contradictory.
  • The Federal Principle: a national government and state governments with each level having responsibility for certain governmental powers. The national government would, for example, be responsible for the military and coining money and states would take care stuff like roads and education.

Again, the Constitutional framework established by the Founders was much more complex than I make it sound, but you get the idea.

Here are the problems: The system only works when each governmental entity does as it was intended and when each entity doesn’t overly interfere with the responsibilities of the other entities. Then there is the fact that the responsibilities of each governmental entity are often unclear and open to interpretation, and the responsibilities of each branch and level of government have evolved over time.

The bottom line is that each governmental entity MUST respect the other entities’ powers to keep one branch from becoming too powerful. States cannot begin declaring war. The national government cannot assume responsibility for trash collection. Congress cannot assume responsibility for negotiating treaties, the president cannot overturn a law previously passed by Congress, the courts cannot pass laws, etc.

How nice it would be if it was all this simple. It isn’t. At times one branch of government will overstep its authority (the Supreme Court writing abortion guidelines in Roe v Wade, presidents issuing executive orders to circumvent Congress, etc.), and at other times it seems that one branch almost begs one of the other branches to do its work (Congress pretty much all the time during the last fifty years).  Our constitutional fabric is easily torn or at least seriously wrinkled.

The Constitutional framework is currently in a state of chaos (OK, that may be a bit strong. Maybe “disarray”?) Who has benefitted? The president and the Supreme Court. Who has lost? The states and Congress.

  • States have lost because the national government figured out it could usurp state power using money (the feds give states money if the states do what the feds want and states are now hooked on federal money). This is not necessarily a bad thing because, for example, the national government ultimately accomplishes national goals such as school integration or improved air quality by offering state and local governments money to meet those standards. It is abused, in my opinion, when the feds force states to enforce such decisions as a uniform drinking age and No Child Left Behind. Also, occasionally the feds will impose an unfunded mandate on states, thus forcing states to find a way to cover the cost of the federal requirement. To be honest there isn’t much states can do to protect their power from the feds as long as Uncle Sam controls the presses that print our currency.
  • Congress has lost power because its members became more focused on winning reelection than on effectively running the country. I know that sounds cynical, but it is true. Beginning in the 1930’s Congress began allowing the president to attain greater power at Congress’s expense (a long story involving Franklin D. Roosevelt). Congress has also increasingly written laws that are very unclear and too vague, thus giving federal bureaucrats a great deal of authority to interpret and apply those laws. In The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), for example, the word “secretary” was used about 3,000 times in a bill that was 2,700 pages long. That means Congress was specifically letting the Secretary of Health and Human Services interpret and implement those provisions.


  • Presidents have become increasingly powerful. This is a trend that goes back to the 1800’s. A 1974 book by Arthur Schlesinger argued that we have created an “imperial presidency”, a presidency that dominates Congress and has almost total control over foreign and military affairs. Schlesinger believed presidential power had evolved to the point it far exceeded the desire of our Founders.  Example: The Constitution specifically gives Congress the power to declare war and it has done so only twice in the last 100 years (WW I and WW II). But how many times have we been in “war” during the last 100 years (FYI: Since 1776 America has been at war 93% of the time)? All other instances of military intervention in the last 100 years were initiated by the president. So presidents have become increasingly powerful during the last 200 years, and you may be assured that presidential power has continued to grow and Congress has continued to largely roll over and play dead since Schlesinger’s 1974 book was published.
  • The federal courts have become increasingly important. Alexander Hamilton argued that the courts would be “the least dangerous branch”, but that is not now the case and it has not been since the early 1800’s. However, the courts have been increasingly required to interpret poorly written and vague laws passed by Congress (they ruled on Obamacare at least a couple of times).
  • As I said earlier, the states have lost a great dal of their power to the national government. We could debate whether this is a good or bad thing (all you have to do is offer a comment to begin the discussion), but there is no doubt it has happened. The national government now tells states how to treat prisoners, tells law enforcement officers what steps to take to remain within the framework of The Constitution, tells states how to distribute welfare funds, forbids state from discriminating against those with disabilities, requires states to follow clean air and water standards, and much more.

