Deputies will not protest the Constitution

The Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association has called on its deputies to protest against the Constitution of the USA. The president of deputies local 6020 Jeff Bell in an open letter appealed to “all members of law enforcement not to work any detail associated with the Miami Dolphins unless ordered to do so.”

Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association Local I.U.P.A. 6020 call for immediate suspension of Miami Dolphin details
Letter from Jeff Bell

How is this a protest against the Constitution of the USA? The reason Bell asks deputies to “refuse any security details associated with the Miami Dolphins” is because four Miami players kneeled during the national anthem before their game against the Seattle Seahawks the weekend before he wrote the letter. Refusing the security detail is an act of protest against what even Bell explicitly recognized as an “exercise [of] their constitutional right of freedom of speech.” This freedom that Bell wants the deputies to protest is guaranteed by Amendment I of the Constitution of the United States.

The irony is that it is the same amendment that gives deputies the right to form the labor union that Bell leads. The reason it was the first amendment our Founding Fathers added to the Bill of Rights is because King George III’s sheriffs would jail any of his subjects who publicly criticized his monarchy. If Bell wants to live in a country where the citizens are required to stand for their national anthem, he should move to North Korea. North Koreans are indefinitely imprisoned in hard labor camps if they protest the conditions in their country.

Bell goes on to say that “in certain professions, an individual’s freedom of speech must take a back seat to the organization or government entity that they choose to represent.” What gives Bell the authority to decide that NFL football player is one of those professions? The answer is nothing: in the USA, people of every profession have freedom of speech. Even his deputies can exercise this freedom as individuals, which is why they could decline a Miami Dolphins security detail if they wanted to.

Fortunately, the Broward Sheriff’s Office understood the absurdity of Bell’s request. It says the deputies will still work the Dolphins games despite the union’s request.

If influential people can be intimidated into staying quiet about the national weaknesses they see in the USA, how can we identify the improvements we need to make as a country? The whole reason our founding fathers added the first amendment to the US Constitution is so that the powerful could not stifle dissent against the government. Now with social media, we Americans are stifling our own dissent by demonizing people who speak out as unpatriotic. It’s much easier to hide our collective heads in the sand than it is to face our weaknesses.

Bernie Sanders is not the revolutionary

I understand how you feel, Bernie Bro; I voted for Bernie Sanders too. Like Bernie actually is, I too am an independent but I voted the Democrat ballot in California’s primary election. I felt the Bern and I want to see a political revolution in this country as much as he and you do. So like you, I was disappointed when Bernie lost the Democrat nomination.

Cover of The Beatles' Revolution albumBut if Bernie were the next president, it would not guaranty that the political revolution he campaigned about would happen. And the political revolution can still happen, no matter who the next president is. Because Bernie is not the revolutionary—we are.

That’s right—none of Bernie’s platforms can be implemented without the legislature. And even if Bernie were in the Oval Office, he would not be able to sign any of his platforms into law unless the legislature was to first pass a bill that legislates one of his platforms. We the people have much more sway over our congress than any president ever could.

How do you affect your legislators? You write to them and tell them how you feel about the issues. It’s easy to do. You can message them through a form on the senators’ and representatives’ web sites. There’s a search tool to help you find your own representative or a committee. Unfortunately, as easy as it is, few constituents ever contact their congressman. A political revolution means that we all need to do this regularly. If everyone who felt the Bern did this, congress would be deluged by many millions of messages echoing the positions that Bernie took and that resonated so strongly with you.

Some of you have conservative congressmen. That means you also need to tell them that, if they vote contrary to the position you are asking them to take, you will vote for someone more like Bernie when they are up for reelection. And then you actually need to do so. That threat might not impress your congressmen if they only get a few of them but, if millions of constituents threaten to vote them out of office, they will pay attention. Over ninety percent of incumbent congressmen get reelected. There are not nearly that many of them supporting or opposing legislation the way their constituency wants them to. What incentive is there for them to do what their constituents ask if they will reelect them anyway?

