Monday, August 31, 2015

Migrants, Deportations and Barriers

The United States, a land of immigrants, is watching as existing generations of immigrants reject the new waves of immigrants, particularly those with a touch of color in their skin from south of the border. Politicians are campaigning on a platform that would deport them all and build a massive wall on our brown border (leaving the great white northern border open). England, with growing support from fellow European Union members, is railing against the open borders between EU countries that permit “illegals” to enter Europe and settle where they please. The Dominican Republic has begun denying citizenship or even lawful residency to ethnic Haitians born in the DR, and perhaps whose forebears were born in the DR, if the initial distant relative came to the DR illegally. Deportations have begun. Colombians, even those in Venezuela legally, are being asked to leave Venezuela, perhaps even forfeiting their businesses and homes, as tensions between the two countries escalate.
A Czech online periodical, trying to show the inhumanity of immigrant bias, conducted a mock poll to see if readers would vote for a return of Hitler if he could get rid of recent immigrants and migrants entering the country. They were stunned when 53% said “yes.” They pulled the poll offline. Hungary is building fence to keep them out, Nordic countries are watching xenophobic anti-immigration right wing politicians winning office, and droves of migrants escaping the horrors of civil wars and the threat of ISIS in North Africa are invading Europe by sea… if their boats don’t sink first.
An abandoned refrigerated truck (Hungarian license plates), with the bodies of perhaps as many as 71 decomposing corpses of stranded migrants, was discovered in the summer heat just outside Vienna, Austria at the end of August. The Italian Coast Guard found 50 bodies in the hold of a ship carrying migrants from Libya the day before. “A boat packed with mainly African migrants bound for Italy sank off the Libyan coast on [August 27th,] and officials said up to 200 might have died.”, August 28th.
The rise of right wing fears of immigration, even in countries which would face contracting populations (including Germany, Italy and even the United States) without immigration, have become a fairly uniform and standardized global response everywhere. Political refugees have flooded Lebanon from the war in Syria. Turkey is watching people escaping ISIS horrors settling into massive refugee camps. The wars in Africa have pushed populations out of their homes, even as droughts have forced many others to flee based on impending starvation. There are no vast new habitable lands left on planet earth to escape to anymore, and space travel hasn’t yet provided an alternative. Those who own turf want to hang on to that turf against new comers… unless that turf is barren, war-torn or otherwise degraded. Then they want new turf. It’s called “hope” as the earth faces the greatest global humanitarian crisis the world has seen since World War II.
Reacting to the strong wave of anti-migrant feelings rippling through her nation, and particularly in response to the discovery of the truck outside Vienna, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “‘We are all shaken by this terrible news that up to 50 people have lost their lives because they got into a situation where smugglers did not care about their lives,’ said Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, at a news conference at the Vienna meeting [convened by the EU to deal with the migrant crisis]. ‘Such a tragic death.’
“Ms. Merkel emphasized what she called the need for Europe to pull together and ease the migration crisis, part of the biggest wave of migrants since World War II. But the meeting ended on a discordant note with no apparent consensus on how to proceed.
“The death toll at sea is already greater than 2,500 and is rising almost every day, with news reports on Thursday that a ship carrying hundreds of migrants had sunk off the coast of Libya. Now the truck discovery has made it clear that the illegal trade in humans has broadened from arranging perilous journeys across the Mediterranean to profiteering from the tens of thousands now pouring in through the Balkans.” New York Times, August 27th.
Countries that profess to be guided by notions of Judeo-Christian values, offering hope, support and sustenance to the unfortunate, seem to have dumped that entire basic tenet of their faith into perpetual purgatory. Our own Bible Belt seems to be high on the list of regions that are pushing to rid themselves of immigrants who came to this country for a better life.
Whether this is a Darwinian or Malthusian response – scarce resources further imperiled by climate change amidst third world population growth – or a reaction to a rather steep decline among rich Western nations facing a writing of their economic well-being as Asia rises, the word is “fear.” As with so many economic crises over history, finding scapegoats and building political power bases by attacking them appears to be a modern response to an atavistic human trait: fear of change, terror at the thought of massive change.