What should change?

Congress should start doing its job. For all of my professional career I’ve opposed term limits, but that may honestly be the only way to move Congress out of its state of gridlock. As I’ve argued previously, the first thing we should do is take money out of elections so that members of Congress are not obligated to those who give them the most money.

One specific thing Congress can do is begin imposing limits on executive orders. Again, Congress has increasingly allowed the president to do Congress’s work because they do not restrict executive orders. Presidents can issue all the orders they want, but every penny spent of the national government must be approved by Congress (called the “power of the purse”). Congress should tighten the purse strings.

A national conversation on the division of national and state power should take place soon. Do we want the national government’s power to continue to grow? Should states regain their lost powers?

Finally, and this part isn’t so easy, voters MUST become better informed. Most American voters choose a candidate or party based on one or two issues rather than examining candidates’ and parties’ views on a broad range of issues. As a consequence a large number of voters actually vote for candidates who oppose policies that benefit those voters. People wind up voting against their own interests.

Our fragile republic is in danger if the branches of government do not begin performing their Constitutional duties and if voters do not become better informed.



Random Thoughts II

I feel sort of like Dug the Talking Dog from the movie “Up”. Like Dug who was easily distracted by squirrels, I’m having trouble focusing on only one thing after the end of the school year because my brain is moving at 90 mph in 120 different directions. So here are a few random and unrelated thoughts.

  • Last year President Obama vetoed a bill co-sponsored by fellow Democrat Elijah Cummings that would have reduced former presidents’ pensions if they accepted at least $400,000 in income after leaving office. So a president would lose a portion of his pension if he accepted $400,000 of outside income. Remember… he vetoed that bill.  Now president Obama has accepted an offer by Wall Street investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald to give a speech for…you guessed it: $400,000.  This in spite of the fact that he and his wife Michelle have also reportedly signed a deal to write their memoirs with an advance of more than $60 million. He really doesn’t need that $400,000. Hypocrisy doesn’t favor one party more than the other. Didn’t President Obama criticize Wall Street for the last eight years?
  • The Republican House passed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) after dozens of failed attempts. I don’t think the Senate will pass it but I’ve given up trying to predict the government’s actions. It appears the revised plan would harm the voters who helped elect President Trump and help the very wealthy. I obviously hope this is incorrect.  Here is a quick comparison of the plans. Predicting the impact of legislation is almost impossible but the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office believed that the bill as originally introduced in March would leave an additional 24 million people uninsured within the next ten years. The House would not wait for the CBO’s assessment of the current plan before voting on it.
  • On the same day the House voted to repeal Obamacare President Trump praised Australia’s healthcare system, telling the Australian Prime Minister that “you have better healthcare than we do”. Well, Australia has universal healthcare guaranteed by the government so nobody there goes without medical care.
  • I openly admit that I’m addicted to coffee, professional tennis (Ok, I’m actually addicted to most sports other than golf and curling), The Chef’s Table on Netflix, chocolate, and the gym.
  • One of the most frightening potential consequences of our warming planet is that the currently melting permafrost may contain bacteria and viruses to which humans have not been exposed in thousands of years and against which current antibiotics and other drugs would likely be useless. The temperature in the Arctic circle is rising three times faster than on the rest of the planet, so we may find out fairly soon whether that threat is real.
  • I need to stop reading about stories such as that. .
  • I really don’t care about much celebrity news. I think its pretty much a waste of time but our culture seems obsessed with why Brad and What’s Her Name divorced, whether What’s His Name was abducted by aliens in an Iowa corn field, or whether that dude who plays baseball cheats on his wife. But show me a video of a parrot singing Margaritaville or baby goats chasing each other and you have my undivided attention. The same is true of ANY baby pictures or videos.
  • At the end of World War II the human knowledge base, the totality of what we know, was doubling every 25 years. And now by some estimates  human knowledge is doubling every twelve or thirteen months and IBM estimates that soon our knowledge base will double EVERY TWELVE HOURS because of the development of faster processing and artificial intelligence. If we could harness and use all that information for only constructive purposes our potential to cure diseases, solve problems such as poverty and environmental decline, and ability to reach the stars should be easily realized. It’s too bad our artificial divisions (religion, ethnicity, income, greed, etc.) often sidetrack that opportunity.
  • A while back I started trying to write down the name of every single human I’ve ever met beginning with those who had the greatest impact on my life. I gave up after several pages because, as I said earlier, my mind tends to run off in multiple directions. Still, it made me realize that every human with whom I’ve ever come into contact  has had an impact on my life.  I appreciate them all, even those with whom contact was unpleasant.
  • In early March wildfires consumed large portions of the American Midwest. The fires killed at least seven people and thousands of cows and other livestock, led to the endangerment of some species of birds, scorched several million acres, and led to the evacuation of countless homeowners. Did you hear about that? I think the media was too busy reporting on whether What’s Her Name was wearing a new shade of lip gloss or What’s His Name bought a new mansion on Venus.
  • In 2015 about 43 million Americans lived in poverty and 42 million lived in a condition of food insecurity (not knowing about their next day’s meals). Globally about 700 million people are hungry. It is estimated that as much as 1/3 of all food produced throughout the world goes to waste. This is disheartening.
  • I think I need  a new hobby to keep me from watching the news.