Finally, a political revolutionary needs to be informed accurately on the issues. You cannot effectively write to your congressmen and vote for them if you are ignorant about politics. The three sources you should not use to inform yourself are Internet memes, TV commercials, and Fox News. All three sources are notorious for providing information that is false as frequently as it is truthful. Get your political news from multiple sources, including ones that favor the Left and ones that favor the Right, so you get a well rounded perspective on politics. Visit the Library of Congress legislative repository to read the actual bills, see their current status and, if they’ve been brought to the floor, how your congressman voted. Both FactCheck.org and PolitiFact are great tools to separate the lies from the truth. It is surprisingly easy to get detailed information about congress but you must be discerning to identify the bullshit.

You can start a political revolution even though Bernie will not be president. But it’s important to vote for the presidential candidate who would be most likely to sign Bernie’s platforms into law—and has a possibility of being elected. If your political revolution is successful at getting the legislation you want through congress, you don’t want it to just get vetoed in the Oval Office. Sitting out the presidential election because Bernie Sanders was not nominated as the Democrat candidate will not start the revolution he called for. And electing a megalomaniacal autocrat will stop it cold.

Defining Donald Trump

The surprising success of Donald J. Trump’s primary campaign shows that he is unquestionably appealing to millions of Americans. This made me curious as to what about him is appealing to them. I started my analysis by describing Trump to see which of his characteristics are the most appealing. So I thought of all the words I could come up with that describe him.

Donald Trump is a narcissist, a racist, a megalomaniac, a demagogue, an oligarch, an egomaniac, and a sociopathic liar. He’s bombastic, arrogant, delusional, embarrassing, habitually litigious, and politically inconsistent.

At first glance, it might seem that this is not a serious description of Trump but is simply just a caricature. After all, how could a real person actually exhibit all of these traits? So I hyperlinked each one to the word’s definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. If you follow the links and read the definitions, you’ll see that they literally define Trump—without exaggeration, every one of them!

So what then is the appeal of this kind of a man? It turns out that many Americans do not so much support Trump as they oppose Hillary Clinton. The biggest criticism of her is that she’s a liar and it’s not hard to make that case. This is an understandable reason to oppose Clinton but it’s a poor reason to support Trump.

When it comes to lying, Trump makes Clinton sound like George Washington admitting to chopping down the cherry tree. Trump lies so blatantly that he doesn’t even care that it’s obvious and simple to show his lies to be false. Even his supporters know that he was lying when he claimed that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey were “cheering” the 9/11 attack. This is the man who stuck to his claim that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, even after the president released his long-form birth certificate to the public.

He lied so much that FactCheck.org dubbed Trump the “King of Whoppers” for 2015. Then they went on to cite a long list of lies he said over the course of the year and presented evidence that the statements were all false. PolitiFact put many of Trump’s statements through its Truth-O-Meter. It turns out that Trump made far more statements that were false at some level than he did statements that were at least partially true. Of PolitiFact’s six rulings of truthfulness (or lack thereof), only three percent of Trump’s statements were completely true—the fewest of all the categories.

Trump’s statements by ruling

Chart of Donald Trump's statements by ruling
Source: PolitiFact

After my analysis, I got a clear picture of what Donald Trump is really like. But I never found out what is so appealing about him. If you find him appealing, please make a comment below telling American voters why. If you think any of my characterizations does not apply to Trump, let me know which one and I’ll cite evidence that the definition is accurate in his case.

Stop demonizing police and start fighting racism

It’s been a crazy week. Police officers shot two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, dead within 36 hours of each other. This immediately ignited an uproar against police in which they were widely condemned across social media. Later the same day, a sniper ambushed white police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five and injuring seven others with a semi-automatic weapon. He said he wanted to kill white officers, referencing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Regardless of the facts behind the cases of black men killed by police that have been in the media in recent years, we don’t have a police problem. We have a problem with racism in the USA. I do not deny that there are racist police officers who treat black people differently than they do white people, sometimes killing them when it was unwarranted. But there are racist people in every profession and we don’t call racism a systemic problem in other professions.

