Ken’s Take on the World


Craniorectal Inversion Syndrome (CRIS)

The substandard IQ and illiteracy associated with Craniorectal Inversion Syndrome (CRIS) are symptoms generally present among those who misidentify themselves as, “conservative,” as opposed to those who are referred to as, “progressive,” or, “liberal.”  These individuals are actually confirmed upon examination and testing, and then diagnosed as being, “pseudo-conservative” as opposed to, “conservative.”  The syndrome is also referred to as Cranial-Rectal Impaction Syndrome, however, this is inaccurate as the head is not actually, “impacted.”  This incorrect term has been promoted by some on the right-wing of the political spectrum.  The cranium can easily be removed from within the rectum, however, the individual suffering from CRIS fears the result of exposure to evidence-based information making it challenging to address this disorder.  The most extreme cases of Craniorectal Inversion Syndrome, the proper medical term for this condition, involve the spewing of fecal matter from the oral opening while the head remains firmly transposed within the rectum.  The correlation between poor educational achievement and the propensity to vote for political candidates who actively promote economic, domestic, and foreign policy positions that are detrimental to them is well documented in those afflicted.  For example, it is well known that those who do not attain an educational level beyond the traditional K12 educational spectrum leads individuals to vote for political candidates they know will promote legislation that is detrimental to their well-being.  For example, Republican candidates for elected office often run on a platform that promotes wealth redistribution by taking tax dollars from middle class and working families and diverts these revenues to the wealthiest corporations and families.  This is counterintuitive to the economic instincts, and financial stability, of the middle class and the working class economic strata and can, perhaps, be explained by a lack of knowledge about basic economics.  None other than Bush strategist, Karl Rove, who explains that as individuals gain more knowledge they become significantly LESS likely to vote for Republican candidates.  This was confirmed within the past few days by the leading Republican candidate for President, Donald Trump confirming that the GOP depends on ignorant voters in order to win elections.  It is interesting that individual income, or social status, is an inconsistent marker for voting for a conservative or progressive political candidate, however, attainment of knowledge is a powerful predictor of political persuasion with good sensitivity and specificity.  The better educated and informed an individual becomes, the less likely the individual will develop CRIS and the less likely they will be to vote for political candidates who claim to be conservative on social or economic issues.

 

Pseudo-conservatives differ from actual conservatives in many ways.  The most obvious is demonstrated in the complete and utter inability to use documented evidence and proven facts to participate in rational and civilized debate over actual issues that are presented to them.  While conservatives are able to engage and participate in constructive dialogue with people of differing viewpoints to address serious challenges, pseudo-conservatives who suffer from CRIS are unable to do so based on the limited feedback they are able to process on account of confinement and, likely, a lack of oxygen afforded them due to head placement.  Pseudo-conservatives are limited to repeating limited bits of information presented, and amplified, within the echo chamber that their syndrome results from.  Pseudo-conservatives can also be identified by the typical, and frequent, use of insults and profanity as standard linguistic technique during arguments.  While conservatives are able to visualize and adapt to progress and change just as progressives are able to do, the pseudo-conservative actually wants to reverse the space-time continuum in order to physically transport an entire nation backwards in time.  The pseudo-conservative fails to recognize that doing so would eliminate many of the great advancements that have been achieved through scientific knowledge and research.  Medicines, computers, seat-belts, powerful firearms, CT scans, MRI scans, faster jet travel, fuel efficient and affordable motor vehicles, space exploration, the internet, robotic surgery, the ability to limit civilian casualties during war, and the like would not exist without progress.  Pseudo-conservatives, due to their ignorance of history and scientific theory, likely resulting from the over-reliance on religious texts to formulate their knowledge base, are unable to process this using logic and reason.  This lack of intellect leaves the pseudo-conservative open to ridicule, not only from actual conservatives and progressives, but also from the conservative political candidates who are able to easily manipulate their limited thought processes, and knowledge base, into supporting their ideas.  The inability to think critically, means the pseudo-conservative with CRIS is extremely likely to support an extremist political candidate that vocalizes simplistic messages that are void of any substantive or realistic ideas.  These ideas often suggest racist, misogynistic, or bigoted ideologies.  While social theories recognize that individuals often prefer to interact and collaborate with other similarly-situated individuals and groups, those with an ability to use logic and reason are able to network and participate in mutually beneficial goals with others who possess different racial, ethnic, religious, political, cultural, social, or economic backgrounds.  Due to the inability, or outright opposition, to processing proven information and facts, the pseudo-conservative is extremely likely to collaborate only with other individuals afflicted with CRIS.  The condition is actually curable, however the only available treatment is restriction of vocally-conferred information from talk-radio hosts and intense exposure to factually-supported information from legitimate sources of knowledge.  Public libraries, educational institutions, and government agencies can be helpful with this.  Much more so than the internet which may serve only as a placebo if the patient is not highly selective.  Exposure to certain visual media, including Fox News, Breitbart, and the like will further exacerbate the condition.  I hope this helps!!



