Taking a look at the First Amendment to the US Constitution

The First Amendment

Over the last couple of years, we have seen more than a few attacks on freedom of the press, and a push by some religious groups to prevent other religious groups from exercising their rights.

Rather than take sides in any of that (my side is always with Constitution, with all its (amendable) flaws, it presents all the opportunity we need to self govern without the need for murderous revolution.), I have elected to talk about the Amendment to the Constitution which governs both, and hope that these thoughts somehow reach the masses.

Lets start by noting for those who have not studied the Constitution, US History, or the republican philosophy; that the first ten amendments (known as the Bill of Rights) were not granted by the government. Rather they are what is referred to as natural, or inherent rights. Congress was merely codifying them into the Constitution as a reminder to the government, and us, that we the people have those rights.

The next thing we need to do, is to simply read the text of the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

As the Amendment is pretty broad, we will have to break it into three sections. Those sections will be known as Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, and the Right to Assemble and Petition the government. Today we will only address the first.

Freedom of Religion

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

It seems pretty simple. The government declared it was just going to stay out of the peoples way when it came to religion. Let people find their own way with their Creator.

But someone always comes along and reminds us that the US was founded by Christians, and that all of our early law was based on English common law that has its own roots in the Christian Church. They aren’t wrong.

But what they are missing in the equation, is the republican philosophy of the VERY religious Father of the Constitution and author of these Amendments. James Madison, who was by the way a member of the dominant church of the time. His philosophy was that no man could come to know God through force, and had to meet their Creator on their own terms.

Besides Madison’s personal views, we should also look at this from another pragmatic angle. The groups of Christians who are so quick to attempt to subdue other religious groups, be they Muslims, Atheists, or even Satanists; are forgetting something very important historically. With ZERO exceptions, every one of their faiths had been declared to be illegal, satanic, and unholy by either Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican Church at some point in the preceding 500 years.

The very notion of them gathering up to “protect Christianity” is preposterous and ironic. They don’t even agree on what real Christianity is.

As such, if we ever allow our nation to slide down this slippery slope, it would be a disgustingly short period of time before whichever group became dominant would be oppressing the others.

It was happening in Virginia before the revolution, and had it not been for Randolph, Jefferson, and especially Madison; we would all still be paying taxes to the Anglican church today.

So lets consider before this deeply before we backslide to far on that little note in the Constitution

 

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Single Payer Healthcare

Medicare for all.

Single payer healthcare, universal healthcare, Medicare for all. It doesn’t matter what you call it. This is a concept that is way past due in the United States of America. I mean how can you argue with a system that has been shown to be cheaper (on a national basis), is associated with increased quality and length of life, increased productivity for industry, and improved financial health for the whole country? Lets look at each of those things and see if you agree.

On a national basis Single Payer Healthcare would be less expensive for the country than the current insurance paradigm.

Wait, how can that be? Math. It comes down to this. While it is estimated that over 10 years Medicare for all would cost $32.6 TRILLION dollars (it should be noted that this study was done by a think tank funded by the Koch Brothers trying to defame single payer healthcare), Americans over the same time period are paying $33 Trillion.

This article (Think Progress) goes further, and demonstrates how streamlining of systems, and reductions in drug costs (which are inflated by the insurance industry and big pharma) will result in Americans saving another 1.6 trillion dollars of the same period.

Two trillion dollars. it is hard to think in those terms. So lets take a look at that number.

$2,000,000,000,000

That’s how much we will save over 10 years by switching to a single payer system.

Single Payer Healthcare is associated with a higher quality and length of life.

Lets start with life expectancy. According to InfoPlease.com The US is ranked 43rd in the world with a life expectancy of 79.68 years. Almost every country above ours has a variation of universal healthcare.

Overall quality of life: This US News article puts the US at #17. Every nation above us has universal healthcare. (most also have nationalized schools systems funded through undergraduate university studies, but that is another article.)

