Having the Courage to Bring Facts and Reason to Discussions of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement

Posted in Uncategorized on July 25, 2016 by thebluebros

 

It is sad that the issue of police and the Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) movement has gone the way of guns in that those on the political right have abandoned any pretense of thought or rationality. Instead, opponents to the Black Lives Matter movement cling to the same handful of silly arguments that get repeated ad nauseum in the media and on social media. Perhaps more aggravating than the stupidity of these arguments is the countenance of those who speak them. When these baseless assertions are repeated, one can hear the pompous and grandiose manner in which they are delivered as if this mindless drivel is impervious to attack. That is far from the case. In fact, if you hear any of the anti-BLM arguments discussed in this piece, you know you are dealing with a person of questionable intellect or a person who has somehow suspended their brain’s ability to engage in critical thinking.

Below is my attempt to identify the most common attacks against the BLM movement, and provide a cogent and thoughtful response to each. 

  1. Black Lives Matters is hypocritical. Why don’t they speak out about the number of blacks killed by other blacks? 

This is perhaps the most widespread and insidious argument against the Black Live Matter movement. It is a completely baseless argument for the following reasons.

First, black-on-black crime has actually gotten much better. Over the past 25 years, the murder of rate of blacks against other blacks has been cut in half. This is part of the larger trend of significantly decreased violence we have seen nationwide since the start of Bill Clinton’s administration. So let’s not pretend that nothing is being done about black-on-black crime.

Second, blacks do care about the issue of black-on-black crime and they do speak out about it. In a Slate article from a year ago, author Jamelle Bouie said the following on the topic:

“[I]t’s easy to find examples of marches and demonstrations against crime. In the last four years, blacks have held community protests against violence in Chicago; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Saginaw, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana. Indeed, there’s a whole catalog of movies, albums, and sermons from a generation of directors, musicians, and religious leaders, each urging peace and order. You may not have noticed black protests against crime and violence, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened. Black Americans—like everyone else—are concerned with what happens in their communities, and at a certain point, pundits who insist otherwise are either lying or willfully ignorant.” (Emphasis added).

Third, the BLM movement is one that is focused on the treatment of blacks at the hands of police. The fact that the movement does not address every ill in the black community does not in any way undermine its message. Similarly, I give most of my charity dollars to organizations that support abused children, and I give no money to The Humane Society. This does not mean I condone animal abuse or that I am a hypocrite. It simply means I recognize that I have limited resources, and that my charitable donations are best utilized by focusing my efforts.

Fourth, and most important, the fact that criminals exist in the black community has nothing to do with the question of how police treat blacks. Citizens do not waive their right to be treated fairly by police because they live in a neighborhood or community with higher rates of crime. Even if one believed the BLM movement to be hypocritical or inconsistent, so what? Do hypocrites and fools not have the right to be treated fairly and equitably by police regardless of the color of their skin? 

  1. Police kill more whites than blacks. Why don’t Black Lives Matter ever mention that? 

This is true, but for any person who has even the most rudimentary understanding of math and U.S. demographics, it should be very obvious why this fact, while true, is completely meaningless.

In the past 18 months, police have shot and killed 1,502 people—732 of the victims were white and 381 were black (and 382 were of another race or the race of the decedent was not recorded). But as most of you probably know, that is only half of the equation. The other half is population. In the United States, there are about 196.8 million white people (or 64% of the population); and there are about 37.7 million black people (or about 12% of the population). Therefore, when population is accounted for, it demonstrates that black people are 2.5 more likely to be shot by police than white people.

That number goes even higher when you examine the number of people shot and killed by the police when they were unarmed. Police shot the same number—50 unarmed blacks and 50 unarmed whites. When you account for population, you see that unarmed blacks are more than 5 times more likely to be killed by police than whites.

  1. Minority cops are more violent than white cops. 

I have heard this argument before, but I can find no evidence to support it. Even if true, however, the fact would have no relevance to the discussion of the BLM movement. The movement is geared towards equal treatment under the law, and putting systems into place that train police officers to de-escalate situations rather than escalate them. Whether a police officer is white, black, brown, purple, or green has no bearing on this discussion. A person who raises such a point either has a very poor understanding of the purpose of the BLM movement, or he is just a racist asshole looking to poke his fat white finger in the collective eye of the African-American community. I tend to think it’s both. 

  1. 37% of all violent crimes are committed by blacks. Pesky facts. 

The 37% number is problematic for a great many reasons, such as: (1) different organizations come up with widely different numbers of what percentage of violent crimes are committed by blacks; (2) many police agencies do not track the race of violent offenders; (3) the 37% number is arrived at by counting arrests, not convictions; (4) higher arrest rates of blacks could be accounted for by the very problem the BLM movement is seeking to address—racism; and (5) black neighborhoods are patrolled at a greater rate than white neighborhoods. I do not want to split hairs though. We know that while blacks make up 12% of the United States, they are responsible for more than 12% of violent crime.

The larger point though is this: So what? I encourage you to follow this argument to its obvious and unstated conclusion, which is: “Because black people are more likely to be violent, police get to treat all black people differently.” Putting aside the merit of such a law enforcement strategy, this is the very definition of racial profiling, which is unconstitutional as it is a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Putting the constitutionality of racial profiling aside, let’s look at a few facts:

  • Even among blacks, the instances of murders and assaults are rare (less than 1 per 1,000 people);
  • When black people do commit violent acts, they are rarely committed against white people or police officers. Rather, the violent acts are usually committed against other blacks. In the case of homicides, 90% of all black homicides were committed by other blacks (and 82% of all white homicides were committed by other whites).
  • Very few police officers are killed in the line-of-duty. There are currently more than 900,000 police officers in the United States. In 2015, 42 officers were murdered (39 by shooting; 3 by assault). While each of these 42 deaths was an unquestionable tragedy for the families of these officers and their communities, 42 deaths out of more than 900,000 officers indicates police officers face a very low chance of being murdered while on the job. In fact, the murder rate of taxi cab drivers is more than double that of police officers, and as I have discussed before, one’s chances of dying while logging is 10 times greater than dying while policing.

What these facts show is that even if we ignored the constitutionality of racial profiling, it is nearly impossible for police to justify killing black people at a higher rate because the police fear for their lives. These numbers demonstrate that more than 99% of blacks do not commit violent crimes; those blacks who do commit violent crimes are much more likely to hurt other black people than police; and the number of police officers murdered in the line of duty each year is just slightly higher than the number of Americans crushed each year by their own furniture (about 30 people per year).

  1. The most violent cities are run by Democrats. 

Conservatives oftentimes cannot help themselves. If an opportunity arises to attack Democrats, it will not be missed. Here, we see an attack on Democrats that is wholly unrelated to the issue of police brutality or the Black Lives Matters movement. The BLM movement is not affiliated with a political party.

