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.



Trumpets of Doom

This past week we were exposed to the spectacle that was the Republican National Convention.  I managed to catch bits and pieces of different speeches and read the running commentary on my Twitter feed and on Facebook.  I did take the time to watch the candidate, himself, give his acceptance speech on Thursday night.  What I observed this week is, to say the least, troubling for me as a progressive, voting, American.  The RNC convention was filled with darkness and despair.  It was, in a word, un-American, in my opinion.

 

From the refusal of the convention rules committee to respect the wishes of delegates in voting on the party platform on Monday, to the gaffes of color-coding elevator banks (White Elevators), posting white supremacist Tweets and anti-Semitic Tweets, and plagiarizing speeches, the promotion of an idea that the Democrat opponent would be arrested and jailed if Mr. Trump was elected President, and the very ugly idea that the Democratic nominee be marched in front of a firing squad by the Republican nominee’s veterans adviser, the campaign presented an ugly and hate-filled image to the world and, specifically, to Americans who are being asked to select the 45th President of the United States of America.  Even an innocuous photo showing Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan posing with the 2016 class of Republican interns demonstrated the big problem facing the Republican Party moving forward.  Surely, the Republican Party could have done better than this.

 

The events of this past week in Cleveland demonstrate a palpable anger of a large number of white Americans, a sense of frustration that transcends the typical values the Grand Old Party establishment has espoused for the past half century.  Make no mistake, the GOP has pushed the idea of racial politic for its benefit since the 1960’s.  The major difference during this campaign cycle is that the nominee has openly endorsed the idea that white people are losing ground to minorities in this country.  There is the explicit promise that Mr. Trump will, “take America back.”  Take it back from who?  Give the nation back to whom, exactly?  This nation belongs to each of us, Mr. Trump.  Each of us already has an ownership stake in the greatest nation on Earth!!  On the topic of greatness, Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan is, “Make America Great Again.”  Personally, I believe that any candidate who does not believe the United States of America is not currently the greatest nation on the planet is not fit to lead our country.  Hey, Donald Trump, if the United States of America is not currently the greatest nation in the world, tell us who we need to best to regain the title!!  Mr. Trump misses the point that greatness does not mean perfection.  The greatest leaders throughout history each had flaws.  This goes for individuals and nations.

 

President Franklin Roosevelt, in his first inauguration speech said, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”  http://www.historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5057  Mr. Trump, in his acceptance speech pushed a sense of fear throughout his speech.  I have to give him credit in that he recognizes that fear is, perhaps, the most powerful motivator of all living things.  Unfortunately, fear is not what makes a nation, or a leader, great.  In times of trouble or anxiety, people look to a leader for inspiration and hope.  For confidence and a sense of security.  People look for firm, rational, statements and assurances of how safety and security can be established.  Mr. Trump stoked the flames of fear in his campaign speech but failed to offer any rational assurances that he could provide this.  This consistent lack of substance does not appear to faze his supporters.  In fact, Mr. Trump has said that his supporters don’t care about policy.  His supporters may not care, however, those of us who consider ourselves thoughtful and rational, demand this information in order to make an informed decision at the voting booth!!  He commented that he will be the law and order President, but has demonstrated through his comments and prior speeches that he has no understanding of the law nor a desire to operate within the law.  Mr. Trump has been described as having an authoritarian management style.  Studies on authoritarians who have risen to power demonstrate that when people are so fearful, they have a tendency to turn to an authoritarian leader, regardless of qualifications, or lack thereof.  This is what Mr. Trump is counting on—that people are so irrationally fearful they will fall in line behind his campaign.  Thus far this has worked as he managed to beat out his, much better qualified, opponents in the primary campaign.  The problem with authoritarian politicians is that they tend to be brutal and violent towards their opponents, both domestically and globally.  Regarding the wealthy, and the bankers, FDR further stated, “They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.”  I have said on multiple occasions that Mr. Trump is primarily out to benefit himself.  He is a narcissist and demonstrates an unwillingness to compromise with others.  He has boasted of this in interviews, speeches, and in his books.  This is not the attitude of our nation’s diplomatic face to the world.  Even more dangerous, Donald Trump has praised the ideas of other authoritarian leaders including Vladimir Putin and Adolph Hitler.  Likewise, the current leaders of Russia and North Korea have praised Mr. Trump’s leadership style.  I am concerned when foes of this nation begin to praise a candidate for US President.