But whether your values come from your faith or perhaps a simple moral reaction to a callous world, if you have those human values, they will be tried within a crucible of fire over the coming years and reflected in the coming elections like no other. Will the upcoming elections repeal the New Testament as many voters sincerely continue to believe that they are genuine Christians with Christian values even as they vote against the basic values of their most Holy Book? Time will tell, but it is easy to be noble and giving in a time of plenty; the true test of moral and religious strength must come when times are difficult and challenging for those asked to give.
I’m Peter Dekom, and where are those wondrous American values of kindness, empathy, charity and care?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Kids We Hate: Ours

State legislators do it. U.S. Congress men and women do it. Americans even support them when they do it. Who are they doing it to? Our children. We really have been able to dissociate how we treat children in the United States from any semblance of how that just might impact our future economic and political viability.
Let’s start with public primary and secondary education. In global comparison testing, American students wound up 30th (out of 64 countries tested) in math, 23rd in science and 20th in reading/ comprehension. We used to be first in each of these categories. These results are simply not competitive, as legislators and Congress-people brag about all we have accomplished to become the world’s greatest economic, military and political powerhouse.
But these braggarts are relying on the efforts and accomplishments of those who came before them, the investments of generations of America past, the commitment to excellence in education that has simply vaporized from our vastly greater commitment to austerity, lower taxes for the mythological “job creators” and having a military that is huge but hasn’t won a major military contest since World War II. Looking at recent budget trends, which continue into the present:
“At least 35 states [provided] less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit.  Fourteen of these states have cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent.” A 2014 research report (inflation adjusted) from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  For some strange reason, these elected officials believe we can coast on past glory without investing in the future. We can’t.
Moving up the ladder to higher education. The average annual cost of college, public and private, has steadily increased over the past two decades well in excess of the cost of living just a Pell Grants and other non-lending forms of financial aid plummeted. Reliance on loans, with rising interest rates, soared. We changed our bankruptcy laws in 2005, pretty much targeting student loans, that have made what is available to everyone else, from big corporations to bigger cities to individuals with financial difficulties an almost impossible task for those with student loans: a reasonable path to discharge debts and start with a clean slate.
Students saddled with this undischargeable debt, promised jobs that would make paying these loans reasonable and feasible, now aggregate over $1.2 trillion dollars of student loans. Oh, and the jobs they are getting just don’t pay enough, on average, to service that debt. The aggregate U.S. student debt number has quadrupled and the number of defaults doubled since 2004. What’s worse, in an economy that at best is limping along with exceptionally modest growth rates, we seem to be screwing ourselves by allowing this competition-killer to get worse.
“This [massive student debt obligation] is having a crippling effect on economic activity, says Barbara O'Neill, a specialist in financial resource management for Rutgers University… ‘A lot of things are being postponed. You got what you call a crowding-out effect — people only have so much money,’ she said. ‘There’s a lot of business activity that isn’t taking place ... It’s a drag on everything.’
“Fewer people are buying homes and cars, O'Neill says, because large portions of their income are being eaten up by student loans. They're also less likely to start the small businesses that provide jobs and services that drive the economy… ‘It has tremendous effects,’ O'Neill said. ‘There’s also evidence entrepreneurial activity is down. When you have that big student-loan debt over your head, you're less likely to take risks.’”, May 1st. We think we can tackle “income inequality” while we maintain policies like this? Really?
Our discrimination against our children starts pretty early. “In the United States, new parents aren’t guaranteed any paid time off. Instead, if they have worked for a certain amount of time at a company with 50 or more employees, they are guaranteed the ability to take 12 unpaid weeks off for the arrival of a new child.
“That leaves us in lonely company. Out of 185 countries, the United States is one of just three that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, the others being Oman and Papua New Guinea. Over half of the countries that provide leave give at least 14 weeks off.”, July 30, 2014. Further, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, we’re not even in the top 20 nations in any measurement of pre-K early childhood education. Access to childcare for working parents is expensive, and even with the Affordable Care Act, there are way too many children’s whose healthcare coverage falls between the cracks.
We see ads for impoverished children in war-torn, drought-stricken Africa, but the numbers here in the United States aren’t so wonderful either. “16 million kids on food stamps know what it's like to go hungry. Perhaps, some in Congress would say, those children should be working. ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch,’ insisted Georgia Representative Jack Kingston, even for schoolkids, who should be required to ‘sweep the floor of the cafeteria’ (as they actually do at a charter school in Texas).
