The Good and Bad of Donald Trump

trump good

I think that every liberal friend and relative who knows I am a Republican has asked me what I think of Donald Trump.  The general implication is that any shred of respect they ever had for my opinions will be gone if I say I like him.  Also, several of my conservative Republican friends absolutely abhor Trump and say they would never vote for him, no matter what.  On the other side, a third group of friends think he is the best hope we have to save the country and they fervently support him.

Personally, I am torn by Donald Trump.  To me, he is like the girl in the nursery rhyme with the curl in the middle of her forehead.  When he is good he is very very good and when he is bad he is horrid.  I’d like to discuss the good and the bad of Donald Trump. I will focus on who he is as a person, not his views trump badon individual issues.  Everybody has different views on issues.  My question here is does he have what it takes to be a good president.  Before I do this, however, I would like to share two insights that I think you are essential to understanding Donald Trump.

Insight 1:  The Art of The Deal

The first insight comes from Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal”.  I read this originally almost thirty years ago when it was first released.  I will confess that I do not remember it clearly, but one thing I do remember is that he says that you need to begin with an outrageous, extreme starting position.  As you negotiate, you will negotiate away the outrageous components and you will end up with what you actually want.  If you start with a reasonable position, then as you negotiate you will need to make real concessions and you will end up with far less than you want.

Therefore Donald Trump starts his approach to immigration saying he will deport every illegal alien in America.  The press and other detractors have ridiculed this position saying that it is impossible and/or impractical.  I believe Donald Trump knows that.  This is his outrageous starting position.  If he gets elected president, he will negotiate down and end up with an immigration policy he never could have achieved if he started with a reasonable position.

Insight 2:  The Board Room

The second insight derives from watching Trump for many years on the Apprentice.  In Trump’s boardroom, if you are attacked, you must counter-attack.  If you don’t counter-attack, you get fired, even if you did a great job.  My personal philosophy is that if I am the project leader, everything that goes wrong is somewhat my fault.  My job is to anticipate and prevent other people’s mistake.  I would not have made it out of the first boardroom.  I don’t agree with his philosophy here.  On the other hand, he is a multi-billionaire and I am not.  Maybe he knows something that I don’t.  Whether you think this is good or bad, it is who he is.  You can’t understand Donald Trump without understanding this.

The Good 1:  The CEO

The best thing about Trump is that I think he would be a great Chief Executive of the United States.  The man knows how to run an organization.  Most importantly, I believe he would bring in very talented people to work under him.  Too often, key government positions are political payoffs.  They are rewarded as political prizes, often with little thought given to the ability.  Trump didn’t get to where he is by hiring his buddies.  I am not worried about Trump’s lack of Washington experience.  He can hire people with Washington experience.  Presidents often hire people who will tell them only what they want to hear. You don’t become a billionaire by surrounding yourself with flatterers; you surround yourself with highly competent people that tell you what you need to know.

The Good 2: The Blunt Spokesman

When my son was about five years old, he was randomly selected for a full body pat down at the airport.  While security was busy making sure that Jimmy was not carrying any weapons such as high-caliber squirt guns, multiple people who appeared to be from the Middle East walked through security without being hindered.  Sometimes political correctness is silly.  Sometimes it can get people killed.

I think it is important to have a president who is willing to tackle serious issues and will not be frightened off by political correctness or the fear of offending someone.  Trump is correct when he says he made immigration a major issue.  Before Trump’s initial comments, immigration was a secondary issue and primarily focused on how we should not offend Hispanic voters.  After a few words from Trump, it became the issue in the campaign.  He not only says what needs to be said, but when he says things, people listen.

The Good 3: The Attack Dog

In 2012, the Democrats painted Romney, a person who truly has dedicated his life to helping others, as one of the most horrible people the world has ever known.  Romney, on the other hand, would attack Obama’s policies but he refused to say anything negative about Obama as a person.   Romney lost.  The Republicans cannot make this mistake again.

Many pundits think that Hillary Clinton would mop the floor with Trump.  I have heard predictions she would win forty nine states.  I think that these people have not watched Trump at all.  When Trump attacks, people listen and his attacks work.  His low-energy comments destroyed Bush.  His attacks on Cruz’s citizenship, which I personally think are without merit, have caused Trump to surge in the polls and overtake Cruz in the Iowa polls.  Bill Clinton has been an abuser of women for women for over twenty years and Hillary has helped him do it, but until Trump brought it up, nobody thought anything about it.  After a few words from Trump, Hillary’s poll ratings from women plunged.

Trump is probably the best, most-effective attack dog I have ever seen.  He has the ability to find the attack that sticks and get people to talk about it.  I think he could devastate most opponents.  If his opponent is Hillary Clinton, with so many negatives that most people don’t even begin to know, some of which dwarf the email issues, I think that Trump could be the most effective candidate the Republicans could run against her.

The Bad 1:  The Meanie

I understand Trump’s need to counter-attack his enemies.  I am disturbed how he needlessly says mean and crude things about people who sometimes aren’t even his enemies. Comments on Carly Fiorina’s face or saying McCain wasn’t a hero because he got captured just make me cringe.

I think that Trump’s war on Megyn Kelly is the best illustration of his pettiness.   Megyn Kelly asked Trump a question in the first Fox  debate about his denigration of women. The moderators began the debate by asking each candidate a tough question that would certainly come up at some point if the candidate won the nomination.  In that light, I thought that her question was  totally fair and reasonable.  Since then, Trump has been throwing out a steady stream of attacks on Kelly including a line which I certainly interpreted as being about her menstruation.  It culminated in his boycott of the Iowa debate.    During this time, Kelly has shown nothing but class.  I can certainly understand a candidate attacking the media for being unfair.  It often is.  In this case, though, it is certainly vast overkill.  He comes across as petty, petulant, and just plain mean.  These are not characteristics you want in a president.