Confirmation Bias and President Trump


A few weeks ago I wrote about the tendency to ignore facts and accept our preconceived ideas regardless of evidence to the contrary, a phenomenon known as “confirmation bias”. We all tend to fall in to that trap, but that tendency has never been more clear than  among those who continue to support President Trump in spite of all his paradoxical and contradictory behavior. And yes I do know that this is fairly common among supporters of the political class and it was absolutely true of President Obama’s supporters, but in my opinion the supporters of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have taken it to a new level. To be clear before I begin, I WANT President Trump to be successful. To wish otherwise is unpatriotic and counterproductive. And remember that the title of this blog is “Fiercely Independent” because I take great pride in my independence.

I absolutely understand why people voted against Hillary Clinton and I discussed that issue a few weeks back. I voted against Secretary Clinton in the primaries, choosing instead to support a Republican candidate even though I disagreed with him on a large number of policy issues. And on election day I held my nose when I voted for Secretary Clinton. I wished with all my heart other options had been available.

What I cannot understand is how about 35-40% of the population still offer unyielding support for President Trump. It appears that his main goal was winning the election and that he had absolutely no idea what actually holding the office would require. Of course I thought things he said before and during the campaign were offensive enough to warrant rejecting him as a candidate. Mocking a handicapped reporter, bragging about molesting women, refusing to release his tax returns (which he promised to release later but now refuses), referring to a reporter’s menstruation period to explain her challenging questions during the debate, stating that John McCain was not a war hero because his plane was shot down and he was captured (stated by a man who avoided Vietnam with college and medical deferments), mocking the Muslim family of a son who died serving our country, the scandal over the failed Trump University, hinting that returning soldiers with PTSD might be weak, stating again that he was not sure President Obama was a natural born citizen (he finally did admit that fact later), bragging that he could kill someone and still not lose supporters, saying that Mexico sends rapists across the border, and criticizing a federal judge who just happened to have a Spanish sounding name as a “hater of Donald Trump” were all good reasons to reject Donald Trump as a candidate. I would add that as a candidate he was on his third wife, he had been unfaithful to the previous two, and he bragged about sleeping with other men’s wives.  And before you say something about Bill Clinton, any students taking my classes in the mid 1990’s and any friend from that time will remember that I offered scathing criticism of President Clinton’s inexcusable infidelity and I did not vote for his reelection. I’m pretty darned consistent on that issue.

And, by the way, this is only a partial list of his gaffes and failures. I’m not even going in to President Trump’s previous unethical business dealings.