“The callousness of U.S. political and business leaders is disturbing, shocking. Hunger is just one of the problems of our children. Teacher Sonya Romero-Smith told about the two little homeless girls she adopted: ‘Getting rid of bedbugs; that took us a while. Night terrors, that took a little while.’ …
“The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. As UNICEF reports, ‘[Children's] material well-being is highest in the Netherlands and in the four Nordic countries and lowest in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the United States.’… Over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies, and almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.”, April 13th. Living public housing in the biggest inner city hoods carries its own litany of dangers and horrors.
We are also a hateful nation, hell-bent on punishment for juvenile offenders with little or no concern for bona fide rehabilitation. And when it comes to early teens committing serious crimes, we are one of the few nations in the world with a powerful inclination to try and punish these offender as adults. Picture a life sentence for a 14-year-old. Isn’t this incarceration decades longer, as a result, than an adult counterpart?
But there are plenty of states willing to take 12, 13 or 14-year-olds and try and punish them as if they were adults. And if they are charged and tried like adults, they often wind up in adult jails and prisons. Federal law mandates that if juvies are held in adult prisons, they must be segregated for their own protection. And for most of those, this means solitary confinement.
Solitary confinement has long been a feature of the nation’s criminal justice system, either to punish or protect inmates, with about 75,000 state and federal prisoners in solitary across the country. [A Mississippi juvie tried as an adult], though, is emblematic of a more select and far less visible group of prisoners in solitary — children or teenagers in isolation in adult jails for their own safety.
“‘Juveniles are more vulnerable to abuse by adults, including sexual abuse, and they have rights to special protections,’ said Ian M. Kysel, an adjunct professor and a fellow at the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown University Law Center. ‘In some places that might mean putting them in juvenile facilities.’
“Putting juveniles in solitary, though, brings its own complications. Solitary confinement is increasingly being questioned — by mental health officials, criminologists and, most recently, President Obama. But experts say its effects on juveniles can be particularly damaging because their minds and bodies are still developing, putting them at greater risk of psychological harm and leading to depression and other mental health problems. In 2012, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry called for an end to the practice.
“‘There is plenty of research showing that solitary causes far more harm to kids than to their adult counterparts,’ said Dr. Louis J. Kraus, the chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago… Dr. Kraus specifically mentioned solitary’s link to post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘It induces anxiety, and it increases the risk of suicide,’ he added. ‘It is barbaric. I can’t emphasize that enough.’” New York Times, August 15th. But at least it’s consistent with a society that makes childcare expensive if not elusive, provides inferior schools to most of its young citizens, financially cripples the vast majority of kids trying for higher education and treats immature minds committing some serious crimes as if they were mature adults.
How are we to lift our heads in the chambers of developed nations if we are incapable of treating even our own children with respect, decency, providing them the support they need to become productive citizens? Why has our national proclivity to impair our own children become our national priority to the point where we really don’t even think about it anymore? Where is the shame that such conduct should attract? How does such behavior define and reflect everything that’s wrong with America today?
I’m Peter Dekom, and in order to bring this giant American ship back on track, we really need to start with how we care for and treat our own children.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Vulture in the Coal Mine

Carbon emissions, climate change, pesticides, medications used on domesticated livestock, vestiges of war, desertification, fires, population growth taking away valuable forests/jungles as farmland, soil depletion, drought… the world is changing. More people. More chemicals. Fewer forests and jungles. Less green. More heat. Water resources shift. Insects and bacteria/viruses take out more crops as they follow the warming trend. Man-introduced environmental chemicals play out their unintended consequences.
In his book, Guns, Germs and Steel, UCLA Professor and bio-historian, Jared Diamond, notes how civilization expanded rapidly from its Middle Eastern/African corridor east and west (vs. north and south) as mankind shifted from nomadic hunter-gatherer to stationary cultivator. Crops were suited to the same latitude and usually failed to take root and grow a mere 500 miles north or south of the ideal location. So it stands to reason that as climate change permanently alters the seasonal and average temperatures of most locations around the world, crops will either have to evolve to survive in different climes or will simply die off.
