Archive for the Uncategorized Category

How Democrats Always Get the Abortion Question Wrong

Posted in Uncategorized on November 3, 2015 by thebluebros

Every election year we hear Democrats voice their awkward opinions on the issue of abortion. They usually fall back on the tried and true response that the government should not be involved in a woman’s reproductive choices. While this argument appeals to a certain contingency on the left, it comes across as cruel and uncaring for those who consider an unborn child a person.

We haven’t heard much about abortion this election cycle, but the issue was briefly thrown into the spotlight in September when Bernie Sanders spoke at the conservative Liberty University. He was asked specifically about the issue of abortion, and he was given a golden opportunity to speak about the issue to a captive audience of die-hard conservatives. It was a great opportunity, and how did Bernie respond? By saying that it’s a woman’s right to choose. Ugh. The only thing the audience heard was that Bernie Sanders thinks women should have the right to murder their children. Way to win them over Bern.

If I was Bernie Sanders’s campaign manager, here is what I would have told him to say to the students at Liberty University when asked about the issue of abortion:

(Try to imagine Bernie’s voice here)

There is not a person in this room who hates abortion more than me. It fills my heart with great sorrow to think about the number of abortions that we have in this country every day. As a father of four, I understand how precious children are, and I love my children more than words can express. So the tragedy of abortion is not lost on me. When people mistake my pro-choice stance as an indication that I’m in favor of abortion, or that I don’t care about the termination of unwanted pregnancies, it bothers me a great deal because nothing could be further from the truth. If you see my pro-choice stance as hypocritical or inconsistent, please let me explain my position.

If I could wave my hand and stop every abortion from happening, I would do it. But neither I nor anyone else has such power. As long as people have sex for reasons other than procreation, there will be unwanted pregnancies, and as long as there are unwanted pregnancies, there will be abortions. Making abortions illegal will not end all abortions, but it will make them much more dangerous for the mother. Bill Clinton said that abortions should be safe, legal, and rare; and that’s exactly how I feel. Our sisters and daughters should not die as a result of getting an illegal abortion. I’m not in favor of abortion, but I am in favor of women not dying from abortions.

Our goal should not be a ban on abortions as a ban will not end a great many abortions, but will instead create a serious health risk to a great many women. So here’s what I propose we do.

We provide education to young women, and we increase access to contraceptives. If we do this, we can substantially reduce the number of abortions in this country. A study last month coming out of Washington University School of Medicine showed that if women at risk of unwanted pregnancies received the birth control of their choosing at no cost, the national abortion rate would plummet.

Planned Parenthood gets a lot of flack for being an abortion Wal-Mart, but we know that no organization in this country prevents more abortions than Planned Parenthood. If the pro-life movement understood the causal effect that Planned Parenthood’s efforts have had on reducing the abortion rate in this country, they’d be advocating for the construction of a Planned Parenthood on every street corner.

I’m not a Planned Parenthood spokesperson, but I think it’s worth noting that 35% of their funding goes towards providing contraception while only 3% of their funds go toward abortions. So while it’s true that Planned Parenthood does provide abortions, significantly more time, effort, and money is spent on preventing unwanted pregnancies, providing contraceptive services, and educating women on how to avoid scenarios that lead to abortions. This is how we stop abortions in this country, not by signing a piece of paper at the Capitol Building.

You and I have a lot more in common on the issue of abortion than you think. We have the same goal in that we want to see abortions reduced to their lowest possible levels. How we reach that goal is where we come together and work as one. That will require that pro-life advocates move past the idea of a ban and work with both sides of the aisle to take meaningful steps that haven been proven to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

(End Bernie’s voice)

In case anyone is questioning my progressive credentials, let me make them clear. I have been a registered Democrat since the age of 18; I am a proud liberal; and I am pro-choice. That being said, Democrats get the issue of abortion wrong every time. They use euphemistic language like “reproductive rights” to describe the abortion issue, as if abortions are merely an extension of our individual liberties. Continuing with this rationale, Democrats sometimes make the case that anti-abortion legislation is an affront on American women, and it’s a continuation of the conservative agenda to keep women subservient and in the home. In the frenzy of talk about freedom, liberties, misogyny, and big government, there is something inherent to the issue of abortion that Democrats don’t talk about: the loss of life.

Here are some interesting numbers. A survey conducted by the nonpartisan group YouGov.com found that 66% of people believe that fetuses in the womb are people. Only 16% of polled participants did not consider an unborn baby a person. The poll also revealed that 52% of Americans believe that life begins at conception. No matter how you slice it, the majority of Americans place some value on the life of an unborn child. So when Democrats talk about a woman’s right to choose, they’re abandoning any hope of attracting voters for whom abortion is among their most important issues.

There are many undecided voters, moderates, and one-issue voters who struggle with the abortion issue in every election. Aborting fetuses doesn’t sit well with them, and the talk of getting government out of a woman’s uterus rings hollow when clearly Democrats don’t mind letting government intervene in many other facets of our lives (e.g. healthcare, education, regulation of business, etc.). Pro-life voters don’t want to hear about a woman’s choice. They want to hear that Democrats care about the lives of our most vulnerable. Fortunately for Democrats, these two things are not mutually exclusive.

When Democrats are asked about the issue of abortion, they need to respond in a way that’s honest and compassionate. My belief is that you can be all of these things while still maintaining a pro-choice stance. This is an easy victory for Democrats. They can stay consistent on their pro-choice position without moving their line in the sand. They just need to change the way they communicate this issue to the people. I am by no means advocating that Democrats be dishonest or oversell their position of compassion to manipulate the voting public. I am merely suggesting that we add nuance to our position and stop relying on the callous, unpersuasive “woman’s choice” mantra.

Abortion is an issue where the Democrats should be beating the Republicans. While politicians like Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and Bobby Jindal throw red meat at their evangelical base by talking about the prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade, they offer nothing in the way of actually stopping abortions in this country. They neglect the role that education and contraceptives play in reducing the problem, and they pretend that a new law will end abortions. Rather than manipulate the Christian voters in America, in the tradition of the Republicans, Democrats should be shouting from the rooftops what they are actually doing to reduce the abortion rate in this country. That’s a winning message that even pro-life voters can’t ignore.

– Nathan

The Pete Rose Solution: What To Do With Baseball’s Odious Hero

Posted in Uncategorized on October 19, 2015 by thebluebros

When Pete Rose played baseball, he encapsulated all of the traits we admire most in our sports heroes: loyalty, tenacity, toughness, passion, and a whole helluva lot of heart. Many people look at Pete Rose as guy who was born with little talent, but willed himself into being the all-time hits leader through sheer determination and grit. While this line of thinking almost certainly gives too little credit to his innate abilities, it is a great story line—one that led a lot of little boys and young men to believe they too could be a great ballplayer.

Pete Rose has unfortunately lived the game of life as poorly as he played the game of baseball well. He has always been drawn to lowlifes. He went to prison for tax evasion. He was unfaithful to both of his wives, and has been an absentee father to his children. And he committed the cardinal baseball sin—he bet on baseball. And these are just the things he admitted to in his dreadful 2004 pity-party autobiography, “My Prison Without Bars.”

Understanding how wonderful Pete Rose was on the field, and how terrible he was off the field, leads one to understand why Pete Rose is such a polarizing figure, and why reasonable people can disagree on whether Pete Rose should be admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. When hearing these debates, however, I can’t help but think both sides are arguing over one another, and ignoring a seemingly simple and perfect solution. Let’s begin by examining the compelling arguments on both sides.

Let Him In (The Good Arguments)

Pete Rose holds more offensive records than any other baseball player, including perhaps the greatest baseball record: most career hits. Over the course of his 24-year career (1963 to 1986), Pete Rose amassed an ungodly 4,128 hits, and did so while maintaining a batting average of .303. His career accomplishments include: 3 World Series Titles; an obscene 17 All-Star games; Rookie of the Year; 2 Gold Glove awards; and an MVP award. And none of those numbers can convey the special kind of player Rose was though. For those who aren’t especially familiar with what makes him special, I’d direct you to this video or this video. While the latter video may make some cringe, it was this attitude and drive to win that led many to adore Rose.

No one ever seemed to work as hard or want it as badly as Pete Rose. He once said, “I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.” As a fan, you always wanted Pete Rose on your team.

Many believe these amazing career numbers, and the intangible joy and energy he brought to the game, are enough by themselves to get Rose into the Hall of Fame.

Other supporters of Rose believe it is unfair that the Hall of Fame is filled with a wide array of real scumbags, and it is unfair to ban Rose for gambling. Most famously, Ty Cobb was allowed into the Hall even though he beat up a man in the stands at a game who had no hands because the handicapped individual had the audacity to say Mr. Cobb’s mother was half-black. But the list of loathsome Hall of Fame members does not end with Cobb.

Cap Anson refused to take the field if a black man stood on it (and Answon was believed to have been a member of the KKK—along with Ty Cobb). Orlando Cepeda was imprisoned for almost a year for smuggling drugs Wade Boggs was a serial adulterer. Duke Snider is a convicted tax evader. And beyond those who had questionable character traits, the Hall of Fame includes cheaters. Tris Speaker was implicated in a game-fixing scheme, and Gaylord Perry admitted in his biography to doctoring game balls with spit, Vaseline, and other substances. Why is it okay to honor these scoundrels and cheaters of the game, but keep out someone like Rose for making mistakes off the field?

