Saturday, December 31, 2016

Why Chicago Kills

As we shall support later in this blog, younger (vs. older) gang members – when left to their own devices – are much more likely to resort to violence, particularly gun violence, as their first instinct against even lower level perceived threats. Lacking life experience or the calmness that settles on older players, these young perpetrators are also more likely to need to prove their toughness than are established gang leaders. Thus, cities where gang leaders are older tend to have lower gang-related murder rates. But that sure isn’t Chicago, where older gang leaders have disproportionately been swept off the streets over the last two years to face very long sentences, including a huge number of life sentences.
 “And, as of [early 2016], the Cook County sheriff's office reported that nearly 6,000 of the estimated 8,200 detainees in the county jail — 73 percent — are black. Hispanic detainees make up about 16 percent and whites 10 percent. Those numbers underscore a national trend: the probability of incarceration among black men ages 18 to 34 is three times greater than the probability for white men, experts say.” Chicago Tribune, February 15, 2016.
 As Illinois and Chicago governmental budgetary deficits mount, youth diversionary programs, job-training, social programs and governmental efforts at stemming the massive rise in gang-drive murders have been paired to the bone or, even more frequently, shut down entirely. There just aren’t even enough police officers to handle the volume. Murder rates were significantly lower in 2014 (the lowest rates since 1965), but as austerity has increased, 2015 (488 homicides) and 2016 (skyrocketing to 750 with over 3,500 shootings) have been brutal.
 “Chicago had more criminal homicides this year than New York and Los Angeles combined, despite having fewer residents than either city. Los Angeles had 288 through mid-December, up slightly from last year, and New York had 325, a decline from 2015. Still, Chicago’s per capita murder rate remains much lower than in several smaller cities, such as St. Louis and Baltimore.” New York Times, December 28th.
 The December 27th Business Times notes that, as a result of the shortage of qualified officers, the number of arrests in 2016 dropped even as Chicago’s murder rate has hit a new high: “Arrests in Chicago, Illinois, were down 28 percent from last year. Police issued roughly 50,000 arrests through mid-December of this year compared to 69,000 in 2015. The city is also on track to have the lowest number of arrests since 2001, the Chicago Sun-Times reported [12/24]… Chicago’s up-to-date arrest total in 2016 is less than half of the number made in 2010; the year prior to current Mayor Rahm Emanuel taking office.” More homicides and fewer arrests? Whoa!
 For too many black males living in the inner city, where the violence is concentrated, there are no real alternatives to gang membership. Raised with dangerous and sub-par public schools in neighborhoods surrounded with drugs and death, “A report from University of Illinois at Chicago [from January 2016] showed that 47 percent of 20- to 24-year-old black men in the city were unemployed and out of school, a trend that is part of a decline in youth employment across all races and ethnicities.” Chicago Tribune. And convicted felons (of which there are many among inner city black males), particularly with incomplete educations, don’t get decent jobs… or even jobs.
With older gang leaders gone, Chicago’s gangs are increasingly run by the new shot-callers: teenagers. The city has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of murders-begetting long sentences even among teens (tried as adults) – putting more teens at the helm of local gangs. It’s a vicious cycle. And younger perpetrators tend to resort to violence a whole lot faster than older gang members:
 “It's long been said that violence begets violence, but a new study published Tuesday [12/20] in the American Journal of Public Health has found that it's especially contagious among teens.
 “Researchers pored through data taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, an extensive survey of more than 90,000 children in grades 7 to 12 that first began in 1994. They keyed in on a smaller group of in-depth interviews conducted every few years, allowing the researchers to track the social networks of nearly 6,000 children. What they found was that kids were more likely to participate in violence in the last 12 months if either their friends or siblings were also violent.
 “‘We now have evidence that shows how important social relationships are to spreading violent behavior, just like they are for spreading many other kinds of attitudes and behaviors,’ study author Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State, said in a statement.” AOL.com, December 24th.