You can expect insects and crop germs of every description to move with climate change, attacking plants and trees that have no defense to these unfamiliar destroyers. And unlike the insects and germs, the plants and trees can’t just walk away. In Florida, for example, an insect carrying a decimating bacteria is rapidly taking down the massive orange crop, a Florida mainstay. “The bug, an Asian citrus psyllid, was carrying citrus greening disease, otherwise known by its Chinese name, huanglongbing. The disease was first detected in Florida in 2005 and spread cancerlike. Fast. Furious. Fatal… ‘We are seeing the death of an industry in front of our eyes,’ [orange grove owner Matt] McLean says, scanning his groves. ‘These trees will not survive.’”, August 27th.
The examples of under-the-radar environmental horribles are everywhere. Another example, on the plains of East Africa, has impacted nature’s great recycler: the common vulture. “[T]he birds that once feasted on that misfortune, the janitors that clean the grassy plains, are collapsing — part of a broader decline in vulture populations that throws off ecosystems and illustrates how far-reaching the effects of poaching, poisoning and other human interventions can be.
”‘The overall global picture for vultures is abysmal,’ said Darcy Ogada, the assistant director of Africa programs at the Peregrine Fund, an organization dedicated to saving birds of prey. ‘Does this story echo that of the canary in the coal mine? Sure does.’
“In the first major study of the 30-year decline of Pan-African vultures, Dr. Ogada and other scientists found that populations of eight species of vultures had declined an average of 62 percent…Seven of those species had declined at a rate of 80 percent or more over three generations, according to the study, published this summer in the journal Conservation Letters.
“In some parts of Africa, vultures are targeted by poachers who poison carcasses hoping to kill the birds so they will not circle overhead and signal park rangers. A vulture can spot a dead elephant in less than 30 minutes, but it can take a poacher more than an hour to hack off ivory tusks. No vulture, no warning…
“[The story repeats itself in India as well.] ‘Everyone forgets about the Ugly Bettys of this world,’ said Munir Z. Virani, who directs the Africa and South Asia programs for the Peregrine Fund. ‘We are told all the time by the authorities that they are so busy working to protect elephants and rhinos and other animals that when it comes to the vultures, they are exhausted.’…
“In 2000, Dr. Virani was dispatched to India, where vultures were dying in great numbers but no one knew why… ‘Everywhere I went, there were dead vultures,’ he said. ‘But everywhere, their remains were in good condition.’… The initial hypothesis was that some type of infectious disease was behind the deaths. Soon it became clear that the killer was man-made… A painkiller widely used to treat livestock was poisoning the birds that fed on their carcasses.” New York Times, August 26th.
It’s a story with even more decimating consequences, a tale of man’s roiling pattern of messing with nature and ignoring the litany of “unintended consequences” the follow. “One carcass with the painkiller in its system could poison hundreds of birds, Dr. Virani said, and by 2006, when the painkiller was officially banned, the vulture population had already declined by 97 percent.
“Over the same period, there was a drastic rise in cases of rabies in India, with feral dogs taking advantage of the decline in vultures and often spreading the disease to humans… Dr. Virani described what he called apocalyptic scenes, with hordes of wild dogs numbering in the thousands, scavenging the remains of livestock. Estimates vary, but some put the feral dog population in India now as high as 25 million.
“Roughly 36 percent of the world’s rabies deaths — the majority of them children — occur in India, according to the World Health Organization. The battle against the virus is costing the government billions of dollars.” NY Times. Removing diseased carcasses would seem mission critical as well. In the United States, we have had parallel issues: “In Arizona, California and Utah, the Peregrine Fund and its partners have been working for years to bring back the critically endangered California condor, which by 1987 was almost completely wiped out by lead poisoning, with fewer than two dozen birds left. Nearly three decades later, there are around 400, fewer than half of them in captivity.” NY Times.