The “Others!!”

Watching Mr. Donald Trump win three of the first four Republican Presidential primary contests has been a frustrating, and troubling, experience for this self-identified progressive, independent American.  Political pundits have been explaining for the past several months there is no way Mr. Trump could possibly earn the GOP nomination to be President.  In the past few weeks, this narrative has changed to an assessment of how the Republican establishment has failed to contain the damage he has wrought on their party.  The sad and very tragic truth is that what we are seeing in America has not been introduced by the reality show star, real estate mogul, and entertainer, but by decades of intentional actions by the Republican Party establishment.

 

As a result of increasing social disapproval of racial discrimination, especially in more populous and northern states, throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, and particularly fueled by the overturning of Jim Crow laws that had existed since the period of Reconstruction following the US Civil War, and the adoption of the Voting Rights Act and the US Civil Rights Act, the Republican Party made a purposeful attempt to draw poor, and working class Democrats (who had traditionally voted Democrat) into the fold.  There was a general appeal to these voter’s conservative economic views and the rampant poverty that existed throughout the South.  There was, also, a much more insidious, and covert, appeal to appeal to the racial prejudices that did not fade away following enforced desegregation of public accommodations, including schools and retail establishments.  Social norms began to evolve and overt racism declined only to be replaced by a shadowy, hidden form of racism that continued below the surface of society.

 

With the support of Southern Democrats, Barry Goldwater won the states of the Deep South in the Presidential election of 1964.  These states, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina.  These states were all a part of the Confederacy during the US Civil War.  While this was not enough to propel Mr. Goldwater into the White House, they served as a foundation for which Richard Nixon would add Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, again, Confederate States during the Civil War, in order to become the 38th President of the United States.  The realignment of the Republican Party was nearly complete based on the racial prejudices that were motivated during this time.  In the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s Republicans also appealed to religious conservatives in order to increase their support which was eroding as a result of increased tolerance of racial differences.  However, there was a continuing appeal to the racial biases of poor, poorly-educated, working class white voters.

 

The rise of the Moral Majority in the very late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, was sufficient to propel Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood actor and former Governor of California, into the White House after the 1980 election.  The Moral Majority railed against women’s right, gay rights, equal pay, the minimum wage, and for a stronger military in order to prepare for a Christian Holy War against Islam.  It probably did not help that President Carter had a very lackluster Presidency noted for the Iranian Hostage Crisis.  There was an increasing anti-Muslim undercurrent present during this election which bears some similarity to today’s electoral climate.  Republican economic policies introduced throughout the 1980’s served to foster increased economic disparities.  As societal attitudes changed, the influence of the Moral Majority faded, somewhat, throughout the 1990’s and through today, although the promotion of hot button issues, including abortion and LGBT equality, has continued to bring out certain religious voting blocs during election cycles.

 

The election of President Obama in 2008 served as a catalyst for racist groups to increase their public rhetoric which, in turn, helped to fuel the establishment of the Tea Party as a significant political influence within the Republican Party.  The 2010 midterm elections saw a number of Tea Party-backed candidates elected into Congress including Senator Marco Rubio.  Senator Ted Cruz joined him in the US Senate in 2012 with significant Tea Party support.  The 2010 midterm elections began to expose the developing rifts between the Republican establishment and its base.  In light of a Federal government that appeared to be unresponsive to the desires of a Libertarian-leaning base that promoted to an extremely weak Federal government and expressing a, “States-Rights,” mantra, the Tea Party managed to increase gains in Congress during the 2012 election cycle.  Failure of Tea Party candidates to produce desired outcomes saw a bit of a pullback during the 2014 midterm elections.

 

President Obama’s election in 2008 came on the heels of the greatest economic downturn since the 1920’s and 1930’s.  While all economic groups suffered as a result of the collapse of economic powerhouses including banking, housing, and manufacturing, the recovery was most beneficial for those at the upper ends of the economic strata.  This has fueled the frustration of middle-class and working-class folks who believe government is not working for them.  The Republican Party has capitalized upon this by diverting attention away from three decades of failed economic policies and re-directing this frustration against immigrants and the poor.   Don’t blame government, we (Republicans) have been saying government cannot do anything.  It is, “The Others,” that are to blame for your economic and social status in life.  It is the gays who are responsible for the moral decay of our nation.  It is the immigrants who are responsible for low pay for your hard work.  It is the Muslims who are responsible for all terrorism.  It is not the fault of the wealthy that you are unable to advance economically and accumulate wealth, it is the fault of the poor who waste your tax dollars through food-stamp programs and, “Obama phones!!”