As an aside, it is true that America’s most violent cities are usually governed at the local level by Democrats, and a combination of Democrats and Republicans at the state and federal levels. What exactly are we supposed to extrapolate from this fact? That Democrats cause people to be violent? The fact is, the most violent cities are also the poorest cities. That is no coincidence. Poverty breeds many of the social ills that plague us. Poor minorities tend to vote Democratic because they see Democrats trying to do something about poverty (even if often ineffectual) while Republicans do not even attempt to pay lip service to helping the poor.

If I wanted to match this argument with one of equal logic, I would state that the highest rates of pornography use are in the most Republican states in the country (1. Utah  2. Alaska  3. Mississippi). Therefore, Republicans are responsible for widespread use of pornography.

 

The Black Lives Matter movement is about the simple goal of raising awareness that too many police officers and police forces treat black people differently than white people. This is a complex discussion, and one where reasonable minds can disagree about the scope of the problem and the best solutions. Unfortunately, productive conversations on the topic have largely become impossible due to the right’s oft-repeated practice of latching on to brainless rhetorical devices that allows them to continue putting their collective heads in the sand; avoid listening to anyone who disagrees with them; and not devise any solutions to the problem before us. I suspect the primary purpose of these right-wing “arguments” is to distract people from the issue long enough that we lose interest, and go back to the way things have always been. If you are white, that is fine. If you are black, that is a tragedy.

  • Dylan

Something Rarer Than a Unicorn: An Even-Handed Examination of Hillary Clinton

Posted in Uncategorized on July 7, 2016 by thebluebros

What if you had a neighbor kid who woke you up every Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. by playing his drum kit just outside your bedroom window, but by 9:00 a.m., he was over mowing your lawn free-of-charge. Would you love this kid or hate him? Probably neither. I expect you would feel somewhat torn, and understandably so. This neighbor kid is not unlike Hillary Clinton.

While Clinton would unquestionably bring a lot of admirable qualities and an impressive resume to the White House, she also brings with her a lot of baggage that would concern most any voter of any political stripe. For these reasons, when I hear a person extol the near angelic nature of Hillary Clinton or hear someone else yell, “Hillary for Prison,” I think to myself, “These two people have a lot more in common than they think.” Both people are drawn to hyperbole and both struggle mightily with confirmation bias.

When reading articles on Hillary Clinton or listening to pundits, it is difficult to find someone who is not on one of these two extremes—i.e., Hillary is a hybrid of FDR and Mother Teresa, or the “Benghazi Bitch” needs to die or go to prison.

This piece will attempt to briefly lay out some of the key reasons for and against a Hillary presidency in a manner that is based on demonstrable facts and a good-faith effort to educate people who really are looking to cut through the tribalistic crap that makes it so hard to learn anything.

The Case Against Hillary Clinton

  • Hillary has a bit of Richard Nixon in her in that she is drawn towards secrecy. Using an email server in her own home was almost certainly done as a way to avoid disclosing her official email communications to the public. While one can understand Hillary’s reluctance to be open after 25 years of constant attack from the right, understanding her preference for secrecy does not excuse it. And her desire for secrecy is not limited to her emails. This is a politician who appears to believe the American people are on a need-to-know basis.
  • By the FBI’s account, even though Hillary was not indicted for her email practices, they still characterized her actions as “extremely careless” and she oversaw a department that inadequately protected classified information. While her actions may have been largely customary by State Department standards when she arrived, rather than improving a system failing to protect State secrets, she actually made it worse.
  • Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War—an event many people believe to be the greatest foreign policy mistake in our nation’s history.
  • Hillary seems to lack core convictions on many issues, and sometimes her positions seems to change based on political calculations. For example, she was vocally for the Trans-Pacific Partnership before she was against it. Hillary will also sometimes avoid taking a position on key issues until it is clear which way public sentiment is leaning. For example, she may have been the last presidential candidate to take a position on the Keystone pipeline. Hillary was also one of the last leaders of the Democratic Party to support gay marriage. While Hillary has eventually come down on the correct side of these issues (from a Democrat’s perspective), her refusal to stake out a strong position from the beginning demonstrates a lack of leadership and/or convictions.
  • Hillary spends a large amount of time around really rich people, and accepts a tremendous amount of money from the mega-wealthy. I believe Hillary is sincere when she states these things do not influence her decision-making, but she is human. It is unreasonable to believe that the company one chooses to keep will not influence his or her thought-process and decision-making. The rich, powerful, and entrenched power centers unquestionably have Hillary’s ear.

The Case for Hillary Clinton

  • Barack Obama is correct to say that no human being has ever run for president better prepared to be president than Hillary Clinton. Look at this resume: first lady for eight years; secretary of state for four years; U.S. senator for eight years; and a Yale law degree. One of the biggest problems with past presidents such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton is that they arrived on the job with little idea of what they were in for. Hillary would have no such problem.
  • The thing I most respect about Hillary is her work ethic and intelligence. This is a person who clearly takes her job seriously, and studies up to learn everything she can before making a decision. In a time of so many blowhard politicians who have no idea what they are talking about, it is immensely refreshing to hear a politician that can knowledgably speak on any issue. This tells me Hillary respects the position she is running for. In sharp contrast, I look to someone like Jeb Bush whose only job for the past nine years has been to prepare for running for president, and the guy showed up on the scene unable to answer the most basic and predicable questions. That would never happen with Hillary.
  • Hillary has been a leader on some great issues. For example, she has been a champion for expanding health care, especially to children. She played an integral role in passing federal SCHIP legislation (expanding health care to poor children). Hillary has also been a tireless advocate for expanding women’s rights abroad, even in places where such a message was not welcome. As Secretary of State, Hillary played a critical role in getting Osama bin Laden, and implementing tougher sanctions on Iran. Over the past 25 years, Hillary has actually done a lot of things. Most any person could find at least a few they agree with and are grateful for.
  • Hillary is contemplative and steady. I trust Hillary to avoid making rash decisions, and to seek out the counsel of the smartest people on Earth. This is an important quality in a person who will have access to the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.
  • Hillary Clinton believes in science. It is sad that this has to be listed as a qualification for president, but those are the times in which we live.
  • By most measures, Hillary is a moderate. As a liberal, this disappoints me, but if looking at this from national perspective rather than my own, Hillary would be an effective representative for the beliefs of most Americans.

After going through this list, I find myself going back to the analogy of the drum-playing, lawn-mowing neighbor kid. It is difficult to understand how a person can consider both sides of the Hillary equation, and conclude she is worthy of either adoration or hate. Hillary is a complex person with much to like and dislike. And because Hillary is such a mixed bag, I chose not to support her in the primaries, but can understand why others did. If you love or hate Hillary Clinton or your neighbor kid, I think it says a lot more about you than it does Ms. Clinton or the neighbor kid.