Man’s irresponsibility has impinged upon nature, and nature has retaliated with a vengeance.  We simply will not learn the lessons of the consequences of our rash actions. Nature does not care that some have religious beliefs that forgive such efforts to challenge nature and exploit resources, burn fossil fuels and generally reign as imperious harvesters and breeders. Indeed, if such strong religious beliefs were in fact a part of nature, then perhaps someone should inform nature that she is violating God’s mandate… repeatedly, massively, 24/7/365.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I am tired of paying the price for profoundly selfish social retards using religion to justify their rape of the planet and making the lives of billions of people miserable as a result.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Lie Can Beat Up Your Lie

We use nice words like “misspoke,” “I was quoted out of context,” “that’s your opinion,” “I never said that,” “exaggeration,” “I have my sources,” “distorted,” “denials,” “based upon what we knew at the time,” “where did you get your facts,” “national security sometimes requires that you mislead your enemies,” etc., etc. Candidates routinely make up “facts,” spoken with statistical passion, pick up on tiny discrepancies and represent them as the whole or the vast majority of the questioned practices. We often resort to lies when that we believed was secret suddenly becomes public and demands an explanation. We spied on ourselves and our allies, but got caught. Lies ensued.
We have absurd tendencies to over-simplify, frame statements in attractive but inaccurate slogans suggesting solutions where none exist, and tackle exceptionally complex problems with short, cute summaries that literally dismiss the gravity of what the issues really are. Many in our world download copyrighted material without paying for it, a surprising number have (unless the recent hack) hide in the shadows of the infidelity Website, Ashley Madison, etc., etc.
White lies, black lies, national security lies, lies considered a necessary step toward securing a desired solution, lies to hide past or failed practices, lying patterns that everyone expects, etc., etc. We actually know candidates lie, and yet so many of us pass on such obviously inaccurate statements as facts when asked why they support one politician over another. But sometimes those lies cost this nation dearly. Costs measured not just in billions or trillions of dollars, assuming insurmountable national debt, but masses of casualties – dead, dying, maimed, seriously injured, homes and businesses completely destroyed and lives forever ruined.
Our invasion of Iraq, for example, a failed war with a crumbling and corrupt government struggling to survive, resulted in approximately $2 trillion ($1.1 trillion in direct appropriations for the war) in charges to the U.S. government, we lost approximately 4,500 U.S. soldiers out of over six figures of violent deaths in the country and incalculable local costs to the people living there. Our horribly-constructed government, effectively giving the majority Shiite population the political power to oppress the Sunni minority, was one of the major contributors to the rise of ISIS, an ultra-extremist cruel militancy that arose in significant part to protect this Iraq Sunni minority and the Sunni majority in Syria writhing under the harsh boot of a Shiite dictatorship.
That war was based on one huge lie: that if we did not invade and force a regime change, weapons of mass destruction would be used to decimate the United States and her allies. There were no such weapons of mass destruction. We then lied, retroactively, to explain how we were really deposing an unacceptable brutal dictator, the same dictator deploying the same practices he used when we shoveled tons of money and military equipment in earlier times. Lies. Lies. Lies.
In addition, as we denied that we employed what international law (and even the United States when it tried Japanese officers after WWII) clearly labels as torture (waterboarding, sleep deprivation, chaining prisoners – we called them “detainees” – handcuffed to walls, use of extreme cold, and even physical beatings), calling them “legally acceptable enhanced interrogation techniques.” We humiliated prisoners, trashed their religious holy books, urinated on their corpses, and generally engaged in reprehensible, un-American behavior. Our reward? Extremists have used the stories and images of American torture and misconduct to recruit thousands and thousands of militants sworn to destroy us or die trying.
Now we are fighting ISIS, a despicable malignancy on the heart and soul of the entire planet. Our government is telling us we are making progress against this murderous cancer, even as a simple examination of any valid map will tell you that ISIS’ is continuing to expand its geographical holdings in Iraq and Syria. A little “take-back,” but most of the big urban conquests (e.g., Mosul, Ramadi, etc.) are solidly under the ISIS boot. Is Lebanon next? More lies? Apparently, yes. ISIS is not “losing” this new war.
“The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.
“The investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command — the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State — were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said…
“In late July, retired Gen. John Allen — who is Mr. Obama’s top envoy working with other nations to fight the Islamic State — told the Aspen Security Forum that the terror group’s momentum had been ‘checked strategically, operationally, and by and large, tactically.’
“‘ISIS is losing,’ he said, even as he acknowledged that the campaign faced numerous challenges — from blunting the Islamic State’s message to improving the quality of Iraqi forces.