 Chicago has become a perfect storm of ultra-violence in becoming the U.S. city with the greatest number of homicides in the country: fewer cops, fewer youth diversionary programs, drastic declines in the quality of inner city public education, ever-younger gang leaders with a much greater propensity to gun violence and a complete unwillingness by both state and municipal governments to take the necessary steps – which does take money – to reverse the trend. Shooting someone has thus slowly developed into the “mandatory first response ethos” for Chicago’s inner city. It has become the gang code “we all live by” in the Windy City. Dis me and I will kill you. Even if I was wrong in my perception. Screw the bystanders.
 We are seeing parallel trends developing elsewhere – Baltimore or St. Louis (where murder rates are higher), anyone? – that suggest as we ignore a problem or impose solutions we think might stem the violent tide (like increasing incarceration rates for older gang members), we can make things a whole lot worse. At first, we called our actions a “war on drugs,” but when drug dealing became one of the few ways so many unemployed inner city residents could make a living, it actually became a war on blacks instead.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we seem paralyzingly committed to “solutions” and slogans that only make things worse without being able to reverse course to apply programs and strategies that just might make things better.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Manchurian Candidate?

President-elect Donald Trump has championed expanding and upgrading America’s military as one of his basic campaign pledges. This is very consistent with a general GOP platform to cut spending on everything except the military… which includes serious Republican skepticism on The Donald’s pledge to build an expensive wall (even if Mexico would ever really “pay for it”) and commit a massive amount of fresh cash to build and enhance American infrastructure. So far, we get it.
 But there remains an undercurrent of connectivity to Vladimir Putin and Russia, a troublesome cozying up to a foreign power that, according to the CIA and the FBI (the same FBI who cast enough 11th hour doubt on Hillary Clinton to shift what may well have been enough votes to propel Trump to the White House), has covertly but massively used its hackers and its disinformation capacity to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump. The orders, they say, came from the top. Trump is calling for an end to investigation (by our intelligence agencies and even the U.S. Congress!!!) and innuendo over this Russian effort even as members of his own party voice concern over this terrifying foreign effort to control the American election process.
 Trump repeated, “Get over it” and “Move on!” as he characterized the excuse of a purported Russian hack (which he still denied occurred) as a left wing conspiracy to diminish his victory. But as GOP House Speaker, Paul Ryan – whose had the same intelligence briefings as has Trump – declared such retaliatory steps (against the hacks) to be “too little, too late,” on December 29th, President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats (read: spy-masters), shutting down several Russian entities American operations and implementing covert attacks against Russia’s Internet infrastructure. Trump was not pleased that his Bro-Putie was being chastised across the board.
 These were the most impactful political sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on Russia (actually, then the USSR) since the 1980s. Infuriated, the Russians promised their own retaliation (which will include expelling a comparable number of American diplomats plus a lot more). Trump can only reverse such sanctions upon a clear determination that the Russians have ceased the very activities he still claims never happened. Since most in his own party believe the Russian assault on our Web actually occurred, that is a tough burden to overcome.
 Bully-Putin – who is still facing global sanctions for his wrongful annexation of Crimea and his assaults on Ukraine – has become Tehran’s and Damascus’ new best friend in Middle Eastern politics and suppression of ISIS and anti-Assad Syrian rebels. Most of the forces liberating Aleppo were Iranian troops or surrogates (on their payroll) plus their controlled-Iraqi soldiers, with heavy Russian support (primarily air power). Until recently, both the Iranian government and the Assad regime in Damascus were clear enemies of the United States. Trump has even questioned the UN nuclear accord with Iran, but his bromance – a constant exchange of compliments between him and Putin – will of necessity put him in the same camp as Iran and the Assad regime in Syria. Strange?
 Putin and Turkey brokered a ceasefire between Assad and his domestic rebels (but not ISIS or the Al Nusra faction), pretty much having Russia replace the last real vestiges of American influence in that region. Trump will likely follow Putin’s directions for policy in that combat zone.
 It gets more interesting as Trump has nominated ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson, as our Secretary of State. Tillerson even negotiated a major agreement with Russian oil giant, Rosneft (over Arctic oil) for which Putin awarded Tillerson Russia's prestigious Order of Friendship in 2013. You couldn’t find a major America power-player with closer personal ties to Putin. But wait, there’s more.
