Ken’s Take on the World


Tomahawks and Trump

A few days ago, President Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles to strike an air base in Syria.  Ostensibly, this was a response to the use of chemical weapons against the civilian populace.  Responses from critics and supporters have been mostly predictable.  Unfortunately, these responses miss crucial points.

 

The Constitutional conundrum:  Critics of the President’s actions point out that he lacks the Constitutional authority to initiate military actions without Congressional approval.  Article I, Section 8 clearly defines the role of Congress in declaring war.  Article II, Section 2, however, vests the authority of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces with the President.  Congress passed the War Powers Act (WPA) to permit a President to initiate military action to immediately protect “vital national interests.”  Since its inception, every President has used this as a justification for carrying out military actions.  President Trump is no different than Presidents Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush, or Obama in claiming their actions are covered under this provision.  While it may be worthwhile to debate the legal merits of Trump’s justification, it is unlikely (particularly with a Republican Congress) that anything significant will come of this in the form of restricting legislation on a President’s authority under the WPA.  It is inconceivable the President acted against an imminent threat to crucial national interests that prevented him from seeking approval from Congress, as his predecessor did in 2013.  While Republicans in Congress rebuffed President Obama’s request for authorization of military force when President Assad used chemical weapons against his own citizens then, it is not clear how Congress would respond to a similar request made by the current President.

 

Moral maladaption:  Republican talking heads claim the President, even if lacking legal justification for launching an attack on Syrian territory, had a moral imperative to take action against the use of chemical weapons.  The President, himself, states that he was moved by the images of small children killed by the heinous use of such banned weapons.  I do not doubt that he, like the rest of us, was indeed moved by the horrific imagery of babies, children, women, and men suffering the effects of what appears to be the nerve agent, Sarin.  To suggest President Trump was not touched by these images is unfair to him.  We actually expect our President to act as a moral leader, promoting our values as a civilized nation.  A moral leader, however, would likely have sought the support of our allies in formulating a strong and clear message of condemnation on the use of chemical weapons rather than appearing to act impulsively, and alone, in carrying out an act of war that violates international norms.  There is an argument to be made that it is actually immoral for the President to order the launch of military actions that could lead to civilian casualties.  There is plenty of history of the United States, accidentally, or intentionally, launching military strikes that led to the deaths of many more women, babies, and children than the recent chemical attacks have caused.  A stronger counterargument to his supporters suggesting that Trump had a moral obligation to act would be to note that President Trump has repeatedly attempted to block all refugees from Syria entering the United States.  Perhaps, his rationale for striking the air base in Syria would ring less hollow had his ongoing efforts pertaining to the Syrian people not been construed as hostile to them and ambivalent toward the Syrian dictator.

 

Pocketbook penumbra:  To those who have suggested the President authorized use of Tomahawk missiles because he owns stock in Raytheon, the manufacturer, just stop!!  Of all the reasons one might consider for why the President selected this option, this is not going to be one of them.  While I have stated on multiple occasions that Donald Trump acts only in the interest of Donald Trump, even this claim is ridiculous to me.  Now, I will state that I am disappointed, make that disgusted, that with nearly $90 million in military weaponry launched into Syria the other day we did not even negatively impact the capabilities of the Syrian government to continue its air campaign against rebels for even a single day.  It is unclear whether we even sent an effective message deterring the regime from future use of chemical weapons in these strikes.

 

Donald’s doubletalk:  We know the current President changes his positions constantly.  We know that he lies and misleads.  In 2013, Donald Trump strongly opposed any military action in Syria.  He demanded then-President Obama seek approval from Congress prior to undertaking ANY military action in Syria even after it was confirmed the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against the Syrian people.  Why, then, would President Trump launch military strikes in Syria without prior notification of, and approval from, Congress.  President Obama actually DID seek approval from Congress to take action against Syria.  What, from a legal perspective, has changed in the interim?  Nothing.  To those who suggest these actions made him appear “Presidential,” need I remind you of comments made regarding the President’s State of the Union Address in February?  Within 36 hours, he had demonstrated that he had not made the “Presidential Pivot” that people on both sides of the political spectrum have implored him to make since gaining the nomination last July.