But perhaps the expectations I have for my presidents are just too unrealistic. Probably so. In the end I had to choose between someone with experience but who had made numerous mistakes in her public life and someone who was totally uninformed, unethical, inexperienced, and who offered not one single concrete policy idea.

I wonder how many of the 40% still offering strong support for President Trump would have been as forgiving of President Obama (and remember that I also did not vote for him) if he had said or done even one of the things I listed above or if, after becoming president, President Obama:

  • Was unable to push one piece of legislation through Congress in his first three months even though his party controlled both houses. Remember that candidate Trump  promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act on his first day?
  • Had said things like “nobody knew that health care was so complicated”.
  • Had accused his predecessor (George Bush) of wiretapping his phones.
  • Had filled his administration with corporate executives and lobbyists (almost all of whom were men) after promising he would  “drain the swamp”.
  • Complained that he missed his former life after being in office less than 100 days.
  • Had spent about $3 million of the taxpayers’ money every weekend by flying to one of his private properties while proposing budget cuts to agencies serving the poor. President Trump has spent more than $80 million in travel just in the first three months in office. He criticized Obama for traveling at the taxpayers’ expense but is far outpacing the former president’s travel expenditures.
  • Had played golf nineteen times during his first 100 days after criticizing his predecessor for doing just that.
  • Had refused to turn over documents related to the relationship his first national security adviser (Michael Flynn) had with Russia thus delaying an FBI investigation.
  • Had a daughter whose company received trademarks from China on the same day he met with the president of China.
  • Had supported a healthcare bill that would have harmed a large number of the people who voted for him.
  • Made money off his weekend taxpayer-funded travels by having guests stay in his private resorts.
  • Had reversed positions on China, the wall (thank goodness; it is a silly idea), NATO, the Paris Climate Accords, and more.
  • Embraced dictators and despots such as Egypt’s el-Sisi, Turkey’s Erdogan, and Duterte from the Philippines while offending traditional allies like Australia and Britain.
  • Tweeted incessantly about being mistreated by the media, his predecessor’s failures, bragging about his IQ (a certain sign of insecurity), etc.
  • Signed 25 or 30 executive orders after criticizing his predecessor for bypassing Congress using such orders.
  • Confused Andrew Jackson as a president relevant to The Civil War and actually said people have never considered that war’s causes. There are only about 10,000 books on the subject but reading is also hard.

I somehow doubt most current supporters of President Trump would have forgiven President Obama even one of these failings, and that is the definition of confirmation bias.

Yes, President Trump has had successes such as the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice, bombing a Syrian airstrip in response to their horrid treatment of their own citizens, and installing possibly the most intelligent and thoughtful national security team of all time. He has also fulfilled a few other campaign promises.  I’d still say the gaffes and mistakes far outweigh the successes.

We need meaningful tax reform. We need meaningful healthcare reform. We need meaningful infrastructure funding. We need so much more but those needs will never be met until the country’s leader learns to focus and installs good advisers around him and listens to them.

By now I’m sure diehard supporters of President Trump have stopped reading this and have unfriended me on Facebook (it won’t be the first time since I started this blog). I encourage civil response to the evidence presented here, but it cannot be “well at least we don’t have Clinton or Obama”. I understand concerns my fellow citizens have about those Democrats, but that in no way justifies blindly supporting our current president. And the response also cannot be “well…we need a change” because I absolutely agree. We just need thoughtful and constructive change.

The only way President Trump will change is if people STOP ignoring his failures and his approval ratings fall even further. He thrives on support and approval. Why else would he still be holding large public rallies after winning the election or giving almost everyone who visits the Oval Office a copy of the electoral college map while ignoring the fact that he lost the popular vote by a large margin.

I’m not very optimistic about the next four years, and many Republicans are very nervous about the 2018 Congressional elections because their current leader is hurting their chances for reelection. It won’t be long before his own party begins running away from him.

NOTE: There are only a couple of linked sources because research wasn’t required to compose this post. If you find that anything I posted is false I will accept responsibility and apologize.