 

Mr. Trump, has capitalized on this message of using, “The Others” as a rallying cry for his poor and working class white supporters.  This ugly message of division, as untrue as it is, is remarkable for its effectiveness.  The American people, who should be too smart to fall for this message from a candidate such as, “The Donald” have reverted to an emotional response to fear.  This is what has become so perplexing about the Trump campaign.  Mr. Trump has not waged a political campaign on a single substantive idea.  He is not a conservative in any sense of the word.  He is not a moral man nor does he demonstrate fiscal responsibility.  And, yet, he has garnered support from evangelical Christians and a Libertarian base that supports lower taxes and smaller government.  He promises to spend more on increasing the size of our military and an incredible amount to build a wall separating the United States from Mexico.  Mr. Trump says that he will make Mexico pay for such a wall to the delight of his supporters who surely must know this is an impossibility.  He insults and threatens anyone who disagrees or opposes him.  He has insulted war heroes, journalists, women, Muslims, Jews, LGBT people, our current military personnel, first responders, and people who do not possess college degrees.  These things, alone, should have been enough to doom his campaign earlier in this election cycle.  Instead, his racially-tinged, misogynistic, bigoted, and Islamophobic, comments have drawn some of the biggest applause lines at his campaign rallies.  This is all inexplicable but for one thing.  His promotion of white, Christian, heterosexual, people as being better than others has actually increased his support among people who should know better, but are giving in to the emotions of anger, fear, and hatred.

 

While I still do not believe Mr. Trump has the ability to win a general election (I still have faith in the American people) the fact that he has used differences to successfully pit Americans against one another, and against others, is seriously troubling.  I do not believe Mr. Trump even believes much of what he is promoting, he is an entertainer, after all, but the fact that many Americans support the message lays bare a certain ugliness that is more than simply troubling.  That there exists, within Americans, animosity towards others based on their skin color, their religion, their heritage, or their gender is quite disgusting.  It would be naïve to ever think these attitudes did not exist in 2016, however, the prevalence of these attitudes is bothersome.

 

It should be noted that this concept of, “others” is not unique to the Republican Party.  The Democrats have also promoted a philosophy of others.  The difference between Democrats is that they frame this issue as one of a small group of ultra-wealthy Americans versus the rest of America.  The candidates on the Democrat side point out that the wealthiest of Americans are harming the rest of Americans.  In this battle, we are all Americans, first!!

 

Another difference between the two main political parties that has become evident to me over the past several election cycles is that the Democrat Party promotes an overall message of optimism and hope while the Republican Party markets a message of pessimism and fear.  Fear and anxiety are very powerful motivators, particularly for individuals who are insecure with themselves.  Take Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan:  “Make America Great, Again!!”  Yeah!!  Wait.  This slogan implies that America is no longer great.  I reject this suggestion completely.  The United States IS a great nation!!  It can be made even greater with the proper guidance and leadership, however, to insinuate that, at some point, America has lost her greatness is a reprehensible message to put forth!!

 

The message that must be heard by every person is that we are ALL Americans, first and foremost!!  We must reject the idea that there are, “others,” completely!!  This November, it is critical that we, as Americans, get out and vote.  Vote to reject the notion of, “others.”  Vote to KEEP America great by continuing to promote our ideals of justice, fairness, equality, and opportunity!!  YOU can keep America the greatest nation on Earth!!



Before CROI 2016, Some Boston Pride — Except for One TINY Detail
February 29, 2016, 6:22 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Arguably the most important scientific conference in HIV, the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) takes place in Boston next week, as it has many times before. For those expecting hereafter a CROI preview, or anything even vaguely related to Infectious Diseases and/or HIV, you can stop reading right now. Sorry about that — just contact the …

Source: Before CROI 2016, Some Boston Pride — Except for One TINY Detail



On Guns and Sense

In the wake of the latest mass shooting event in San Bernardino that killed 14 and wounded 21, including at least two police officers, my Twitter and Facebook feeds lit up with calls to enact more vigorous gun control measures.  This is a recurring theme in this country.  There is a mass shooting that captures the attention of the public, there are calls for more gun control, the calls go, mostly, unheeded, and the nation moves on until the next day or next week when the next mass shooting event rivets the nation’s focus on gun violence.

 

In the aftermath of the latest shooting, which baffled investigators for nearly four days before determining this was an act of terrorism, albeit, one of the more convoluted episodes I can recall, Congress finally attempted to take action.  Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a measure that would close a loophole that currently permits suspected terrorists to legally purchase firearms in the United States.  This measure failed on a mostly party-line vote with all but one Republican voting against the measure and all but one Democrat voting in favor of the measure.  Following the vote, there was condemnation from gun-rights proponents that the measure would have stripped away due process rights from those seeking to purchase handguns.  This was the first time I had heard this suggestion made, and from my Twitter feed, this line of conversation picked up a bit of steam.