 

Mr. Trump has further raised the ire of leaders of nations that we consider allies.  This past week, he suggested that the United States may not honor agreements made with European nations should they be attacked by another state power.  Nothing instills confidence in our friends, or gives pause to our enemies, like a potential US President who says you’re on your own.  He has said that other nation’s should be free to pursue nuclear weapons and has refused to rule out the use of such weapons if faced with a tactical threat or even as a deterrent to non-state players on the battlefield.  Such commentary is not only irresponsible from a Presidential candidate, it is reckless and dangerous.

 

Perhaps, the most concerning thing about Donald Trump is that he is not a, one-off, an anomaly within the Republican Party.  Mr. Trump has become the face of the base of the contemporary Republican Party.  This twice-divorced, socially-moderate, candidate for US President has gained the support of Evangelical Christians.  He has been endorsed by anti-LGBT and anti-abortion, so-called, “family values” organizations even though he does not support these views.  This is why he has selected Governor Mike Pence of Indiana to be his Vice President.  Governor Pence is staunchly anti-LGBT and anti-women’s rights.  He has actually been endorsed by white-supremacists, the American Nazi Party, and other racist individuals and groups.  This should serve to inform the logical, reasoned person that Mr. Trump is a dangerous individual to be considered for the position of Commander-in-Chief of our nation’s Armed Forces and as the principal law enforcement officer of the United States.  The battle for control of the soul of the Republican Party has been won by a racist, bigoted, theocratic-minded bloc.  The fight for the hearts and minds of the people of the United States of America now begins.  While irrational fear is an incredibly powerful motivator, I maintain confidence that hope is an even more powerful motivator.



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.



The Supreme Court Ruling on Hobby Lobby, et al., and Implications for PrEP

This past Monday’s decision by the US Supreme Court regarding Hobby Lobby, et al., has been widely misinterpreted as both a sweeping victory for Christian businesses and a slap at the Obama Administration and the Affordable Care Act, as well as, a total annihilation of reproductive rights and reproductive healthcare in the United States.  Both of these extremes are flawed and completely miss the mark.

 

While I do believe the opinion, penned by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, is flawed, it was not a broad sweeping opinion and it attempted to narrowly relate to the facts presented in the case.  The ruling’s major flaws include its attempt to insert the Supreme Court into the role of determining, what is a legitimate religious liberty and, recognizing a corporate entity as having the legitimacy of personhood.  Other flaws associated with the ruling are more covert and may not be recognized for a period of time.

 

While many have been quick to claim the Justices voting in favor of the Hobby Lobby decision acted out of a political, or ideological, motivation, they miss the fact that the government failed to provide enough proof for the Court to rule otherwise.  The attorneys representing Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, etc., brought a case that expressed their clients’ opposition to four specific types of contraceptives that, to one extent or another, prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg into the wall of the uterus.  These drugs, referred to by Hobby Lobby, et al., attorneys as abortifacients, prevent the fertilized egg from implanting into the uterine wall.   They did not present evidence opposing forms of contraception that prevented the fertilization of the egg claiming only that their clients believed, as a matter of religious teaching that life begins at fertilization.  The government failed to counter these claims with satisfactory evidence otherwise including any rationale that may exist, demonstrating improved safety, cost-efficiency, or beneficence for women.   

 

The Court did not address, nor did the Hobby Lobby group claim, more invasive forms of contraception, including vasectomy or tubal ligation, violated their sincerely held religious beliefs.  Nor did the Court address forms of contraception that prevent the fertilization of an egg.  This is what narrows this particular ruling.  One flaw in narrowing the ruling is that the Court failed to recognize medical and scientific consensus that life can only be recognized as beginning when the egg implants into the wall of the uterus and begins to divide.  The Court relied on the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) to determine that the owner of a business does not sever their religious faith simply by entering into a contractual structure as in incorporating a business. 