 

Donald’s distractions:  The Trump Administration has been an epic lesson in incompetence, confusion, unethical behavior, obfuscation, and, perhaps, worse.  From a series of gaffes involving our allies, his inability to articulate a clear strategy on any policy position, allegations of collusion with an adversarial government, basement-level poll numbers, and infighting within his inner circle of advisors, it has been suggested the President, perhaps, sought a distraction that might cast him in a more favorable light.  If this is the case, it is reprehensible and inexcusable.  A more benign reason for ordering military strikes in the manner he did is the lack of competent advice from advisors who lack the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience to more carefully coordinate these strikes to produce greater effect and reduce potential negative consequences.  This, too, is unacceptable.  This failure in competence has led to a lack of support from our allies and jeopardized the safety of US service members, particularly in the Syrian theater of operations where we are currently active.  Despite prior notification of the Russian government which minimized damage to Russian military assets at the airbase, the missile strikes have led to amped-up rhetoric from Russia including statements that Russia will no longer advise US military officials regarding military operations which may lead to inadvertent US military casualties at the hands of Russian military munitions.

 

The current President has positioned the United States on a very dangerous path with his reckless missile strikes on Syria.  The strikes appear to be merely symbolic and provided no tactical or strategic gains for the US.  They did not hamper Assad’s abilities to carry out attacks, including chemical weapons attacks, on his people.  They pushed Russia into a potentially stronger alliance with the Assad regime.  His disregard for the Constitution continues his trend of undermining our institutions of democracy.  Along with his increased use of military action, including drone strikes, that have led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the Middle East, he diminishes the safety of deployed US forces and the security of US citizens throughout the world.  A US Administration has traditionally been a stabilizing feature of the global community.  Under President Trump, this is no longer the case.  The President, and his Administration (with certain exceptions) have injected a level of uncertainty and instability that is not only foolish but is also extremely dangerous.



Healthcare: Commodity or Essential Right

The recently, spectacularly, failed American Healthcare Act (AHCA), once again, brought to the forefront the debate on whether healthcare access should be considered a commodity, much like an automobile, subject to the whims of a free market and made available to those who can afford it or, rather, that healthcare is an essential right of all Americans that must be guaranteed by government.  Democrats appear united behind the concept that healthcare access is crucial to society and must be available to every US citizen regardless of their economic status.  As the debate over the AHCA progressed, it became obvious that Republicans are divided over this central question.  Polling shows that overwhelming majorities of Americans believe every citizen should have access to high-quality, affordable, healthcare.  In this, it appears the GOP is at odds with the majority of Americans.

 

This week, President Trump signaled the AHCA is not actually dead and that his campaign pledge to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known simply as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or, “Obamacare” continues onward.  The problem with this position is that the President has not articulated what this would look like.  Even with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress, and without input from Democrats, a coherent plan that would meet the President’s promises of providing affordable health insurance to even more Americans, and at lower costs than the ACA, was not presented.  Competing factions within the Republican Congress ensured that no bill put forth would garner a majority of votes or even entice moderate Democrats to join in support.  Party leadership attempted to rush the bill through the House even prior to scoring by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) which ultimately decided that, although ten-year cost projections would reduce the budget, the result would be more people without health insurance than prior to enactment of the ACA.

 

After the AHCA was pulled prior to a vote, the President commented, “Who would have known that healthcare would be so complicated?”  What?!?!  Besides anyone who has ever studied this topic?  This point underlies a central problem within the Trump Administration.  There is a serious lack of competent Administration leadership that might be able to shepherd complicated proposals through a Congress that is itself lacking in effective leadership that is committed to promoting and implementing legislation that will serve to actually benefit the American people.  Basically, Republicans have demonstrated that, since at least 2010, they lack the ability, or desire, to govern in the best interests of the people.

 

The failure of the AHCA effectively leaves the Republican leadership in Congress with two choices.  They can continue in their efforts to undermine the ACA which will lead to its eventual collapse, or, they can work with Democrats to strengthen the law which is what a majority of Americans currently favor.  It should be noted that the ACA has been effective and would continue to remain viable for at least the next decade but for efforts of the Republican Party over the past seven years.  Elected Republicans, and right-wing talking heads on radio and television, have spent the last seven years misleading the American public.  This has resulted in ballot box gains, however, it has not actually helped the American people.  While the ACA did not seriously further the debate on whether healthcare was an essential right versus a commodity available to the highest bidder, it did suggest that access to insurance to provide for healthcare expenses was a necessary thing that should be promoted by government.  In contrast, the debate among Republicans since 2009 has brought into the open the role of government in healthcare access at all levels.  It should be noted that prior to 2010, there was no question that government should ensure the availability of some access to healthcare for all Americans.  In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the bipartisan Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) into law.  Likewise, COBRA was enacted under the Reagan Administration which provided individuals with a continuity of health insurance coverage.