Still others acknowledge that while Pete Rose’s actions were wrong, they believe he has paid enough of a price. Rose has been banned from baseball for 26 years now, and some feel that is adequate.

Finally, other advocates for Rose argue that the Hall of Fame is not about the individual, and by keeping Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame, baseball is hurting baseball much more than baseball is hurting Pete Rose.

Let Him In (The Bad Argument)

Each of the above arguments are quite persuasive, but there is one pernicious pro-Rose argument you will hear most often but is terribly weak. It goes something like this: “Pete Rose only bet on the Reds, and never against the Reds. That means he only worked harder to win, and what’s wrong with that?” A lot, actually.

First, we can’t be sure Pete Rose never bet against the Reds when he played on them. We are relying on Pete Rose for this information, and he has shown himself repeatedly to be a man who struggles with the truth. He appears to dole out the truth only when forced or when he thinks it will further his interests.

The most problematic aspect of the Pete-only-bet-on-the-Reds-winning argument, however, is that even if we assume Rose only bet on his team to win, keep in mind that he was the player/manager of the Reds during these years. He wasn’t just trying to win by playing harder himself, he was presumably managing each game like it had to be won, and that creates problems.

For instance, pitchers all have their pitches counted and tracked. When they reach a certain limit, they get pulled from the game regardless of how well they are pitching. This is done to protect the long-term health of the player and the team. If, however, you put a manager in charge who has a lot of money riding on a single game, would that manager keep the starting pitcher in too long if he was doing well? Would he force an injured player to come back too soon and risk a second injury? Or what about at the season’s end when a lot of teams will call up minor leaguers to help develop their farm system and rest season-weary veterans? Did Rose put these types of decisions off at the expense of his own organization to win a bet?

Truth is, we will likely never know how Rose’s gambling affected his managerial decisions, but they very likely could have put players’ health and careers at risk, and hurt the long-term development of the Reds organization. In some ways, gambling on your own team while you are a manager is worse than betting against them.

Now that we have heard from the Pete Rose advocates, let’s hear from the other side.

Keep Him Out

Baseball is a sport known for its many rules, but it has one rule that is more important than any other rule: Rule 21(d). It states: “Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”

This rule exists for a very good reason. When baseball players gamble on their sport, the sport loses the public’s trust. When the 1919 White Sox intentionally lost games of the World Series, the sport was rocked. When people do not believe they are watching a straight game, the public understandably loses interest and the league risks not just a financial loss, but potentially survival of the league itself.

This rule is so important that Major League Baseball decided almost 100 years ago that the consequence of breaking this rule was a lifetime ban from the game. And just to make sure everyone knows this, this rule is blown up and put on the walls of every major league locker room, and players are frequently reminded by their teams and managers of this rule. It is the equivalent of doctors being familiar with the principle of “do no harm.” It is ubiquitous. Every baseball player knows this rule.

By letting Pete Rose back into baseball or into the Hall of Fame, what message would that send to all would-be gamblers in baseball? Perhaps they may think it is worth the risk? Especially if they think baseball has gone soft (e.g., if Pete Rose got 25 years, maybe I’ll only get 10, and that’s only if I get caught). This rule only works when Major League Baseball has the fortitude to stand behind it. This is certainly a compelling argument.

The Solution

In listening to these arguments, it appears both sides fail to acknowledge the valid concerns of the other. Supporters of Pete Rose downplay the very real threat of gambling to the game, and Pete Rose detractors downplay the persuasive argument that the Hall of Fame should include the very best players. When that isn’t done, baseball, fans of baseball, and the Hall of Fame all suffer.

The middle ground here is to amend Rule 21(d) to read: “Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible until the player’s death.” (Proposed new language in italicized bold).

This solution addresses the concerns of both sides: It puts in place a strong and tragic punishment for players that will expectantly provide players with a deep incentive not to gamble (a lifetime ban with no hope of ever seeing yourself work within the game or enter the Hall of Fame). Meanwhile, it does not sully the Hall-of-Fame by keeping out a player that unquestionably ranks among the greatest baseball players that ever lived.

The Pete Rose debate is a great microcosm of American society, and our challenges of addressing important issues in a meaningful way. Rather than finding solutions that address opposing sides’ concerns, we create two entrenched camps that hurl rhetorical grenades at one another with little thought of actually solving a problem in a way that addresses each side’s legitimate concerns. In the case of Pete Rose, a rather simple and peacemaking solution exists. Here’s hoping Major League Baseball can once again show the rest of America the way, and get the Rose matter resolved.

An Embarrassment (of Riches): Your Guide To the Republican Presidential Primary

Posted in Uncategorized on September 21, 2015 by thebluebros

The field of Republican candidates is absolutely huge—17 people! It would seem the Republicans have an embarrassment of riches, but despite so many candidates, there is a stunning lack of ideological diversity. With a couple of minor exceptions (e.g., Rand Paul being against the Patriot Act; John Kasich sort of supporting gay marriage), the candidates are virtually identical on every issue (pro-gun; anti-Iran deal; anti-Obamacare without alternative plan; anti-abortion; pro-flat tax; anti-union; pro-Keystone; etc.). Gone are the days when Republican nominees had substantive differences such as whether Trickle Down Economics was good policy (as advocated by Ronald Regan) or “voodoo economics” as George H.W. Bush called it. To the extent a person has strong feelings about one Republican candidate over another, those feelings necessarily have to be based on something other than substance.

Ranking the Republican candidates, therefore, from best to worst—or more accurately, least worst to most worst—is extremely difficult. If a Republican wins the White House, it will make very little difference which one of these 17 people actually wins. The policies and rhetoric coming out of the White House will be virtually identical. Having said that, here is my list* of Republican presidential candidates from “not good” to “terrifying:”

  1. Donald Trump – Mr. Trump is without question a tremendous racist and has little understanding of the complex world in which he lives. And despite being fairly intelligent, he seems incredibly lazy and unwilling to do the work of learning up on all of the many issues the presidency will require anyone sitting there to deal with.

Trump is an opportunist who will exploit every advantage to exalt himself at the expense of the rest of the world. The job of president will surely eat him alive much the way the job of California governor ate up Arnold Schwarzenneger. These celebrities (and their constituents) learn the hard way that governing is a lot harder than throwing bombs from the sidelines.

Despite all of these shortcomings, I still pick Mr. Trump as my first choice on the GOP side because he is not beholden to the intellectually bankrupt dogma that now runs the Republican Party. Trump may actually do something positive accidentally. For instance, Trump agrees we should tax billionaire hedge fund managers at a higher rate, and that companies should not be able to create tax shelters to avoid taxes. No other Republican is talking like that. I have no hope that anyone else on this list will do anything positive for our nation or world.