The Bad 2:  The Narcissist

I have always thought that President Obama is a narcissist.  In his campaign, he consistently stated how he could make everything right based upon the force of his personality.  The Iranians might hate America under Bush, but Obama would turn them around and make them see the light.  Obama also never admits he is wrong about anything.

I see the same narcissistic characteristics in Trump.  He can make Putin see reason.  He can work with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats.  He very seldom says how he will do anything, asking us to trust that he will succeed because he is Trump.  While Trump may have more justification than Obama in thinking he can succeed just because of who he is, I still think is is a dangerous personality characteristic.

Trump also refuses to admit he ever makes a mistake.  For example Trump claimed he saw a newscast video of thousands of Muslims celebrating 9-11 in New Jersey.  Nobody has found such a video.  To me it is obvious and innocuous what happened.  He saw videos of thousands of Muslims in the middle east celebrating.  He saw another video of a few Muslims in New Jersey celebrating.  Over time, he mixed them up.  This is a fairly normal type of thing.  I certainly have done it.  Trump, however, will never admit he made a mistake about anything.  I can’t say for sure it is from Narcissism.  I don’t know if he knows he made a mistake but feels if he admits a mistake, it will destroy the Trump magic.  Maybe it would.  I just don’t want a president who can’t ever admit when he has been wrong.  If a policy is bad, it needs to be changed.  Would Trump change it?

The Bad 3: The Waffler

I have my doubts about Ted Cruz, which I will not go into right now, but I certainly admire his integrity and consistency.  In Iowa, Cruz has stated his opposition to Ethanol subsidies.  Iowa lives on Ethanol subsidies.   Every candidate who ever campaigns in Iowa supports these subsidies except Cruz.  To me this clearly shows that Cruz will stand by his principles no matter what.  I can’t say that about Donald Trump.  I don’t really know what his convictions are.

In the last debate, Trump swore he would not personally bring a lawsuit against Cruz on the citizenship issue, then a few days later he said he was considering it.  How can he consider it?  He just promised he wouldn’t.  Likewise, pledging to support the Republican candidate no matter what, he started hinting again that he might run as a third party candidate if he wasn’t “treated fairly”.  It bothers me that he reneges or at least considers reneging on promises that easily.

With this lack of integrity, I find it hard to evaluate Trump’s true views on many issues.  Earlier in life he espoused some fairly liberal positions and supported Democratic  candidates.  He says his views have evolved over time and he supported Democrats because as a businessman, it is what he had to do.  That might be true, but I don’t have enough confidence in his integrity to know that for sure.  While the Cruz citizenship suit threat might be minor in the grand scheme, it tells me that his promise can’t be trusted. I understand that sometimes promises must be broken due to extreme circumstances.  This, however, is not an extreme circumstance.  If he can break his word here, he can break it anywhere.


I am still torn on Donald Trump.   There seems to be a trend where I start to like him and then he says something that makes me cringe and it pushes me back away from him.  I would certainly vote for Trump over Clinton, Sanders, or any Democrat who I can think might run.  I just kind of sort of hope that the Republicans choose somebody else.  Maybe.  I think.  Ask me again tomorrow.







The Assumptions Underlying the Syrian Refugee Debate

Even before the terrorist strikes in Paris, we had a simmering debate on whether the United States should accept refugees from Syria.  On one side, we are naturally a compassionate people and instinctively wish to help people who are suffering.  On the other side, there was a strong likelihood that terrorists might be embedded among these refugees.  syrianrefugeesAccepting refugees could be inviting in terrorists.  The fact that at least one terrorist was a recent Syrian refugee, combined with ISIS’s boasts that they are sending terrorists as refugees, has intensified the debate.

A central premise of this blog site is that our underlying assumptions determine how we approach issues.  We can’t have any meaningful debate until we recognize these assumptions.  I highlighted particularly troublesome bad assumptions in a series on this blog on the top ten bad assumptions.  In this case, we have Bad Assumption 3 – America should not favor Americans.  I recommend reading or reviewing this post before proceeding.

The central assumption of those opposing settling Syrian refugees is that America needs to take care of Americans first.  If this is your assumption, it is crazy to risk the lives of Americans by admitting a refugee pool that very likely includes terrorists.  The key issue is security.

The central assumption of those supporting settling Syrian refugees in America is that we should not favor Americans over non-Americans.   The vast majority of the refugees are suffering people and we are heartless if we don’t help them.  The key issue is compassion.

One side says the other is crazy.  One side says the other is heartless.  Both sides have good people.  The difference is this underlying assumption.

My viewpoint is that America needs to look out for Americans first.  I outlined the reasons for this in the above-referenced blog entry.  Security must come first.  It may be impossible to prevent every terrorist attack, but we don’t need to go out of our way to make it easy for the terrorists.  The large majority of refugees are young, fighting age men.  Admitting these Muslim men from areas controlled by ISIS is laying out the red carpet for terrorists.

This doesn’t mean we should do nothing to help.  We can assist in humanitarian efforts and help them get resettled elsewhere, preferably in Muslim countries.  We could consider admitting some families with children, but that is still problematic.  That would be much safer than admitting single men, but it is still possible for ISIS to throw along a woman and some children to help the cause.

We could also consider admitting Christians, who are being persecuted and beheaded.  Obama also says it is shameful to have a religious test, but this is nothing new.  Our refugee laws are designed to help those who are persecuted.  These laws specifically mention religious persecution.  Saying that we shouldn’t consider religion is like saying if we did want to help Nazi victims that we couldn’t give any preference to Jewish over Christian Germans.

Proponents of bringing in the refugees also say that historically we have been compassionate with victims of persecution; however, refugees such as the Vietnamese boat people or the Bosnian victims of genocide did not threaten the safety of the American people.   Historically, we have always looked at safety first.  An immigrant suffering from tuberculosis would never get past Ellis Island.