General Health rankings. Wikipedia put together a page of a 2000 World Health Organization study, graphing various medical goals. The only one that the United States placed well in is the first place for the highest health expenditure per capita. Our system costs more and underperforms. Here are the other areas:

Attainment of goals/Health Level – 24

Attainment of goals/Health distribution – 32

Attainment of  goals/ Over all health – 15 (they attributed this to availability of nutrition)

Expenditure for Health (per capita) – 1

Level of health performance – 72

Overall health system performance – 37

Once again, almost every nation that outperformed us, did so with universal healthcare system.

Increased productivity for industry.

I would go on about my views, but given my decided lefty views, it is probably best to point you to a report that is from a decidedly conservative outlet. The US Chamber of Commerce. Their report (here) states “It shows that the costs related to lost productivity due to ill health are significant and rising,”

Given that we have already demonstrated that universal healthcare provides a healthier population at a reduced cost…I think that the recognition that to be commercially competitive in the world we need a healthy workforce makes the truth of this category abundantly clear.

Improved Financial Health

As I have found that most people arguing against universal healthcare don’t care about anything but money….lets look at that. I am sure that we can all agree that bankruptcy and debt load are huge drags on our overall economy. What would you say if I told you that year over year medical bills cause 46% of all bankruptcies?

They do. Every single year. When we consider that around 800,000 bankruptcies are filed per year, that means some 368,000 people might be paying their debts instead of writing them off.

I couldn’t find any data on how much money that actually represents, but I cannot imagine a scenario where 368,000 people paying their bills rather than writing them off is a bad thing.

Can you?

Summary

So in summary, single payer healthcare is a proven model for improving health, standard of living, industrial, and personal economics. The only negative I can find anywhere, even on the internet is that it is a practice used by scary word countries. Call it whatever you want….it is beyond time for us to adopt this system.

 

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The Notion of Snowflake

Are we hyper-offended or overly aggressive?

So for the last several years, the term snowflake has been dancing around the news, social media, and tavern conversation. Recently it has reached a fever pitch, because people are getting up in arms about a lot of tradition movies and songs in American culture. This has caused me to wonder, with all of the things offending people…have we become that uncivil, or are people just getting overly sensitive to normal behavior?

So I started my look in the abyss of uncivil behavior…the comment sections of news articles. Based on as much of a read as I was willing to tolerate, I quickly came to the conclusion that mankind has devolved into prehistoric beasts…and eternal warfare for food should begin any day now. Then I remembered that the comment sections are filled with trolls and others who delight in trying to bring other people to their level of unhappiness and I narrowed my criteria.

So I looked specifically for articles about human rights, race relations, gender politics and other areas where this term seems to show up a lot. My assessment and opinion based on the whole of that afternoons reading is that the people who are calling others snowflakes (on the whole, this is not a commentary on individuals), seem to be more offended than the people that they are calling snowflakes. Further, the basis for their offense is that people are calling them out for what is decidedly uncivil behavior.

What I mean by uncivil behavior is nothing more complicated than calling people “out of their name”, for reasons ranging from their race, nationality, religion, sexuality, wealth, appearance, or any other reason they can come up with to be insulting.

You know, basic uncivil behavior that in the days of old would be grounds for dueling.

So, from that bit of information, I was leaning heavily toward people being generally uncivil…and that the “snowflake” trend is mainly backlash to people being called out for being jerks.

But wait a minute, didn’t I say something about classical pop culture being included in this?

I did.

And the main reference that brought this up to me is “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”.

Before I delve into these, I feel compelled to state that there is a huge amount of classical American pop culture that is overtly sexist, racist, xenophobic, and generally distasteful to many rightfully offended parties.

But I don’t think that is the case with this film.

Lets start with Rudolph. The allegation is that this film is both racist and about bullying.

For starters, other than not featuring other races other than through stereotypical tropes (which is common in storytelling simply because it is efficient), there is really nothing “racist” in this story. If you choose to say that its focus on the minor physical differences between characters being the reason for the bullying, then I will come along for the ride…but that is the second accusation. So for the first, I give the film a C for lazy storytelling that utilizes racial tropes.