 

First off, let me say that Twitter is a difficult environment to try and have a coherent and reasonable debate with anyone on any issue, let alone one as complex and controversial as access to firearms.  Nonetheless, I engaged in conversations with several folks who supported the view that barring people on a consolidated FBI watch-list from legally procuring firearms was a violation of due process rights established under the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution.  I admit that I was baffled at this suggestion as this is the text of the amendment:

 

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” – See more at: http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment5.html#sthash.VZehsmyM.dpuf

 

The gist of the Twitter conversation is that, as the right to, “bear arms” is an enumerated right within the Bill of Rights, being, “…deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law…,” means that blocking specific individuals from obtaining a firearm infringes upon their Constitutional rights.  The focus of this discussion, left unspoken by proponents of this position, is on the word, “liberty” suggesting that not being able to buy a gun deprives an individual of her or his liberty.  Now, I am not besmirching any of the participants of this line of thought as I am certain they are each patriotic Americans.  However, their line of reasoning is flawed.  Being limited to 140 characters, I was unable to effectively explain the errors associated with this line of thought.  It is clear, however, that their focus on depriving a person of, “due process” BEFORE denying a fundamental right is un-Constitutional.  This is an incorrect interpretation of due process as related to the purchase of firearms by an individual who has had their name placed on a watch-list of suspected terrorists.

 

It has been publicly recognized that this list compiled by the Department of Justice is flawed and there are names on the list that, most likely, should not appear on the list.  Other names, like at least one of the suspected shooters in San Bernardino, should probably be on this list.  Some elected US officials, children and infants, and deceased individuals names appear on this list as has been reported by numerous media outlets.  See: http://www.wired.com/2007/09/700000-name-ter/  http://dailycaller.com/2015/12/04/san-bernardino-shooting-suspect-not-on-terrorist-watch-list/

 

Critics of this list complain that due to flaws, the list should not be a bar to legally obtaining a firearm.  They state that the list is arbitrary and that people are not informed their name is on a watch-list until they attempt to engage in activity (such as attempting to board a commercial airliner) that would cause the person’s name to appear.  Prior to September 11, 2001, several federal agencies maintained lists of individuals who were subjected to heightened scrutiny.  After the horrible terrorist attacks of that day, President George W Bush signed a Presidential Directive requiring the FBI to consolidate and maintain these listings.  There are currently nearly a million names in this database.  If your name is on the list, you can expect to be subjected to enhanced scrutiny in certain circumstances (boarding a commercial aircraft, being pulled over for speeding, attempting to purchase a firearm, etc.).  A number of reasons exist why a person’s name may appear on this list.  One reason, is that you are, in fact, suspected of being a terrorist.  Often, an individual’s name will appear because it is either identical to, or similar enough to, a name used by a known or suspected terrorist.  Senator Ted Kennedy’s name appeared on the watch-list because a suspected terrorist was using, “Edward Kennedy” as an alias.  Representative John Lewis had his name on the list for the same reason as did at least one Roman Catholic nun.  The list is hardly arbitrary as you have to be, “nominated” by someone in the intelligence community in order to be evaluated, promoted, and finally, placed on the list.  Additional information on being on this list, and how to remove your name on the list may be found here:  http://people.howstuffworks.com/government-watch-list.htm

 

In any case, the folks I attempted to carry on a debate with via Twitter, are incorrect that denying or, most likely deferring, the purchase of a firearm violates their due process rights under the US Constitution.

 

What, exactly, is, “due process?”

 

As the name implies, it is a method, or process, that is owed to another person.  This may be established within the framework of organizational policies or, as used in this discussion, a requirement that is established within the framework of our nation’s founding document, the US Constitution.  Due process provides a means for an individual, or group of individuals to seek relief, or a redress, of a grievance.  The process involves those steps put into place for that appeal.  Under the US Constitution, due process, especially as recognized under the 5th and 14th Amendments is recognized as two separate entities.  There is procedural due process and there is substantive due process.  Procedural due process requires that a process for redress of potential harms be provided for the person who has suffered.  Substantive due process requires that this process be sufficient to resolve the issue at hand.

 

The folks in the Twitter universe invoking the 5th Amendment due process provisions as a reason to not block actual or suspected terrorists from obtaining firearms are actually missing the entire point about both, procedural and substantive, due process.  A number of these folks have suggested that by not providing due process BEFORE denying a fundamental right, a person’s fundamental rights have been violated.  This is not the case.  My counterargument to this flawed assertion is that while procedural due process may exist prior to a “harm” being inflicted, substantive due process begins AFTER a fundamental right has been infringed upon.  Furthermore, none of the recognized, “enumerated,” or, “fundamental” rights is absolute.