If you were a parent with young children, you might also wish to be compassionate and invite a homeless person into your house.  This homeless person would probably not hurt you or your children.  As you invite more and more homeless people into your house, the chances increase that one of them will harm your children.  If you invite enough in, you are dooming your children.  Is this compassion?

President Obama mocks people who have security concerns when he says that opponents of admitting Syrian refugees are afraid of widows and orphans.  This shows a total lack of ability to understand the concerns of what appears to be a majority of the American people.  Possibly one compromise solution could be admitting widows and orphans but nobody else.

Once again, differing base assumptions underlies a key policy debate and prevents many on each side from seeing the viewpoint of the other.  My fundamental assumption is that it is the first duty of the American government to protect the safety of Americans.  If you do not agree, what is your assumption?  Think about it.


Carly Fiorina’s Business Record: Triumph or Disaster

I started this post a month ago, shortly after the second Republican debate.  I was not able to complete it before going on vacation.  Now I return to it the day before the third debate.  Carly Fiorina was the clear winner from the second debate and her standing in the polls skyrocketed.  Since then, she has lost much of the momentum from this debate.  Carly_Fiorina

She has been subject to a relentless attack. Liberals attack her for being a firebrand conservative.  Conservatives attack her for being a closet liberal.  More than anything else, she has been attacked for her business record at Lucent and Hewlett Packard.   In particular, she has been savaged for her championing of the merger between HP and Compaq computers.  This leads to two questions:

  • How valid are the charges against Fiorina.  Was she truly a “disaster” as CEO?
  • Regardless of the validity of the charges, will they be an effective political weapon against her?

Fiorina began her career with six months as a receptionist for a real estate firm, moving up to broker before she left.  After a stint teaching English in Bologna Italy, she joined AT&T in 1980 at age 25 as a management trainee, selling telephone services to federal agencies.  In 1990 at age 35 she became the company’s first female officer as senor vice president.   In 1995 at age 40 she headed North American Operations when AT&T spun off Lucent Technologies.  She had a major role in Lucent’s IPO, described as one of the most successful IPO’s in US history.  Lucent’s price increased 10-fold by the time Fiorina left.  In 1998 Fortune magazine named her “The most Powerful Woman in American Business”.

In July 1999 Hewlett-Packard named Fiorina as its new CEO, making her the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company.  She was hired with the mission to change Hewlett-Packard’s culture to make it more innovative.  Her changes, however, were fiercely fought and she made her many enemies at HP.  The Tech bubble burst shortly after her arrival and HP’s stock plummeted.  HP had to layoff over 30,000 people during her tenure.

Her most controversial move was the merger with Compaq computers, which at the time was the second largest producer of personal computers after Dell.  There was heavy opposition to this merger including from HP founder William Hewett.  At the time, many considered the merger a disaster and HP’s stock plummeted further.  In February, 2005, she lost a power struggle with the board of directors and was fired.

Her rise from secretary to becoming the first woman CEO of a Fortune 20 company was undoubtedly spectacular.  Her record at CEO is certainly up to interpretation.  She was unpopular with many HP employees.  On the other hand, she was hired to shake up the company culture, so resentment was inevitable.  Her critics condemn her for Hewlett Packard’s price decline under her tenure and say that the tech crash is no excuse.  The same credits, however, refuse to give her credit for the stock rise at Lucent, stating it was due to the tech bubble.

Bloomberg did an interesting analysis of HP’s stock performance.  This chart illustrates the value of HP stock along with comparable companies till five years after her departure.HP Stock Values

This chart shows that from the time Fiorina became CEO of HP until five years after her departure, HP stock did better than its key competitors.  One can argue that this shows that her strategy was a success.  One can also argue that the credit would go to her successor but not to her.  Alternatively one could argue that HP might have done much better had she remained and been able to execute her strategy herself.  In short, her grade as CEO can only be incomplete.

The other question is whether the Democrats could use her business record as a weapon against her.  They certainly will try.  Barbara Boxer used attacks against Fiorina’s business record to defeat her in their Senate race.  No matter who the Republicans run, the Democrats will have an attack line to use against him or her.  If the Republicans refuse to nominate a candidate because they can be attacked, there will be nobody to nominate. Fiorina has had since her defeat in 2010 to come up with a strategy to counter these attacks.  She certainly will have plenty of opportunity to demonstrate her strategy over the months ahead, possibly in the debate tomorrow.

Way to Go Carly!


Carly Fiorina first drew my attention early in her campaign when nobody ever heard of her.  Whenever I saw her interviewed, I was extremely impressed by how she would answer every question with a display of directness, in-depth knowledge, sound logic, and clear reasoning.  She answered questions most politicians would dodge.  While I believed she had no chance and she certainly was not my first choice, I began rooting for her and wanted to see more of her.  Here is an example in an interview she did with Katie Couric on climate change.

I was hoping she would make the cut and get into the first debate.  I was disappointed that she did not make the cut for the top ten in that debate and was relegated to the “kiddie” second string debate.  I thought she totally dominated that debate.  I wasn’t the only one who thought that, with over 80% of the polled viewers picking her as the winner, a percentage highly unusual for a five person debate.  After seeing her in this debate and her follow up interviews, she surprisingly became my first choice as a presidential candidate.  Here is an example of Carly in the first debate addressing Iran and ISIS.  Notice how she gives very specific examples of steps she would take.

I look for three things in a presidential candidate in the primaries.  First, I look for a political philosophy that is compatible with mine.  Second, I look for strong personal characteristics such as leadership, competence, and honesty.  Finally, I want to back a candidate who has a good chance of winning the general election.

Carly Fiorina scores high in each of these categories.  She believes in limited government, the free market, and a strong defense.  She rose from secretary to chief executive of a major company.  She shows a tremendous grasp of the issues, and where other candidates speak in generalities, she gives specific after specific after specific when asked how she would handle a problem.  In her rise from total obscurity to qualifying for the first debate, she has shown herself to be an outstanding candidate.