Finally, I want to make crystal clear that this article should not be mistaken as an attempt by me to demonstrate my personal struggles over who to support in November. I am having no internal struggle when being asked to choose between the mixed-bag of Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump—a volatile, racist, thin-skinned man whose understanding of domestic and world affairs could fit into a thimble, and who has devoted his life solely to the enrichment of himself. Faced with such a choice, there is no choice. Despite it being thought pithy and fashionable these days to say so, I am having no difficulty choosing who to support for president.

Perhaps if this was 2008 or 2012, and voters had the options of thoughtful Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney, the careful weighing of Hillary Clinton’s strengths and weaknesses would be important. But this isn’t 2008 or 2012, and with Trump drooling on the other side, such an exercise is purely academic. Although it would be nice if more people engaged in this kind of thoughtful examination of Hillary Clinton so we could have a meaningful conversation about our next president rather than yelling insults from across the room.

– Dylan

The Controversial Case for Spanking a Child

Posted in Uncategorized on May 19, 2016 by thebluebros

Another anti-spanking article is making the rounds on Facebook, and people are again lining up to decry the abominable act of spanking a child.

Like similar articles before it, this article goes out of its way to sensationalize the issue. Even in the picture right under the headline, we see what appears to be the biggest burliest mother on the planet with soulless eyes, spanking a completely naked infant. The infant is of course horrified, in agony, and donning a flaming-red backside.

Researching the spanking issue is a frustrating act because you tend to come across two extreme responses. On one end of the spectrum you get the mommy blogs and secondary sources that very loosely tie in with the research that claim any form of corporal punishment constitutes abuse and is never okay. On the other end of the spectrum, you get the religious right, and often the willfully ignorant parents who make the case that because they were spanked and turned out okay, the practice of spanking must be a good thing.

On the surface, this is an easy issue. After all, how could anyone justify a grown adult hitting a defenseless child? It just sounds wrong. But in this blog post, I will try to add nuance to this complex issue.

I believe spankings, with the proper guidelines in place, can be a useful parenting tool and one that does not put children at an increased risk of developing future emotional problems, but it must be done appropriately. Here are my 8 rules for spanking: (1) Never spank a child in anger; (2) A spanking should happen in private (public humiliation should not be part of the punishment); (3) Spanking should never be done with an instrument (e.g. belt, coat hanger, paddle, etc.); (4) A spanking should never cause bruising or injury; (5) Spanking should be rare and not the go to punishment; (6) No one should spank a child other than a parent or legal guardian; (7) The child should know the reason for the spanking; and (8) Following the spanking, the parent and child should discuss what happened and why.

In my house, spankings are very rare. I have four kids. My 14-month old daughter has obviously never been spanked, but my three sons (7, 5, and almost 3) have all had swats. Again, this is rare, with each child receiving maybe one spanking a year. And when a spanking does happen, it’s because I want my child to know immediately that what he did cannot happen again. For example, I spanked my 5-year old once for pulling away from me, running into the street, and almost getting hit by a car. I wanted the message to be swift, powerful, and effective. I didn’t think it would be as effective to wait until we were home 30 minutes later to give him a timeout.

Perhaps a more controversial view is that I believe it’s good for kids to have a healthy fear of their parents. Children shouldn’t fear abuse, but they should fear consequences to their actions. As a personal example, my father is, and has always been, a very gentle and loving man; but I remember having the fear of his spankings when I was a kid. Even though his spankings were rare (happening less than once a year) and always delivered with an open hand, I knew a spanking was on the list of possible punishments. That alone was a very effective deterrent to my less-than virtuous behavior. I certainly do not regard my father as a child abuser. I know that he did not enjoy spanking his children, and I do not believe that he taught me to use violence and aggression to solve my problems.

But how can I disregard the mountain of research and empirical data that rails against spanking in favor of some anecdotal information from my own childhood (the nadir of scientific evidence)?

The anti-spanking literature is not all it’s cracked up to be. Part of the reason for this is that when researchers investigate spanking, they don’t ask whether or not some types of spanking can be effective in specific situations, but rather they treat it as an all or none issue (i.e. is spanking good or bad). This overly-simplistic approach appeals to those for whom spanking is an emotionally-charged issue, but it avoids answering the more useful question of whether there exists a manner in which spankings can be administered to assist with child-rearing and that does no long-term emotional damage to the child.

A second reason the research falls short is because it’s difficult to study spanking due to it occurring at home and not in a laboratory. For this reason, it is impossible to control for important factors such as: Was the spanking done in anger; did it cause bruising and/or was it abusive; was an instrument used; did it violate any of the eight rules outlined above; etc.? It’s also difficult to study spanking because researchers do not know when spankings will occur. It’s obviously not ethical to tell a parent to hit a child at a specific time for the sake of research. Because of the major challenges surrounding the issue of data collection, the validity of spanking studies are suspect.

Furthermore, some of the most often-cited spanking articles from the past have huge flaws in the research design. For example, many of the spanking studies are correlational, and confounding variables are often not controlled for (e.g. income level, education, family makeup, etc.).

Despite the clear limitations in the data and research design, there are many faulty conclusions drawn from the spanking research. For example, one popular talking point is that spanking is bad because it teaches children that violence is an effective way to solve problems. Another popular opinion is that spanking makes children fearful, which is not conducive to moral learning. And another problematic belief drawn from the research is that spanking confuses children about whether the parent is a source of comfort or a source of pain. These conclusions are interesting and worthy of discussion, but they are not borne out by the data.

The recent article cited above tries to deliver a death blow to spanking by citing the negative effects of spanking. But the article acknowledges that, “The size of the negative effects are small… and there’s no proof that spanking specifically caused these [negative] behaviors later in life.” So at best, the research is inconclusive; and although some of the results may be statistically significant, the effect size is so small that it has virtually no impact in a real-world sort of way. Even if we were to believe and accept the implications of these results, my guess would be that much of the data used to make these conclusions came from households that violated one or more of my spanking rules (outlined above).

The author further undermines her research by describing the ethical challenges in studying spanking and the limitations of the research: “Researchers can’t conduct spanking experiments where they randomly assign children to be hit. And it’s also possible that “bad” children are just spanked more, and are also generally more aggressive and anti-social throughout their lives.”