 Putin expressed a need, on December 22nd, for Russia to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. On that same day, Donald Trump – resorting to his policy-by-Tweet habit – told the world that the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” But what did that mean? An upgrade of outdated and aging nukes? A bigger nuclear strike force? Was this un-Trumplike challenge/response to his bro, Vladdy? The answer was not long in coming. “MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski spoke with Trump on the phone and asked him to expand on his tweet. She said he responded: ‘Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.’
 “Shares of uranium producers and a nuclear fuel technology company have jumped on Trump's comments with Uranium Resources Inc, Uranium Energy Corp, Cameco Corp and Lightbridge Corp all trading higher on [December 23rd].” AOL.com, December 23rd. A new arms race?! Politicians around the world were aghast. Trump’s new press secretary, Sean Spicer, awkwardly explained that Trump expected the world simply to come to its senses, something that the “world” has seldom done.
Spicer focused on China and Russia, but here’s the really bizarre part: For most of Russia’s recent history, you would expect it to mount a furious and angry denunciation of such American militaristic statements. But not here. It does not seem that Trump and Russia were remotely at odds. What? “In his year-end news conference in Moscow on Friday [12/23], Putin said Trump's comment … was not out of line and that he did not consider the United States to be a potential aggressor.” AOL.com. Were these almost-simultaneous nuclear expansion announcements a mutually agreed effort between Vladdy and Donald?
 Vladdy did feign a rather understated reaction: “‘I was a bit surprised by the statements from some representatives of the current U.S. administration who for some reason started to prove that the U.S. military was the most powerful in the world,’ Putin said, referring to State Department comments from Thursday… ‘Nobody is arguing with that.’… Putin said he saw nothing new or remarkable about Trump's own statement about wanting to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities anyway.” AOL.com. Doesn’t sound like the Putin we have come to expect, does it? Think he really was surprised? Russia may rail at the U.S. government under Barack Obama over the hacking scandal, but their candidate-of-choice assumes power on January 20th. And Mr. Trump seems to be doing precisely what Bro-Putie wants him to do.
 What’s going on here? A realignment of the United States and Russia, clearly at the expense of the only other major military power in the world, China? And where does this lead? Is this a very clever way for Trump – deploying the infamous “Madman Theory” from the Nixon era – to create sufficient destabilization to throw China back on its heels, “forcing” them to the diplomatic bargaining table for trade concessions? But then, strongman PRC President Xi Jinping could just double down himself. Brinkmanship for its own sake?
 Or is it the uncontrolled response of America’s own “strongman” that he doesn’t care about international sentiments and will deploy whatever it takes to make “America Great again,” even at the expense of increasing the likelihood of a nuclear strike somewhere? That doesn’t completely explain the unexpectedly complacent Russian reaction. When you put all of the above facts together – and look at how close Putin and Trump have become – there is a deeply more sinister view: has Russia achieved planting its own Manchurian Candidate (did you see the movie?) as the President of the United States of America?
I’m Peter Dekom, and whatever the interpretation of the above events, it does seem as if both Republicans and Democrats are justifiably squirming in their seats.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

1.7 Billion vs. 16 Million

As culture wars seem to escalate, as we toss around the notion of a clash of civilizations or religious wars as a part of modernity, the sheer numbers of people who embrace one religious/cultural code over another become incredibly important. As the pie chart below suggests, Christianity is the world’s dominant faith, but given current demographic trends, Islam will overtake as the largest religious group on earth by 2050.
But what really stands out, what the two charts above illustrate, are the number of Jews on earth – approximately 16 million (up to 20 million if you include culturally “non-practicing Jews”), of which 6.5 million live in Israel – vs the nearly 1.7 billion followers of Islam. Another interesting reality: “Recent Jewish population dynamics are characterized by continued steady increase in the Israeli Jewish population and flat or declining numbers in countries of the diaspora.” Wikipedia.