In the second debate, she was magnificent.  Here are two examples.  The first shows Fiorina responding to Trump’s comments insulting her face.  The brilliance here is that she is using Trump’s words from the question before, where he attacked Jeb Bush, against him.  In other words, this was not a scripted response.  She showed how deftly she can think on her feet.

For the other example, I would like to show examples of how Trump and Fiorina handled the same question on how they would handle Putin.  I think these show a great contrast.

Trump basically is saying that we can handle Putin basically due to the superiority of Trump’s personal skills.  He does not give any specific examples.  This is basically the same argument that Obama used in 2008.  We can see how well that worked (although to be fair I would expect that Trump’s negotiating skills would be vastly better than Obama’s).   Fiorina takes a very different approach, including giving multiple examples of steps she would take.

After Fiorina’s success in the debate, the naturally became a target for attacks.  The attacks focused on two areas.  One was her business record.  I will write a separate blog entry, hopefully soon, that looks at her business record.  The other attack is that she lied/misrepresented on her attack on Planned Parenthood in this sequence:

In the video, a woman tells a story about how she watched as Planned Parenthood harvested a brain from a moving just aborted fetus.  The charge is that Fiorina lied because the footage of the fetus in the video was stock footage and it was not the fetus that was being described.  I would argue that this is standard practice and is not a misrepresentation at all.  Using stock footage is a standard practice in documentaries.  For example, a holocaust survivor is telling her story.  As she tells her story, we see pictures of skeletal figures and mounds of dead bodies from concentration camps.  There is no no claim that these concentration camp scenes are what this survivor actually saw.  They give the viewer a vivid idea of what is being described.  There is no difference in this video about Planned Parenthood that Fiorina describes.

Fiorina is currently my top choice as a candidate.  There are other very good candidates out there, notably Marco Rubio.  She has had two amazing rises.  Her first was going from secretary to CEO.  Her second is going from a political nobody to a major candidate for president.  This may be her peak.  She may be like Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain in 2008, who each topped the polls for a week or two before disappearing off the charts.  On the other hand, she might be the next president of the United States.  Right now, I just want to congratulate her for a job well done.

If you have the time and want to get a better feel of who Carly Fiorina is, I am enclosing a very long (almost one hour) video from her talk to the college republicans at Dordt College in Iowa.  I thought it was quite enlightening and is worthwhile if you are a Carly Fiorina enthusiast.

Hillary Clinton: White House or Jail House?

Hillary Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee for president.  I think there is a fairly good chance she will not even be in the race by the time of the Iowa Caucus.  The findings from government inspectors and the FBI of top secret documents on her unsecured server may very well be the nail in her coffin.HillaryClinton

The Democrats  will not want to risk nominating someone who may be under indictment by the time of the election.  Will there be an indictment?  There are two factors needed for there to be an indictment.  There needs to be an indictable crime and the justice department needs to be willing to make an indictment.

The inspector’s statement that Ms. Clinton had top secret information on her unprotected server, assuming this is true, means there is unquestionably an indictable crime.  My understanding of the law is that intent to misuse the information is not necessary for this to be a crime; it is a crime to put classified data in an unprotected location.  General David Petraeus and many others were convicted for much less.  The big question is will the Justice Department indict?

Up to this point the Obama administration has been highly consistent in that it will not even investigate, much less indict, Democrats who are loyal to the president.  The fact that there has not even been an investigation, much less an indictment, of the IRS harassment of conservatives is the prime example of this.  President Obama, however, does not like Hillary Clinton.  This is documented in Edward Klein’s book “Blood Feud: The Clinton’s vs. the Obamas.”  Obama doesn’t need to do anything to free the path to an indictment.  All he needs to do is step aside, do nothing, and let the FBI do their job.

While her handling of unclassified emails currently appears to be her largest legal problem, it is not the only legal problem.  Her destruction of emails under subpoena could subject her to obstruction of justice charges.  Hillary and Bill have also amassed a fortune of over $150 million dollars since Bill left office.  Much of this derives from speaking fees from foreign sources who “coincidentally” had major issues before the state department at that time.  These sources also gave many more millions to the Clinton foundation.  Investigation into these donations could also lead to criminal charges.

It seems that every day something new comes out about Hillary’s illegal activities and showing that her denials are lies.  If you were a leader in the Democratic party, would you want to risk going into the next election with all of your eggs in the Hillary basket?

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 10 – Welfare is charity.

Alternate Assumption:  Welfare is nothing like charity.

Most of my extended family and many of my good friends are Democrats.  I think that a primary reason is that they perceive the Democrats as the political party that tries to help people.  Such programs as welfare, Medicare and Obamacare are seen as a form of charity.  If we are good people, we must support these programs.  I’d like to challenge this assumption.  There are three big differences between welfare and charity.

Donating to charity is voluntary.  Paying taxes is not.

By definition, charity is voluntary.  Other people may have a different experience, but my understanding is that paying taxes is not exactly voluntary.  One can argue that if we are members of society and society democratically votes to pay taxes to help others then this is voluntary.  We can always elect to leave that society.

This argument has validity if everybody who votes pays taxes and everybody potentially benefits from the spending.  For example, if a city votes a 1% sales tax to support city parks, one can argue that even if I never go to a park, I have the right to use the park and the whole city benefits from having a park.  I think it has less validity if everybody pays and only a few benefit.  If this same sales tax is used  to subsidize favored corporations or for welfare payments, then it moves into what I would consider a gray area.

If, however, the majority of people vote for a tax paid only by a minority, then it  totally ceases to be voluntary.  For example, if 90% of the people vote for a tax that is only paid by the top 10% and then redistributed to the other 90% then this isn’t charity.  This is theft by taxes. We fought a revolution against the British because of taxation without representation.

Charity is much more efficient than welfare.