  1. John Kasich – Governor Kasich is the only candidate that seems even remotely like a normal human being. In his younger days when he guest-hosted “The O’Reilly Factor” and was a conservative talk-radio host, he was certainly a fire-breathing conservative, but old age seems to have tempered him…a bit. Governor Kasich is without question a very conservative politician, but he is not crazy, and he possesses some degree of humility. Governor Kasich allowed Medicaid expansion in his state (which most Republican governors blocked). He attempted to strip unions of their collective-bargaining power, but when the state of Ohio pushed back hard, he publicly acknowledged the defeat and moved on. The governor also will publicly state the need to do something for the poorest among us. This makes the governor #2 on my list of shame, and also the most formidable candidate against the eventual Democratic nominee.
  1. Rand Paul – Senator Paul was much more palatable before he began running for president, and flip-flopped on a ton of key issues so he could win a Republican presidential primary. His domestic policies are downright frightening, but he at least has adopted some of his father’s sensible foreign policies—i.e., he agrees we should not be the world’s policeman (which he rightfully has said is essentially a subsidy to the entire world which allows them to invest in such things as education and healthcare while we spend too much of our money on rockets and bombs). Senator Paul also does not believe we should be bankrupting the treasury to maintain over 200 overseas military bases. American’s individual right to privacy is also important to Senator Paul (as I mentioned above he opposes the so-called Patriot Act). In the grand scheme of things, Paul’s few positive positions are not enough to make me seriously consider voting for him, and it seems he is currently abandoning these more reasonable positions to appeal to the party’s rabid base. In this field, however, it is good enough for the #3 spot. On the downside, Senator Paul gives me the heebee-geebees. He always looks super angry; about what I have no idea.
  1. Marco Rubio – No candidate seems as likeable as Marco Rubio. If you watch him with your TV’s sound turned off, he seems like someone you’d like to have over for dinner. His policies though are off the reservation. The one saving grace for Mr. Rubio is that I get the sense he is not an ideologue, but rather an opportunist. He is saying super crazy stuff because he is appealing to super crazy voters. This leaves some hope that perhaps once in office, he may do something not completely insane. Slim hope, but again, I gotta find something to differentiate the lunacy on this list. I would also concede that with our shallow voter pool, a semi-attractive Latino from Florida would be a formidable opponent.
  1. Rick Perry – I kind of like Rick Perry, and I know he is not running, but he still deserves (dis)honorable mention. Governor Perry seems like a really nice guy. Unfortunately, I think Donald Trump is spot on when he questioned Governor Perry’s intelligence. Mr. Trump even went so far as to say that Rick Perry has convinced him that presidential candidates “should be forced to take an IQ test.” Ouch! Governor Perry strikes me as a guy that really isn’t smart enough to form his own beliefs. Someone probably got to him 40 years ago and filled his empty head with conservative rhetoric so he became a conservative. If Ted Kennedy had found Governor Perry 40 years ago, the guy would probably be a Democrat. Having said that, he is not a Democrat, and the ideas he has rolling around inside his empty head are super bad.
  1. Jeb Bush – I really, really dislike Jeb Bush because he clearly feels like he should inherit the position (like he has inherited everything else in his life). He is too good to answer anyone’s questions, and hasn’t even done the work of preparing to run. His campaign thus far has demonstrated he is ill-prepared on the issues, and has not taken any steps to figure out how he would answer questions he surely must have seen coming (e.g., “Knowing what we know now, should we have gone into Iraq?”). Mr. Bush has not worked in eight years, and presumably had nothing to do over that time period other than prepare for this race. If he is too lazy to prepare to run for president, how is he going to actually be president? He will probably do what his brother did—surround himself with incompetent ideologues and work four hours a day. No thanks. We’ve seen that movie. Consider for a moment how scary this list is if someone like Jeb Bush makes it into the top half.
  1. Mike Huckabee – Governor Huckabee—the self-appointed spokesperson of Kim Davis and leader of America’s Taliban—used to be a kind of endearing guy. As governor of Arkansas he was extremely conservative on social issues, but genuinely seemed to care for poor people. Governor Huckabee actually enacted policies directed at assisting the poor (which Arkansas has a lot of). Those days are long gone. He has gone full tea-bag. Not only has he abandoned any sense of moderation or caring for the poor, this religious man took to hocking cinnamon to poor saps promising that it would reverse diabetes. This self-professed man of God is now willing to exploit poor, sick people out of their money, and the policies he endorses would put us back into the Dark Ages. God help us all.
  1. Lindsey Graham – Senator Graham should take a break from campaigning, and just dress up a missile to go around Iowa and New Hampshire in his place. I have never seen a presidential candidate so in love with war as Lindsey Graham, and that’s saying something because John McCain ran for president 7 years ago. Senator Graham’s domestic policies are just as bad as everyone else’s, but his foreign policy ideas are worse—or more accurately, his foreign policy idea (singular) as Senator Graham’s only idea is war. If Senator Graham came into office, I would not be surprised to see my then five-year old son drafted in January 2017 to fight in one of the dozen wars he will start around the world in his first 100 days. Senator Graham operates under the assumption that war is the first resort and only option in any international disagreement.
  1. Chris Christie – Governor Christie has been a terrible governor for his state by almost any metric, and at 30%, he has the second-worst approval rating of any sitting governor in the country (behind only Bobby Jindal of Louisiana). It’s nice to see at least one Republican candidate paying the price for his failings (are you listening Carly Fiorina?). On top of being a terrible governor, Governor Christie has proven himself to be scandal-prone and surrounds himself with people who, let us just say, are ethically challenged. The largest newspaper in New Jersey wrote an editorial last month describing Gov. Christie’s catalog of lies, and did its best to warn America that the man is not to be trusted. For a seriously egregious example of one of his worst lies, you can review a prior article I wrote here. Chris Christie is the perfect combination of incompetence, dishonesty, cruelty, and terrible ideas. I understand Chris Christie may be a tiny-bit less extreme than his colleagues in the race, but those differences are minor and my concerns with him are huge.
  1. Carly Fiorina – If there was ever a poster child for “failing up,” it is Ms. Fiorina. Everything she touches professionally seems to take a sharp turn for the worse. In watching Ms. Fiorina, it appears she has done nothing to prepare for office other than memorizing empty platitudes about Benghazi, Hillary Clinton’s emails, and the Clinton Foundation. It is hard to understand how someone who has lived such a fortunate life as to succeed so dramatically despite enormous shortcomings can always be filled with such displeasure and animosity

While I would never wish to make appearance an issue in an election, Mr. Trump made the inexplicable decision to make Ms. Fiorina’s appearance an issue, and her response has been equally troubling. Mr. Trump, IMHO, is correct that Ms. Fiorina is quite unattractive, but it certainly seems like a double standard when he singles her out when most of the other candidates are also quite unappealing to the eye, including Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Bernie Sanders. But Ms. Fiorina’s response was just another example of her fakeness. She responded that she is “proud of every year and every wrinkle” on her face—despite the fact that there can be little question that she is a person who has had a tremendous amount of surgical work done on her face to remove those wrinkles she professes to be so proud of.

  1. Ted Cruz – Senator Cruz is upsetting because he is apparently super smart (Ivy-league educated with advanced degrees; national debate winner), but he is always saying things that are patently false, and making arguments that any first-grader could poke holes in. This leads me to the conclusion that Senator Cruz is a naked opportunist who is willing to do or say anything to gain power. His chosen path to power is to out-crazy everyone. Unlike other opportunists like Marco Rubio, I have no hope that Senator Cruz will moderate once in office. I get the sense from Senator Cruz that running this country is really just a game to him, and the lives he affects are no more real to him than the lives you may affect when playing World of Warcraft. He frightens me. And since Trump made appearance an issue, I find his appearance and smarmy demeanor unpalatable. If he became president, I may transition entirely to radio for my news.
  1. Scott Walker – Most people who run for office (particularly president) are narcissists (meaning they are self-centered with grandiose images of themselves), and many have to be sociopaths (meaning they lack empathy for others, have overinflated self-images, frequently lie, and fail to experience shame or remorse). I am no doctor, and have never met Governor Walker, but he is the candidate I think is most likely to have these diagnoses. And despite him looking completely milquetoast and vanilla, there is no candidate running for president as extreme as him. Twenty years ago Pat Buchanan and Jerry Fallwell would have considered him too extreme for the party. Governor Walker is the candidate of the Koch brothers, and he has proven that he will do anything those guys want regardless of how bad it is for the environment, workers, consumers, women, or children. Governor Walker is one scary guy.
  1. Ben Carson – It surprises me how a person can be a lauded neurosurgeon, and seem so stupid. I don’t mean to be glib, but after hearing Dr. Carson talk, that really is the undeniable take away. If anyone ever wanted a clear example of there being different types of intelligences, Dr. Carson is a great example. He may be a genius at neuroscience, but he couldn’t win a political debate with most kindergarteners. The man is delusional, paranoid, grandiose, and wants to live in a theocracy. I look at Dr. Carson, and think, “This is a man capable of pushing the button.” No thanks.

This list is so, so terrible, that I would rather choose a president by randomly pointing to a name in a phone book. Also preferable would be electing a president that promised to make all decisions by relying on a magic 8-ball. This list tells me that winning next fall is much less important than not losing.

– Dylan

* My list does not include Bobby Jindal; Jim Gilmore; Rick Santorum; and George Pataki. These guys are going nowhere. I assume ranking them would interest no one (including myself).

Let the Terrorists Win: Why We Should Stop Printing Images of Muhammad

Posted in Uncategorized on January 14, 2015 by thebluebros

sorry

Turns out I have a very unpopular opinion (again), and my thoughts are not in accordance with American values (again). This time it’s in response to last week’s murders in Paris, where radical Muslims took the lives of 14 people, 8 of whom were journalists who worked for Charlie Hebdo, a controversial French magazine that had published cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad.

The public response to this act of terrorism has been predictable, reactionary, and irrational. The media has been churning out a steady stream of articles telling us that free speech is under attack and we need to fight back. The talking heads are quick to remind us that we must not give in to the terrorists’ demands because that would mean the terrorists have won. Therefore, the media is encouraging us to come together in unity against the terrorists and demand our right to free expression.

May I propose a different solution? Here’s my idea: STOP PRINTING IMAGES OF MUHAMMAD!

When I’ve expressed my recently-developed stance on this position, people have responded to me with anger, confusion, and scorn. After all, what kind of person caves to terrorists? What kind of person allows himself to be controlled by religious zealots? What kind of American believes in reducing the right to free expression?

We can’t win this battle

Let me ask this question: If we fight the radical Muslims on this issue, what is the goal? What is our end game? If every newspaper in the world runs a disrespectful cartoon depicting Muhammad on the front page, what are we hoping to gain? Do we really believe that the radical Muslims will change their position on the issue of publishing images of Muhammad? Do we think we’re going to wear the radical Muslims down by simply upping the number of newspapers that run the controversial images?

It seems to me that changing the perspective of radical Muslims is an act of futility. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that every newspaper in the world publishes an image of the prophet Muhammad getting gang-raped by the New Kids on the Block. Do we think for a second that Muslims will shrug their shoulders and say, “Oh well, we can’t kill all the journalists. Let’s go home and watch ‘Full House.'” Not a chance. It would only incite further violence and cause more needless deaths. The percentage of newspapers hit would likely decrease (from its current number of 100%) simply given the strategic limitations of extremist Muslim groups. But the overall death toll would skyrocket, and a war would ensue. I can only assume that the goal of publishing more images of Muhammad would be to desensitize radical Muslims to this form of free expression. Again, this seems like wishful thinking and not an idea based in logic.