 

An example of procedural due process would be if I intended to stage a protest rally in a certain location.  It should be noted that not all speech is protected under the 1st Amendment.  For example, a person cannot yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theatre because he or she feels like causing a commotion.  Politically protected speech, though, is recognized as an essential, or fundamental, right.  However, even politically-motivated speech is subject to certain restrictions.  Namely, the time and the place of such protest may be limited for specific reasons, including safety.  If I failed to obtain the appropriate permits prior to engaging in this protest, I could be arrested and denied permission to exercise what has been recognized as a fundamental right—the right to engage in politically-protected speech.

 

Additionally, a person must be legally capable of exercising the particular right.  Would any logical person suggest that a five year-old child has the legal capacity to purchase a firearm with their allowance money?  This is why those persons who have been adjudicated as being mentally-unfit are banned from possessing firearms.  The same goes with certain convicted felons even after they have served their prison sentences.  Aren’t we denying these individuals their fundamental rights?  Yes.  Again, no right established in the US Constitution is considered absolute!

 

Now, to the point recent Twitter postings allude to:  Denying a person the legal opportunity to purchase a firearm violates their 5th Amendment due process rights.  Never mind that this right generally refers to an individual who has been formally accused of committing a serious crime.

 

If I was to enter a gun store, or any other environment that sells firearms, and attempt to purchase a firearm, I may be required to provide certain information which is supposed to be checked against a database that includes names that are on the consolidated terrorist watch-list.  Suppose my name flags as being on this list.  I will assume I would be informed this is the reason that I was being denied the opportunity to purchase said firearm(s) as this has not happened to me before.  If nothing else, I would be informed that there is a process that I may follow to address and correct any information that I believe is erroneous and what that process is for doing so.  After all, the gun seller wants to make a sale and would like me to return to purchase the gun(s) I wanted, right?

 

If the folks I was conversing with through Twitter were able to catch on to what I was pointing out, they might have a viable claim that the placement of their name on a list of suspected terrorists violated their 5th and 14th Amendment due process rights.  I would suggest that an individual might want the ability to be notified PRIOR to their name being placed on the list.  There is no process for this, however.  This is where the folks I was having a dialogue with should have their grievance.  There is a process for having your name removed from this list.

 

The process for purchasing a firearm, as I stated before, requires that a purchaser be eligible to exercise this action.  One additional point regarding the folks I was conversing with is that I am surprised that folks who claim to be so patriotic are so sympathetic to the needs and desires of actual terrorists.  Perhaps, that was a bit snarky, however, that is what the Senate vote was designed to address—the ability of terrorists who WANT to legally purchase firearms.  Why would patriotic Americans want to, even inadvertently, facilitate the efforts of a terrorist?

 



Religious Intolerance

Throughout history, there are many examples of intolerance perpetrated in the name of religion.  Women, in many nations and religious traditions, have been subjugated to men and denied the rights and privileges of men.  Entire groups of people have been enslaved based on the color of their skin or their nationality or ethnic background.  Wars have been waged in the name of religion.  In the United States, there is a rich history of using religion, specifically Christian interpretations of the Holy Bible to commit atrocities against others.  Slavery, lynching, racial discrimination, segregation, bans on interracial dating or marriage, anti-LGBT violence, violence against women, anti-immigrant violence has all been justified by use of the Bible.  The recent court battles regarding same-sex marriage equality have been argued using religion as a backdrop.  Religion has been, and is still used, to support discrimination against others in the United States.

In the past few years, a number of states have promoted, so-called, religious freedom laws which would permit individuals, and businesses, to discriminate against other individuals for any reason by suggesting that not discriminating would, in essence, violate their religious beliefs.  One of the more recent attempts, in Indiana, led to a significant backlash that caused other states to reconsider their own efforts to enact such legislation.  In the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v Hodges, striking down bans on same-sex marriage, far-right religious groups, including, Focus on the Family, the Heritage Foundation, the Traditional Values Coalition, and the American Family Association, among others, have pressured Congress to enact sweeping laws that would codify discrimination by individuals who invoke their religion.  These efforts are very dangerous and would violate the founding principles of our nation.

Recent lobbying efforts by these organizations have led to the reintroduction of bills including the “Marriage and Religious Freedom Act” (H.R. 3133 and S. 1808).  Other bills introduced in the House and the Senate would exempt organizations from providing adoption placement services with LGBT couples, even those who are legally married, if such placement would violate the organization’s religious beliefs.  The insidious nature of these bills allows people to claim a religious belief to justify discrimination by individuals, even in states or municipalities that already have anti-discrimination laws on their books.  None of these bills have a majority of members of the chamber as supporters and are not likely to make it to the President’s desk.  However, the introduction of these pieces of legislation should put all of us on notice that extremist religious organizations are attempting to subvert the U.S. Constitution.  Specifically, these bills, should they become law, would degrade the intent and meaning of the First Amendment religious freedom clauses by permitting individuals and businesses to force their religious beliefs upon others or to act in a discriminatory fashion toward others which would undermine state statutes or municipal ordinances that currently prohibit such discrimination.