We lack reliable data on how many black people are killed by white police officers in the USA. Whatever the number is, many of them are warranted because they occur during the commission of a crime while the officer is performing his or her duty according to standard procedures. But we can be confident that there are more black people murdered by white people who are not police officers than are murdered by white police officers. That means we have a racism problem in the USA that goes beyond police work.

Our police officers perform a critical role in our society. They bravely do their duty under the most dangerous circumstances, literally putting their lives on the blue line every day to protect the safety of all the people in their communities. The vast majority of police officers do their jobs with patience and restraint regardless of the color of the people they encounter. If you think racial violence is bad in the USA now, imagine how much worse it would be if there were no police forces enforcing the law.

Unfortunately, calling all police officers racist only exacerbates the racial division among Americans. We need to bring Americans together to fight racism across our society. Yes, that includes fighting racism in police work. But it also includes fighting racism in our schools, in voting, in housing, in government, in religion, and in all work places. Stop pointing the finger of blame for racism at police or gangs or other sectors and recognize that it is prevalent throughout America and needs to be addressed societally. Until we do so, we won’t be able to fight what racism there is in police work effectively.

Amazon shipping hazards

Amazon wants to use drones to deliver packages. That’s a bad idea because their human delivery staff cannot even deliver a package without creating a hazard for their customers. Amazon now has their own logistics team that delivers Amazon Prime packages. They have repeatedly barricaded me inside my own home when delivering packages.

They keep leaving their packages directly in front of my doorway. I have a disability that makes me physically unable to move the package and I use a wheelchair, so I cannot step over or around it. If there were a fire or earthquake on a day they did this, I would be trapped inside. Even though I haven’t had such an emergency yet, Amazon has prevented me from doing things that I planned to do outside on days they have delivered their packages. One time, they left a package directly in front of my door while I was away from home, thereby blocking me from entering my own home when I returned.

Photo of two Amazon Prime photos stacked in front of the doorway

It would not be difficult for them to prevent causing such hazards. For example, had they left the packages in the photo above just six inches to the right of the frame of the photo, it would not have blocked wheelchair ingress or egress. They should make it a matter of practice to leave packages to the side of the doorway instead of directly in front of it for all deliveries, not just for deliveries to my home. I’m not their only customer who uses a wheelchair and they never know which home they deliver to has a resident who uses a wheelchair.

When I discovered that Amazon barricaded me inside today, it was actually only one package blocking my doorway. I called Amazon and spent an hour on the phone trying to get them to help me but to no avail. About an hour later, I happened to look outside to discover that the delivery driver was able to return to my home after all, even though the manager I spoke to on the phone told me they could not. But instead of moving the first package out of the way of the door, they just piled a second package on top of it making the situation even worse (as shown in the photo)!

Every time I call Amazon about this issue, they apologize but then try to tell me there’s nothing they can do to help me out. Their driver was able to barricade me inside my home minutes before I called them, so I don’t believe that there’s no way their driver could return and move the package over a couple of inches to the side of my door. It’s not they are unable to help me—they are simply unwilling to.  The fact that Amazon has done this to me repeatedly proves that they are also unwilling to train their logistics drivers to not barricade people inside (or outside) their homes, even though it’s no more difficult for a driver to leave a package to the side of a door than it is to leave it directly in front.

This shows a blatant disregard for the safety of their customers on the part of Amazon. I contacted Amazon first so they would have the opportunity to rectify the situation privately and I’m only going public now because they declined to do anything. Hopefully, other customers who use a wheelchair will start complaining about this practice. If enough people make enough noise on social media (like on the Amazon.com facebook page), it will eventually shame them into taking action.

Keeping the right to bear arms real

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, we are certain to see another increase in arguments about gun control in the days to come. This is an important issue, so I welcome reasoned public discourse about it. But I do not like to see all the bullshit that is sure to accompany the arguments. I want to see this issue debated with valid grounds, not with fallacy.