Even if beating the terrorists were in the realm of possibility, how many journalists should have to die so that we can laugh at drawings of Muhammad wearing a diaper and riding a nuke? What if all the newspapers around the world united under this cause and 100 journalists were killed around the world the following week? Would we stick to our guns for the sake of the cause? I don’t think so. Our tolerance for bloodshed is much lower than our terrorist counterparts.

Anyway, it didn’t take long for this theory to get tested. Charlie Hebdo’s first issue following the shooting featured a drawing of Muhammad on the front cover. The artist’s rendition of Muhammad was tasteful and respectful. So how did Islamic leadership respond? Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary referred to the image as “an act of war” and said the artist deserves to die (according to Sharia law). He went on to say that, “Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression” because they live solely by the laws of Allah.

So there you go.

Why giving in isn’t the end of the world

I am by no means defending the radical Muslims. They’re murderous actions last week were barbaric, cruel, and completely unwarranted. But let’s be honest about their demand. They’re telling us we can’t print images of their prophet. This seems like a demand that we can meet without sacrificing much. Seriously, how many times a day do you get the urge to publish an image of a historical religious figure? It just doesn’t come up that often. I hate the idea of caving to the demands of religious nuts, but as far as demands go, this is probably the simplest—and easiest—demand I’ve ever heard.

Now if we weren’t allowed to write about politics or elections or legislation, that would be something worth dying for, but do we really want to risk countless innocent lives for the sake of parodying a religious figure? In a perfect world, newspapers would be able to print pictures of Muhammad without fear of death, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We need to live according to reality, not in accordance with an impossible ideal.

But people are looking at this issue the wrong way. They’re approaching radical Islam the same way they would an overreaching government. The idea that we can wear down the fanatical Muslims through solidarity and tenacity is magical thinking. It’s not like the American political system, where we can initiate a bus boycott and create legislative change through action. We’re not looking to change a Constitution. We’re looking to change the hearts and minds of radical Muslims. Big difference.

What about freedom of speech?

The freedom of speech chanters need to give it a rest. I’ve been attacked by people who say that I don’t support freedom; I don’t support the First Amendment; and I don’t believe in democratic values. But freedom of speech isn’t a “black and white” issue. You can support limits in free speech and still be a free speech advocate. For example, most of us probably agree with the law that you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater; which is clearly a limitation of free speech. Similarly, most of us agree that language that intentionally incites violence should not be protected under the First Amendment, another limitation on free speech. And most of us would agree that slander and libel should not be a protected form of speech—yet another limitation on our freedom of expression. Is adding “creating images of Muhammad” to that list of limitations really the end of the world? The fact is, is that journalists can and do make controversial statements every day, criticizing their government and its leaders, without retribution. Ceasing the publication of Muhammad cartoons would not change that.

The next question people ask me is along the lines of, ‘Well, it’s a slippery slope. At what point WILL you be concerned about our right to free speech?’ If nothing else, the Muslims have been consistent in their stance on this issue. Despite successfully scaring journalists into submission for the last several decades, I haven’t seen Muslim extremist groups trying to grow this power or trying to exert more control over the media. When it comes to free speech, this appears to be their one issue. If there was a slippery slope, we would probably have seen it by now. If the slope were in fact slippery, I would be concerned; but at this point, invoking the slippery slope argument seems to be based more in fear than logic.

Why we should not stand with Charlie Hebdo

I’ve been bothered by the John Wayne-type attitudes I’ve seen on social media regarding this issue. Apparently a lot of us want to see American newspapers re-print the Charlie Hebdo images. That’s a mighty courageous response for people who have absolutely no connection to the national media. The vast majority of us don’t work for newspapers or magazines, nor do most of us know people who do. So it’s quite easy to sit back and propose our courageous ideas, steeped in nobility and piety. But if you or a loved one actually worked for a news publication, I’m willing to bet your courage would be a bit more tempered with cautious restraint.

For the record, I don’t think printing a cartoon of Muhammad is courageous. I think it’s incendiary and foolish. The writers and artists at Charlie Hebdo were notorious for being shocking and irreverent. They’re sort of the Howard Stern of French political magazines. Charlie Hebdo aimed to shock and aimed to sell magazines. In that, they were successful. But where do you draw the line between brave and foolhardy? Is the guy who rides a barrel over Niagara Falls courageous or stupid? When publications do print images of Muhammad, it is almost always for the sole reason of pissing people off and/or for shock value?

To me this issue is not about free speech. It’s about life and death. I agree that free speech is hugely important; it should be protected; and we shouldn’t have to bow down to radical religious groups. And 99.99% of the time, we are able to live up to that ideal. But printing images of Muhammad falls in that 0.01% of things we can’t touch. So I say let the terrorists have their 0.01%. We’ll have to settle for a success rate of only 99.99%. I can live with that.

In the end, I care too much about human life to take on an issue that I see as unwinnable. And trying to change the hearts and minds of radical Muslims appears to me to be exactly that. Let’s choose our battles wisely.

– Nathan

The 8 Arguments Put Forth by Defenders of Bad Cops and Your Complete Toolbox to Dismantle Each

Posted in Uncategorized on December 15, 2014 by thebluebros

One of the goals of this blog is to arm its readers with facts and information for the water-cooler wars—or to more accurately reflect our times, the Facebook wars. This is important because, as you may have noticed, it is a lot easier to repeat lies and ridiculous arguments than it is to thoughtfully debunk them.

This phenomenon has never been as clearly on display as it has been over the past several weeks with the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner all over the news. A person could easily spend his or her entire day trying to debunk all of the insane arguments out there supporting the police in their actions (trust me, I know!).

The good thing about discussing police violence with unquestioning supporters of every police officer is that these people repeat the same eight arguments over and over again. This makes anticipating and putting together a response much simpler. The intent of this article is to provide you with a resource. Say for example your crazy uncle—who only sees brown people when he watches “Cops”—comes at you on Facebook with one his eight predictable and ridiculous arguments. You no longer have to spend 15 minutes articulating the perfect response. Instead, feel free to come back here, cut-and-paste the appropriate response, and send it off. Or if you are really short on time and/or your uncle is shotgunning all eight of his arguments at you, you can simply send him the link to this article. And in case you wish to avoid disrupting any relationships, I have attempted, not without some difficulty, to keep my counter-arguments snark-free.

Without further ado, here are the ridiculous and easily debunked arguments put forth by people who wish to celebrate the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of bad police officers:

Silly Argument #1: Look, stop bashing cops. Not all cops are bad.

I agree. Not all cops are bad. In fact, I think we can agree most cops are quite good. With that said, the fact that we agree most cops are good does not mean we should ignore the bad cops we all know are out there. And that is not a slight on law enforcement. Every profession is going to attract its fair share of people unfit for the profession. One of the greatest harms committed by bad cops is that they make the good cops look bad and cast suspicion on the entire profession. Can’t we agree that everyone is helped (society as well as the good cops) when we put a system in place that can retrain or fire individuals who are in law enforcement but should not be? Instead, our current system allows bad cops to hide behind good cops, and everyone pays the price…except for the bad cops. That is not okay, and criticizing that system should not be mistaken for criticizing “all cops” or being ungrateful for all of the good that police do.

Silly Argument #2: You forget about all the good that police do. Did you hear about Officer Jones who used his own money to buy an impoverished mother a car seat for her child?

This is essentially the same argument as “Silly Argument #1.” You can use the same response provided above.

Silly Argument #3: I can’t feel sorry for someone who gets killed by police when breaking the law. If you don’t want to get shot, don’t break the law.

Police are allowed to use deadly force under two sets of circumstances: (1) when a person is presenting an imminent threat to the life of others, or (2) if a person is evading arrest and the officer has a reasonable belief that the person committed a violent felony, such as rape or murder. In other words, a police officer cannot use deadly force against a person for stealing, resisting arrest, or jaywalking (even if that means the perpetrator gets away).

Police are not judge, jury, and executioner. Our society has intentionally separated these roles so that no one person has too much power. It also ensures (as much as it can be ensured) we kill the right people for the right reasons.

Police who kill in non-life threatening situations also violated the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the 8th Amendment bans the government from performing “cruel and unusual punishments.” I think we can all agree that killing someone for stealing a cigar or selling untaxed cigarettes is “cruel and unusual.”

Further, our society is largely one of second chances. We have all likely committed crimes, some more serious than others, for which we may feel some remorse. Aren’t we glad no one killed us and instead gave us an opportunity to better ourselves?

Silly Argument #4: These “thugs” had it coming. You punch a cop, you can expect to get shot.

I would suggest using a word other than “thug.” Many people feel this word has become code for n*****. With that said, no one should expect to get killed by a police officer unless that person is threatening the life of another person. A police officer cannot even punch someone who punches him unless he needs to do so to effectuate an arrest. Police officers are not permitted to exact revenge upon a suspect—no matter how big of a douchebag the suspect proves himself to be, or how much he deserves to be punched. While the reptilian part of our brain may think it is unfair that an officer cannot automatically hit back after being hit, that is the law. We expect our officers to hold themselves to a higher standard than criminals hold themselves. That is part of why being a police officer is a difficult job, and why we offer so much praise onto the good cops who operate within the law.

Silly Argument #5: Why can’t libtards not pull the race card? Cops shot a white dude last week in Scranton and there weren’t any marches or rioting.