Progressive versus Conservative? Not So Fast!

Today’s political dialogue is framed in terms of progressive politics versus conservative politics.  Is this really the case?  Multiple studies and surveys have demonstrated that Americans have become more polarized, politically, over the past two decades.  This has become exceedingly apparent through the observations of the last two Congresses.  Members on both sides have been promoting legislation that the opposing side will not support in an effort to score points with their own political base.  The net effect is gridlock in Washington and in state legislatures across the country where elected leaders fail their constituents in an effort to maximize their abilities to reflect the vocal minorities of their base voters in an effort to become reelected.

While both of the main political parties, Republican and Democrat, are guilty of this, there are a number of underlying issues that need to be recognized and addressed.  While the numbers of Americans who identify as either Republican or Democrat is relatively unchanged since the 1950’s, those who identify as moderate Democrats or moderate Republicans has declined since the 1970’s.  The biggest changes of note are the loss of moderate voices in either party since the 1980’s which has intensified since 2000.  This has been much more pronounced in the Republican Party especially since the election of President Barack Obama and the rise of the Tea Party after 2008.

Two underlying factors have been associated with increased levels of political polarization throughout history.  These include immigration policy and income inequality.  These factors were in play during the first part of the 20th century and are currently at the center of our current polarization crisis.  Recent research has shown that the current polarization effect evidenced in state and federal elections is more significantly rooted in conservatives moving even further to the right on important policy issues while progressive politicians have not shifted much further to the left.  The current shift means that it is so-called conservative political positions have veered into more extreme territory while traditional progressive policy positions have not demonstrated a similar dramatic shift further to the left.

Today’s arguments are not so much a difference between progressive and conservative ideas.  The greatness of the United States has always been its embrace of change and forward advancements.  The United States, for nearly two centuries, was the powerhouse of innovation and creation in technology and knowledge.  Traditionally, both conservatives and progressives believed, and pursued change.  Conservative thought and progressive thought agreed on one defining thing.  The best days of America lay before her and each side promoted ideas and goals that would further this vision.  While the more liberal voices promoted grand, sweeping changes, conservatives were often a voice of reason, of caution, pursuing these objectives over a slower, longer timeframe.  This is one of the reasons that, for most of our history, politicians found the ability to work with their peers on the other side of the aisle to accomplish the things that would serve to benefit all Americans, and, American society.  Conservatives and progressives did not disagree so much on change, per se, but on the rate of change or how sweeping such change would be.

In the last century, Democratic and Republican politicians came together to establish Social Security, the Interstate Highway System, Medicare, Medicaid, public works projects, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Parks System, public university and college systems, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, FEMA, FDA, NIH, the defeat of Nazi Germany, the atomic bomb, the Arsenal of Democracy, the Hill-Burton Act which led to the building of hospitals to improve access to care, and many more great achievements.

Today, there are a number of voices within the Republican Party, as well as many voices outside of the party, who, while claiming to be conservative, are, in reality, regressive.  These regressive voices see America as a place whose greatest accomplishments reside in the past and would seek to return us to an era where Jim Crow laws ruled the land, where abortion was still illegal, where there was no income protection for senior citizens or the disabled, and where segregation was still completely acceptable.  These voices seek to overturn discrimination protections, access to health insurance, sensible gun regulation, and the foundation of every great society, our public education system.

Within the last decade, we have seen a surge in the number of white-supremacist groups, of so-called Patriot groups, and other hate-groups that actively challenge the legitimate authority of government agencies by threatening force and insurrection.  This weekend marked the 20th Anniversary of the deadliest homegrown terrorist act on American soil, the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 Americans, including 20+ children.  These are the voices that are being reflected in the increasingly regressive candidates running as Republican candidates for elected office.

It is not a matter of progressive ideas and conservative ideas being in conflict with each other.  This is an issue of progressive, and according to many polls, mainstream, ideas clashing with a regressive ideology that renders compromise impossible.  We are nearing a dangerous tipping point in our nation’s history.  The trustworthiness of our elected officials is at its lowest point in recorded history, the favorability ratings of Congress are lower than certain types of insects, and while favorability ratings for both Democrat and Republican elected officials have fallen, the Republicans have fallen harder and faster.  Election results from the past several election cycles have consistently demonstrated that more people have voted for the Democratic, or progressive, candidate than voted for the Republican, or conservative candidate.  Gerrymandered election districts have ensured that candidates from either party cannot be readily challenged on the field of ideas in the way these districts are drawn.  This causes frustration among the electorate.

When you hear a political candidate talking about how he or she is the conservative candidate, simply know that they are most likely a regressive candidate.  True conservatives can work with progressives to get things done.  Until we balance, and reverse, this polarization that we are witnessing today, elected officials are not going to accomplish much in the way of benefiting the American people.