 

The most recent debate between Republicans over the AHCA has placed a focus on whether government has any role in determining access to health insurance or healthcare itself.  This debate also served to highlight a disconnect between elected Republicans in Congress and their constituents.  Had the AHCA passed, the harms would have been felt significantly more among rural voters who overwhelmingly voted Republican over the past several election cycles.  The more extreme members of the GOP who make-up the Libertarian-wing (aka the Freedom Caucus formerly known as the Tea Party caucus) believe healthcare should be left to the winds of a completely free market.  Health insurers should be let alone to serve only the customers they desire and to charge whatever rates the free market might bear.  Let the buyer beware lest they procure a policy only to find out it lacks the protections necessary when they are needed, or worse, they are dis-enrolled when they become ill or seriously injured.  Somewhat more moderate Republicans seek to provide competition among insurers by removing obstacles to the sale of health insurance policies across state lines.  Theoretically, this appears to be reasonable, however, there are a significant number of realities that make this an unattractive proposal.  The biggest one is that insurance companies establish provider networks where they operate.  Healthcare providers are not likely to want to participate in a network that is out-of-state, perhaps in a different time zone, when they need to have their billing issues resolved or if they need to seek authorization for patient care.  This is inefficient and costly.  Another major issue affecting consumers is relating to the need to, perhaps, sue an insurance company for denial of a claim.  Consumers would be subjected to the laws of a particular state which might be much more favorable to the insurance company in a classic David and Goliath tale.

 

I doubt there is anyone who disagrees with the idea that society functions better when people are healthier.  Employee productivity is increased, chronic healthcare expenditures are decreased, and individual satisfaction is improved.  The United States outspends every other developed nation on healthcare but has significantly lower health outcomes on almost every measure.  Civilized societies throughout the world recognize this.  In promoting the well-being of their respective nations, leaders have already debated whether healthcare should be construed as a basic right to be assured by government.  It has been unanimously affirmed by economically- advanced societies that some level of healthcare must be provided for each person as by doing so it benefits every person.  The United States continues to be an outlier.  If, by independent measures, it was demonstrated that our status as an outlier made the health of our nation’s citizens better it would make perfect sense to continue our current system of healthcare delivery.  Unfortunately, this is not the case on ANY measure of national health.  Republicans continue to refuse to acknowledge this and continue to permit healthcare to consume ever-larger amounts of spending and an ever-growing share of our gross domestic product (GDP).

 

It is obvious the Republican Party is incapable, or unwilling to, of addressing this.  We, the people, must continue to demand healthcare access for all.  GOP-led efforts to undo the most significant healthcare reform in a generation is harmful to patients, providers, and insurers.  These efforts undermine the healthcare infrastructure and will lead to a significant collapse that would cause all of us to suffer.  If we recognize that a healthy citizenry makes for a more robust society, we must not maintain the idea of healthcare as a commodity to be enjoyed only by those who can afford it.  Essential healthcare must be available for all people.  This must be ensured by government.



Dog Whistles and Trumpeteers

The rise of Donald Trump to become the leading front-runner for the Republican nomination to be President of the United States has been surprising to me.  At least upon first glance.  When one looks deeper, this success should actually not be too surprising for anyone to recognize.  Not only has his elevation and, apparent success, in the polls continued to surprise me, it has also filled me with a sense of disappointment and sadness.  I am not saddened by his success, after all, how can anyone be made sad by witnessing the success of another person.  I am saddened, however, by what his current success in the Republican primaries is premised on.

 

Mr. Trump has been a successful businessman.  Yes, like all great business people, he has had his failures.  His initial wealth was inherited which I do not fault him for.  There are many great people who also inherited great wealth.  I believe he exploits others for his personal gain and that makes him unethical and a poor role model.  Prior to his current entry into politics, I would have never guessed that he would be considered by anyone, let alone describe himself, as a, “conservative.”  The only casual link I can identify between a conservative philosophy and Mr. Trump is that he is a business person and I have always tended to think that responsible, self-made, business people trend somewhat conservative, at least financially.  Mr. Trump does not fit the mold that I imagine of the conservative business person.  He is extravagant, opulent, boisterous, and brash.  None of these are qualities I would associate with a truly conservative persona.