This argument pretends that the protests in Ferguson were just about Michael Brown and the protests in New York are just about Eric Garner. That is wrong. There is an undeniable difference in how police treat African-Americans and everyone else—particularly white people. In New York City where stop-and-frisk is practiced (and where nothing is found 90% of the time), your chances of being stopped are 10 times greater if you are African-American rather than white. If you are a black, male teenager in the United States, your chances of being shot and killed by police are 21 times greater than if you were a white, male teenager. These numbers (and the many more out there) cannot be explained away by population numbers or higher crime rates in the black community. For those willing to look, they will find that dealing with police in this country is much different for black people than white people. This is perhaps best illustrated by “the talk”—something many white people have no idea even exists. People who discuss race when talking about Eric Garner and Michael Brown are not “playing the race card.” They are acknowledging reality. And these many protests (and the relatively few acts of rioting) are not so much about Eric Garner or Michael Brown as they are an out-of-control system that presents a clear-and-present danger to all African-Americans.

I know it is anecdotal, but have you seen the video of the black man stopped because he was walking with his hands in his pocket when it was snowing? The officer told the man, “You are making people nervous [because your hands are in your pockets]” and he had to follow-up because “We do have a lot of robberies.” That is crazy, and I don’t think that would have ever happened to me or any other white person.

Silly Argument #6: No one talks about all the police who are killed on the job. What about that? I don’t see any marches for them.

This is a bit of a red herring. The argument seems to say that because of one tragedy, we cannot acknowledge another tragedy. That is absurd. But let’s examine the content of this argument.

Policing is certainly more dangerous than being an accountant, but it is 10 times safer than being a logger and generally much safer than many believe. Of the 900,000 to 1,000,000 law enforcement officers in this country in 2013, we tragically lost 111. Most of those deaths were due to accidents, and it looks like 33 were actually murdered in the line of duty. When that occurs, there is a huge public mourning and officers show up in huge numbers.

Cop Blog Pic - 1 of 2

And this public outcry is not limited to just the officers. When a police dog is killed in the line of duty, the outpouring is also enormous.

Cop Blog Pic - 2 of 2

Once the funerals are over, the people who kill police officers face a future no one would want. They will very likely be sentenced to life in prison or death. And those who kill a police dog don’t fare much better. In Florida, a 17-year old was sentenced to 23 years in jail for shooting a retired police dog. You read that right.

So perhaps the reason you do not see protests and marches for these fallen officers (and their pets) is that justice has been done. What is there to protest? We work our hardest to keep our officers safe, and when injury befalls them, we go to great lengths to honor them, we erect statues and plaques in their honor, and we make those responsible for their deaths pay dearly.

It is very different for civilians killed by police. While 33 police are murdered a year, police have averaged at least 400 civilian kills a year since 2008. Of significant note, the exact number of people killed by police is unknown because police do not track and/or release those numbers to the public. Of the hundreds of people police kill a year, there are almost no indictments and even fewer convictions. One county in Texas did a study of this. Over the past five years, district attorneys had turned 25 cases over to the grand jury for indictments for use of deadly force by police. Only one officer was indicted, and in that case he was only indicted for manslaughter (it has not yet gone to trial). That 4% indictment rate of police officers is in stark contrast to the 99% indictment rate of non-police officers.

Martin Luther King’s statement of, “A riot is the language of the unheard,” kind of explains why we see people so upset over the killing of black teenagers, but not white cops. While both are tragedies, only one of these tragedies receives justice.

Silly Argument #7: Just wait until you need a cop. Then you will be singing another tune.

Why would I sing another tune? Criticizing bad police officers and a broken system that protects bad police officers in no way means I do not understand the value of having a law enforcement system. Every society has to have individuals enforcing the laws. I understand that and have no qualms admitting I will probably need those people at some point in my life. Understanding, appreciating, and needing police does not mean I need to give police the power to do anything they want.

Silly Argument #8: Are you a cop? Are you a child, parent, or spouse of a cop? No? Then your opinion does not matter because you have no idea what police go through.

By this logic, only police officers and former police officers get to have any input as to what is appropriate police behavior. It also leads to the conclusion that only police officers may set rules or guidelines for police officers. I am of the view that “self-regulation” is an oxy-moron as I have yet to see it work in any field.

The argument that non-police lack the insight to reach worthwhile conclusions ignores the fact that every person comes to this issue with particular insights and unavoidable biases. For instance, a 19-year old black male in St. Louis, Missouri will probably have a very different perspective on police than a 75-year old white woman living in Manchester, New Hampshire. While both person’s opinion will have a certain amount of bias and limitations, each person’s views deserves to be heard and considered.

There is no denying that police have an invaluable perspective on police issues that most everyone else lacks, but they also have an unavoidable and strong bias. And this is to be expected. Anyone would experience internal strife if their profession or colleagues were criticized; however, like the young man in St. Louis and the old lady in New Hampshire, the opinions of police matter. They are just not the only ones that matter.

* * *

So that basically covers all of the bases you will need covered if you enter a discussion with someone who thinks all police officers are above reproach, and that we may only say good things about every police officer. Best of luck at those water coolers, and always feel free to come back here for reinforcements.

– Dylan

Police Officers and How the Job Can Change Them for the Worse: A Psychologist’s Perspective

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9, 2014 by thebluebros

In response to the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, people have been scrambling to explain the violent behavior observed in our police officers. One theory I’ve heard is that the wrong types of people are drawn to police work. Too often this question is posed by someone who has a theory that the people who want to become police officers are controlling and aggressive individuals who are drawn towards careers that will provide them with a sense of power and dominance. While an interesting theory, empirical efforts to substantiate a “police personality” have not been conclusive, and there is little evidence to support the idea.

I believe the issue is not so much about the wrong people being drawn to law enforcement, but rather that being a police officer changes a person. For instance, we know that simply being in a position of power changes a person’s behavior. For those of you who remember your Intro to Psychology course, you probably remember the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Dr. Philip Zimbardo in the summer of 1971. In the experiment, Stanford students were randomly assigned to be prisoners and guards. Spoiler alert: Dr. Zimbardo was forced to end the study early when it was observed that the guards were abusing the prisoners. Seemingly normal American college students turned into sadistic and abusive prison guards almost overnight, simply as a result of being told they were in control. (For those of you interested in watching a fascinating [and brief] documentary on the experiment, click here.)

While the comparison between college students and police officers is not a perfect one, it does point out the fact that people can change when put into positions of authority. By that token, it’s not unreasonable to assert that being a police officer can in fact change a person’s attitude and behavior. There are a number of possible reasons for this, other than they have power. The fact that police officers are subjected to potentially-dangerous and unpredictable situations virtually every day likely takes a toll on their psyche, as does the fact that they constantly interact with people who detest them. Regardless of the potential causes, police work can change a person. But don’t take my word for it.

Check out this blog written by a police officer’s wife. In it, she writes at length about the myriad ways her husband has changed since becoming a police officer. It’s easy to disregard the musings of one woman, but scroll down and read the litany of comments/complaints written by other police wives. Or better yet, read this blog written by an actual police officer who describes the personality changes he has witnessed in his fellow officers. I wish I could say the changes are positive, but they are virtually all negative. Most of the wives describe chronic grumpiness, impatience, irritability, paranoia, and detachment from family. These changes of course do not describe every police officer, but it does identify a troubling pattern.

We know that the psychological distress experienced by police officers puts them at a higher risk for incurring mental health disorders. Also of note is that police officers are significantly more likely to commit suicide than the population at large, suggesting higher rates of depression and anxiety. And because police officers are subjected to potentially-dangerous and unpredictable environments over an extended period of time, they can develop symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some of the common symptoms of PTSD include many of the changes noted above by police wives: irritability, increased anxiety, exaggerated startle response, numbing of emotions, and hypervigilance (defined as an enhanced state of sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors).

For those that don’t know, I’m a clinical psychologist. For the better part of my career in mental health, I’ve focused on studying and treating individuals affected by personal trauma, primarily with military and veteran populations. There are certainly similarities between the police force and the military, but day in and day out, police officers may have it worse because their deployments don’t come to an end. They come into contact with the dregs of society, the lowlifes, the criminals, the violent, the addicted, the degenerates, and the destitute every day on the job. This becomes their basis for forming a negative bias of the world.

The negative bias happens everywhere, even in situations that are undeniably safe. Clients with symptoms of PTSD typically fear crowds; they don’t like to sit with their backs to doors; they want to be able to see the entrances and exits at all times; they watch people’s hands constantly; they profile people; they often report difficulty staying focused on conversations because their attention is so-often focused on assessing and re-assessing the environment for safety. This happens at restaurants, stores, churches, schools, parks, shopping malls, and virtually everywhere else.

One challenge we face in addressing the problem is that many police officers do not see their “condition” as a problem. In fact, many officers report that their experiences provide them with greater insight. What we might call paranoia, they call heightened awareness. When an officer’s spouse points out the unlikelihood of a gunman walking into Applebee’s and shooting up their booth, the officer may be equipped to discuss a shooting that occurred at IHOP three years ago. When the officer’s teenage daughter mentions the extremely low likelihood of that happening to them, the officer will likely pull out the familiar, “It just takes one time” argument. When a friend mentions to his officer friend the fact that carrying a gun actually increases one’s chances of being shot, the officer is quick to say that his training is unique. No amount of facts, data, or scientific research will convince the officer otherwise. These officers work in an environment where other officers think the same way, and when an outsider offers a differing viewpoint, officers can be quick to dismiss the outside opinion and even mock it, saying that they (non-officers) don’t understand the real dangers that lurk out there.

