Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

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The 2nd Amendment: How the gun control debate went crazy

The gun control debate has been at fever pitch for several years now, and as things fail to change the stats get grimmer. The New York Times reports that there have been 239 school shootings nationwide since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, where 20 first graders and six adults were killed. Six years later, 438 more people have been shot in schools, and for 138 of them it was fatal. Here, journalist and author Kurt Andersen reads the Second Amendment, and explains its history from 1791 all the way to now. "What people need to know is that the Second Amendment only recently became such a salient amendment," says Andersen. It's only in the last 50 years that the gun debate has gone haywire, and it was the moment the NRA went from reasonable to absolutist. So what does the "right to bear arms" really mean? What was a firearm in the 1790s, and what is a firearm now? "Compared to [the] many, many, many rounds-per-second firearms that we have today, it's the same word but virtually a different machine." Kurt Andersen is the author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.

The 5th Amendment: Do not break in case of emergency

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is often talked about but rarely read in full. The reason? Counterterrorism expert Amaryllis Fox explains that it has, these days, simply become shorthand for not saying anything in court to incriminate yourself. But the full text states how important the due process of law is to every American. So perhaps learning the full text, not just the shorthand, is an important step to being an American citizen. You can find out more about Amaryllis Fox here.

The 13th Amendment: The unjust prison to profit pipeline

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery—but it still remains legal under one condition. The amendment reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Today in America, big corporations profit of cheap prison labor in both privatized and state-run prisons. Shaka Senghor knows this second wave of slavery well—he spent 19 years in jail, working for a starting wage of 17 cents per hour, in a prison where a 15-minute phone call costs between $3-$15. In this video, he shares the exploitation that goes on in American prisons, and how the 13th Amendment allows slavery to continue. He also questions the profit incentive to incarcerate in this country: why does America represent less than 5% of the world's population, but almost 25% of the world's prisoners? Shaka Senghor's latest venture is Mind Blown Media.

The 14th Amendment: History's most radical idea?

In 1868, three years after slavery was abolished, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, granting equal protection under the law to every born and naturalized U.S. citizen. For CNN news commentator Van Jones this amendment is, in his words, the "whole enchilada." It's not the most popular amendment—it doesn't get name-dropped in TV courtroom dramas, or fiercely debated before elections—but to Jones it is a weighty principle that was far ahead of its time. "It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're a lesbian. That's not what it says. It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're African American. That's not what it says. It says if you're in the jurisdiction you get equal protection under the law. That's radical. In 10,000 years of human history, that's radical." Van Jones is the author of Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together.

The 26th Amendment: The act of voting should empower people

Is a 55.7% voter turnout really enough? Bryan Cranston was disappointed with the 2016 presidential election, not for the outcome but for the process. According to Census Bureau figures it was a bumper year for voter engagement with 137.5 million total ballots cast—but is just over half of the eligible voters really that impressive? The Pew Research Center shows that the U.S. still trails behind most developed nations in voter registration and turnout. "I think we've devalued the honor and privilege of voting and we've become complacent, and maybe a bit cynical about our place and rights as citizens and our duties and responsibilities," says Cranston. The good news? Millennials and Gen Xers are on an upward trend in civic engagement, casting more votes than Boomers and older generations in the 2016 election. Cranston reminds us of how empowering the 26th Amendment is in granting voting rights to Americans over the age of 18. "We can't take that lightly," says Cranston. It's a timely reminder too, as 40 million people are expected to drop off that 55.7% figure for the midterm elections, mostly from the millennial, unmarried women and people of color demographics. Bryan Cranston's new book is the spectacular memoir A Life in Parts.

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  • Socialism is experiencing a boom in support among Americans.
  • 43% of Americans now view socialism as "a good thing".
  • There are also more people (51%) against socialism as political stances hardened.

Are Americans more accepting of socialism? Once a political slur, socialism has come back into the public consciousness, bolstered by the appeal of popular politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who speak openly of their support for Democratic Socialism. An April 2019 poll from Gallup provided more evidence of socialism's growing base, showing that 43% of Americans now describe socialism as a "good thing".

The answer came in response to "Would some form of socialism be a good thing or a bad thing for the country as a whole?"

Compare the current support of over 40% of the population for some form of socialism to 25% who supported it in a 1942 Roper/Fortune survey – one of the oldest opinion measures we have on subject.

The amount of people who don't like socialism has also grown. 51% of the polled thought socialism was a "bad thing" while only 40% thought so in 1942. The big difference also is that in the 1940's poll 34% had "no opinion" while in 2019, only 6% replied that way. Clearly, fewer are on the fence about how they feel and stances have hardened.