When you give to a good charity, a high percentage of the money actually goes to the recipients.  I know that my favorite charity that provides many services to the poor, including a food bank, cites that over 85% of donations go to the poor and less than 15% goes to administrative overhead.  James Rolph Edwards did a study in 2007 published in the Journal of Libertarian Studies in 2007 that stated that typically charities target 75% of the their spending directly on services to the poor and 25% goes to overhead.  In contrast, with welfare programs only 25% of the money goes directly to the poor and 75% goes to overhead.  Welfare is a very inefficient way to get services to the poor.1

This becomes particularly worrisome because many supporters of welfare believe that because government helps people, they don’t have to.  For example, Vice President Joe Biden is a big proponent of government spending on welfare.  This chart shows Biden’s tax donations for the ten years before he became Vice President:


When we direct money to welfare, we often direct money away from charity.  As a result, the bureaucrats prosper and the poor suffer.

Welfare is addictive.

The most insidious difference between charity and welfare is that welfare is addicting. We now have multi-generational welfare.  People spend all their lives on welfare and don’t know anything else.  Welfare does not cure poverty.  Welfare causes poverty.  The following graph charts welfare spending in constant dollars against the official poverty rate since the war on poverty started in 1964.

Welfare Spending vs. the Poverty Rate

As the chart shows, the poverty rate fell dramatically from 35% in 1950 to  less than 20% in 1964 before the war on poverty started.  It continued to fall to approximately 10% in the early 70s.   Since then, despite dramatic increases in welfare spending the rate has stayed within the 10 to 15% range ever since.  We are spending more and more money on welfare to fight poverty, but we are not reducing poverty.  Since Obama became president, we have dramatically increased welfare spending, but instead of poverty going down, poverty has gone up.

The addictive quality of welfare in the long term make poverty worse instead of better..  Each charity can decide how it wishes to help people.  If the charity isn’t being effective, it can change what it does.   If the donors think the charity is ineffective, the donors can give elsewhere.  Welfare is a government program that is locked into what it does.  It doesn’t change when it isn’t effective.  And the “donors”, the taxpayers, certainly don’t have the choice to give elsewhere.


Welfare is not charity.  It is not Tzedakah.  Welfare replaces Tzedakah, and welfare is a poor substitute.  Assuming that welfare is charity is a very bad assumption.  The people who suffer the most from this bad assumption are the poor, the people we are trying to help.

1Normally, I always like to cite reference data from mainstream sources.   In this case, after extensive googling I was unable to find any data from a well-known, unimpeachable source.  This data is typical of what I found.  I will leave it to the reader to evaluate the merit of this claim and I would appreciate it if anybody else can provide data from a more mainstream source.

Why do intelligent, well-meaning people disagree?

I have changed the tag line of my site with this question.  I have also added it as a permanent page to the blog.  The text below is now on this new page.

I am blessed to have wonderful friends and family.  They are good people.  They wish for peace and prosperity for themselves, the people they care about, their country, and the world.  They are very intelligent, thoughtful people who take an interest in the world and are reasonably well informed.  I also think that I am a reasonably good, reasonably intelligent person.  So why is it that when it comes to politics, most of my friends, my family, and I profoundly disagree?

Why do intelligent, well-meaning people disagree?   I have never seen anybody else seriously address this issue. This subject fascinates me.  My blog can go in many directions, from memorable movies to global warming, but the majority of my blog focuses on this key question.

I am a computer programmer.  In computers, we think in terms of input, process, and output.  If we share common goals, basically peace and prosperity, we desire the same output.  If we are intelligent, we have reasonably good process.  I believe the disagreement is primarily due to the input, the assumptions we make and how we frame the issue.

Early in life we form assumptions about how the world works.  We make these assumptions based upon our observations and what we believe to be common sense.  Once we make an assumption, this becomes the starting point for our thoughts on everything else.  We seldom re-examine our assumptions and we tend to hold our assumptions with a religious fervor, rejecting outright any argument that violates our assumptions.

To a certain amount this makes sense.  If a person starts with the assumption that 2+2=5, that person may be able to brilliantly argue that 4+4=10, but that argument is worthless as it is built on a faulty assumption.  You and I have better things to do with our time than to listen to this argument.

People can only have a reasonable discussion when the discussion begins with common assumptions.  Two Christians can have a fascinating debate using the text of the new testament as the basis for their arguments, but if you are a Jew, a Buddhist, or an Atheist, for example, their arguments mean absolutely nothing to you as you don’t accept their underlying assumptions.

In this blog, I try to examine our underlying assumptions, both good and bad.  It is only at this level that people of differing political philosophies can have any kind of meaningful discussion.  I, of course, tend to think my assumptions are good and try to justify them.  I welcome others to point out any flaws in my arguments.  If my assumptions are wrong, I want to re-examine them.  For example, a book I read recently by Malcolm Gladwell caused me to modify an assumption I had held for over forty years.

Bad assumptions aren’t the only type of input that causes well-meaning, intelligent people to disagree.  I think another problem is that we frequently don’t frame the issue properly.   For example, someone might say that he or she supports government program XYZ because it is a good program that helps people. I would ask is XYZ such a good program that it is worth borrowing money from China that our children and grandchildren will have to repay. Because of this debt they will not be able to afford many other good programs.  If this is true, do you still support XYZ?

I care about what causes intelligent, well-meaning people to disagree.  I don’t care about analyzing the opinions of people who don’t fit this category.  I don’t care about the haters, who are on both the left and the right politically.  I don’t care about the opinions of clueless, people who can’t identify China on a world map and give no thought to these opinions.

I hope through this blog to find others who find this topic fascinating.  While I will venture off into other areas that interest me, this is the predominant theme of the blog.  I hope you find it fascinating too.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 9 – People making more cause other people to make less.

Alternate Assumption: People making more cause other people to also make more.

Income inequality is one of the hottest political issues in America today.  People don’t think it is fair that some people make substantially more money than other people.  Proposed solutions include increasing taxes on the wealthy, raising the minimum wage, and limiting the pay of CEO’s.  The key assumption in this whole debate is that the total amount of wealth is a fixed pie.  People who take a bigger slice of pie force others to take a smaller slice.