As for being about bullying. Yes I agree that this film is undoubtedly about bullying. Should we be offended by that? Hell no. My reasoning being that while this film is about bullying on many levels, it is more about overcoming bullying by realizing the inherent value of our differences. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to talk about bullying with kids than to show them this film over and over and then tell them about their differences and how those are empowering. So for this accusation I give the accusers an F, for failing to get the point of the film.

So the conclusion I reach from all of my own babbling is this. Yes people are being much less civil than is productive….but sometimes the people calling “snowflake” aren’t completely wrong (other than that n itself being uncivil and counterproductive). Folks are trying to out offended each other and it isn’t useful.

I would go as far as to say that if Rudolph was the worst Racism we experienced in our culture, things would be pretty good… so what do you say we focus on the bigger issues, and stop watering them down by equivocating Rudolph to institutional racism and a culture that embraces bullying as a pastime.

 

 

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The nation has never been so divided.

Well, not in the last 20 years anyway.

I mean come on. Divisions in the 90s were so deep that a President was brought to trial before the full Congress for lying about receiving oral sex. In the 60’s & 70’s there were semi regular riots over desegregation in schools and even the Democratic National Convention had one in 1968. And the pattern continues all the way back to the beginning of self government.

Here is the thing. People don’t agree on things. People especially don’t agree when it comes to who pays for what and which one gets each benefit of that payment. Human nature is more than a little self serving, and our particular form of government runs on that very concept.

You see, while looking for a better way for men to govern themselves, the framers of our Constitution stumbled into a brilliantly balanced oppositional system for running the country.

Part of it was by design. Madison had studied law extensively and was certainly well versed in the concept of arguments being presented from opposing viewpoints until the truth was squeezed out of them…or at least as much truth as could be had from that particular argument.

He had also spent the time leading up to the Constitutional Convention studying different forms of government back into antiquity, and discussing them in depth with the other scholars of the time… most notably Thomas Jefferson who was likely the best read scholar of the republican form of government during the period…and certainly the best read on the subject this side of the Atlantic (even though at the time he was on the other side of it).

In those studies, one of the most important concepts Madison gleaned…and the reason direct democracy always degrades into totalitarian regimes, was the idea of the tyranny of the majority. Without attempting to give a full treatise on what that means, the simplest way to explain it is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. The majority will always oppress the minority when given the opportunity.

So he looked to republican systems to find a way to maximize mans self rule, while preventing any majority from ever having enough power to become oppressive.

What gets interesting when you read on him and his ideas is that he ran into another problem in that solution. The prevailing thought at the time was that because republics seemed to collapse under their own weight as they grew too large (ie Greece and Rome), it was commonly believed that a republic could only successfully function in a small setting.

Madison theorized that those republics collapsed more because they governed without the consent of the governed, and that there was not a balance of power. Further he stated over and over that he believed that a republic would actually run better as it grew (due to more and more small oppositional groups) IF there were a way for the various interest groups to check each other on a level playing field. His original draft of the constitution (and the one we ended up with) was designed to create that level field.

I could easily spend another 2000 words here going in depth into the original ideas he came to the Constitutional Convention with, but I will leave it with it was a very different outcome than he had planned. Between Hamilton’s also strong voice and the petty bickering between the South and North, the small and large states, and people who wanted purely federal system and those who wanted a very loose confederation, a lot of compromises were reached.

Ironically, by losing most of the things he wanted put into the Constitution, an intricately balanced system was created and at the same time his theory that a government based on many varied interests debating in an adversarial system could produce a national government that provided the maximum freedom for the individual while providing for the common goals of a young nation.

But I have digressed quite a bit in forming the background for the point of this article.

That point is: All the bickering about how we run this country isn’t new, and it is a good thing.

It is part of the design… and the system is doing exactly what it is supposed to do as we move forward. (Well some things could function better but that has a lot to do with bad tinkering with a working system, ex. direct voting for Senators… but that is another blog.)