Why has the opinion of socialism changed through the years? For one, the Red Scare of the 40s and 50s is no longer there. Instead, Scandinavian countries are often brought up as examples of modern socialist societies.

Previous opinion polls also showed that more Americans (23%) now identify socialism with social equality rather than with government control over the means of production (17%). For comparison, in 1949, 34% of the polled defined socialism to mean government having control over business.

Additionally, the group polled currently by Gallup had a larger percentage of people who thought there will be more socialist countries in the next 50 years – 29% in contrast to 14% in a 1949 survey.

On the flip side of this trend is the fact that more Americans seem to prefer that government stay out of healthcare and education – two big constituents of most socialist agendas. Only 41% would like to see more government involvement in higher education and 44% would want more fed control in healthcare.

On the whole, people also generally feel that the government already has more control than the free market over the U.S. economy, with 25% thinking that versus 18% who thought the free market was in command.

Capitalism Is in Trouble. Socialist Principles Can Save It.

  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.

Strange Maps #975

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

  • Talking to people who have experienced vaccine-preventable diseases changes minds.
  • Seventy percent of Brigham Young University students shifted their vaccine-hesitant stance.
  • This research arrives during a year in which 880 measles cases have been identified in America.

There is no greater teacher than experience — or the experience of others, it turns out. Educating the anti-vaxx population has proven to be challenging, yet a new intervention conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University appears to work: introduce anti-vaxxers to people who have suffered from vaccine-preventable diseases.

The study, published in the journal Vaccines, was conducted with college students in Provo, Utah, a city with the sixth-highest number of under-vaccinated kindergartners. Of the 574 student volunteers, 491 were pro-vaccine and 83 were vaccine-hesitant.

Half of these students interviewed someone who had suffered from a vaccine-preventable disease (such as polio); the control group interviewed people who had lived through autoimmune diseases. Simultaneously, some students were enrolled into classes featuring immune- and vaccine-related curriculum, while others received no vaccine training in the health class.

The following questions were asked before their interviews:

And these were the questions were asked to the interview subject:

Finally, the students were asked a longer set of questions after their research, including whether vaccines, treatment for autoimmune diseases, and depression medications are "more harmful than helpful"; if vaccines cause autism; how hearing about the vaccine-preventable disease changed their views on vaccines; and how much financial impact affected their thoughts on treatment. Finally, researchers wanted to know if the study changed their feelings on vaccines.

BYU associate professor of microbiology and molecular biology, Brian Poole, summates the findings:

"Vaccines are victims of their own success. They're so effective that most people have no experience with vaccine preventable diseases. We need to reacquaint people with the dangers of those diseases."

By the end of the study, around 70 percent of vaccine-hesitant students reassessed their position, even with no vaccine class training. Learning about the suffering of others shifted their perspective, as one student, who interviewed her grandmother (who had suffered from tuberculosis), put it:

"I dislike the idea of physical suffering, so hearing about someone getting a disease made the idea of getting a disease if I don't get vaccinated seem more real."

A full three-fourths of the vaccine-hesitant students increased their "vaccine attitude scores," with half of them moving fully to the pro-vaccine side. While the educational curriculum was important, the biggest change occurred when students talked to those that had suffered from vaccine-preventable diseases.

The Journey of Your Child’s Vaccine

This research is especially important as this year's measles outbreak has risen to 880 cases, with the largest number hitting Orthodox Jewish communities in New York. Undeterred, anti-vaxxer activists are comparing forced vaccinations to Nazi Germany, spreading blatantly false information to confused parents.

Yesterday, the New York Times editorial board called for the State of New York to end the religious exemption for vaccines. Exceptions should be made if the health of the child is endangered, as current law dictates. Considering 41 cases were diagnosed last week — 30 in New York alone — the board states this is not the time for legislation to be paused in the courts. Religious belief, they write, does not give anyone the right to infect other members of society.

With so much misinformation circulating since the infamous, discredited autism-vaccine study (though anti-vaccine activism existed before that day), the researchers at BYU might have hit upon an important antidote. As Poole concludes:

"If your goal is to affect people's decisions about vaccines, this process works much better than trying to combat anti-vaccine information. It shows people that these diseases really are serious diseases, with painful and financial costs, and people need to take them seriously."

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  • Maxine Trump's forthcoming documentary, To Kid Or Not To Kid, investigates why women choose not to have children.
  • Twenty percent of women are making this choice, Trump says, which is not a small minority.
  • Climate change and an inability to find a suitable partner are top reasons for this decision.

In 2015, Pope Francis stated that a society that does not surround itself with children is "depressed," calling couples choosing not to procreate "selfish." He followed that up by claiming that societies that multiply are "enriched, not impoverished." Perhaps he hasn't checked out the American public education system lately.