“During a news briefing [in mid-August], Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter was more measured. He called the war ‘difficult’ and said ‘it’s going to take some time.’ But, he added, ‘I’m confident that we will succeed in defeating ISIL and that we have the right strategy.’
“But recent intelligence assessments, including some by Defense Intelligence Agency, paint a sober picture about how little the Islamic State has been weakened over the past year, according to officials with access to the classified assessments. They said the documents conclude that the yearlong campaign has done little to diminish the ranks of the Islamic State’s committed fighters, and that the group over the last year has expanded its reach into North Africa and Central Asia.” New York Times, August 25th. Ashton Carter tells you he is confident that our strategy will work. Is he really that confident? What do you think?
“According to the Daily Beast report, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency described ‘what he sees as a concerted push in government over the past several months to find information that tells a preferred story about efforts to defeat ISIS and other extremist groups, including al Qaeda.’
“In response to questions about the reports, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said ‘The President places a premium on getting an unvarnished assessment from the intelligence community ... One of the things that they place a priority on doing is making sure that they're getting differing points of view on what's happening on the ground.’… Still, The Daily Beast says ‘analysts have been frustrated for months that as their reports make their way up the chain, senior officers change them to adhere more closely to the administration's line.’”, August 27th. Sound like the VA hospitals scandal as senior managers played with appointment records to justify their bonuses and promotions… even as vets died from lack of care? And now, with a real global threat, it’s s“games r us”… again?!
The level of military commitment necessary to defeat ISIS seems to have been woefully underestimated. The effectiveness of our strategy of air support and training locals (remember how we recruited a mere 54 Syrian moderate rebels out of a target recruitment of 5,400?!) has not worked. Even a few thousand “American boots on the ground” – which is still not in the cards – is unlikely to make much of a difference. But our government still seems to prefer lying to us about the effort. Republican. Democrat. Lies.
I’m Peter Dekom, and facts really do not care if they are distorted… because they just continue to be just the way they really are.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wrong, Dead Wrong

So many of the issues that created the Civil War, beyond slavery, have never been resolved. That battle between urban and rural values has never been settled, rearing its ugly head time after time in our nation. Desegregation. The KKK. Voting and civil rights. Prohibition. Women’s right to vote.  School prayer. Creationism vs. evolution. Separation of church and state. Government regulation. State’s rights. Police on minorities. Just looking around at the number of Confederate flags waving around the South (didn’t they lose the war?), the incredible and passionate belief of those with deep rural values about God, climate change and the right to have guns, really sophisticated weapons that have one purpose: killing people.
We have “stand your ground,” “your home is your castle,” “open carry” and little or no background checks in too many states over private gun show sales.  We have an absolutely inane and ultra-violent organization that foments gun wide ranging gun ownership (even to overthrow a government you don’t agree with) on behalf of gun manufacturers with the power to force people running for office to lose if they don’t toe the line. The National Rifle Association. In short, not only do we have almost one gun for everyone living in the United States, but many states have statutes that allow gun-owners to use them against their fellow man without legal risk. We have mass shootings, shootings on live television, and gun murders all over the country every day.
The NRA lies, telling you that “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” and “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”… even though people with guns kill vast multiples of people than those without guns, and the ratio of defensive use of guns to out-and-out aggressive homicide is over 1 defensive use to 30 aggressive uses. The NRA and all of its supporters are and have for a very, very long time been completely, unequivocally, and statistically wrong!
In the vast litany of unimpeachable data showing how extremely horribly more people die in societies where guns are pervasive than nations with reasonable gun control legislation, too many rural-value Americans still hide behind a misinterpretation of the Second Amendment (what happened to that “well-regulated militia” part?) and cling to those murderous weapons. If you read my blogs, you have reams of supporting statistics.
Ready for another, this one from a recent study from the University of Alabama? “Adam Lankford, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama, looks at the ‘dark side of American exceptionalism’ in a new study to be presented Sunday at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association [ASA] in Chicago. In ‘Mass Shooters, Firearms, and Social Strains: A Global Analysis of an Exceptionally American Problem,’ Lankford uses a quantitative analysis of mass shootings around the world between 1966 and 2012 to attempt to understand their prevalence in the U.S., and he consults previous research to try to understand the factors behind this unmatched frequency.” Newsweek, August 23rd.