Again, the results from these studies are certainly worthy of our attention, and they should not be dismissed. That being said, the wild conclusions drawn from these studies are not based in science and not supported by the data. For example, I take issue with the popular talking point repeated in this article by developmental psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff. She states that when you hit a child, it “makes it clear to the child that you can hit somebody if you have power,” and that “Children learn you can hit to get what you want…so those kids, not surprisingly…are using aggression to do what they want.” Let’s give kids a little more credit. If a child receives a swat on the backside for misbehaving, I don’t think children extrapolate that to mean that it’s okay to punch kids on the playground. Kids understand that different types of relationships exist, and when so-called experts claim that kids can’t make this distinction, it makes me think the researchers have spent too much time in a laboratory and not enough time with actual kids.

And how far do we want to take this theory proposed by Dr. Gershoff? If we believe spanking will encourage children to use violence to solve problems, why is the argument not extrapolated to other punishments? For example, if we teach a child that bad behavior can result in the loss of privileges (e.g. reduced access to video games, TV, cell phones, etc.), are we to believe that the child will think it’s appropriate to take electronics from his peers at school to get what he wants?

I also take issue with the premise that parents spank their kids because it brings them a sense of satisfaction (another claim made by Dr. Gershoff). There is simply no empirical evidence to substantiate this claim.

Dr. Gershoff states that, “I don’t think we learn to be good people who care about others by being hit.” I don’t think so either, but that’s not why parents spank their children. Spanking is usually done in an effort to stop a specific behavior. If the goal is to help children be good people, it is of course better to talk to them. But spanking a child and talking to a child can both occur.

As a psychologist, I see clients every day who are the products of physically-abusive homes. Domestic violence and physical abuse are of course strong predictors of mental health issues later in life, and a large percentage of my clientele come to therapy because of unresolved issues surrounding this violence in their early life. But in my 10 years of delivering clinical care, I have never had a person come to my office with the complaint that they were spanked as a child. Virtually every person I know who was spanked (without the presence of abuse) disregard this as a normal part of childhood that had little to no impact on their lives.

So I have a lot of problems with how these anti-spanking articles are spun. They create a false choice where you can either be a violent monster who enjoys abusing children, or you can be a good parent who teaches his/her child morality with calm dialogue. This is of course a false choice. The obvious response is that parents can choose to spank appropriately AND teach life lessons with healthy dialogue.

All of us want to do what’s best for our children, and I believe that if spanking is done according to the eight rules I outlined above, it can result in positive outcomes for children and their respective families. I’m not saying parents have to spank their children, or even that they should. However, I believe spanking can be an effective and beneficial tool if used appropriately. Despite what some experts claim, the research has a long way to go to discredit that idea.

– Nathan

As Goes Alabama, So Goes the Nation: Our Broken Primary Calendar

Posted in Uncategorized on March 10, 2016 by thebluebros

Of the 12 states won by Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump has won 11 of those states. The only exception comes in Iowa, where Hillary Clinton edged out Sanders by 0.3%. If we remove Iowa from the equation due to it essentially being a tie, we see that in all of the 11 states won by Hillary, Trump has also won.

I know what you’re thinking: Trump and Hillary have won the vast majority of the states up for grabs, therefore we’d expect to see a lot of overlap between their victories. But let’s test that theory.

First, it’s not true that Clinton and Trump have won a vast majority of the states. On the Democratic side, Clinton has won 13 states, and Sanders has won 9. Similar story on the Republican side: Trump has won 15 contests, and Cruz and Rubio have combined to win 10. This means that Clinton and Trump have won 59% and 60% of their respective primary contests thus far. So we wouldn’t expect to see complete overlap in their winning states.

In the nine states won by Sanders, only three are shared with Trump (Michigan, New Hampshire, and Vermont).

So Clinton and Trump are winning the same states. Interesting, but who cares?

The important point here is that Clinton’s appeal (and to a lesser degree, Trump’s appeal) is largely regional. Southerners love Trump, and southerners (particularly African American southerners) love Clinton. The Clinton campaign scoffs at the assertion that Clinton is a regional candidate, but look at the numbers. In the South, Clinton is 9-1 (losing only Oklahoma), and everywhere else in the country she has a 3-8 record, with all three of her wins coming by narrow margins. In fact, two of those wins were so close they were virtual ties. If we disregard the two states where Clinton won by a single percentage point or less, she has only a single win in a non-southern state (Nevada). So if Clinton is merely a regional candidate, it begs the question how she has such a large delegate lead over Sanders.

Here’s how: The early primary states are heavily focused on the east, particularly the southeast. By March 15th, 12 of the 13 southern states (the only exception being Kentucky) will have voted in their respective Democratic primaries. That means 95.7% of southern Democrats will have had a chance to vote by March 15. As stated above, the south is Hillary Clinton’s strongest region.

And what about the rest of the country? In the 13 states that make up the west (arguably Bernie’s strongest region of support), only two states will have voted by the 15th of March. These two states make up only 11.5% of Democrats in the west. The other 88.5% of western Democrats have yet to cast a ballot. In the 11 northeast states, only four states will have voted by March 15, representing just 20.4% of Democrats in that region. Midwestern Americans do better in that 67.6% of Democrats will have had a chance to vote by March 15, but nothing comes close to the 95.7% of voter representation seen in the South. When the votes are counted up on March 15th, 2,120 delegates will have been assigned; and despite only making up 27.9% of the Democratic electorate, the south will represent 56.2% of the delegates counted by March 15.

The four regions of the country (West, Midwest, South, and Northeast) have roughly the same populations (between 22-28%). That’s a stark contrast between how the regions are represented in the delegate math. As we can clearly see, the South is way over-represented while the West and the Northeast are profoundly underrepresented.

Chart 1 (nathan)

Chart 2 (nathan)

So why does this matter? It matters because it provides a false narrative about the strength and momentum of Clinton’s campaign. The delegate math on March 15 will clearly give the advantage to Hillary Clinton, but only for the reason that her strength in the South has been overrepresented and her weaknesses in other parts of the country have been underrepresented. This means Clinton can establish herself as a winning brand early in the race, and Sanders is immediately pegged as the guy with a pattern of losing; a candidate who can’t come back from the delegate math; a candidate who has trouble winning states; and a fringe politician who never really had a chance anyway. Sure enough, we’ve been hearing for weeks that Sanders has no chance and that the delegate math is too much for him to overcome.

Data strongly suggests this may be a false narrative and that the race is closer than described. Keep in mind that two of Clinton’s wins have been by razor-thin margins. Her win in Iowa of 0.3% was the closest in the state’s Democratic caucus history; and she won Massachusetts by a single percentage point (50% to 49%). Had these states teetered in the other direction, Clinton and Sanders would be tied at 11 states apiece right now. Clinton also won a close race in Nevada, where she beat Sanders by five points. On the other hand, in all nine of the states where Sanders emerged victorious, only Michigan was close. In every other state, he won by large margins (his smallest victory coming by 10 points in Oklahoma). So it’s not like Sanders is getting lucky and pulling out some close races in small states. He’s winning a lot of states and by large margins. But this isn’t the story being told because Clinton’s large victories in the South have bolstered her status as the frontrunner. So the order that states have their primaries makes a big difference. Candidates who lose states early in the primary process find it more difficult to raise money and constantly have to fight the narrative that they can’t win.