Ol' Frank isn't alone in this assessment. Numerous countries are concerned about dwindling populations, making economic arguments about why their nations' women better get to work (in bed). Never mind that global overpopulation — we've doubled our number in the last half-century alone — is draining the planet of resources and destroying ecosystems and species. Capitalism demands exponential growth.

Maxine Trump cringes when I mention the economic argument for procreation. The director of the forthcoming documentary, To Kid Or Not To Kid, has spent the last few years researching and filming women who choose not to procreate. While a variety of reasons for such a decision exist, Trump finds the financial philosophy disturbing:

"The economic arguments don't make sense. We interviewed an economist in the film that agrees with that. He's right at the end of the film, so I don't want to give away too much, but he doesn't sign up to the economic driver argument. Right now, you probably don't know how many things you are using that are made by robots. How are we going to actually have a meritocracy where people can actually afford to live? Let's think about that for a second."

Trump — "no relationship" declares her email signature — is already witnessing people feeling the economic pinch in a world with too many citizens struggling to capture a tiny slice of the pie. Money, she assures me, is not the only reason couples are choosing to live without children.

To Kid or Not To Kid - Kickstarter

Having cut her teeth as a development executive for scripted comedy at the BBC, Trump takes a humorous approach to this contentious topic. Now calling Brooklyn home, she discovered that a child-free existence is a cross-cultural topic. When I ask if she's ever been called "selfish," she tells me the story of a nun she interviewed who chose her vocation for that very reason. While a convent isn't in Trump's future, she shared common ground with this devotee.

Trump has, in fact, been called selfish, an interesting charge made by an animal that will soon be responsible for the extinction of a million species of other animals. Earlier this year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez caused a conservative ruckus when asking if childbearing is still acceptable in the age of climate change. Trump says AOC's argument for not having kids is one reason of many.

"You have to ask, 'Why is this deemed an unpopular choice?" she says. "Twenty percent of women choose not to have children now. I find it strange that people like to present this as being an outsider view."

According to Trump's research, a whopping 45 percent of pregnancies are unplanned. The word "choice" comes up a lot during our talk, which isn't surprising given the recent spate of states attempting to dismantle abortion rights. As the film makes its way around the festival circuit, Trump is specifically traveling to states that recently passed anti-abortion legislation. Surprisingly, just realizing that a child-free lifestyle is possible stuns a lot of women.

"It's very difficult when the choice has been taken away from you. What we really talk about in the film is believing you have a choice," Trump says. "Some women I've interviewed didn't know that they could decide not to have children. They honestly responded to me saying, 'I didn't even know it was a choice I could make.'"

"Musicwood" director Maxine Trump and producer/editor Josh Granger attend the 28th Santa Barbara International Film Festival on January 27, 2013 in Santa Barbara, California. Photo credit: Ray Mickshaw / WireImage

Which brings me to religion, as well as even touchier topics, such as parents that are not economically prepared to have children doing so anyway. At every turn, Trump states that she tried really hard to not judge any decisions made by other women. Isn't unwarranted judgment at the heart of this film to begin with?

It's not necessarily the religious, she follows, but parents of large families that seem most likely to criticize others for not bearing children. As recent research suggests, however, selfishness is not at the heart of the no-children decision. A study of healthy, egg-freezing women in the U.S. and Israel discovered the number one reason is "lack of a partner." There are many intelligent and committed men out there — but not enough, it seems.

Procreation is how we perpetuate the species. Yet humans are unique on this planet. Given the opportunity, every animal will multiply like crazy. Take Australian rabbits and feral cats, jellyfish in warming oceans. Biology dictates survival at all costs.

Our unique attribute is metacognition: I am aware that I am aware. The perplexing problem at the heart of the human condition: an innate impulse to procreate even while recognizing the danger it presents. Our lifestyles are threatening all existence on this planet, yet if we take precautions we could be the species that saves itself from itself. "Let this cup pass from me," followed by the realization that we're also pouring the wine. Biology and philosophy have rarely battled so tirelessly.

Regardless of the choices we make, Trump hopes women maintain the right to choose in the first place. If that decision turns out to be "nay" on procreation, then it shouldn't be judged as weird or selfish, but just as another means for experiencing life. Mostly, she made this film to let others know they're not alone in their decision.

"People like to feel safe. Safety is deemed by not making the unpopular choice. I just wish it wasn't hard like that. That's really what the film is trying to get across: 'Hey, we're out here.'"

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  • Generational differences always pose a challenge for companies.
  • How do you integrate the norms and expectations of the new generation with those of the old?
  • Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out that Gen Z—the cohort born after 1995—differs sharply from the Millennial generation before it and offers some advice for understanding and working with a generation in some ways more sheltered and less independent than any before it.