Religious Freedom and the Restoration of Legalized Discrimination

Recently, Indiana’s Governor, Mike Pence, found himself at the center of a firestorm associated with his signing of a so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  This past week has seen Governor Pence attempting to defend, and ultimately, backpedal on the law.  The backlash has led to a number of prominent voices speaking out against the enactment of this law and the hashtag, #BoycottIndiana trending on social media sites.  The outcry has led Arkansas Governor, Asa Hutchinson to withhold his signature from a similarly-worded bill sent to him by his legislature.  Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan has vowed to veto a similar bill if sent to him by the Michigan legislature.  The Indiana legislature is currently scurrying to amend the Indiana RFRA at the behest of businesses and residents of the state.

As Governor Pence has repeatedly pointed out, Indiana was simply doing what the Federal government and, at least, 19 other states had already done.  Unfortunately, the Indiana law went further than the Federal law does and is also significantly different than the Illinois law that Governor Pence is fond of noting, then State Senator, Barack Obama, voted for.  Most people are not exactly aware of the history of these types of laws or even what they are designed to do.  A little bit of history might be in order.

Our nation’s founders were quite clear that religious influence in the public sphere could present problems that needed to be avoided.  They also recognized the important role that religion played in the lives of people and that people needed to be able to practice their religious traditions free of undue government influence.  As a result of compromise, religious expression was included in the founding document of our nation as a component of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  This amendment included two provisions associated with religious freedom.  The first provision provided that government, “…make no law respecting an establishment of religion,…” which is frequently referred to as the, “Establishment Clause.”  The second provision that addresses religion, “or prohibiting the free exercise, thereof…” which is the more familiar part of religious liberty.

Over more than two centuries a number of conflicts regarding religious liberty have found their way through the Federal Courts and rulings have sometimes limited government overreach and sometimes limited religious expression.  A 1990 US Supreme Court Case upholding the termination of two employees who were terminated after using Peyote during Native American religious ceremonies drew the outrage of progressives and conservatives and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was subsequently enacted.  This law was designed to require any Federal Government action against an individual that impaired the person’s ability to freely exercise their religious liberties must meet the highest level of scrutiny in judicial review.  This is known as, “Strict scrutiny.”  A 1997 Supreme Court ruling stated the provisions of the Act could not be applied to the states.  As a result, a number of states began to enact their own RFRA to protect religious expression rights from government overreach.

The one thing that each of these Religious Freedom laws had in common was that they protected individuals and their personal religious practices from government intrusion.  For this reason, these laws have remained, essentially, non-controversial over the past dozen years or so.  What makes the Indiana law so different is that it permits private individuals to invoke a claim of protection under the state’s RFRA when challenged by another private individual.  Another significant difference is that the Federal law, most Supreme Court rulings, and other state-level RFRA’s apply to acts associated with actual practice of religious ceremony.

Another point that should be noted is that Indiana does not include statewide civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people.  This has led to concerns being raised regarding the potential for discrimination being levied against sexual minorities.  This concern is heightened in light of last year’s US Supreme Court ruling in the case, Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.  While that case addressed reproductive issues, many are concerned that an extension of the arguments made by the attorneys representing the Hobby Lobby side could be applied to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT) individuals as well.  Voices from the right and left both note the case of bakeries that have refused to bake cakes requested for celebrating same-sex marriages.  Folks on the right argue this is why RFRA’s are essential while those on the left claim these laws codify discrimination into state law.

While the original RFRA, signed into law in 1993, applied to religious practices, more recent laws, including in Indiana, attempt to apply religious expression to, “sincerely-held religious belief” as opposed to actual religious ceremony.  That is what puts these newer laws into conflict with existing state laws in some cases.  The modern RFRA not only applies to the actual participation in religious activity, but asserts that an individual who merely professes a sincere religious belief is exempt from providing goods or services that are purely secular in nature.

In the case of a business, this confounds reason.  A business receives a license to operate in a particular location as a place of public accommodation.  It is designed to serve the needs of consumers of that particular product or service.  A business is bound by applicable laws of operation for that location including hours, health inspections, accessibility, and, unlike religious entities, pays taxes.  Can a business pick and choose its customers?  A private shopping club can require its customers to purchase a membership, for example.  However, such a purchasing club cannot deny membership to a particular individual if the individual can afford to pay the membership fee and agrees to abide by the rules of the club.  Convenience stores may limit the hours, or numbers of, unaccompanied minors that may be inside a particular business.  A convenience store may not, however, deny minors access to the store or its goods or services completely.  In every state, characteristics such as race, gender, and other factors may be enshrined in state or local civil rights laws.  Failing to provide service to customers of any protected class may result in civil or criminal penalties for that business.  Government has established a compelling interest in preventing discrimination to prevent injustices such as denial of service to members of particular groups.