Before I get into keeping it real, here is my position for the record:

  • I support Americans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms. I oppose the government taking Americans’ guns away.
  • That right has limitations, just as the First Amendment right to free speech does not permit “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater.”
  • If my hands were not paralyzed, I would probably buy a gun, get trained on its use, and practice those skills so I could use it safely.

That said, I don’t deny facts presented by those who support abolishing the Second Amendment. The one most commonly used is that the most effective way to reduce gun violence is to take Americans’ guns away from them. The evidence shows unequivocally that there is a direct positive correlation between the level of gun ownership in a given country and the incidence of gun violence. The following charts comprise just one piece in a mountain of evidence that supports this argument.

Charts showing per capita firearm possession and firearm homicides in major countries
Level of firearm ownership compared to incidence of firearm homicides

For Americans who value a reduction in gun violence and mass shootings (like the one that occurred yesterday) over their right to bear arms, it’s a valid argument. But gun rights advocates who rebut by saying that, if guns were outlawed, criminals would still get them and use them violently are being fallacious. Their words are factual but irrelevant to the argument. Although it would not eliminate gun violence altogether, it’s unequivocal that abolishing the Second Amendment would significantly reduce the incidence of mass shootings like the one in Orlando and other gun violence, even though some Americans would still have guns and use them violently. To deny that simply makes a person appear to lack the capacity for rational thought on the issue.

Those of us who support their right to bear arms should keep it real when we argue in favor of it. There’s no need to deny facts because the Second Amendment is clear and unqualified:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The Constitution does not qualify that right with a condition that it becomes void in the event that firearm homicides in the USA are much greater than in countries that limit gun ownership. Therefore, the high incidence of mass shootings in the USA is completely irrelevant to the right granted Americans by the Second Amendment.

While the right to bear arms is unqualified, it is also limited. Because my hands are paralyzed, I could not safely handle a gun, so I’m sure that even the staunchest gun rights advocates would say that I should not be allowed to fire a gun around them. As the Supreme Court of the United States decided in District of Columbia v. Heller:

The Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.

So Americans should be debating common sense limitations on the use of guns that can protect Americans from attacks like the one in Orlando yesterday without infringing our right to keep and bear arms.

Should the backgrounds of all gun buyers be checked for criminal prosecutions? Should Americans be permitted to own military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines? Should people with a history of mental illness be allowed to buy guns? These are good questions to debate and valid points can be made on both sides of the issues. But let’s keep that debate real by doing so rationally and based on facts instead of using fallacy and falsehoods.

The restroom dilemma

North Carolina passed House Bill 2 (PDF) last month in a special session. It kicked off a nation-wide debate regarding the civil rights of transgender people because it includes provisions requiring transgender people to use multi-stall restrooms that align with their gender at birth. Some companies from outside the state have halted planned expansions because of the law. Many groups have canceled scheduled conventions in the state. For the state to pass a law that is so unpopular far beyond its borders, the use of restrooms by transgender people must be a major problem in North Carolina, right? Well, it turns out, not so much.

Gov. Pat McCrory defended the law, saying it “was to ensure that expectation of privacy would remain in our high schools and our universities and our community colleges.” However, the president of the University of North Carolina told chancellors that it could endanger the system’s federal funding and hurt alumni giving and recruitment efforts. But the law will have no impact on expectation of privacy.

Long before HB 2 was enacted, people with XY chromosomes who identify as women were already using the women’s restrooms. None of the other women in the restrooms ever had any idea that the women they were sharing it with were born boys because transgender women typically try to look like women. And people with XX chromosomes who identify as men were using the men’s restrooms without any of the other men in the restrooms having any idea that the men they were sharing it with were born girls.

But consider what will happen if a transgender person complies with HB 2 instead. Take the case of a college student with XX chromosomes who has had sex change surgeries and is receiving testosterone therapy. He has a beard and a deep voice. He has a hairy chest but no breasts. His vulva has been surgically transformed to a penis. Yet because he was born a girl, the law would require him to use the women’s locker room. Or imagine a woman with XY chromosomes. She looks and dresses much more like other women than like a man. But because she was born a boy, she would be required to use the men’s restroom. Do these situations really seem like the best way to deal with transgender use of restrooms?