Had the tables been turned, and the primaries started on the West Coast, this election would likely look very different. Bernie could have potentially steamrolled across the west. Then Hillary Clinton would be on the defensive, trying to resuscitate her campaign and trying to prove to the American people that she can actually win some primary states. But that’s not how the calendar worked out.

The inequity of overvaluing the South in 2016 is magnified by the existence of superdelegates—i.e., those delegates that are not assigned democratically through primary or caucuses, but by high ranking party officials. When the media covers the Democratic primary race and gives us the most up to date delegate count, they routinely combine the superdelegates with the democratically won delegates. This provides a skewed representation of the race and makes Clinton’s lead look humongous.

When we combine the actual won delegates with the superdelegates, Clinton leads Sanders 1,223 to 574, more than double the number of Sanders delegates, making it look to the casual observer that the primary race is essentially over and Bernie is simply holding onto a pipe dream. However, when we look only at only the won delegates, the math tells a very different story. Clinton still leads but by a much smaller margin: 748-542. This shows us that the race is much closer than advertised. This is particularly noteworthy when we take into account the fact that over 95% of Clinton’s stronghold in the South has already voted while the majority of Sanders-friendly states have yet to cast a ballot.

Chart 3 (nathan)

Chart 4 (nathan)

But don’t the superdelegates matter? Yes and no. Remember that these superdelegates are not bound by law to vote for Clinton at the convention, even if they have already expressed support for her in the past. If Sanders wins the majority of the votes, the majority of the delegates, and the majority of the states, those superdelegates will be in a position where they more or less have to vote for Sanders at the convention. If they don’t, there will be a revolt in the Party.

Whether by design or not, what we now have is a primary calendar that gives near-total control of the selection of each party’s presidential candidate to the South. While the first two states in the process (Iowa and New Hampshire) are admittedly not in the South, the past few decades have shown us that presidential contests are not decided in New Hampshire and Iowa, but over the next 10 to 20 states. And the current primary calendar is overwhelming southern, conservative, and unreflective of the United States as a whole.

This recent change in the primary calendar appears to have been a quiet and clever coup by conservatives to dramatically push our options for president, and with it, the future of our country, in a rightward direction. Anyone whose values look different from those of Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas had better start demanding that we diversify the order of our primaries, or we will end up with more general election candidates like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. That is, candidates that have little appeal outside of the South.

– Nathan

Selecting the Most Electable and Effective Democrat: The Case for Bernie Sanders

Posted in Uncategorized on February 10, 2016 by thebluebros

Bernie Meme 2

Bernie Sanders is—from a policy perspective—the best choice for president of my lifetime. It is disappointing to consider the possibility that the United States may miss this opportunity. If Bernie fails to win, it will likely be due to the unholy alliance of those who intentionally mislead voters about what a Bernie candidacy would mean and the well-intended, but terribly confused do-gooders who think Bernie supporters need to be saved from themselves. This piece will use the best available evidence to debunk the misleaders, straighten out the confused do-gooders, and provide rhetorical ammunition for those already feeling the Bern.

Dispelling The Argument that Even if Bernie Could Win, He Could Not Govern

Perhaps the most pernicious argument for not voting for Bernie is that even if Bernie was elected president, he could not accomplish anything. Voters are being repeatedly told that Democrats need a nominee who can reach across the aisle. To this person, I ask, “Have you been unconscious over the past seven years?”

President Obama has taught voters and Democrats an important lesson (even if it took Obama six years to learn it). That lesson is: There is not a single congressional Republican willing to work with a Democratic president to enact meaningful legislation. This principle does not change if the Democratic president: proposes legislation initially thought up by conservatives; puts forth ideas that had recently been supported by Republicans; offers up significant Democratic concessions; or surrounds himself with Wall Street advisors and supports pro-corporate policies. In fact, Paul Krugman—ordinarily an Obama ally—unmercifully wrote an article about Obama back in 2011 entitled “President Pushover,” in which he went after Obama for having the bad habit of giving away the farm before negotiations began. For being reasonable, moderate, and trying to adopt Republican ideas, Obama has won zero Republican support on any meaningful bill in Congress in seven years of trying. Additionally, he gets labeled by the right as a dictator, a Communist, a secret Muslim, and the anti-Christ. Please tell me again how Hillary is going to reach across this aisle to get things done.

The Hillary campaign is aggressively peddling the lie that Hillary is the candidate “who knows how to get things done” despite Obama very clearly showing us that getting congressional Republicans to cooperate is—for all intents and purposes—impossible. If Hillary expects us to believe that she can get anything done with Congress, as she states in every speech, she needs to provide us with some details. Specifically, what will Hillary try that Obama has not tried? We will never hear Hillary answer this question because no one can.

Hearing the Hillary surrogates cover this talking point is often embarrassing. Most pundits fail to push back against the mindless talking point of “Hillary knows how to get stuff done,” but Lawrence O’Donnell will. Several days ago Mr. O’Donnell interviewed a Hillary surrogate who went on for some length as to why Bernie’s proposed ideas had no legislative hope of passing. Mr. O’Donnell, to his credit, asked the Hillary surrogate, “Please tell me how Hillary plans to convince Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to pass her desired legislation.” The Hillary surrogate, with a deer-in-the-headlights look said, after a long pause, “I think we need to give Hillary a chance.” That very well boils down the intellectual depth of the “Hillary can get stuff done” argument.

While it may not always be politically wise, Bernie is honest and deals in reality. He often explains that no Democrat, including himself, will be able to get anything done with the current Congress. The only way he or Hillary can accomplish anything legislatively is to elect new members of Congress, or bring enough new voters to the polls so that the current legislators face real pressure to work for the bottom 99% rather than their campaign contributors. Bernie is also quick to point out that as long as voter turnout hovers between 37% and 50%, this nation has little hope of things getting better. So how does Bernie expect to make things better? Before we get to that, let’s turn to the question of which candidate provides Democrats the greatest chance of defeating the eventual Republican nominee.

Cross-Over Appeal and Voter Enthusiasm: The Keys to a Bernie Landslide

There is much talk from the political establishment that Bernie cannot win a general election. These conclusions are often given by Hillary surrogates who want to scare Democrats into voting for Hillary, but they are also repeated by people who legitimately believe that a Bernie nomination would doom Democrats’ chances of retaining the White House, and hurt Democrats up and down the ballot. While these arguments are not baseless, such concerns are not supported by the best evidence.