U.S. News and World Report (August 23rd) summarizes that study: “The United States comprises only 5 percent of the global population, but it accounts for 31 percent of public mass shooters worldwide, a new study shows… [Lankford] defined public mass shootings as incidents that resulted in the deaths of more than four people, did not occur in homes, were not gang-related and were not hostage situations or robberies… ‘The United States, Yemen, Switzerland, Finland and Serbia are ranked as the top five countries in firearms owned per capita, according to the 2007 Small Arms Survey, and my study found that all five are ranked in the top 15 countries in public mass shooters per capita. That is not a coincidence,’ Lankford said in an ASA news release…
“Lankford also examined differences between public mass shootings in the United States and in other countries… Public mass shooters in other nations were 3.6 times less likely to have used multiple weapons -- typically more than one gun, but occasionally a gun and another type of weapon -- than those in the United States, where more than half of shooters used at least two weapons.
“‘Given the fact that the United States has over 200 million more firearms in circulation than any other country, it's not surprising that our public mass shooters would be more likely to arm themselves with multiple weapons than foreign offenders,’ Lankford said… ‘I was surprised, however, that the average number of victims killed by each shooter was actually higher in other countries [8.8 victims] than it was in the United States [6.9 victims] because so many horrific attacks have occurred here,’ he added…
“He also found that U.S. public mass shooters were more likely to strike in schools, factories/warehouses and office buildings than those in other countries, who were much more likely to attack military targets, such as bases, barracks and checkpoints.
“Lankford offered Australia as an example of what stronger gun control laws can do… ‘From 1987 to 1996, four public mass shootings occurred in Australia. Just 12 days after a mass shooter killed 35 people in the last of these attacks, Australia agreed to pass comprehensive gun control laws,’ Lankford said… ‘It also launched a major buyback program that reduced Australia's total number of firearms by 20 percent’ he said. ‘My study shows that in the wake of these policies, Australia has yet to experience another public mass shooting.” U.S. News.
The problem is manifold. One, the guns of today bear no resemblance to the single-shot flintlocks around when the Bill of Rights was enacted. Two, today our nation has 80% of its population in significant urban areas where people live in very, very close proximity to each other, with well under 2% embracing everyone who works on a farm. Three, the vast majority of U.S. residents have access to local police forces, no longer have to defend themselves living in isolated rural communities, can phone or email and can climb into their cars when necessary. Four, we are vastly over-armed when compared with every other country in the world. Five, where civilian guns are used on people, they are not “militia” related, seldom used for self-defense (compared with aggressive homicide), and are generally used for criminal purposes, suicide or result in “accidental” deaths. Etc. Etc.
And then there is this other category of mass killings, huge given the volume of offenses: domestic disputes that don’t end well. The August 25th Huffington Post explains: “The majority of mass shootings in the U.S. take place in private. They occur in the home, and the victims are predominantly women and children… The untold story of mass shootings in America is one of domestic violence. It is one of men (yes, mostly men) targeting and killing their wives or ex-girlfriends or families. The victims are intimately familiar to the shooters, not random strangers. This kind of violence is not indiscriminate -- though friends, neighbors and bystanders are often killed alongside the intended targets.
“The Huffington Post analyzed five years of mass shooting data compiled by Everytown For Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention organization backed by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. We looked at shootings in which at least four people were killed with a gun (the common definition of mass shootings, though there is debate over the best way to define them).
“We found that in 57 percent of mass shootings, the shooter targeted either a family member or an intimate partner. According to HuffPost's analysis, 64 percent of mass shooting victims were women and children. That's startling, since women typically make up only 15 percent of total gun violence homicide victims, and children only 7 percent.” Note how the relevant data is provided by a private survey group.  Why?
The NRA has prevented full statistical accountability from governmental agencies for gun deaths has made gathering data difficult, but even they are unable to stem the tsunami of facts that contradict most of the litany of falsehoods that they have spread. If we are going to live in a society where gun use is simply a way of life, where people accept that guns are used by the angry and adult bullies to enforce their demands of their fellow residents, then let’s just call it what it is: a nation of murderous guns and too many angry or self-righteous people – who believe they have a right to use their weapons against those they wish to dominate, intimidate or with whom they simply disagree. Stop hiding behind a false interpretation of the Second Amendment.