It is a basic principle of economics that wealth is not a fixed pie.  It grows and contracts. The key to growing wealth is voluntary transactions.  For example, you buy a cup of coffee.  You are buying the coffee because to you the coffee is worth more than the money that you are paying for it.  The coffee shop owner sells you the coffee because to him or her, the money you pay is worth more than the coffee.  You both feel you are better off by making this transaction.  If not, you wouldn’t make the transaction.  This transaction has made both you and the coffee shop owner better off than if you hadn’t made the transaction.  In essence, you are both a little bit wealthier.

The key here is that the transaction is voluntary.  If the transaction is not voluntary, wealth is not increased.  If someone steals your money, wealth is not created.  When government taxes you, wealth is not created.  It is only when the transaction is voluntary, when both parties to the transaction think they are better off, that we create wealth.

Steve Jobs was exceptionally good at creating wealth.  When he returned to Apple as CEO, Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy.  Now Apple has the highest market value of any company in America according to the latest rankings by Fortune magazine.  Steve Jobs earned billions as a result.  He was not the only one who benefited, however.  Millions more benefited from his success.  pPeople who invested in Apple, work for Apple, work for companies who sell to Apple, work for companies who develop software for Apple, or who simply enjoy using iPhones and iPads are all better off.   Would all of these people have better lives if we stopped Steve Jobs from creating wealth because he made too much money?

In the feudal societies of the middle ages, most transactions were not voluntary.  Nobles forced serfs to work for them and taxed from them just about everything they had.  Kingdoms grew wealthy not from innovating and creating but from plundering weaker kingdoms.  In these feudal societies, the assumption that one person growing wealthier causes others to become poorer was valid.  It is also why society did not progress for over a thousand years.  This assumption is also true in a modern autocratic society where dictators plunder from the rest of the population.

It is not true, however, in societies where most transactions are voluntary, where there is economic freedom.  The Heritage foundation ranks each country by economic freedom. Look at their rankings:  2015 Index of Economic Freedom.  Note that the most economically free countries are also the wealthiest countries.  The least free countries are the poorest countries.

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who is currently running for president, is calling for a top tax rate of 90%?  Why should an investor put money into a risky new company that might become the next Apple if when the company fails, the investor loses everything, but if the company succeeds, the investor only gets to keep 10% of the gain.  The investor doesn’t make this investment and just puts the money in the bank for a safe low interest. As a result, society loses the next Apple.

The belief that people making more cause other people to make less is a very popular, very dangerous, very bad assumption.

“President Obama is too Intelligent for Republicans to Understand”: Revisiting Bad Assumption 1

I have a friend who is a delightful person and highly intelligent.  That being said, she constantly bombards Facebook with far left wing links.  I often look at these.  As I have said before, if you can’t argue the other side of an issue, you don’t know enough to argue your own opinion.  Frequently I see the bad assumptions I talk so much about permeating these articles.  The other day I saw one such article that stood out by the audacity of its title:

The Simple Truth: President Obama is Too Intelligent for Republicans to Understand.

I highly suggest you click on this link for a moment and read this article.  I also suggest you revisit my previous blog post:

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 1 – If we disagree, you are either mean or stupid.

I would now like to analyze this article.  The author, Allen Clifton, provides three examples which “prove” how much smarter Obama is than the Republicans.  I would like to take a close look at each of these examples.  I would then like to talk a little about how intelligent Obama really is.


Obamacare is Clifton’s first example of the “big picture thinking” that Republicans are too stupid to grasp because “Republicans seem unable to understand anything beyond the spoon-fed bumper sticker talking points they’re given by the GOP and the conservative media.”  Clifton states that in the long term medical rates will go down because increased preventative care will cause a reduction in more expensive treatment down the road.  Let’s assume that Clifton’s premise is true that increasing preventative care is a force that will drive down healthcare costs.  The “big picture” piece that Clifton is missing is that there are many, many forces at work in the market.  Some of the forces push costs down and some push costs up.  For example, Obamacare reimburses doctors at a significantly reduced rates compared to private insurance.  As a result, many doctors are refusing to accept patients with Obamacare.  At the same time, Obamacare enrollment is increasing.  With supply going down and demand going up, this inevitably is a force to either push costs up, or if costs may not go up because of regulations, it will cause a shortage in medical care.  Here is an article from USA Today titled “Some doctors wary of taking insurance exchange patients” explaining the situation.

I am not expert enough to say whether the forces pushing costs up or those pushing costs down will prevail.  This certainly is a subject for reasonable debate.  Clifton, however, looks at one small piece of the overall “big picture” and makes a definitive statement while ignoring the rest of the picture.  At the same time he derides Republicans for being too stupid to look at the big picture.  Ironic, isn’t it?

The Minimum Wage

Clifton’s second example of Republican stupidity is the minimum wage.  He notes that Republicans call it a job killer and refute this with this powerful argument:   “It’s not.”  I’d like to refer here to Dr. Thomas Sowell about the minimum wage:

Minimum Wage Madness:  Part 1

Minimum Wage Madness: Part 2

Minimum Wage Exploitation (if you prefer audio)

Dr. Sowell is basically stating that a minimum wage job is the bottom rung on a career ladder.  A person with no skills works for a low wage.  In the process, the person gains skills that allow him or her to earn a higher wage.  A company will only hire a worker, at minimum wage or any other wage, if the company expects that the value received from the person exceeds what it costs to employ that person.  As the cost rises, fewer people will be hired.  This is basic economics.  When we raise the minimum wage, we are cutting off the bottom rung of the ladder.  As a result, some people will never, ever climb that ladder.