Also, while I would call for more civility in these debates and discussions…. keep in mind when you think things are getting too crazy. Once upon a time a sitting vice President dueled and killed a political rival. People are still being pretty nice right now.

 

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Finding ways to revitalize malls.

Recreating what a “mall” is.

So I kind of hinted at what some of my ideas for continuing to make improvements to the Washington and 10th street corridors on the east side of Indianapolis…. and that is the subject of this article.

I will start with the idea that Malls are dead (or at least dying). This is as true of Washington Square as it is any suburban mall in America. People prefer open, multi use buildings for what little retail shopping still happens at brick and mortar stores. In order to keep those malls from becoming a blight on the city, there use needs to be revisited.

So that is the problem. What is my solution?

Turn them into arts and entertainment centers.

Before you close the page and call me an idiot…follow my reasoning.

  1. The first stage of gentrification is and will always be art communities moving in to replace the degraded property, and criminal elements which take over decaying neighborhoods. The area around Washington Square has not succumbed to this fate as of yet, but if the vacant retail shops in the area keep multiplying….the area cannot withstand the blight that follows for long.
  2. The mall is currently underutilized, and the surrounding commercial buildings have more than enough space to accommodate every shop in the mall that would need to be displaced for this to work. So not only would this breathe life back into a mall without major infrastructure changes, this act would serve the double purpose of reinvigorating local commercial real estate all around…before the benefits of the art and entertainment center take firm root.
  3. The layout of a mall (Especially Washington Square), along with the massive parking lot are perfect for this type of use.
  4. One of the things severely lacking in Indianapolis is midsized (500-2500) music (and other theatre production) venues.

I am glad that you accept the concept enough to keep reading… so I am going to go a little deeper into my ideas, and maybe someone who can actually do something about this will run across it and get to work.

Here is a map of Washington Square as it sits. Attention: Edward J DeBartolo and Jones Lang and Lasalle Management.

We want to make sure that this building ends up fully utilizes and is something that is a draw to the far east side of Indianapolis rather than the decaying husk it is becoming.

So I start by laying out what were the Anchor stores.

As stated earlier, one of Indianapolis’s needs is a solid mid sized concert venue. For this I would suggest the store that is currently a Target, and is the large light green box on the right.

Moving clock wise to the anchor on bottom, I would think something along the lines of lazer tag, or paintball.

Continuing to the lower left, perhaps something along the lines of an indoor go cart track or something to that effect.

Rotating to the upper left, the space is quite large and could be used to create a second Art museum in Indianapolis. Newfields is doing quite well, and I am certain our city could use another large venue to display the art owned around our fair city. Perhaps it could even be curated specifically for local arts.

Finally the smaller anchor space that is on the upper right could be a second theater.

Ideally, the various areas of smaller store fronts would be somewhat restructured, and be utilized to add shops, bars, and restaurants that complement each area of the art and entertainment center.

For instance, the chartreuse and yellow areas near the theatre venues could house music teacher studio space, instrument shops, album listening rooms, music merchandise shops, and maybe even an old school record store.

The red and purple areas, could house a variety of family friendly and “date night” type restaurants and shops, in addition to shops associated with whatever activities actually went into those spaces.

Lastly the dark green area outside of the art museum would house art supply shops and classrooms for people wishing to hone their artistic skills. Maybe even a few smaller art show venues.

This is obviously an imperfect plan, but I think it has merit. There would also be tons of details to work out to make something like this work, but I will leave that to the developers who should be actively looking for ways to keep this investment from continuing to circle the drain it is trying to get flushed down at the moment.

 

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Continuing the redevelopment of the east side of Indianapolis

Developing East Indianapolis

If you take up reading this blog regularly, you will find that I love my home town of Indianapolis. You will also find that I love the east side of Indy. As a direct result of that, you will find that I am going to talk about ways I think both could be improved in a big way.

