The real trick is where to apply limited government…and when not to

“Small” government or “big” government from a political science perspective are pretty much nonsensical terms.   A “small,” local government can be just as much a tyranny as a national “big” government.   Look at what Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona for an example of “small” local government effectively acting in an out-of-control, even tyrannous fashion.   Or look at the pre-civil rights deep Southern local or “small” governments and their oppressive treatment towards minorities.  Small but tyrannous government is quite possible.

The real issue is “limited” government and when to apply it to specific spheres of society. For the most part, a strictly limited government works really well when we talk about individual rights – say, freedom of speech or freedom of religion.  When it comes to, say, reigning in massive corporate abuses of power, then we start looking around for a empowered government that can counter that threat to our society- which means not-so-limited government in that sphere- and a good thing, too.

Whenever I hear anyone say, “I am against big government!” I shrug privately. It doesn’t really mean anything.   We are the government, and we determine its limits as we deem necessary.

For a fine article regarding a local government that acts in a tyrannous fashion, check out the Rolling Stones article on Sheriff Arpaio:

An interesting insight on the shortcomings of too much “small” government:


Measuring Bias and Accuracy in Cable News

Is MSNBC left leaning and Fox News Right Leaning with CNN in the Middle?

Science seems to confirm what’s pretty apparent.  Nascent science, yes, but science nonetheless:

“Using the Contrast Analysis of Semantic Similarity (CASS) text analysis software, the researchers evaluated 12 months’ worth of transcripts from MSNBC, FOX and CNN. Confirming their hypotheses and validating the CASS method, FOX demonstrated a conservative bias, while MSNBC exhibited a liberal leaning. CNN fell squarely in between.” (From

However, the above is a measure of bias, not accuracy.

So let’s talk accuracy.

When accuracy is included in the mix, Fox falls behind pretty badly.

Studies- numerous studies – were conducted on who is accurate and, well, who isn’t.

Last time I checked, there were six major studies. Each study found, in one way or another, that Fox News was the least accurate in its reporting or that Fox News viewers were the least informed of viewers, often holding beliefs that were factually incorrect.

A supporting factor for the accuracy of these studies is that there are no reports by anyone, anywhere, that state that Fox News viewers are *better* informed than other viewers, or that Fox is more accurate than other news providers.

Let’s look at the studies. Six are listed here; I’ve heard there’s a seventh recently out that matches the below data; I haven’t had the chance to find it.

First, my apologies:  I’m sure I got most or all of this list from another site; but at the moment, I don’t have a link to that site or even a record of where I got this list.  I’ll fix that.

Here we go!

1) “Climate on Cable: The Nature and Impact of Global Warming Coverage on Fox
News, CNN, and MSNBC.” A combined study by American University, George Mason University and Yale University. A sophisticated study (link below) that indicated that by a wide margin, Fox News viewers were very misinformed on a range of subjects, including scientific statements on global warming, but also in such matters as the Iraq War.


2) Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA): “MISPERCEPTIONS, THE MEDIA AND THE IRAQ WAR”. This study found, to quote, “Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions.”


3) Stanford University: “Frequent Viewers of Fox News Are Less Likely to Accept Scientists’ Views of Global Warming”. This study found, to quote, that the “ “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists.”


4) Kaisar Foundation: “ASSESSING AMERICANS’ FAMILIARITY WITH THE HEALTH CARE LAW”. This was a study that focused on how well cable media viewers understood the facts behind health care reform. It found, to quote, regarding its survey that, “higher shares of those who report CNN (35 percent) or MSNBC (39 percent) as their primary news source [got] 7 or more right, compared to those who report mainly watching Fox News (25 percent).”


5) Ohio State University: “FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTES TO SPREAD OF RUMORS ABOUT PROPOSED NYC MOSQUE. CNN and NPR promote more accurate beliefs; Belief in rumors associated with opposition to the NYC mosque and to mosques in general”

Read through the study. Fox News would pass on unsubstantiated rumors far more often than other outlets; correspondingly, the study found that Fox News viewers were about half more likely to believe these rumors.


6) Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA): “Misinformation and the 2010 Election: A Study of the US Electorate”. In this study, Fox News viewers were much more likely to believe false claims brought forward during the election cycle; many of these false claims were promulgated by Fox News personalities.


