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?

Duty to uphold the Constitution

A few weeks have transpired since Justice Antonin Scalia died and the uproar over the nomination of a justice to replace him on the Supreme Court of the United States began. I observed the uproar for about a week and it seemed like Senate Republicans didn’t want President Barack Obama to nominate a replacement for no reason other than just because it was Scalia who died. I have observed for another month since then and have seen Senators’ justifications for not allowing a hearing and a vote on Obama’s nominee Judge Merrick Garland become more nuanced and less focused on Scalia.

It’s ironic and hypocritical that Republicans are not the only Senators who have made the claim that a president should not exercise their duty to appoint a Supreme Court justice. The oft cited “Biden rule” (which is not actually a rule) refers to Vice President Joe Biden saying (when he was a Senator):

It is my view that if a Supreme Court Justice resigns tomorrow, or within the next several weeks, or resigns at the end of the summer, President [George H. W.] Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not—and not—name a nominee until after the November election is completed.

In 2005, Senator Harry Reid (D) said regarding judges that, “The duties of the United States senator are set forth in the Constitution of the United States. Nowhere in that document does it say that the Senate has a duty to give presidential nominees a vote.” Of course, both Democrat senators made those statements when there was a Republican president. Reid was as wrong about the issue then as the GOP leaders are now and it’s no surprise that he is now supporting the polar opposite side of the issue since Obama is in office.

As a wonk, I follow politics closely and have seen, read, and heard many different justifications made in the Sunday morning news shows and other media. In large part, I find that the justifications used by Republican senators are factual. But even though the veracity of their grounds is sound, their justifications are still not valid. The Senators never cite the Constitution of the United States to justify the claim that they should not hold hearings and vote on Garland’s nomination but the Constitution is the only governing document that is relevant to the Senate’s duty to uphold it.

So let’s take a look at what the Constitution actually does say on the issue in Article II Section 2: “The President…shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint…Judges of the supreme Court.” The word “shall” makes it the duty of the president to do so and there are no qualifications such as an exception during a president’s last year in office, when the president is nominating a replacement for a justice with an ideology contrary to the president’s, or during a contentious election season. There are no limitations to that duty of any type in the Constitution.

Regarding that clause, many GOP senators are claiming that the Constitution says nothing about how promptly they must give their advice and consent. While that is a true statement, it is not a valid justification for delaying the appointment strictly for political purposes (which none of these senators deny is the reason they want to delay a vote on Garland—in fact, it is their explicit reason). Otherwise, if the Founding Fathers did not specify how long the Senate could delay giving advice and consent with the intent that the Senate use the lack of a deadline to delay advice and consent indefinitely, no justice nominee would ever get appointed when the Senate majority is a different party than the president’s. The Founding Fathers erroneously assumed that the Senate would act like mature adults in carrying out their sworn duty instead of acting like petty schoolchildren.

The word “and” in the beginning of the clause “and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate” ties the Senate’s duty to provide advice and consent to the president’s duty to nominate. That means the Senate must do so as judiciously as possible. If there were a war on American soil or some other extraordinary situation, it would be reasonable for the Senate to delay hearings and a vote until after a new president is inaugurated. But it would only be reasonable because of the urgency of making extraordinary circumstances a priority to deal with, not because of the timing of the inauguration.

Both the President and senators vow to uphold the Constitution when they take office. Therefore, Obama has a duty to nominate a justice, which he has done, and the Senate has a duty to give advice and consent on that nomination. Since 1975, the average number of days from nomination to final Senate vote is 67 days. The current congress has passed fewer laws than any congress in modern history, so it’s not as if the Senate has anything else to do. There is no catastrophic situation occurring in the nation at this time. If the Senate fails to hold hearings and vote on the nomination of Garland by the time the GOP and Democrat national conventions are held (barring a major catastrophe in the USA), they are abdicating their duty to uphold the Constitution.

Just because it’s Justice Scalia

I’ve been observing many responses by Republicans and conservatives to the question of why President Obama should not nominate a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Perhaps the most common response is an echo of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who said (while Scalia’s body was still warm), “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

But what McConnell failed to recognize is that the American people already had a voice. Shortly after electing Obama in 2008, the president nominated two justices to the Supreme Court. This made it clear to the American people that the president is responsible for filling vacancies on the bench. With that in mind, they proceeded to reelect Obama by a large majority.

The other most common response I have observed is that Obama should not nominate a replacement because the justice who died is Scalia. Then the person follows that response up by lauding Scalia. They not only extol Scalia legally but also politically, intellectually, and personally. They warrant that Scalia’s individual characteristics preclude Obama from nominating his replacement. Presumably this is because Obama is too liberal to replace such an influential conservative.

I read Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States. It clearly states that the President shall nominate Judges of the Supreme Court. It gives no conditions under which the Senate should not perform its obligation to advise and consent the president on his (or her) nomination. If the Senate does not consent to Obama’s nomination by vote, then that nominee should not become a Supreme Court Justice. But the Senate has a duty to at least vote to give consent on Obama’s nomination because each senator vowed to uphold the Constitution.

The Constitution does not make any exceptions to this duty based on a vacating Supreme Court justice’s individual characteristics. It does not say that conservative justices should only be replaced by conservative presidents and liberal justices by liberal presidents. It says nothing about justices who are constitutional originalists, have wit & good humor, are hunters, or have great legal intellect (in fact, the Constitution does not include any legal education, license, or experience in the qualifications for Supreme Court justice).

Thoroughly read the Constitution. You will find that it does not say that President Obama can fill David Souter’s and John Paul Stevens’ places on the bench but replacing Justice Antonin Scalia alone is exempt. The specific justice leaving the Supreme Court has no relevancy whatsoever to a president’s obligation to nominate his or her successor.

Garlic bread

I used to cook occasionally and could make a few things that taste pretty good. I was pretty good with a barbecue too. But I never considered myself much better than an average cook.

My brother, Daniel, on the other hand, is probably the best cook I’ve ever encountered. And he does it from raw instinct—he was never formally trained in the culinary arts. But he just seems to have a great intuition for how things will taste when he puts them together, even if the items are things he never put together before.

So here’s a sample of what I mean. Listen to the list of ingredients Daniel includes in his garlic bread:

I hope you took notes. Daniel rarely writes out recipes of what he makes. In fact, he rarely makes anything quite the same way twice. So his recitation of the ingredients is a rare gem.

Yes, it’s a relatively simple food but it’s the only video I have of Daniel cooking. And is simple as it is, you can still imagine the genius he has for flavors in a more complex dish. If you think you could do this, give it a try and post a comment to share with everyone how it went.