 

It should be noted that an egg that does not implant in the uterine wall, but rather begins to divide anywhere else is referred to as ectopic and may often require the surgical excision of a dividing embryo.  This condition, an ectopic pregnancy, and the consequent surgical intervention associated with terminating this pregnancy would appear to also violate the religious beliefs of the Hobby Lobby participants in this case.  This demonstrates the convoluted rational the Court used in reaching its 5 to 4 decision.

 

While the ruling did note that future court cases seeking religious exemptions for vaccinations and blood transfusions may result in a different opinion than what was rendered here, it is important for those of us concerned about reproductive health, that there are implications for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to be discussed.

 

Because the Court did not address other forms of contraception, including vasectomy and tubal ligation, they also did not, more broadly address other forms of reproductive healthcare including vaccination against the Human Papiloma Virus (HPV), post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), or PrEP.  It is reasonable to anticipate that another corporate entity may elect to seek exemptions from requirements for other forms of reproductive healthcare.  For example, an employer may suggest that sex outside of traditional marriage between a man and a woman violates their sincerely held religious beliefs, therefore requiring them to provide insurance coverage for PrEP or PEP is a Constitutional violation of their religious liberties.  Notwithstanding the fact that there are male/female married couples that currently use PrEP as a part of their reproductive health, the Court’s failure to recognize legitimate scientific and medical consensus in the Hobby Lobby case should give us a reason to be concerned about how the current Court might rule when faced with such a case.

 

The Court erred in attempting to determine what constitutes a legitimate, and sincerely held, religious belief deserving of Constitutional protection which is troubling.  The US Constitution ensures that each of us, as individuals has a right to believe as we so choose.  The Supreme Court has now made itself the arbiter of what religious beliefs can be imposed by employers on employees which should be a concern for each of us.



Of Guns and Madness

The recent dialogue regarding the regulation of firearms in this country has coalesced around two differing basic points of view.  On one side are individuals and groups interested in, finally, finding a way to reduce violence associated with guns.  On the other side are individuals and groups who act as though attempts to reach a reasonable solution are tantamount to completely striking down the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution.  The rhetoric arising from this camp has grown progressively more strident and aggressive, bordering on dangerous. 

There are many opportunities for taking action to reduce the toll of violence from guns.  The majority of people in this country appear to want sensible, logical reforms to existing legislation or new legislation that would banish certain classes of firearms or the ammunition clips that feed the weapons.  Leaders from the National Rifle Association (NRA) have stated publicly that better mental health services are necessary in order to prevent mass shootings.  I completely agree with this idea.  While progressive-minded individuals have long advocated for comprehensive mental-health programs, throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, continuing today, legislatures have dramatically cut back funding of mental-health options.  In the state of Michigan, for example, we had 16 hospitals and outpatient clinics for the treatment of mental illness.  Conservative legislators and a Republican Governor whittled that number down to four by 1999.

Study after study has demonstrated that people suffering with serious mental illness are more likely to become homeless, become victims of violence, participate in illicit substance use and abuse, and be far more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for criminal activity.  Studies that have looked at the cost of housing a prisoner in a correctional facility have demonstrated that over 40% of inmates suffer from mental illness and that a significant number of these patients could be treated outside of a prison environment at a far-lower cost.  This is a waste of money.

The other idea publicly promoted by the NRA is the arming of teachers and other school workers and expanding concealed-carry laws throughout the nation including into sports venues, theaters, restaurants, churches, colleges, and bars.  As a college educator, I do not feel this is the proper approach to solving the problem of gun violence.  When I think back to the days when I was an elementary, or even a high-school student, I am not sure I would have been very comfortable knowing that some of my teachers, or other school staff members, were armed.  Some of them had a difficult time maintaining order in the classroom and demonstrated their frustration outwardly.  Getting paddled by a teacher is bad enough.  Having a teacher shoot you because you were clowning around?  Think about it.  And the thought of people with guns entering a bar and getting drunk and arguing is not a comforting thought at all.  The thought of guns at sporting events is chilling as rivalries sometimes devolve into violence, particularly in those venues that serve alcohol.