The Problems with Hillary

Hillary is, quite simply, not good at running for office. While I admire Hillary for her unquestionable intellect and think she has the best resume to be president of any person ever to run for the office, she is a lousy candidate. Not Al Gore lousy, but pretty bad. This is evidenced by the fact that Hillary blew a 20-point lead in Iowa to win the state by just ¼ of 1%, and blew a 40-point lead in New Hampshire to lose by 22 points. That is a 60-point swing! Strong candidates do not do this.

The problems with Hillary are many. Most problematic is that most people do not find her particularly likeable. This is due in large part to many feeling Hillary is too calculated and not genuine. This is worsened by unfair and slanderous attacks—to which Hillary is constantly subjected. The problem for Hillary is that such attacks are much more likely to stick to a candidate when he or she lacks likeability. Chris Christie is the opposite of this. By most accounts, he really is a pretty terrible human being, but I’ll be damned if I don’t like him a bit more most times I hear him speak. He can sell authenticity even when he lacks it. Hillary cannot sell authenticity even when she has it.

For the past 25 years, Hillary has been subjected to the GOP hate machine, and she brags that she “has the scars to prove it.” Unfortunately, Hillary is correct. She has a lot of scars, and those scars, combined with her lack of warmth and genuineness has led a lot of people to strongly dislike her. Hillary’s net favorability with all voters is negative 8. Perhaps even more frightening is that her favorability rating among independents is negative 27! These numbers would be disastrous for any candidate running for office, but they are especially disastrous for someone like Hillary for whom people’s opinions are already pretty well baked in the cake. Good luck finding a single voter who does not already have a very firm view of Hillary Clinton.

Hillary also lacks good political instincts, and like Al Gore, she has shown an inability to grow as a candidate. To the contrary, she seems more robotic than ever on the campaign trail. And now she is making the same mistakes she made in 2008—i.e., being so sure of winning her party’s nomination that she has failed to put together a compelling message. I know why Bernie is running for president (e.g., reform political system that serves only the top 1%). Why is Hillary running? Other than promising to do a really good job (whatever that means), Hillary has given us little reason to vote for her. Bernie’s campaign is drubbing Hillary’s campaign with respect to providing a coherent theme, implementing an effective campaign strategy, and inspiring/mobilizing its supporters.

Bernie’s Strengths

There are a lot of really interesting theories as to why Bernie has the best chance of winning a general election in November (i.e., 2016 dynamics similar to France in late 19th century; Bernie is uniquely impervious to external events like economy worsening or terrorist attack). Similarly, there are several theories as to why Hillary will win (e.g., Bernie is like George McGovern; voters fear change).

We can, however, put away the creative theories and comparisons from 50 or 200 years ago because no matter how convincing any one of these theories may be, reality has a funny way of dispelling nifty theories. Reality #1 – Bernie Sanders unquestionably has major cross-over appeal to independent voters and moderates.

I grew up in the most conservative county in Oregon, and now live in one of the most liberal cities in America. I have had the pleasure of knowing a lot of people with very different beliefs and people who fall all over the political spectrum. And you know what I find when I speak with any one of them who is not a Democrat? They detest Hillary. Most of their reasons for hating Hillary are based on distorted facts or outright lies, but these people would likely vote for Joseph Stalin before voting for Hillary Clinton. In contrast, I know many conservatives and independents who view Bernie Sanders quite favorably. I regularly hear from these people that they will vote for Bernie if their choice is between Bernie or Donald Trump (which is appearing more and more likely). I even know some independents who have re-registered as Democrats just so they can support Bernie in the primary. Bernie’s cross-over appeal is real.

Bernie’s cross-over appeal is also evidenced in the polls. In Iowa, Hillary won Democrats quite handily, but Bernie beat Hillary among independents by 43 points. That is not a typo. Bernie won 69% of independents and Hillary won just 26% of independents. In New Hampshire, it got even worse for Hillary. Bernie won 72% of independents there.

No person will win the White House without support from independents. Strong evidence exists that Bernie can win over these people. I do not see any evidence, empirical or anecdotal, that indicates Hillary can win over a meaningful number of independents.

These numbers also undermine the argument that Bernie cannot win a general election because his views are too extreme and outside the mainstream. This is not the case. Bernie’s so-called extreme positions are supported by a majority of Americans: Breaking up the big banks – supported by 58% of Americans; making college tuition free for those who need it – supported by 62% of Americans; Medicare for all – supported by 58% of Americans (including 25% of Republicans); closing off-shore tax loopholes – supported by 85% of U.S. small-business owners; raising taxes on people making more than $1 million per year – supported by 64% of Americans, and 2/3 of millionaires (!); raising the minimum wage – supported by 71% of Americans; and overturning Citizens United – supported by 78% of Americans. How broken does our political system have to be that a person representing the beliefs of most Americans is labeled extreme? We are so used to our elected officials representing the interests of the top 1% donor class that our heads explode when we see someone who actually represents the views of everyday people.

The result of Bernie’s candidacy is a movement. And unlike Obama’s movement in 2008, this one comes with specific policy proposals. And this movement is leading millions of people to get fired up. Really fired up. The evidence of this is all around. For instance, Bernie is raising money from more people than Hillary, and not by a small amount. Hillary has raised money from 670,000 individual contributors, but Bernie has collected individual contributions from 1.3 million people (breaking Barack Obama’s record for shortest length of time to reach 1 million donors), and I suspect this number will explode in the 48 hours following his resounding win in New Hampshire. Somehow an obscure figure from Vermont is inspiring twice as many people to give money than a former first-lady, secretary of state, and New York Senator. Amazing.

Hillary still has more money than Bernie because Bernie’s individual contributions are much smaller, and Hillary has multiple SuperPacs who have raised $48 million. Things may be changing though. January marked the first time that Bernie outraised Hillary–$20 million to $15 million. This feat is especially impressive when you consider that Bernie raised his money, on average, $27 at a time. And again, Bernie will likely raise a ton of cash following his 22-point win in New Hampshire.

The enthusiasm can be also be seen in the youth vote. Despite being 74 years old, Bernie absolutely crushed Hillary in Iowa among voters under 30—84% to 14%. He did the exact same thing in New Hampshire.

Bernie’s ability to generate enthusiasm and appeal to independents (and even some conservatives) makes him a formidable opponent come November. His unfavorable rating is currently quite good. He is the only candidate running for president on either side who has a net positive favorability with the American people. While Bernie’s negatives will inevitably go up if he were to become the Democratic Party’s nominee, he would be more impervious to these attacks than an Al Gore, John Kerry, or Hillary Clinton because Bernie is innately likeable, and his ideas are clearly articulated and widely supported. Candidates like Gore, Kerry, and Hillary get easily “swift-boated” because they lack the likeability and clarity of positions to ground them.