There is an important discussion to be had regarding religious expression versus religious belief.  Ultimately, the Courts will likely be forced to arbitrate and determine what constitutes religious expression as opposed to religious belief.  I believe there are nefarious reasons underlying the current push to implement religious freedom laws over the past few years.  I have yet to hear of an incident where one individual has attempted to interfere with the free practice, or even the free expression, of religious people.  We have all been exposed to multiple cases of individuals attempting to invoke their religious beliefs as a defense of discriminatory behavior.  Throughout history, religion and religious belief has been used as an excuse to discriminate against others.

I have heard numerous people say, “Why can’t the person just go somewhere else if the (proprietor) doesn’t want to serve them?”  Or, “Why would you want to spend your money somewhere like that?”  Or, “What about the business owners religious beliefs?  Isn’t it discriminatory to force someone to violate their religious beliefs?”  Let’s break these down.

In many places a person who would be denied service, for any reason, could possibly go somewhere else.  However, in many other places, say a small town somewhere, that business or provider may be the only game in town.  To go somewhere else places a hardship on the willing customer.  What if the business was the only auto repair dealer that was capable of handling your Porsche within fifty or a hundred miles?  Or, what if your business was known far and wide as having the very best wedding cakes in the entire state?  Why should a customer be forced to settle for, second-best?  What if it was something more important that a cake or an automobile?  What if it was a sick child?

Why would someone spend their hard-earned money where it is not wanted?  Personally, I wouldn’t.  I would also make sure my friends and family would not want to spend their hard-earned money there, either.  I would also make certain that as wide an audience as possible knew that this business only liked certain types of money.  Not only would this business not get any, “Gay” money, but they would lose out on an awful lot of non-gay money as well!!  That is not really the point, though.  The business is violating the terms of their operating license.

Am I discriminating against a business owner by demanding service?  No.  The relationship between a customer and a business is mutualistic.  The business provides a product or a service and as consideration, the customer provides payment in the form of money.   It is not discrimination to ask a baker to bake a cake.  It is not discrimination to ask a professional photographer to take a picture.  It is not discrimination to ask a Pediatrician to care for a sick child.  It would be unfair to ask a Pediatrician to perform a craniotomy or to ask a photographer to bake a cake.  Someone recently posed the question, “What if you were a Jewish baker and a Neo-Nazi wanted you to bake a cake to celebrate Adolph Hitler’s Birthday?  Could you refuse to do that?”  I pointed out this was not a religious liberty issue but, rather, a free speech issue.  Baking cakes is not an exercise of religion, but rather, in this case, a source of income generation.  I said there were four possible options.  One, the baker could bake the cake, decorate the cake, and, collect payment for doing so.  This is basic contract law.  Two, the baker could bake the cake and offer to sell the items necessary to decorate the cake to the customer who could then either decorate the cake him/herself or hire someone else to do the decorating.  Three, the baker could refer the customer to another baker who might be willing to comply with the customer’s request.  And, fourth, the baker could refuse to bake the cake at all.  In this scenario, this might be legally risky due to provisions in the Federal Civil Rights Act.

Title II of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by businesses, which are referred to as public accommodations.  Unfortunately, there are limited protected classes in this law and if the person is not a member of a protected class, they could, potentially, be denied service.  It is important to note that any contract requires, “consideration.”  That is, something of value rendered for something provided.  This requires both parties to come to agreement.  Without consideration there is, technically, no contract.

The anecdotes commonly discussed during this debate all seem to wind up revolving around a baker refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage celebration.  A business owner generally does not have to provide a good or a service to a particular customer if that service or product is not in the customary line of goods or products offered.  For example, if a customer goes into a bakery asking for a wedding cake and the owner says they bake Birthday cakes but not wedding cakes then there is no issue.  However, if the bakery regularly bakes wedding cakes as well as Birthday cakes, this most likely would not be lawful.  Most states will not allow a business to deny a service or product that is customarily offered to a customer simply because the proprietor does not “like” the customer.  This would be referred to as discrimination.  If the customer is a member of a class protected under the law, the person may have a legal claim of discrimination.  In a state without protections based on sexual orientation, there is little recourse for a person denied the services of the baker other than complaining to the state’s Better Business Bureau.  This is what makes the RFRA in Indiana so insidious.  It provides a defense to individuals, and businesses, who are sued for discrimination by other individuals.  This law is not limited to actions by the government.  The state of Indiana does not currently have protections based on sexual orientation which could limit the Due Process rights of an individual who believes they have been unfairly treated.

Governor Pence, and the entire state of Indiana has experienced the collective outrage of individuals and groups who believe this is simply an attempt to legally-sanction discriminatory behavior.  This is inconsistent with our American values today.  This serves to put other states, and their legislatures and governors, on notice.  Discrimination is bad for people, it is bad for the economy, and it is bad policy.  Caveat emptor!!