With *no* studies, none -not even noncredible ones- stating that Fox News is the most accurate reporting outlet, and none stating that Fox News viewers are the best informed, it’s reasonable, indeed compelling, to conclude that Fox News does a poor job conveying facts, and, correspondingly, its viewers are the least informed of the lot.

So, yeah, MSNBC is on the left and Fox is on the right. The difference is that Fox is a lot less informing and actually inaccurate in its reporting.

That’s why – that’s why!- when I see Fox News on television anywhere I ask that the channel be changed. Not entirely because it’s full of right-wing opinion.

Because it’s just so dang blasted and demonstrably inaccurate.

Birthers Start Up On Ted Cruz: Oh, Please, Just Stop.

The Natural-born-citizen clause as it appeared in 1787 (yes, I took it from Wikipedia!)

The Natural-born-citizen clause as it appeared in 1787 (yes, I took it from Wikipedia!)

Ted Cruz, the junior Senator from Texas, sure has stirred up the pot at times.  He tends towards arrogance and goofiness all in one package, which is quite an accomplishment.  Worse, this guy is talking about running for president.

Okie dokie artichokie.  I think it very unlikely the guy got a shot at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  I mean, really.  I think we’ve had our fill of Texas Republicans sitting in the Oval Office.   At least for a long while.

With a measure of fame, though, comes the inevitable conspiracy theories.  One conspiracy theory states that as Cruz was born in Canada to American parents that he isn’t a “natural born citizen” and therefore unqualified for the presidency.

Ted Cruz is many things.  But one thing is is not is “not American.”

The Purpose of the Constitution’s Natural-Born-Citizen Clause

The natural-born-citizen clause of the Constitution was created with one primary purpose:  In an age of monarchs and aristocrats, its purpose was to prevent a European-born aristocrat from assuming the presidency and transforming it into a hereditary office. At the time, this wasn’t an unfounded concern considering that a couple of decades after the constition was ratified, Napoleon’s brother -a former king!- lived for many years in Philadelphia and New York.

The intent: NO American monarchs.

The Definition of “Natural Born”

The current definition of “natural born” as generally agreed upon comes from the Congressional Research Service (attached): In short a “natural born citizen” is a person born a US citizen, whether or not they are born on US soil.

That is, “natural born” means someone who doesn’t have to go through the process of “naturalization” to become a citizen. Those who don’t have to go through the naturalization process breaks down into two areas:

  • A person born in the USA (regardless if his/her parents are citizens)
  • A person born outside of the USA who has at least one American parent

So, yes, Cruz, because he did not have to go through the naturalization process, is by definition a “natural born” citizen.  His father was a naturalized citizen and his mom was born in Delaware. He can and does claim citizenship from either or both parents.  Because of his American parentage, could have been born on the Moon and he’d still be a natural-born American citizen. Whether or not Cruz was born in Canada, as he had at least one American parent, is not a factor.

Cruz may be arrogant, goofy, and hold some loathsome views, but yeah, he’s a natural born American citizen.  So let’s not waste any more time on such silliness.  That said:

Let’s Get Rid of It!

Frankly, the natural-born-citizen-clause is a hopelessly outdated. There’s no reason, none, that someone who, say, immigrated to the USA as a young child and became a citizen shouldn’t be qualified to be president, especially if said naturalized citizen renounced any and all claims of loyalty to his’ or her’s nation of birth.

There’s little chance of an aristocrat capturing the presidency and hasn’t been in oh, a long while now. All we’re doing is excluding potentially fine people from the office. Let’s get rid of it and rid ourselves of one more outdated rule that conspiracy theorists use to distraction.

Some references:

Probably the definitive document on the definition of “natural born” from the Congressional Research:

A really well written Wikipedia entry on the subject:

Some goofiness from a Clown Who Would Be President (Donald Trump, of course!).  Proof, in a way, that it’s time to take one more weapon away from those who drive us to distraction with idiocy:

Roger Williams: Did this Gentle Man Plant a Seed for the American Revolution?

Statue of Roger Williams at Roger Williams University, Bristol, Rhode Island. No one knows how Roger Williams original looked like, so the sculptor used another, more recent, Williams as a model.

Statue of Roger Williams at Roger Williams University, Bristol, Rhode Island.
Yes, that’s Ted Williams’ face.

Hear me out:  The concept of the separation of church and state is so deeply embedded in the American psyche that it was a catalyst that led not only to independence, but to American democracy itself.