We will start off todays thoughts with saying how much I appreciate that after decades of neglect, city government is FINALLY putting some resources into redeveloping the east side. The work that the city (and a bunch of private donors and entrepreneurs) has put into dressing up the near east side has had a great effect all the way from downtown to the county line.

That said, I want to talk (in very broad strokes) about what needs to happen in order for that investment to be fully realized.

As most of the redevelopment so far has been the corridor between 10th street and Washington street, I believe that the best course of action is to continue that trend…and to carry it out all the way to the county line in Cumberland, IN.

But it has to go way beyond house flipping and neighborhood rejuvenation. All along east Washington St there are commercial properties which are empty, or otherwise being utilized well beneath their best use.

So how do we fix that?

For starters, any new property development along the corridor needs to be stopped for a period. If a developer wants to put something new in the area, there are plenty of great sites with incredible highway access which have already been zoned, and developed. If the building currently on the property is not suitable, then the city should be willing to provide some help to developers with razing and replacing those buildings. This could be in the form of temporary tax abatements, or in matching fund programs similar to what is being done with the housing programs on the near east side.

The next thing is an extension of the first. The city needs to step up code enforcement with commercial properties along this corridor. Too many commercial property owners are content to view these lots and buildings as long term investments and current tax write offs. If they are not interested in maintaining the property in a way that is conducive to growing the east side, they should be fined and badgered until they are willing to either step up or sell.

Third. The far east side needs a series of destinations that aren’t related to discount shopping. My ideas for this involve some creative reuse of the rapidly dying Washington Square Mall, and complete tear down and redevelopment of the underutilized areas around the 465 exit on east Washington Street. I will absolutely be writing more on both of these, as I feel like they are paramount (not my concepts necessarily but some kind of destination creation in the area) to pushing the east side to be everything it can be.

Lastly, we have to get the word out. Life long east siders like myself know that the crime problems so many people talk about when they reference have nothing to do with our geography. Hell most of them are overblown, and all of them are isolated to a few troublesome intersections that have more to do with public housing isolating and concentrating impoverished people to the point that the only economy they can even see is crime. I know, I grew up near one of those intersections and leaving it changed my life in a big way.

So what do you say? Do we have the civic pride it takes to continue this growth?

I think so. I also think that if you are considering buying commercial property, you would be a fool not to look along that Washington st corridor. There isn’t much other space to develop in Indianapolis….and the move as far out into the suburbs thing has reached the far side of neighboring counties in every other direction. East is the only affordable expansion Indianapolis has left.

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Race Relations and White Privilege.

So I have run across this conversation a lot lately…and it gets pretty weird sometimes. But before I dive into my thoughts on the subject, I have to disclose that I am a CIS White Male. According to the press this will make me resistant to the concept of any kind of privilege and based on the conversations I have seen, it is a fair assumption. But, rather than work with assumptions lets go over it a bit.

First off we have to talk about the word privilege. According to our good friends at Merriam-Webster (definition link); as a noun privilege means, “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor” and as a verb it means, “to accord a higher value or superior position to”.

The phrase white privilege is stating that white people have a right or immunity granted to them. This can be cross applied to male privilege, binary privilege, or any other sub group that has the real or imagined advantage in our society.

Seems simple enough.  So is it real?

If I was a legitimate reporter or student, I would spend the next 500 words citing historical and current statistics and would build what would be an unassailable case that would prove that such privilege exists to everyone but that one dumb ass in the back that somehow still believes that people of color (or women, or non binaries) are somehow less than him.

But I would rather give you an argument from my personal experience…as a straight, white, male… who has grown up and lived in a wonderfully integrated city (that is still imperfectly balanced in terms of opportunity).

To set the stage, I grew up on the east side Indianapolis, after the great white flight to the surrounding suburbs that was caused by the racist response to bussing and forced integration of public schools. I attended those public schools. Being from a lower middle class family, I am sure you realize that I grew up as the minority in my neighborhood (slightly) and absolutely in my schools.

Even with that background, never once in my life have I been in a position where anything but my own merits held me back. Not once.