It’s time to stop tip-toeing and kowtowing around the NRA and their adherents, knowing that today more Americans die every year from unjustified gun deaths than in military battles or terrorists attacks.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bye Bye Miss American Pie

We’re raised with the notion that we are the greatest country on earth, and by so many objective statistical measurements, we are. But there is this nagging feeling when I talk to a lot of people that our best years are behind us, that we are living in a highly polarized society that no longer knows how to get along, and that many of the indicators of how we define America are sliding into the dustbin.
Whether it is the litany of gun homicides with so many Americans crying that gun control is un-American, healthcare in turmoil and not providing the cost-savings and access so many need, educational standards plummeting as college is becoming increasingly unaffordable, the kind of income equality issues that used to define “banana republics” combined with our shrinking middle class, race riots, staggering housing costs without a parallel increase in earning power, a gridlocked Congress with a massive national debt, crumbling infrastructure, a never-ending parade of natural disasters (many of which could have been contained with preplanning), and so much of the world angry at us (with a few pledging to do something about it)… well, there is sufficient malaise in the air so that increasing numbers of Americans would actually consider emigrating.
We used to think of folks giving up their US citizenship to avoid taxes (the IRS doesn’t exactly let you do that until you have renounced your citizenship and then lived outside the US for a fairly long time). The numbers of those willing give up citizenship and turn in their passports is still small, but it is rising fast:
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, 2,999 U.S. citizens and long-term residents moved abroad and gave up (or abandoned efforts to obtain) American citizenship in 2013. A year later, Treasury Department statistics showed a 14 percent increase in expatriations, to 3,415.”, August 14th. But moving overseas for non-tax-avoidance reasons, and under circumstances where it may not even be necessary to forfeit citizenship, may just be a rising trend waiting to happen… or has it already begun?
According to a new poll conducted by British money transfer firm Transferwise, about 35 percent of the Americans it surveyed would consider leaving the U.S. and moving abroad. Only about half of those surveyed, however, cited a desire for lower taxes as one of their ‘major’ motivations.

“Nearly equally important, it seems, is the view that there are better educational opportunities abroad (48 percent cited that as a major motivation, versus 51 percent citing lower taxes). Even more important was the perception that health care is ‘more affordable’ in countries outside the U.S.
 “What Would Make You Leave?
“While the dream of leaving the motherland and wandering strange paths abroad may be more of a daydream than a real option for some, many Americans appear to be giving a move some serious thought. If 35 percent of Americans ‘would consider’ moving abroad eventually, perhaps around retirement age, fully 14 percent of us -- or 4 in 10 of those who ‘would consider’ leaving the States at all -- say they would consider a move ‘within the next five years.’

“What might push them over the edge, and into action? Not taxes. Rather, Transferwise says the three reasons most often named for considering a move abroad are:
‘a better quality of life’ -- 36 percent;
‘a lower cost of living’ -- 33 percent;
and just plain ‘to have new experiences’ -- 31 percent.”
It bothers me immensely to read these numbers and to talk to people who believe that except for the top 10% earners and wealth-holders in this country, the rest of us better get used to a steadily declining standard of living, the loss traditional notions of upward mobility, the evaporation of a stable employment environment and forfeiture of any notion of a comfortable retirement.
No matter where you tap American sensitivities, right, left or center, the expressions of protest are everywhere.  We not happy, but we have different explanations for what the problems are and who is responsible. The desire to find scapegoats, which is an historical hallmark of nations in times of severe economic turmoil and general hopelessness, are everywhere. The Chinese are making goods too cheap. The Arabs are controlling oil prices. Immigrants are invading our country, taking jobs away and committing massive numbers of crimes (immigrants have among the lowest crime rates of any demographic group, by the way). Right wingers are clinging to a past long gone, and liberals want to spend money we don’t have.
It’s the blame game, and instead of fixing the system and taking down some powerful incumbents, we look for the “easy solutions,” which if history is any judge never solve anything and the attempted implementation of which almost always makes things worse. Until we face these issues directly, tackle incumbent special interests who don’t want change, our worst fears have been and will be a continuation of that downward movement of our general quality of life.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we have to stop the scapegoating and deal with the real issues… or risk losing it all!