Jefferson hardly invented the “wall of separation” phrase that’s in his famous 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.  He very appropriately repeated a phrase that was first uttered by Roger Williams in the 1640s.

Unable to come to an accommodation with the intolerant Puritans in Massachusetts (actually he fled from them), Williams obtained a charter from England with the intention to build a colony with a “hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes (sic) of the world.”

Rhode Island was born.

Let’s think about that. Jefferson well knew who first uttered that phrase one hundred and sixty or so years before, as probably did the congregants of Danbury Baptist.

The concept of a separation of church and state was well known in 1802.  And well it should have been. It took some time for Williams’ seed of religious liberty to sprout outside of Rhode Island, but when it did…


That seed sprouted into the First Great Awakening.

The First Great Awakening was a religious movement that burned through the American colonies in the first half of the 18th century. At its core, it was a popular reaction against the theocracies that established authoritarian states in several New England colonies.   The common people insisted that they reserve the right to choose for themselves how they worshipped.  They won that contest against the theocrats, and won pretty handily at that.  In so doing, they built a resilient wall of separation between church and state.

No more theocracy:  The power of religion lay with the people and not the state.

From thereon in, the people of New England were psychologically prepared to rebel against unabridged authority, be it religious or political.

It was no coincidence that where the First Great Awakening initially caught fire, where the people rebelled against theocracy so they could worship in their own way, was also the land where British troops were first fired upon.

Hence Roger Williams, possibly the gentlest settler who walked the early American colonies, in his example of religious tolerance and protection for individual religious belief, greatly contributed to the defiant mindset (“Don’t tread on me”)  that eventually led to the American Revolution.

Certainly his principle of a “hedge or wall of Separation”designed to protect individual religious belief lives on today 370 years later. This wall is much older than Thomas Jefferson.

Today’s extremists, ignorant of this grand history, will continue to try to knock down this powerful wall that is so deeply embedded in the American character. In the long run, they’re not going to get very far with their muddleheaded quest.

Like those long ago New England colonists who battled for religious freedom, today’s Americans won’t let anyone take that freedom away from them.

Yes, these radical muddleheads will create chaos and pain in the attempt at weakening or destroying this wall.

But succeed?

I don’t think so.

A fine series on Roger Williams and his powerful but largely forgotten impact on today’s world is available on YouTube via the Center for Liberty of Conscience here:

Clerics for the Poor

Christ of Maryknoll by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Christ of Maryknoll by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

The recent accession of Pope Francis reminds me of the South American bishops and priests who fought for the rights of those in deep penury in the 1960s and 70s. These were the days of the “slum bishop” Helder Camara, the late archbishop of Recife, Brazil. Camara lived among the poor, dressed very humbly, and refused to live in the bishop’s house or even drive a car. A true ascetic, he lived in the slums themselves, founding, among many other things, a bank for the poor. The dictatorship hired an assassin to murder the him. The assassin, on seeing the bishop’s humble abode in the slums, refused to kill him, and in fact, asked for for a confession! He was one of the many brave priests and nuns who were hated by parties ranging from brutal military dictatorships to conservative sects within Catholicism that, against their very faith, defended the wealthy well before the poor.

During those days, a contemporary of Camera, a theologian and Dominican priest named Frei Betto was arrested by the dictatorship and tortured. As he recounted in his memoir, during the torture sessions, they asked him, “How can a Christian collaborate with a communist?”

He replied, “For me, men are not divided into believers and atheists, but between oppressors and oppressed, between those who want to keep this unjust society and those who want to struggle for justice.”

They responded, “Have you forgotten that Marx considered religion to be the opium of the people?”

He responded, “It is the bourgeoisie which has turned religion into an opium of the people by preaching a God, lord of the heavens only, while taking possession of the earth for itself.”

Pope Francis certainly isn’t as radical as Betto. It’s obvious, though, that this deep concern for the poor is part of this priest’s very nature. Such concern is further indicated by his contributions to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on the Global Economy, where the Vatican makes it quite clear, especially through a recent publication that went nearly unreported, that libertarian teachings on the economy (also known as the “Austrian School”) are anathema to Catholicism. Indeed the document calls for a global regulating economic body to tame the more destructive elements of capitalism that cause great harm especially to those living in poverty.

Note: The document decries European “liberalism.” In Europe, the term “liberal” is synonymous with the American term “libertarian”. An American “liberal” is certainly not a European “liberal” by any means. The document is diplomatic but direct on the harm that libertarianism poses to society.