I spent three years working within the VA medical system (one year at the National Center for PTSD in Boston and two years at a PTSD outpatient clinic in Arkansas). I’ve worked with veterans who fought in WWII all the way to veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. In these experiences what I found perhaps most interesting is that regardless of the age of the patient, regardless of the background, and regardless of the traumatic incident(s) experienced, each client with PTSD demonstrated remarkable uniformity in his/her presentation of symptoms. They reported difficulty trusting people; discomfort in crowds; when they go out in public, they have difficulty relaxing because they are constantly looking over their shoulder; they say they used to be fun-loving and quick to laugh, but now they are usually irritable and serious. They say they used to enjoy being around other people, but now they prefer being alone. And many of them say they no longer feel comfortable leaving the house without a gun. They usually develop an overly negative view of the world and an overly negative view of the people in it. These symptoms can potentially result in defensive, reactionary, and exaggerated responses when interacting with others.

Just to be clear, simply because a person has PTSD does not mean that he/she will act violently. That being said, there is evidence to suggest that when pushed, people with PTSD can be more aggressive and sometimes violent. As explained in “The Textbook on Violence Assessment and Management,” the hypervigilance seen in individuals with PTSD can take the form of “reduced ability to tolerate mild or moderate slights, resulting in actions that are disproportionate to the degree of provocation.” This is exactly the charge we so often hear leveled against police officers on a daily basis.

When addressing the violent behavior demonstrated by American police officers, the media is quick to portray them in one of two ways, either national heroes on par with John Wayne or racist sadistic animals. But I believe their behavior can be better understood by noting the psychological factors at work. Police officers are not superhuman. When they experience significant stress, day in and day out, they experience psychological distress like the rest of us. Because of this, they are at an increased risk for developing psychological disorders such as Major Depression, PTSD, and various anxiety disorders. Much of the time, these conditions go untreated

I’m willing to concede the notion that most police officers go into law enforcement for the right reasons. However, for reasons outside of their control, the experience changes them. These changes vary from person to person, but in many cases, these officers become more irritable, more paranoid, and sometimes more aggressive. And in this psychological state, they can act in ways not in accordance with their oath to serve and protect.

– Nathan

Why Nancy Grace is Right About Ferguson and You Are Wrong: A Look Into a Broken Grand Jury System

Posted in Uncategorized on December 4, 2014 by thebluebros

I cannot recall a single event in my life that has been as polarizing as the murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. Not only does everyone have an opinion of these events, but that opinion is held with the conviction of a priest during the rapture. As I talk to more and more people about this, however, it is overwhelming the amount of misinformation that is out there about how grand juries should work and what exactly happened with Officer Wilson’s grand jury.

Grand juries, depending on the jurisdiction, consist of 12 to 23 grand jurors. This group of people is charged with the responsibility of determining whether to indict a person suspected of committing a crime. Being indicted does not mean a person is convicted of anything. It merely means the state is moving forward with its effort to convict the suspect. If the process goes far enough, eventually a trial will occur. In some jurisdictions, only a majority vote of the grand jury is needed to indict; in others, a two-thirds or three-quarters majority is needed.

Because indictments are merely the first stage in the legal proceeding and are basically the state requesting the opportunity to look further into a matter, the legal standard for bringing an indictment is much, much lower than the legal standard needed to convict. At trial, the state would have the burden of proving the suspect is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The exact language of the legal standard for grand juries vary by jurisdiction, but the working standard is essentially the same everywhere—i.e., if there is any evidence that the suspect committed a crime, an indictment is brought.

You may be thinking, “Wow, that isn’t much of a standard,” and you’d be right. And that low, low standard is bore out in the percentages of indictments that grand juries actually bring. In 2010, in the federal criminal system (the most recent year for which we have data), federal prosecutors sought 162,000 indictments and failed to receive just 11. That is a success rate of over 99.99%. In New York City, state prosecutors have an indictment rate of 99%. While I could not find numbers for Missouri, there is no reason to think they would be much different.

These numbers should not be surprising. Cases are brought to a grand jury only if the local district attorney believes an indictment is proper. In fact, if a district attorney took a case to a grand jury when he did not believe an indictment was proper, that attorney has just breached his ethical duties, and the decision to pursue an indictment could result in disciplinary action by the state bar. Once the prosecutor decides to present a case to a grand jury, the district attorney does his or her best to present the strongest evidence for an indictment. It is very rare for the accused to testify (I had a colleague who has done thousands of grand jury hearings tell me she has never had the accused testify). If the accused does testify, you can put good money on the prosecutor cross-examining that person seven ways to Sunday. The district attorney (again, seeking an indictment) will not offer or present exculpatory evidence (evidence that makes the accused look innocent). As Nancy Grace has said, in her exasperation at Officer Wilson’s hole-filled story and the grand jury’s failure to indict, “Grand jurors are sheep.” They are “babes in the woods.” It also why, as you have likely heard repeated over and over, any decent district attorney can indict a ham sandwich. As a University of Illinois criminal law professor stated, “If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong.”

What clearly happened in Ferguson (and very likely Staten Island where Eric Garner was killed), is that we had a local prosecutor who did not want the police officer to be indicted, but did not want the political heat of making the decision not to indict. So the district attorney instead sent the case to the grand jury. But remember, the prosecutor should only have done this if he legitimately believed an indictment was proper, and was prepared to work towards an indictment. It is very clear that did not happen with Officer Wilson’s case in Ferguson.

Officer Wilson was allowed to testify in front of the grand jury (very rare) and then the district attorney’s office did not challenge any parts of his story (unheard of). Meanwhile, the district attorney’s office aggressively cross-examined its own witnesses (i.e., those witnesses supporting an indictment). They also brought in witnesses and evidence that did not support an indictment. The district attorney also gave the grand jury the wrong legal standard, and one that had been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court 30 years earlier. None of this points to a district attorney supporting or working towards an indictment, but rather a district attorney working against an indictment—something that should never happen.

Even if one believes Officer Wilson’s actions were entirely appropriate (even though no one but Officer Wilson can know this), one has to admit that the grand jury process did not work the way it was supposed to in this case.

The question then becomes, “Why didn’t the system work?”

That is a complicated question with a few answers. The biggest reason police officers rarely get indicted is that asking a district attorney to indict a police officer is essentially asking him to indict a beloved colleague. Not only does the district attorney not want to bring injury to the colleague, but he or she fears the repercussions of the other colleagues.

I spent one year working in the largest district attorney’s office in Oregon. Most of my mornings began with meeting police officers to prepare for trial. The police officers needed me to make sure the bad guys they arrested got put in jail, and I needed them to make sure I won the trial. We were very much a team. As time passed, I got to know and admire some of these officers. A sense of camaraderie was built. If I was ever placed in a position where I had to decide whether to indict one of them, I am not sure I could be impartial. In smaller towns, I am sure this phenomenon is only magnified.

Further complicating the process of indicting police officers is that most people respect, or even adore, police officers. Grand jurors, like most people, tend to give police officers the benefit of the doubt. While this benefit-of-the-doubt approach may be a good thing most of the time, it allows bad police officers—who we all know are out there—to literally get away with murder.

While fixing all of society’s problems that led to the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner is something that will take generations to solve (if they are even solvable), the solution to the grand jury system is fairly simple. When police are the target of a potential indictment, we need to remove the indictment process from district attorneys’ offices. Instead, we need these decisions to be placed in the hands of some type of neutral body (or at least the least-biased body we can devise). Police unions will predictably fight such a move with every ounce of their being, but I expect district attorneys would quietly support it—along with most everyone else. Perhaps then, the people in Ferguson, and everyone else, can begin to feel justice is at least possible.

– Dylan

To Pay or Not to Pay: Are Parents Morally Responsible for Funding Their Children’s College Education?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 17, 2014 by thebluebros

I recently read the opinion of a father of eight who said that he would not be paying for any of his children to attend college. He made the case that a college degree isn’t worth what it once was; it doesn’t guarantee success; and teaching kids to be independent is more important than giving them a handout.

First of all, I have trouble trusting the judgment of anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to have eight kids. Putting that thought aside for a moment, I couldn’t help but notice that hundreds of people have heaped praise on this fertile patriarch for his boldness, his tough love, and his ability to think outside the box. While I admit that his message has a nice common-sense ring to it that resonates somewhere inside of me, I can’t help but take pause. Being the incurable cynic that I am, I had one thought as I was reading the article: How convenient that a father of eight believes that he is morally absolved from paying for his children’s college educations. I mean, by adopting this tough stance on behalf of his children, he just happens to save himself hundreds of thousands of dollars. That seems rather convenient. What some are calling a conscientious father implementing tough love I can’t help but see as a potentially-careless man who doesn’t feel like footing the bill for eight nights of unbridled passion.

Regardless of my opinion of the man, his opinion has ignited a debate on the important topic of college tuition and parental responsibility. What role, if any, should parents have in paying for their children to attend college? Although I don’t have eight children, I would like to weigh in on this. As a father of three, this issue will no doubt present itself in the not-so-distant future.

After researching both sides and exploring the arguments for and against, I have come down squarely on the side that we as parents have a responsibility to pay (or at least help pay) for our children to attend college. Here I’ll present the arguments I could find against the idea of paying.