There is also the little discussed detail that Bernie Sanders is quietly racking up support of uneducated, white people. This was a demographic Obama struggled to win over, and never did in a meaningful way. Bernie is though. Imagine the landslide a Democratic nominee would experience if he or she could add a good chunk of uneducated, white people to the Obama coalition! It could be 1964 again for Democrats (where LBJ defeated Goldwater by over 20 points). The demographics Sanders is currently struggling to win over are minority voters. While Democrats should never take minority voters for granted, it is very difficult to imagine African-Americans and Latinos not coming home to the Democratic nominee in the general election—particularly if Donald Trump is the nominee.

How a President Sanders Gets Stuff Done

And this brings us back to the question of how Bernie expects to accomplish anything if elected. The answer comes out of the enthusiasm and energy Bernie has already generated and expects to continue generating. Enthusiasm results in high voter turnout—as we saw in New Hampshire last night, where turnout set records and required voting stations be left open well beyond the scheduled poll closings. When voter turnout is high, Democrats win. When it is low, Republicans win.

If voter turnout is just 50% like it was in 2000, Democrats probably lose the White House just like we did in 2000 regardless of who we nominate. If voter turnout is 55%, like it was in 2012, Democrats probably win the White House whether we nominate Hillary or Bernie. But if we can get voter turnout to 60%, Democrats likely take not just the White House, but also take back Congress. It is reasonable to expect voter turnout with Bernie at the top of the ballot could reach 60%. When Bernie says he wants a “revolution,” this is exactly what he is referring to: getting enough people to vote so that elected officials start taking actions that benefit the 99% rather than the 1%. Bernie has a chance of doing this. There is no reason to believe Hillary will.

If Hillary is the nominee, diehard political junkies on the left (like myself) will muster the energy to cast our ballots for her on Election Day, but who else will? The sad truth of American politics is that on Election Day, Democrats look to fall in love, and Republicans look to fall in line. I very much fear that if Hillary is the Democratic Party’s nominee, young people, fence sitters, disgruntled liberals, and the uninspired will stay home. As we saw in 2010 and 2014, that is a disaster for Democrats and progressive values.

Hillary Struggles to Maintain A Positive Tone While Trying to Convince Voters None of What They Want is Possible

The fact that Bernie is espousing specific and popular policy proposals, and Hillary has not, has painted Hillary into one heck of a corner. She can either adopt Bernie’s positions (which would look like she is following rather than leading), or she can say his ideas are bad. Hillary has gone with the latter strategy, and it is killing her.

While somehow trying to remain upbeat, Hillary is trying to convince Democratic primary voters that all of the noble goals being espoused by Bernie are impossible and unattainable. Rather, Hillary is attempting to win over Democratic primary voters by assuring them that tinkering at the edges (without any specifics being provided) is going to be good enough because the Supreme Court—or something. Robert Reich wrote a great piece on this on Monday (by the way, Robert Reich is probably the most thoughtful person discussing the Bernie/Hillary race and does so in an engaging and funny manner; if you are not following him on Facebook, I highly encourage you do so).

Hillary’s depressing campaign strategy concerns me because she is still the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic Party’s nominee. She had better figure out real soon how to start inspiring people. Giving speeches every day that tell people to lower their expectations to Washington, D.C.’s infinitesimally small notion of possible is depressing as hell.

Hillary is essentially running for president to govern a broken system, and Bernie is running for president to fix the broken system. Hillary’s strategy is a challenge in any election cycle, but an unmitigated disaster in 2016—a year people are looking to dramatically change the system.

 A Vote for Bernie Gives Us a Chance for Substantive Change

My question to Democratic voters is this? If you aren’t excited about voting for Hillary in the primary election, why would you think 51% of Americans would vote for her in the general election?

Vote for the person who you think would do the best job. And if electability is a big issue for you, it is my sincere hope that this piece went a long ways in demonstrating that Bernie will be a formidable opponent for any Republican in the general election, and he is the only Democrat running for president who has the potential to inspire millions of new voters to show up and elect new congressional members who are interested in passing legislation to help the other 99%. If nothing else, he has shown he can manage and run a great campaign—something Hillary has repeatedly shown she cannot do.

Republicans who wish to face Bernie in the general election ought to be careful what they wish for.  They just might get it.

– Dylan

The Election No One Can Win

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2016 by thebluebros

I am sure you have heard by now that Donald Trump cannot win the presidential election in November. It simply is not possible. But have you also heard that Ted Cruz cannot win? And neither can Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush. On the Democratic side it looks no better. Bernie Sanders absolutely cannot win a general election, but neither can Hillary Clinton. The thing is though, someone has to win.

This time of the election cycle is usually filled with the media and voters discussing, debating, and arguing over who should be our next president. In any democracy, these conversations are important, worthwhile, and hopefully productive most of the time.

In 2016, however, we are having fewer discussions of who should be president, and devoting an annoyingly huge amount of time on who can be president. As the above links demonstrate, there are a whole host of people willing to write articles and go on the airwaves to confidently announce that a particular candidate “cannot” win. And most of these forecasters are not even couching their beliefs with qualifiers such as “probably” or “most likely.” Many of these pundits will claim to “know” what is going to happen.

People who want to make these certain or near-certain predictions are forgetting a key thing: 2016 is a lot different from prior election cycles. The landscape is already littered with the carcasses of pundits who have been proven wrong. Actually, that last sentence reflects a hope as opposed to reality. We all know there is no cost to making wrong predictions in the political world. Fact is, bold predictions generate a lot of clicks, and getting proven wrong later is a detail most people don’t care about.

To demonstrate just how impossible it is to predict what is going to happen in 2016, keep in mind that Nate Silver—who most consider to be the most reliable political forecaster—repeatedly said back in August and September that Trump would “lose the nomination.” Silver gave Trump just a 5% chance of winning his party’s nomination, and a much lower chance of winning the general election. Silver also repeatedly compared Donald Trump to flash-in-the-pan candidates like Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann who held the lead in the 2012 GOP primary for a week or two before flaming out. Now that Trump has been leading in the polls for more than six months, Nate Silver is predicting Trump to win the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary—a feat no Republican has ever accomplished who not already president. Looks like Mr. Silver got a little too sure of his own powers of prediction.

If Nate Silver can get it wrong, so can you. And so can your preferred pundit.

People looking for a real assessment of a candidate’s chances of winning the White House in 2016 should look to bookies—you know, people who actually put their money where their mouth is. For instance, if you want to place a bet on this election, you can go to a site like www.paddypower.com. Below are the odds paddypower gives the six candidates listed above of winning the White House?