An excellent article on the release of the above document by the Rev Tom Reese, S.J.:

How Much Longer Can The Radical Right Ignore Positive Liberty?

Isaiah Berlin

Von Mises even went so far to insist that true democracy was via money spent and not votes. He effectively argued that “one dollar, one vote” was more effective and preferable than “one man (sic) one vote”. To sort of quote Mises: “a society in which every penny represents a ballot is a capitalist society”.

Think of the implications of that philosophy. That *is* what is believed by many powerful people in government today, from Scalia to Clarence Thomas to Paul Ryan to Alan Greenspan- that money *is* democracy.

It’s no wonder that they are in love with the Citizen’s United decision. It fulfills such a world view of what most people outside of their bubble would call a twisted idea of democracy. One where the more money one has, the more “freedom” one has to express oneself.

Yeah, I know…that’s nuts. But that’s what they believe.

These gentlemen of the Austrian school also argued that work is only useful if it produces goods that consumers wish to purchase. They despise the progressive principle that work is necessary for human dignity and that it can be a means of self-realization.

In fact, all of them – Friedman, Von Mises, Hayek, including today’s Alan Greenspan and his crop of libertarians, insisted and insist on recognizing only one kind of freedom – what Isaiah Berlin called “negative liberty”- the freedom to act without constraints.

The folks who adhere to this school of economic philosophy – of economic ideology, really,- insist that there is no such thing as another kind of liberty. The only liberty that exists to them is the one that means that they can act free from constraints. Or, to use GOP vernacular, “free from regulation”.

This *other* kind of freedom was recognized, effectively, by Aristotle, and for that matter, in the writings of Moses and expressed in ancient Judaic law. It was recognized and taught by greats such as Augustine and Aquinas. Yes, even the Catholic Church’s social teachings since the 1890s have recognized this liberty in its modern sense. FDR preached it, too, even reading aloud Catholic social justice tracts verbatim. The Protestant Social Gospel movements of the early 20th century recognized this non-negative freedom as well.

Isaiah Berlin termed it “positive liberty”.

It’s the freedom towards self realization that often comes from selflessly serving one another and society at large. Such self-realization requires available employment. It requires opportunity through affordable education. It requires health care for all so that people can work towards their personal goals.

It’s the freedom to work with a living wage- that is, to work a work week and be able to feed one’s family.

It’s the freedom to breath clean air and drink clean water.

These, and many others, are freedoms -liberties- too.

They’re positive liberties. And we must protect and cherish them. Guard them with all of our beings, if necessary.

Most libertarians hate even the concept of positive liberty, as after all, Ayn Rand wrote a book called “The Virtue of Selfishness”. Some libertarians do recognize it, but only as an inferior to their interpretation of negative liberty. It is assuredly *not* an inferior in any sense.

Positive liberty is the freedom towards self-realization that can only come from a healthy society. FDR, for example, described positive liberty in terms of “freedom from fear and freedom from hunger”

College students recognize it when they marched on Wall Street. They recognized that the greed of Wall Street is damaging their rights towards self realization. That the imbalances created by greed are badly infringing their positive liberties in the forms of self realization and opportunity.

Do the college kids use my words? No- but I bet they wouldn’t disagree with me.

It’s’ becoming more and more obvious that Wall Street’s grasping for more and more and more negative liberty is crowding out everyone else’s right for positive liberty.

As far as I’m concerned, another way to define “positive liberty” is, well, to use an old fashioned phrase, “the American Dream”. People can define that dream however they want- as an education, or as owning a house, or perhaps a successful business.

To me, though, all of those concrete desires come down to the positive concept of liberty, that is, the freedom of opportunity and of self realization.

That is why so many people perceive the “American Dream” as being in trouble. To use my words, they perceive that our positive liberties are endangered.

And they are quite correct in their perception.

“And Yet, It Moves”

GalileiMany extreme GOPers are so emotionally attached to the notion that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Pell Grants, etc. can’t work that they refuse to accept that they do work, and work better than privatizing them.

Imagine if, similarly, these same people were emotionally attached to the belief that airplanes can’t fly. They’d propound as gospel the old mathematical proof that airplanes can’t fly.

Even if someone like Galileo proved to them that they DO fly by pointing at them flying above their very heads and said to them, “Eppur si muove” (“And yet it moves”).