1) No one paid for my college, and I still went.

This is one of the poorer arguments I’ve read, but I’ve seen it several times so I’ll address it. Usually the people who say this are people who went to college several decades ago and paid 50 cents a credit. They were able to pay tuition with the money they made by working part-time at the roller rink. Obviously, tuition costs have skyrocketed since the Eisenhower Administration. Paying a tuition bill with a part-time job (even at a state school) is magical thinking.

Even if it’s a fact that your parents didn’t help you pay for college, don’t you want better for your children? So much of this anti-paying-for-college movement seems to be the result of angry people who didn’t get their college paid for. It’s sort of this, “It sucked for me, so it should suck for you,” mentality.

2) Kids need to learn the value of a dollar.

This is another extremely common response. Obviously point #2 creates a false choice, as if parents have to choose between helping their kids pay for college or teaching them the value of a dollar. The obvious point is that parents can do both. In fact, I would argue that, in some cases, kids who don’t get help with college have less awareness of money. Ask people how they accrued $100,000 in school loan debt. It’s often the result of taking out loan after loan. After a while, the loans don’t feel real. It’s simply the transferring of money from your lender to your college. Tens of thousands of dollars move around with the stroke of a pen, and the student never sees it. And once a college kid is $60,000 in debt, what’s another $10,000? What exactly are kids learning from this? Is saddling your child with tens of thousands of dollars of debt (or more) somehow teaching him/her a lesson? Surely we as parents can come up with a better way to teach our children the value of a dollar.

3) Kids these days are spoiled and have a sense of entitlement.

Again, we encounter angry people who want to pay their suffering forward. These words sound like they came from someone who didn’t get their college paid for, and now they’re angry at the millenials who are getting what they perceive to be a free ride. Should we use exorbitant debt as a way to teach spoiled brats a lesson? My hope is that our decisions about raising children should not be made out of anger, jealousy, or spite.

4) Americans should be saving for their retirement, not for their children’s college.

Again, we’re faced with a false choice. No one says we have to help our children at the detriment of our own retirement. Family planning and retirement takes preparation. It means making sacrifices, putting money aside, and sometimes it means not having eight children. If you’re in a low-paying career, and/or you are a single-income family, this takes more preparation. For example, it sometimes mean sending your kids to community college for two years while they live at home and help pay bills with a part-time job of their own.

While I applaud anyone who has the wherewithal to plan their retirement, some thought should be given to your child, who could very well be the victim of predatory school loan practices. Counting the money in your investment account and patting yourself on the back while your child is being hustled by predatory lenders doesn’t sit well with me.

In addition, these same parents often claim their college-aged children as dependents on their taxes, providing a tax incentive for themselves and potentially denying their children of federal monies they would be eligible for if they weren’t claimed as dependents.

5) College is no guarantee of a job anymore.

This puke-inducing mantra seems to be taking a stronger hold on America with each passing day. First off, a college degree has never guaranteed anyone a job. But that’s beside the point. We know that people without college degrees are more likely to be unemployed and more likely to be hit by an economic recession. They also make significantly less money than their degree-holding compatriots. And college graduates get better jobs. The most common jobs for people without college degrees are retail clerks, truck drivers, waitresses, and secretaries. People with just a four-year degree are more likely to be teachers, software developers, accountants, and managers. So although a college degree doesn’t guarantee you a job, it puts you in a much better position in terms of finding employment, keeping employment, and making a livable wage.

6) My 13 brothers and sisters didn’t get help with college, and we all figured it out. My kids will figure it out too.

I try to avoid anecdotal evidence whenever I can, but the other side seems to thrive on it. The majority of people who argue against paying for their children’s education have one or two stories of someone who dropped out of college and then created a start-up company that made a billion dollars…as if that’s a good indicator of how most college dropouts perform. My guess is that not all 13 of the brothers and sisters mentioned above fared all that well. And even if they all did do well, who’s to say how much better they would have done had they been given an education?

And what is meant exactly by “figuring it out”? I guess scraping to get by and working a dead end job to keep the lights on is one definition of “figuring it out.” Don’t we want better for our kids than just “figuring it out?” Kids left in the foster care system usually figure it out too, but at what cost?

As parents, shouldn’t we be trying to remove obstacles to help our children succeed? That’s not the same thing as doing the work for them. I fully expect my college-age kids to go to class, take notes, do the reading, write the papers, take the tests, etc. All I’m doing is writing the check.
And just to be clear, this doesn’t include fun money. The check I will write for my kids will go straight to the Bursar’s Office. If my kids want beer money, it’s on them.

7) Personal pride and accomplishment comes from paying your own way.

Ack! Here we are with yet another false choice. This time we’re being told that we need to let kids pay for college, or they won’t have a sense of pride or accomplishment. While it’s important to instill a sense of pride and accomplishment in our children, you have to be a pretty sick individual to think that forcing your child into insurmountable debt is the way to do it. If any sense of pride comes from paying for college, your child won’t likely feel it until he/she is 52 years old and has paid the final installment of his/her 30-year payment plan.

Asking kids to “pay” for college is a euphemism for asking kids to take out loans. The average college tuition is more than $30.000 for a private school and almost $9,000 at a state university. This is just tuition mind you. If you include housing and meals, you add an additional $9,500-$11,000. If your child chooses the cheaper option (a state school), he/she will pay about $20,000 a year or $80,000 over four years. What 18-year old kid has this kind of money saved up? A part-time job will not cover this cost. Unless your child can attend class all day and work a full-time job all night (i.e. a child who requires less than 30 minutes of sleep a night), loans are going to be necessary. And a minimum wage job is not going to cover it. If your child works 40 hours a week at Wal-Mart, while going to school full-time, he/she will not come close to paying the needed $20,000 a year for a state college.

For the father of eight, it sounds like the best case scenario for his children is that they can go to school in the day, work all night, and then live with mom and dad until age 22 to save money on room and board. Wow. That’s quite a gift he’s bestowing upon them.

8) There’s too much of an emphasis on college. We should be encouraging more kids to attend trade schools and learn a skill.

There’s nothing wrong with a trade school. However, trade school shouldn’t be thought of as a college equivalent. Trade schools are great, if at the age of 17, you know exactly what you want to do for the next half century. If you’re not so sure, trade school poses a problem. Certificates from trade schools are very specific and can be limiting if you desire a new career path. For example, when you get a certificate in motorcycle mechanics, you better like working on motorcycles because the degree offers no flexibility in terms of job choice. However, if you get a college degree in anything (e.g. Liberal Studies), that fulfills the requirement for thousands of jobs across the country. If you want to do anything other than work on motorcycles for 45 years, a trade school may not be the best option.

And while some trades pay relatively well, there is usually a ceiling on pay for laborers and people without college degrees. Unless you end up owning your own HVAC business or chain of auto shops, you will be squarely middle class. There is nothing wrong with being middle class, don’t get me wrong, but as parents, do we want to limit our children’s financial future before they even get a chance to make it in the world?

My experience

I went to college for 10 long years, and when I graduated I had just over $120,000 in school loan debt. My parents helped with my undergraduate tuition, but I still finished my BA with $36,000 in loans. I funded my masters degree and PhD on my own (by funded I mean I took out more loans). When I graduated with my doctorate, I had a huge sense of pride and accomplishment, but none of that had to do with how I paid for school. In fact, it was the opposite. I felt embarrassed by my huge financial anchor, and there were nights I stared up at the ceiling wondering which would be gone first: my school loans or my 40s. The possibility of paying off my school loans while simultaneously paying for my children’s college tuition all of a sudden became a likely scenario.

Did I learn anything from this experience? Not really. The huge amounts of loans I took out felt like Monopoly money. They were simply numbers on bank statements. The loans were seen as a necessary evil for accomplishing my academic goals, but all thoughts of paying them off were placed on the back burner. When I finally did graduate, I was inundated with the bills and accompanied interest. My first job out of graduate school paid a decent wage, but I was still living paycheck to paycheck because nearly 40% of my take home pay was going towards school loans.

In the end, this issue isn’t about teaching kids the value of a dollar or instilling in them a sense of responsibility. This is about parents who want to absolve themselves of the guilt of not planning ahead, not being responsible with their money, and in turn, making their children pay the price…literally.

If a father (or mother) really wants to teach his children the value of a dollar, he can show them how time, preparation, and care went into planning each of their college funds. Children may only see the final product (a signed check made out to the university), but it’s important for them to know the sacrifice and care that went into making that check possible.

One point I want to make clear. I know that not every family is in a position to pay for their child’s college tuition. Sometimes the money simply isn’t there. But if that is the case, I at least would hope that these families are honest about their situation, as opposed to the father of eight, who has shrouded his poor family planning in a veil of compassion, trying to convince America that piling financial debt on teenagers is somehow virtuous.

– Nathan

Vote-By-Mail: A Call for National Action to Expand Democracy and Put Republicans on Defense

Posted in Uncategorized on November 13, 2014 by thebluebros

In politics, if you are playing defense, you are losing.” – Unknown

Republicans know that from a policy standpoint, they don’t have much to offer the average voter. They excel at attracting small, but zealous, groups of people like gun lovers, fetus protectors, racists, and the corporate elite. When it comes to larger groups such as the middle class, the poor, women, the young, minorities, moderates, and those that care for the environment, Republicans have virtually no past or future policies to brag about. Knowing this, conservative pioneer Paul Weyrich (founder of Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority, and ALEC), stated in 1980, “Our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down” (the above link goes to a 40-second video of this unbelievably honest statement).