At the same time, I watched over and over as the people with darker complexions in my community were denied opportunities (usually in what we would consider small things…an interview here, a place in a class, not being “given a break” by a cop….but sometimes larger issues), that were readily available to me.

I seldom knew the particulars of any given instance, and in some case that I did know them, it was the person getting in their own way more than it was the lack of their privilege. But all too often, people just weren’t given the benefit of the doubt because of their race (and/or cultural differences associated with it), and with no other reason.

Based on that life experience, I believe that white privilege is a thing. It can be explained simply as an obstacle that isn’t placed in your path to success. In our society, having dark skin places obstacles in that path.

On the other hand. I don’t feel guilty about it…and I don’t think you feeling guilty about it is useful (unless you are actively carrying out endowing a group with one of these types of privilege…then yeah shame on you).

What is useful, is acknowledging that white privilege exists.

What is useful is not judging someone who doesn’t have your privilege for not making it as far as you. They had to go around those obstacles.

What is useful, is people realizing that you privilege isn’t something you have done wrong. It is a lack of obstacles in your life that others don’t enjoy.

What is useful, is not propagating those obstacles.

What is useful, is removing those obstacles for other people by treating them as equals (they are), and forcing other people to do so along side you.

What is really useful, is recognizing that none of this is difficult and acting accordingly. People aren’t asking you to kiss their ass (and if they are shame on them). They are asking to be given the same considerations we have come to expect.

Just to be treated the same.

If we can just start there, I think we will all be surprised how far we can go.

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Update on the White House Press pass scandal.

A Trump appointed federal judge said that the White House has to let Acosta back into the press pool. Sop the first Amendment had a huge victory there.

On the other side of that coin, the Administration is writing decorum rules, to make a second run at this….so stand by.

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The President vs the First Amendment

So a few days ago, President Trump went ballistic because he didn’t like questions from CNN’s Jim Acosta about his immigration policies and the use of US troops to police the border.

There was some minor confusion on the floor as a result.

The next thing anyone knows, Acosta has his press pass suspended. He can’t get to the White House.

The President decided to deny press access to a journalist because he didn’t like the questions that were asked.

I am not going to wander into the legal precedents, there are enough armchair lawyers out there doing that now. But I do want to make sure hat everyone understands what is happening.

The President is attempting to stifle dissent in the press…in the United States.

That is not hyperbole. It’s not an exaggeration. It is exactly what is happening. I mean this has gone far enough that even Fox news, which has supported the President to a point of being a questionable (and that’s charitable) source of news, is even calling foul. It makes sense that they would do so, because they had to use the Federal Court System to get back on the Presidents access list when Obama tried to declare them not news…which sounds like the same thing, but fox news is required by law to call themselves an entertainment network rather than a news network in Canada because their reporting has been shown to be at a lower standard than our northern neighbors tolerate.

But that is a big side bar. Lets get back to what is happening.

President Trump is attempting to stifle dissent by cherry picking which reports do and do not have access to the White House…and this isn’t Joe Schmuckatelli reporting for Relevant Irreverence, Jim Acosta is a well respected journalist from one of the larges news organizations n the planet.

We can’t allow this.

In my opinion, this action reaches a level that Congress should immediately get involved. Our President swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, but he is steadily attacking it instead.

So do the thing you do. Yell about it, write your Congressman, discuss it online, but stay engaged. Be involved in the political process. It is how things get done…and it is one of your basic rights under attack. Don’t give it up like this.

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The return of Relevant Irreverence

So after making some adjustments to my Real Estate website, I decided that the extra web space I am paying for could go towards me polluting the internet with my random thoughts, opinions, and ravings.

If you look at posts prior to this one, you will see that this website was built on the remnants of Realty with Robb, which is merging with the Blue Ribbon Team web site.

After purging the real estate pages, I considered doing the same with all the old blog posts…. but since they are useful for driving traffic to both web sites…I decided to keep them around.

I hope you enjoy the writing, and other random things I put here…if not that is fine too, but I do hope that you do.

Have a great day.

Robb

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