  • Hillary Clinton – 47.6%
  • Donald Trump – 25.0%
  • Marco Rubio – 14.3%
  • Bernie Sanders – 12.5%
  • Ted Cruz – 5.3%
  • Jeb Bush – 4.8%

I realize these odds do not add up to exactly 100% because they are betting odds, but it gives you a sense of how Vegas assesses these candidates’ chances, and I have a whole lot more faith in them than I do someone looking to get noticed on CNN (not that I have much faith even in Vegas in a year like this). Moreover, no one knows with any certainty what is going to happen, as I explained in detail a few months ago. Looking to all of the pundits who wrote the political obituaries for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump six months ago, my assessment on this point has not changed.

In 2016, shut-out the ever-droning pundits who want to click-bait you to death with their predictions. Vote your conscience—at least in the primaries.

-Dylan

Who Let the Dogs Out? Service Animals Run Amok

Posted in Uncategorized on November 19, 2015 by thebluebros

alpaca

I need to vent for a moment about service dogs.

By this point, we’ve all seen service dogs in restaurants, airports, grocery stores, and other public establishments. These dogs often wear vests making it clear to people that this, in fact, is not any regular pet, but a certified animal used to assist an American with a disability. But I have a few problems with these animals.

Abusing the system is too easy. Anyone can register their mangy talentless pet as a service animal, faster than you can say, “Where can my alpaca sit?” ABC News conducted an investigation of the system. Their analysis was partly inspired by a woman who wanted to fly her dog around the country for the holidays but didn’t want to pay the airfare for her dog. So she lied (claimed she had panic attacks), and just this claim allowed her dog to fly next to her on the plane no fewer than six times without paying a dime. In turn, ABC reporters went to USDogRegistry.org and filed an application for a 28 lb. dog named Archie. After paying the online fee, the online organization provided a leash, a vest, a photo ID, and a certificate with Archie’s name and registration number. No doctor’s note was required. And Archie was now able to fly, dine in restaurants, and go shopping at the mall, no questions asked. And why not? With his official leash, vest, and photo ID, he looked 100% legit. They did the same thing for a rabbit named Leo and an African pygmy hedgehog named Snickers. Over the course of this investigation, these animals became very well-traveled.

The list of transgressions is a mile long. The New Yorker published a hilarious article, detailing some of the more egregious examples including a woman who brought her dog Truffles on a US Airways flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. En route to Philly, Truffles defecated in the aisle multiple times, and the plane had to make an emergency landing in Kansas City because people were allegedly becoming sick and a HAZMAT team was required. In an effort to see how far she could take this, the author of the New Yorker article borrowed a friend’s 30-inch snake and successfully established it as an emotional support animal by concocting a story of how she was saved from drowning by a snake when she was a child. Next she got her hands on an alpaca and tried (again successfully) to travel with the alpaca on a public train. Then she took the alpaca to a CVS and later to an art gallery.

A distinction should be made between service animals and emotional support animals. Service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act; emotional support animals are not. The ADA only allows dogs and miniature horses to serve as service animals. (Not sure how the miniature horse lobby got a voice on this issue, but there you go.) If you see any other animals being passed off as “service animals,” feel free to stop them in their tracks.

The worst part of this situation is that people who genuinely need service dogs are the ones most affected. People with legitimate service animals have complained about the rampant abuse of the system because these “fake” service animals have resulted in business owners questioning the legitimacy of actual service animals. And there have been cases of illegitimate service animals getting into fights with authentic service animals.

Let me get this out of the way: I am not anti-dog, nor am I against animals being used to assist those with disabilities. For example, seeing-eye dogs provide a very specific purpose to people who are visually impaired. These dogs are specially trained and have a set of skills that are the result of months of intense training and discipline. In fact, trained seeing-eye dogs can fetch a price (pardon the pun) of up to $50,000.

Similarly, people who use wheelchairs can use Mobility Dogs to help them open doors, pick up objects, and pull wheelchairs; and people who suffer from seizures sometimes use Medical Alert Dogs to warn them when a seizure may be coming. (This claim about dogs detecting seizures is controversial, but I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt.) I have no problem with any of these service animals. These dogs are very different from the service dog next door who is unable to sit on command and shits indoors approximately 37% of the time. But in the eyes of the law, these dogs are equal and allowed equal rights, equal protection, and equal access to public spaces.

Just to be clear, if someone is visually impaired, requires the use of a wheelchair, or is at risk of having seizures, I am the first to accept his/her service dog into my home with open arms and some tasty vittles. That’s not what this post is about. This is about people who pass off their untrained dogs – with no special skills – as service animals.

Another identified problem: If you are a business owner who isn’t thrilled with the idea of an animal being in your store or restaurant, there’s virtually nothing you can do. Service dogs are not required to wear vests or collars identifying them as service animals, and it’s against the law for business owners to ask a person for proof of a disability or proof that the pet is in fact a service dog. And the only time you can ask a person with a service animal to leave your place of business is if the pet presents a health or safety risk or if the pet is “out of control.” The term “out of control” is very subjective, and if a business owner tries to remove a barking dog, he/she could be sued for discrimination under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As a mental health professional, I’m not crazy about the idea of people using service animals for mental health reasons in general. While I agree that having pets is therapeutic and beneficial, service dogs do nothing to treat an underlying condition. For example, if someone relies on a dog to leave the house or engage in social outings, this may help with the initial anxiety but does nothing to address the underlying anxiety problem. I had a veteran with PTSD recently tell me that his service dog (which weighed 4 lbs.) kept him safe by alerting him of approaching danger (e.g. unknown people walking near him on a public sidewalk). In this case, the animal (by barking at everything that moved) was actually providing a disservice to the veteran by reinforcing his maladjusted belief that danger is lurking around every corner and that to stay safe, one must constantly be hypervigilant.

We can’t cure blindness, effectively stop all seizures, or give people in wheelchairs the ability to walk. Thus, service dogs are important and vital for many Americans. However, in the case of PTSD and other mental health disorders, we have a variety of effective treatments and interventions that are available. Attaching a service dog to someone’s hip merely provides a security blanket and robs them of real treatment.

In other countries, it’s very different. Service dogs, for example, must be specially trained, and they are required to demonstrate at least three specific tasks that assist their owners. There is no such requirement in the U.S. You are allowed to train your own animal (which may be limited to your dog rolling over and playing dead).

We need to adopt policies that are similar to ones used in other countries. That is, a service dog must not be used for the sole purpose of providing companionship, and all service dogs must demonstrate actual skills that assist a person with a disability. I would also argue that a person should only be allowed to have a service dog when all other interventions have been tried with unsuccessful results. Again, this is for the reason that a service dog does nothing to treat an underlying condition but merely provides a way of coping with a disability. Imagine if we had the ability to treat someone’s blindness, but we gave them a service dog instead. Tighter regulations are clearly warranted.

– Nathan