In the past 10 years, Republicans have finally embraced Mr. Weyrich’s sentiment. Republicans have very clearly shifted their focus away from winning hearts and minds to dismantling institutions and organizations that Democrats rely upon to succeed in elections. When Republicans take office now, their primary goal is not to advance a political agenda, but to utilize every lever in their power to make sure power never slips from their grasp.

These efforts can be broken up into three categories: (1) union-busting, (2) gerrymandering, and (3) voter suppression.

The decimation of unions in this country is well documented. In 1979, 28.3% of all workers belonged to a union. Today that number is 11.3 percent, and just 6.7% in the private sector. Republicans, recognizing that unions were a tremendous factor in moving the poor and middle-class to vote, and support a Democratic ground game, declared war on unions. This has taken the form of “right to work” laws—which Martin Luther King, Jr. fairly called a “false slogan.” And more recently we see conservative governors across this country, most notably Scott Walker, taking every measure possible to weaken public employee unions. There is also a general malaise in government with respect to enforcing our current labor laws that prohibit employers from threatening or retaliating against workers who try to form a union. Every time a union is prohibited from forming, busted, or weakened, workers receive a pay cut and Republicans gain an electoral advantage.

On the gerrymandering front, Republicans have performed nothing short of a mathematical miracle for themselves. As I discussed a while ago on this blog, in the states of Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—four states that either lean Democratic (PA & MI) or are split evenly between the parties (NC & OH), Republicans have drawn lines in such an effective way that they control 44 of the state’s 61 seats. To put it another way, in a population with many more Democrats than Republicans, Democrats control just 28% of the legislative seats. Meanwhile, Democrats in Democratic-strongholds like California have given up the ability to counteract Republican gerrymandering with Democratic gerrymandering by turning the process of gerrymandering over to a commission equally split between Democrats and Republicans. The result of this is an election like 2010 where Democrats in the U.S. House received 1.2 million more votes than Republicans, but Republicans won control of the U.S.  House by 33 seats.

The third prong of Republicans’ attack on Democrats and democracy is to make it harder for people to vote by: passing photo ID laws to vote; eliminating days to vote; ending same-day registration; paying for billboards to scare minorities from voting; purging voter rolls of validly registered voters; tea-party poll watchers to intimidate minority voters; and repeatedly providing too few voting machines to minority neighborhoods, creating long lines and making it impossible for some to vote. These things are all done in the name of eliminating voter fraud, but as study after study shows, the idea of widespread voter fraud is a myth. While cases of voter fraud have been found across the country, it has never been enough to come close to sway any election, and this makes sense. Individual voter fraud is an irrational crime to commit. It is a felony (meaning those who get caught face serious consequences), and the odds of any one person influencing an election by voting multiple times is astronomically small. With that said, the debate over voter fraud is a smokescreen. When caught in moments of honesty, conservative leaders admit the true reason for these “vote fraud” measures is to reduce voter turnout—particularly of Democratic voters such as minorities and the young.

Republicans have enjoyed tremendous fruit from their efforts. The Democrats’ response to all of this has been aimed at whining shining a light on these horrific practices by Republicans. This light-shining by Democrats has been futile and done little to stop the conservative steam roll. As stated at the top of this article, if a political party is on defense, it is losing. Democrats need to give up the defensive posture and go on the offensive. Here is how they do it.

Nationwide, voter turnout was at the lowest levels we have seen in over 70 years. In all but a few states, voter turnout was below 50%. At the bottom was Indiana, with a shockingly low voter turnout of just 28%! While there are certainly many reasons for this, there can be no questions that Republicans’ cynical efforts of voter suppression played a role.

One state though, was a shining example of success. In this state, voter turnout was 69.5%. There were no long lines to vote in minority neighborhoods. No voters were intimidated at the polls. No one was turned away for not having a photo ID. The state uses actual ballots so that if a recount is needed, it can reliably be performed. And there have been no reports of voter fraud. In case you are wondering, the state I speak of is my own: Oregon. So how did Oregon do it?

Oregon votes entirely via vote by mail and has done so since 1998, and Oregonians love it. A poll taken in 2003 found that vote-by-mail was supported by 81% of Oregonians (85% of Democrats and 76% of Republicans).  And what is not to love? You receive your ballot a few weeks before Election Day. When you have the time to vote, you sit down with your cup of joe in a quiet place, read your voters’ pamphlet, and conduct all of the research you like. Once you have done all the research you want to do, you fill out your ballot and drop it off at an election site or mail it in. There is no need to take time off work, wait in line, or be caught in a voting booth wishing you had more information. And perhaps best of all, it promotes democracy and an active citizenry.

So again, here is how Democrats, progressives, and supporters of democracy can and need to go on the offensive: stop trying to shame Republicans (which some would say is an impossible task) into stopping their voter-suppression efforts and instead focus our efforts on bringing vote-by-mail to all 50 states. Think offense.

You may ask yourself, “How can Democrats hope to pass a bill like this when Republicans control at least one branch of government in 45 states and control every branch of government in 30(!) states?” The answer is direct democracy. There are 27 states that have some form of direct democracy, such as the citizen referendum or ballot initiative. This list includes significant swing states like Nevada, Missouri, Ohio, and Florida.

When the not-so-novel idea of nationwide voter-by-mail occurred to me, I began looking for national and state organizations pushing for this. I found none. I also began looking for an organization such as ALEC that has drafted model legislation for the states to use and implement vote-by-mail in their own states. Again, nothing. Why? We should have people in every one of these states collecting signatures to put vote-by-mail on the ballot. As this past election taught us, when people are asked to vote for a policy directly (rather than a representative), they are pretty good at voting for what they want. For there to be no organization pushing for widespread vote-by mail, is a failure of our political system. Who has the power to start a movement like this? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’d like to find one very soon. Here is my offer to help.

– Dylan

What Have We Wrought? Voters Reward Bad Behavior

Posted in Uncategorized on November 4, 2014 by thebluebros

I have three children: Grant (age 7), Eleanor (age 4), and Dexter (age 3). As I believe most of my friends and family would attest to, my children are very well-behaved. It is something in which I take a fair amount of pride.

From 2001 to 2005, before I had my own children, I taught middle school Social Studies. During that four-year span, I prided myself on having, if not the most well-behaved classes in the school, certainly some of the best-behaved classes in the school.

My formula for teaching and raising well-mannered children is simple. When I observe a child acting out in a negative way, I ask myself what the child hopes to gain by acting out in this manner, and I respond by giving them the opposite of what they want. For example, if my child is whining because I didn’t give him a big enough piece of cake, I cut the piece he has in half. If a student in my class started packing up while I was still instructing so he could get out the door the second the bell rang (a huge pet peeve of mine), I would make him sit in his desk until every student had first exited the class. While this may sound harsh to some, the result is polite, well-behaved children. Further, once clear expectations are set, disciplining becomes fairly infrequent, but I digress.

This type of approach to parenting and teaching is not unique, new, or at all creative. I don’t profess to be the only parent or teacher to do this, but it amazes how many people do the opposite. For example, have you ever seen a parent tell his or her a child he cannot have a certain object, the child then throws a temper tantrum, and the parent responds by relenting and providing the child with the desired object? We have all seen this and probably rolled our eyes. What that parent does not seem to grasp, but you probably do, is that a lesson has just been taught to the child: If I throw a temper tantrum, I get what I want. That parent can certainly count on experiencing more temper tantrums.

I mention all of this because this nation has just acted like the above parent giving in to an ill-behaved child, and thereby encouraging future bad behavior.

Since President Obama was elected president, Congressional Republicans have made it their number one priority to prevent the enactment of any meaningful laws—even laws they supported such as immigration reform. This is not a secret or conspiracy theory. Republicans openly admit this.

Congressional obstruction was carried out not so much because Republicans disagreed with the proposed laws (although often times they did), but because they did not want President Obama to receive credit for doing anything useful for the country. Republicans remembered what happened after 1994 when President Clinton and Congressional Republicans led by Newt Gingrich passed a lot of bipartisan pieces of legislation. The American people liked it and rewarded the president’s party in the 1996 and 1998 elections. Republicans in 2008 were not going to repeat this “mistake.” And true to their word, Republicans have effectively shut down the legislative branch for the past four years and rendered the government ineffective.

The problem for the American people is that Tuesday’s election rewarded this behavior. It affirmed the Republican’s theory—i.e., If we work with the President to pass bipartisan legislation to help the country, we lose elections. But if we stop the government from doing anything meaningful while the other party controls the White House, we get to paint the president as ineffective and we win elections.

Based on the lesson the voters have just taught Congressional Republicans, what incentive do Republicans in Congress have to work with President Obama to get anything accomplished? And what do you think will happen in two years if Republicans retain control of at least one chamber of Congress and another Democrat wins the White House (a very likely scenario)? You guessed, it: obstruct, obstruct, obstruct. While perhaps such a plan is unpatriotic, or perhaps even treasonous, you can’t say it’s not rationale. Thanks American voters. <rolling eyes>

– Dylan