Wayne LaPierre, of the NRA, also suggested having armed guards, like Police Officers stationed in every school in America.  Putting aside the economic burden on communities aside for a moment, it is important to remember that both Columbine High School and Virginia Tech had an armed, uniformed presence when shootings occurred in both places.  Fort Hood was an active military base with armed Military Police and armed civilian guards.  In addition to being economically non-viable, this idea also fails to address the core concern associated with gun violence.  Namely, keeping guns out of the hands of those who would use them to cause harm.

The NRA, and like-minded individuals often claim, “Guns don’t kill people!”  In this, I also concur.  With the exception of someone bludgeoning another person with a gun, guns by themselves do not kill people.  A firearm, however, when used as intended has one, and only one purpose.  That purpose is to deliver a lethal projectile for the point of killing something.  Whether the weapon is a tiny Derringer, or a fully-automatic assault rifle, or a 12-guage shotgun, or a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun, or a 38-caliber revolver, each of these devices is designed to effectively deliver a projectile that is designed to cause death.  Now, one can argue that the firearm serves as a deterrent to would-be criminals.  Generally speaking, however, this argument is not valid.  While the sound of a shotgun being racked in a darkened room is enough to make some involuntarily urinate, the purpose of the weapon is not to sound scary.  The gun is designed to kill.  It is not designed to wound, maim or temporarily incapacitate something.  It is designed to kill something.  However, by itself, the gun can do very little harm.  Also, a gun carelessly handled, or accidentally dropped, may discharge causing death or injury to others.  There are more stories of individuals being accidentally killed or injured by firearms than there are of civilian individuals using a firearm to protect themselves or others.

If a gun, by itself, is relatively harmless, what, then, makes it dangerous.  What makes a gun a weapon?  The answer is simple, ammunition.  Without ammunition, a gun is a conglomeration of metal and plastic, and sometimes, other materials that are not so much functional as they are aesthetic.  A pretty killing machine, you might say.  When the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified as part of the Bill of Rights, firearms were single-shot, and each shot had to be manually prepared using wadding, powder and a ball.  Experts of the time could shoot and reload their weapon up to three times per minute!  Of course, barrel-rifling techniques meant that shots were most effective at closer ranges.  Today’s firearms have much greater range when aimed properly, carry clips that contain multiple shells or casings, and can be fired multiple times per minute without pausing to reload.  In fact, a semi-automatic weapon with an extended magazine or clip could fire up to 30 shots in less than a minute!  The folks that are currently opposing sensible measures to address the issue of gun violence claim that the 2nd Amendment prevents Congress, or any state legislature, from taking any action that might limit access to firearms.  This argument is invalid on a number of counts.

Let us, for just a brief moment, give credence to this logic.  The 2nd Amendment prevents the government from regulating firearms.  When the 2nd Amendment was ratified, firearms were single-shot and had to be reloaded between each shot.  Because there was no standing Army at the time of the Amendment’s ratification and there were no real police forces established, the enactment of this Amendment was reasonable.  It is not likely that our founders could have had the imagination to perceive the variety of weapons and the power of weapons that would exist today.  But let us suppose that they did.  Let us further suppose that our founders wanted every weapon that was, at that time, available to a standing military or police force as a standard which would mean that weapons used by military forces and police forces around the world should be permitted to be in the hands of ordinary Americans.  Without participating in this argument we can simply put aside the regulation of firearms.  Instead, we can look at the components that carry the ammunition that feeds the weapon.  We can regulate the clips, drums, and magazines that are loaded with ammunition that can be fired from a gun.  We can regulate the projectiles that can be fired from a gun.  It is important to note that the 2nd Amendment, like every other Constitutional provision is subject to review by the judiciary and that no Amendment is without limits on the scope of a “protected liberty.”