This does not mean we should not raise the minimum wage.  In any policy, there are winners and losers.  There are trade-offs.  If we raise the minimum wage, the clear winners are people who now have a job at the new higher wage.  It is very easy to see that they are better off, and they know it.  There are losers too, but they aren’t so clear and the losers may never know they are losers.  The primary losers are people who never get hired who would have gotten hired if the minimum wage had not risen.  If the employers have to raise prices to pay for the higher wages, the consumers who pay the higher prices are also losers.  The companies who have to pay hire wages without getting more for their wages are also losers, although I am sure that this would be unimportant to Clifton.

Clifton also claims that the workers will make more money, spend the money, and this will help the economy making everybody a winner.  This would be true if the higher salary was due to increased productivity, to the worker earning more because the worker is worth more.   When productivity increases, the pie gets bigger. If, however, this is just an arbitrary raise without any productivity increases, the pie isn’t getting better.  It is just being cut differently.  This means that every extra dollar that the higher minimum wage worker spends, somebody else is spending a dollar less.  There is no spending boost in the economy.

The key point here isn’t to say that the minimum wage shouldn’t be raised.  The key point is to say that it is complicated, that there are trade-offs that should be weighed.   Clifton is denying the complexities of the issue and proposing a simple answer.  Remember that Clifton’s whole point was to say how stupid the Republicans were and how Republicans didn’t understand the issue.


Clifton states, “When it comes to ISIS,Republicans just want to send in troops and ‘crush the terrorists’.”   Note that Clifton put “crush the terrorists” in quotes.  I am not sure who he is quoting.  I have not heard a single reputable Republican advocating sending American ground troops to fight ISIS.  Clifton is raising a straw man argument.  He is saying his opponents are for a position and then ridiculing the position, when his opponents don’t have that position.  Clifton states:

When it comes right down to it, I really do believe a huge part about why so many of the non-racist Republicans are against President Obama is because many of them are simply unable to grasp his “big picture” thinking that drives a lot of his policies. That requires intelligence and far too many conservative would rather just be told what to think by Fox News. They want their policies to be so simplified and catchy that they fit on bumper stickers.

He is clearly stating that Obama has a “big picture” policy, that Obama’s understanding is so much better than the Republicans’.   Is he referring to the same Obama who over a year ago scoffed at ISIS as a threat calling it the “JV team.”  Here is a link to a Politifact article which shows Obama’s statement and stating that his later denial of referring specifically to ISIS is false.  Obama also removed all troops from Iraq, overriding his top advisors who wanted him to leave behind a residual force.   This Time article “Leon Panetta: How the White House Misplayed Iraqi Troop Talks” references former Obama CIA leader and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on this subject.  On the way to taking over major Iraqi cities, such as Mosul, ISIS had to cross a wide open desert which would have made them sitting ducks to an air attack if we had kept a residual force.

Why therefore should anyone believe that Obama has this “big picture” view of ISIS  that the Republicans are just too dumb to understand?

Obama:  The Super Genius

In addition to saying that all Republicans are idiots, Clifton is stating that Obama is such a genius that his detractors, idiots such as Dr. Thomas Sowell, can’t keep up with his intellect.  I ask where is the evidence that Obama is such a genius?  I am not saying Obama is stupid.  After all, he graduated from Harvard Law School.  What about Obama though should make us think he is that much more intelligent than his opponents?  Obama still has not authorized the release of his grades in college.  Does anybody really think that if his grades were exemplary, he wouldn’t release them?

I will tell you what shocked me more than anything else when it comes to realizing Obama’s understanding of policy.  In 2011, in an interview with NBC’s Ann Curry, Obama blamed unemployment on advances in technology:

There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.

By Obama’s logic, we never should have invented the plow.  For example, lets say we have an agrarian society where it takes everyone’s efforts to grow enough food to feed the society.  Then somebody invents the plow.  Now only half of the people are needed to do the farming.  We can say that the plow made half of the society unemployed.  Now, however, the labor that has been freed from farming can do other things.  People can be blacksmiths, shoemakers, merchants and artists.  Overall, the society is wealthier than it was before.

The concept here is that technology increases productivity.  Productivity is the total value of goods and services produced divided by the costs of providing these goods and services.  Productivity from labor can be thought of as the total value of goods and services produced per working hour.  A person’s productivity represents the most somebody is willing to pay that person.  When we increase productivity, we can pay the person more.  New technology may cause some people to lose jobs in the short-term.  The proverbial buggy whip employees were put out of work by the invention of the automobile, but overall society was better off.

This is something that they teach in Economics 101.  It is simple, basic economics.  When Obama blamed unemployment on ATM machines and other technology, he showed he did not understand the basic facts about economics.  This is the man who is in charge of the economic policy of the United States.  This is the super genius whose knowledge leaves everybody else in the dust.

I don’t think so.

Bad Assumption 1 Revisited – If we disagree you are either mean or stupid.

I don’t know Allen Clifton. I think he is probably a fairly intelligent person.  Like my friend who posted this article on Facebook, he is also probably a nice person.  I think he is also totally blinded by bad assumption 1.  By demeaning his opponents, by saying they are all stupid, this means he doesn’t need to seriously look at their arguments.  This also means, he doesn’t need to examine his own arguments, his own views.  As I have said previously, just about every issue has two sides.  If you can’t argue the other side assuming that your opponent is a well-meaning, intelligent person, that means you don’t really understand the issue.  I think we are all much better off if we can jettison this bad assumption.

Indiana and Shades of Gray

Most of the time when politics and morality combine, it doesn’t take me too long to decide where I stand on the issue; however, sometimes an issue arises where two important values seemingly collide.   The controversy over the Indiana Religious Freedom law is in one of these grey areas.  Basically, the law was in reaction to the uproar caused when a bakery, citing religious values, refused to make a cake for a gay wedding.  The law led to a furor of opposition and a boycott of Indiana saying that it legalized discrimination of gays.  This resulted in a counter-furor from those saying the law did not discriminate and is being unfairly maligned and it just protects the rights of people to exercise their conscience.