HB 2 is a solution for something that was not a problem. As you would expect, all it does is create problems. Since the status quo ante wasn’t harming anyone, North Carolina should have just left things as they were. Let people use whichever restroom they’re most comfortable using. What harm could it really cause?

He said, she didn’t say

The latest dustup in the Democrat primary race is Senator Bernie Sanders questioning Secretary Hillary Clinton’s qualifications to be president of the United States. It’s pretty clear that he did just that Wednesday at Temple University when he said:

Well let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton, I don’t  believe that she is qualified if she is—through her Super PAC—taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds. I don’t think that you are qualified if you get 15-million dollars from Wall Street through your Super PAC. I don’t think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don’t think you are qualified if you’ve supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement, which has cost us millions of decent paying jobs.

Some Hillary supporters felt that this was a low blow, claiming that Clinton never called Sanders unqualified to be president. While that may be true, they fail to recognize that the day before Sanders discussed her qualifications, she was interview by Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe. Scarborough asked Clinton directly if Sanders is “qualified” to be president. She dodged the question and instead discussed reasons she thinks Democrats should not vote for Sanders. So Scarborough explicitly asked her if Sanders is qualified to be president twice more and she again dodged the question and criticized Sanders each time. From her responses, there’s no question in anyone’s mind that she was implying that Sanders is unqualified to be president, even if she did not explicitly say the word. In view of these comments Clinton made about then presidential candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 Democrat primary race (video below), it smacks of the pot calling the kettle black.

The word (not) “qualified” was a poor choice by Sanders. I have not read the job description for POTUS, so I don’t know what the official qualifications are, but considering her background, education, and experience, it would be difficult to make a compelling case that Clinton does not meet the qualifications. But let’s take a closer look at the empirical portions of the issues Sanders raised about Clinton and see what a better choice of words would be without talking about her qualifications.

  • “Through her Super PAC—taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds,” it’s fair to say that Sanders would be less influenced by special interests than Clinton since there are no Super PACs campaigning in support of him.
  • “If you get 15-million dollars from Wall Street through your Super PAC,” it’s fair to say that Clinton would be more likely to favor the banking industry than Sanders would be if he were president.
  • “If you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq,” the most damaging foreign blunder a president of the USA has made in modern history, it’s fair to say that Clinton demonstrated poor judgement on the most critical factor that can be faced by the POTUS.
  • “If you’ve supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement, which has cost us millions of decent paying jobs,” it’s fair to say that supporting them demonstrated poor understanding of macroeconomics, the most important domestic topic for a POTUS to have a strong grasp of.

Sanders’ comments about qualifications notwithstanding, both he and Clinton have held by far the most positive, civil, and substantive political campaigns in this Democrat primary that I have seen in recent decades—including the current GOP primary race—even when compared to how Obama and Clinton conducted themselves in the 2008 primary. For example, while the press has constantly tried to get Sanders to comment on Clinton’s email server scandal or the Benghazi embassy attack, he has never taken the bait. In fact, he has not only consistently dismissed the issue, he has even supported Clinton by downplaying it multiple times while debating against her on national TV.

The truth is, Sanders explicitly said Clinton is not qualified and Clinton strongly implied that Sanders’ is not by dodging questions about his qualifications. But regardless of which one is nominated by the Democrat party to be the presidential candidate, the eventual nominee will face withering attacks infinitely more negative and untruthful than anything either of them has faced from the other once the race moves to the general election. Both Clinton and Sanders need to really toughen up their skin to prepare for that.

Petition to allow guns at Republican convention nears 30,000 signatures
Tens of thousands of people have signed an anonymous call to allow weapons to be carried at the Republican national convention in July

Let’s see—a bunch of enraged, scared Republicans; a contentious nominee battle; a packed, raucous arena in a crime-ridden city; and everyone packing heat to make a point. What could possibly go wrong?