Many of those opposed to regulation of firearms cite the 2nd Amendment frequently in support of their cause.  Many of these same individuals favor a strict interpretation of other Amendments and argue against rulings by “activist” judges who expand the interpretation of Constitutional law.  They would argue that the framers did not intend for marriage equality when the 14th Amendment was adopted.  They would argue that individual states and not the federal government should do certain things because it is not specified in the US Constitution.  However, when muskets and cannons were the only weapons using gunpowder, these folks believe the founders of our great nation had the foresight to approve of the ready access of weaponry that was beyond the scope of imagination at the time when crafting the 2nd Amendment.  By the way, a strict interpretation of this Amendment would lead one to believe that an individual must be a member of a well-regulated state militia in order to “bear arms.”  In short, proponents of gun access want the broadest possible interpretation of the 2nd Amendment while many seek as restrictive an interpretation of every other Constitutional Amendment.  With the exception of the Free Exercise clause of the 1st Amendment, that is.  In any case, the Constitution was designed to be specific to modify or amend and arguments put forth by opponents of the current discourse are specious as no relevant party has suggested amending the Constitution to repeal the 2nd Amendment.

Which brings us to recent mass shootings.  Since the Assault Weapons Ban signed into law under President Clinton, and supported by President and Nancy Reagan, expired, the number of mass shootings has increased with each year incurring more multiple shootings than any year prior to the ban being implemented in 1994.  The suggestion that the ban on assault weapons was a failure is inaccurate.  Two things are consistent with mass shootings that have taken place over the past five years.  One, high-capacity magazines were used with the weapons that targeted innocent victims.  Two, the perpetrator, was prior-to, or after-the-fact, diagnosed with a serious mental disorder.

These are two areas in which many of us can agree.  The use of large-capacity ammunition reservoirs is not necessary for sporting or home/self-defense environs.  Other than an ability to get the thrill associated with feeling the multiple recoils of a gun, these devices only serve to ensure that numerous projectiles are dispersed.  These devices should be restricted for sale to, possession by, and use of, by certified, trained individuals.  Namely, military personnel and law enforcement personnel.  Because identifying, and treating, mental illness is very challenging, a process must be implemented to prevent those who have serious mental illnesses from obtaining weapons.  I would recommend a requirement that every individual wishing to purchase a firearm be required to undergo psychological screening.  Further, any individual wishing to purchase a semi-automatic weapon or an assault-style weapon, must also certify that every member of the household has be evaluated for psychological stability.  Weapons should not be accessible to people who lack the mental capacity to exercise self-control of violent or aggressive tendencies.

In addition, I would propose holding legal gun-owners liable for crimes committed with their legally-purchased guns.  Failure to properly secure lethal devices that results in injury or death constitutes negligence.  If we are able to strengthen mental health resources, we can reduce the number of prison inmates imprisoned as a result of criminal activity resulting from a failure to diagnose and treat the mental illness.  This will allow communities to enact stricter penalties for individuals unlawfully in possession of a firearm.

Sensible regulations that would help to prevent this tragedy, even if no firearm was made illegal to own or possess, include; mandatory criminal background checks of all purchasers and members of their immediate households, mandatory psychiatric screening for all potential purchasers and members of their immediate households, a mandatory 7 to 14-day waiting period for the purchase of any semi-automatic weapon, a requirement that gun owners undergo annual psychiatric screening, annual registration for every firearm, a requirement that firearm owners procure a minimum of $1,000,000/$5,000,000 policy on each firearm that is owned, a limit on the number of rounds of ammunition that can be purchased each month, a complete ban on internet sales of firearms and ammunition, mandatory reporting of ammunition sales that exceed the maximum amount for two months in a row, a ban on ammunition sales for assault-style weapons, a requirement that person-to-person sales of firearms or ammunition be conducted at a police department or other designated facility, a $1,000/gun annual fee that will be used to fund school security officers or gun-violence reduction strategies, a 1% tax on gun owners that will provide funding for mental health and treatment programs, and legislation that provides for any owner of a gun whose gun is used to injure or kill another person be held criminally-liable as a conspirator to the crime.

There.  Now we have some reasonable starting points with which to negotiate sensible, comprehensive, and responsible gun regulation.  Shall we get started?