It is not my intent here to debate the Indiana law itself.  I am not a lawyer and I make no claim either way on the merits of the law.  What intrigues me is the underlying issue.  Should government require the bakery to make the cake for the gay wedding?

Let me preface this by saying that I personally support gay marriage.  I have stated repeatedly on this blog that I believe that adults should be able to engage in any voluntary interaction, whether that be business or personal, without government interference.  Gay marriage certainly fits this criteria.

The grey area results from the apparent conflict in two values I hold deeply:

  • I believe that discrimination is reprehensible.
  • I believe that people should be free to live their lives as they see fit unless their free choices interfere with the rights of other people to live their lives as they see fit.

In the simplest case, there can be a conflict if, for example, a person says that it should be his freedom to not serve gays, or blacks, or Jews, or people with red hair in his bakery.   I don’t want to take the time to argue this out here (perhaps in a future post), but to keep it short, I feel that the value against discrimination is stronger than the value for personal freedom.   Why then is my gut instinct to say that while the bakery should be required to serve gays who show up to buy a cake, the baker should not be required to make a cake for a gay wedding.  Why is there a difference?  They both appear to be discrimination.

First, I want to say more about what this issue is not about.  In many discussions of discrimination, one can  argue if there really is discrimination.  If a police department does not hire many black policemen, is it discrimination against blacks or is it because there aren’t enough qualified black candidates?  In this case the baker clearly stated that the reason was because he did not want to cater the wedding because it was gay.  This is clearly intentional discrimination.  Second, in many instances of discrimination there is a question of public vs. private.  It can be legally acceptable to say you will not invite a minority to join a private club, but you can’t refuse the minority entrance to your business.  In this case, it is a business and clearly it is public and not private.

So this brings me back to my gut instinct.  My first thoughts were that I cannot morally justify this instinct.  Refusing to cater a gay wedding isn’t substantially different than refusing to sell a gay person a cake.  There are a couple of techniques I use when I am trying to battle a moral gray issue.  The first technique is that if I am not the aggrieved party, I try to come up with a comparable situation where I would be the aggrieved party and then see if my reaction would be the same.  I am not gay but I am Jewish.  If my son was having a Bar Mitzvah and the baker told me he refused to cater Bar Mitzvahs, how would I feel then.  I believe I would be angry, but I would certainly not hire a lawyer and try to force the baker to cater the Bar Mitzvah.  I would not be happy, and I would probably tell everybody I knew to never go to that baker, but I wouldn’t think there should be a law forcing the baker to do the catering.

My other technique is to reverse the situation and see if it changes the way I feel.   If the baker strongly supported gay marriage and was asked to cater a convention dedicated to banning gay marriage, should the baker be forced to cater the convention?  Should a strong Democrat be forced to cater a Republican event?  Should anybody be forced to cater a Ku Klux Klan rally?  Reversing the situation didn’t change my views on this issue.  It actually made them much stronger.  So I decided I was right in my views.  I just still had no understanding of why I was right.  What is the moral distinction between saying that the baker must serve gays and not saying the baker must cater a gay wedding?

I finally found what I believe is the answer.  Before stating it, I think it is important to broaden the issue.  First, while the Indiana law cites religious concerns, I think that religion is much too restrictive in discussing this issue.  I would like to say that the issue involves someone who has any type of moral concern, whether it stems from religion or a deeply held conviction that is not based on religion.   The opposition of an atheist to catering the Ku Klux Klan should bear no less weight than the opposition of a Catholic for example.  Second, my opinion on the actual issues should not matter.  The rights of a Democrat to refuse to cater a Republican event or a Republican to cater a Democrat event should be the same.  Finally, of course, we are talking about much more than serving customers or catering.  The issue refers to any form of public interaction.  For example, should a politician be required to speak at a pro-choice or a pro-life organization?

I finally decided that the difference is that if the baker refused to serve gays, he is refusing to serve people based upon who they are.  When he refused to cater a gay wedding, he refused to support the statement they were making.   A wedding makes the statement that two people love each other.  A gay wedding makes the statement that two people of the same gender love each other and that this is good.  Refusing to support a statement is exercising first amendment rights for free speech.  Refusing to serve a person just because of who they are is not free speech.  It is just discrimination.

When I have a Bar Mitzvah for my son, I am making a statement that I think that the Jewish heritage is good.  When someone holds a political event, the event is clearly making a statement.  In every instance where I felt that the government should not force the business to serve the customer, the event was making a statement.   In the instances where I felt the  business should be forced, there was no statement.  While it can be argued that, for example in the famous civil rights lunch counter protests, the blacks who showed up at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in North Carolina were certainly making a statement, the general behavior of people showing up at a lunch counter is not a statement.  They are just hungry.  Once again, it shouldn’t make a difference on which side of an issue I lean to in determining if the person should be forced to do something he or she does not morally agree with.  The operative philosophy can be paraphrased by the famous quote,  “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

One argument against what I just stated could be that by participating in an event that makes a statement, you are not inherently supporting that statement.  For those who make this argument, I would like to refer them to the recent event where the Republican House Majority whip Steve Scalise was castigated for speaking to a white supremacist organization and he finally apologized for it.  People may associate you, rightly or wrongly, with any statement made by any event you participate in.  By participating, you may not be actively supporting the statement, but you certainly aren’t opposing it enough to refuse to participate.  Even if others don’t think that, you might think that yourself.  That should be enough.  Therefore I believe that forcing a person to support a statement is a violation of the person’s right to free speech.

One might also argue refusing to cater the event is not speech, it is actually non-speech.  Clearly though non speech is a form of political speech.  Frequently in history tyrants have required subjects to say loyalty oaths.  Failure to say the oath could result in execution, torture, or imprisonment.  Certainly the tyrants thought that non-speech was a form of political speech.  So should we.

I think that this key distinction helps clarify the issue.  This may not remove all of the shades of grey from the discussion, but to me at least it adds a framework for looking at a difficult issue.  I would be interested in how others look at this.