 

Donald Trump has increased his personal fortune through real estate, gambling establishments, and other businesses.  He has owned an airline, hotels, casinos, and has had his name attached to steaks, water, and other consumer products.  He has experienced successes and failures with these operations.  When his businesses were failing he sought out bankruptcy protections.  These are completely legal processes, however, they are inconsistent with a conservative philosophy of personal responsibility.  Bankruptcy is generally harmful to creditors and, when it involves a business, it is always harmful to the workers.  A President Trump cannot take the United States of America through bankruptcy court.  His economic ideas, he has not advanced any specific policies, are not fiscally-conservative by any means.

 

His personal life makes it even more unfathomable that he would consider himself a conservative and even less likely that he should have the support of those who consider themselves to be, “social-conservatives.”  He has been married multiple times, engaged in affairs, made crude references towards women and to male and female genitalia.  Things that I would have automatically assumed would disgust evangelical Christians and other religiously devout individuals.  I am not judging him, mind you, I am only at a loss to comprehend his support from those who have expressed condemnation of adultery, divorce, non-monogamy, and homosexuality.  On other areas of social conflict, including abortion, I did not even think Mr. Trump had expressed a position.  In fact, I would have laid money on the idea that he was not opposed to abortion, homosexuality, or infidelity.

 

What is it, then, that fuels Mr. Trump’s rise among the Republican base?  It is not his fiscal constraint nor his fiscal responsibility.  It is not his social mores.  And, yet, a large percentage of his supporters in the primary elections are those who claim to be fiscally-conservative and/or socially-conservative.  It would appear that he is the antithesis of a candidate that these individuals would coalesce behind.  The answer must lie deeper.  It is within these deeper layers that we begin to see the origins of Donald Trump’s rise, and more importantly, of the reasons underlying his support.  The Republican establishment and those who serve in Washington understand, all too well, where this support comes from and they are suddenly afraid of being exposed for this dark philosophy as well.

 

The truth is much darker, and much uglier, than anyone could imagine.  It harkens back to the days of slavery and the effectiveness with which Mr. Trump promotes this ugliness the more likely it becomes that the Grand Old Party is at a crucial junction in its existence.

 

From the mid-1950’s, through today, the Republican Party has promoted a philosophy that trends socially-regressive.  It is based on the promotion of fear and anxiety.  From the racial segregation and anti-Communist policies of the 1950’s to the continuing opposition to equality for women since the 1970’s, to the opposition to homosexuality, including non-discrimination and marriage equality, and into recent battles over transgender equality and immigration, the GOP has incorporated the language of fear and increasingly narrowed its base to disaffected white, heterosexual, poorly-educated, Christians.  From the end of slavery, conservatives have used innuendo like a dog whistle to create scapegoats of minority groups in order to advance a white agenda that opposes equality for anyone else.  The Republican Party began to capitalize upon this idea in the 1950’s by promoting fear over reason.  By the 1980’s the Grand Old Party solidified its base of white, Christian, males. The stoking of fear of the, “others” is what has created a, mostly, homogenous base of Republican voters.  The GOP has mastered the art of, “Us versus Them” in politics.  If you are different, in any way, you are not, “Us.”  It is this sense of fear or anxiety that allows the Republican Party to recruit poor whites, who are most harmed by Republican economic policies.  It is for this reason that a candidate like Donald Trump has had the ability to rise so rapidly up the hierarchy of Republican politics to, possibly, become its official standard-bearer.  In light of this, it is really not so surprising that Mr. Trump has emerged as a viable candidate for the Republican Party.  The Republican establishment has employed the use of fear-based rhetoric like a dog whistle for so long that the trumpeting of such dialogue would naturally draw certain supporters out from hiding.

 

It is extremely disturbing, however, that a candidate, from any political party, seeking to be a candidate to become President of the United States would actively support, or tacitly endorse, such un-American values.  It is not that any person should be so naïve as to deny the existence of prejudice in this nation.  Neither, should one be surprised that there are some people in 2016 who are bigots or racists.  I am more troubled by the fact that there is such widespread support for the ugliness of racism, bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and Islamophobia within this great nation.  This has become even more apparent immediately after the election, in 2008, of President Barack Obama as Republicans immediately expressed genuine hope that he would fail.  It is the extent to which these attitudes pervade our nation that is most alarming to me.  This is something that is genuinely surprising and bothersome.  I find this disgusting and would never support a political candidate that condones such vile attitudes.



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!!



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.