The United States has one of the largest non-Israeli Jewish populations (just north of 7 million), but that number still only represents around 2% of our total. But Jews are migrating to Israel in droves, creating an increasing concentration of Jews in one tiny area of the planet. An increasingly easy and focused target. While Israel is a nuclear power – something Tel Aviv does not officially acknowledge – one simply has to look at the two maps above to see how completely surrounded and overwhelmed Israel is vis-√†-vis her rather hostile Arab neighborhood. One simply has to ask the question, regardless of Israel’s current nuclear power, as to how Israel can hope to remain a viable and integral nation while continuing to alienate an obviously vastly larger Islamic world (with the support of most countries on earth as UN General Assembly votes reflect).
Can we stop nuclear proliferation from reaching into the Islamic world, even as Muslim-dominated Pakistan – home of the “Islamic nuclear bomb” – has already spread its technical knowhow to North Korea and, to a lesser extent, Iran? How many nuclear warheads still remain unaccounted for from the dissolution of the Soviet empire in 1991? Which Arab country will first buy the technology or even a few warheads? How long can Israel hold on as a more fertile local West Bank Palestinian Muslim population within its borders slowly grows and eventually surpasses the number Jewish residents?
Despite successes in many regional wars – in particular in 1967 and 1973 – how long can Israel hope to resist a global Muslim tsunami of population growth and maintain control of West Bank territories, probably including a permanent annexation of Jerusalem (holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews alike), reinforced by an expected, Trump-declared, move of the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Benjamin Netanyahu – with a great deal of encouragement from American Republican Party (even stronger with Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law and Orthodox Jew, Jared Kushner) – has doubled down on expanding the very controversial Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Most nations on earth believe such expanding settlements make impossible the “two-state" solution (Palestine as a separate country from Israel) embraced by the United Nations. This two-state solution is a political commitment to which the United States has officially been firmly committed since early 1993 (beginning with the Oslo Accords in that year).
But today, many in Europe, the American right and especially under the hardline leadership in Israel no longer believe in that “big picture” two-state solution. They see smaller steps, even as Palestinians and their regional allies reaffirm their commitment to that larger proposal, as the only viable alternatives. There are still many in the Middle East equally committed to the complete destruction of the Jewish state. Israel points to their rather complete release of Gaza to Palestinian rule – which rapidly became a base from which rockets were deployed against Israel – as a reason for their overall reluctance to implement anything near what the Arab (even relatively moderate states) world wants to have happen regarding that two-state solution.
With all of the above variables impacting the regional peace process, it is rather apparent that Israel’s continued expansion of West Bank Jewish settlements is rapidly becoming a barrier to any peace accord with Palestinian Arabs. Israel has moved away from relying on intermediary states to help bridge the divide, as the PM’s office continues to affirm: ““Israel knows peace will be achieved by direct negotiations. It seems the Palestinians know that as well, and that is why they do not want direct negotiations.” But Palestinians repeat that Israel is expanding its holdings in a way that literally prevents their desired goal of a two-state solution, and hence is proposing those direct negotiations in bad faith.
While the U.N. General Assembly has repeatedly and overwhelmingly supported a fully-independent Palestine – the Palestinian flag now flies about UN headquarters in New York – the all-powerful Security Council has repeatedly faced a U.S. veto on attempts to chastise or curtail Israel in its West Bank activities. However, to the outrage of Republicans in Congress and in particular to Donald Trump (who even will nominate a pro-Jewish settlement American ambassador to Israel), as a gesture of utter frustration with Israel from a fading Democratic presidency, the United States just failed to exercise that veto (by abstaining) in a Security Council vote chastising Israel’s most recent approval of additional West Bank Settlements:
The 14-to-0 vote by the United Nations Security Council condemning Israeli settlements, permitted on Friday [12/23] by President Obama, who ordered an American abstention, served as a reminder that the Palestinian issue remains a powder keg. Instead of counting new friends, Mr. Netanyahu was left to tally up old enemies, and in a speech on Saturday night [12/24] he lashed out, vowing to exact a ‘diplomatic and economic price’ from countries that in his view try to hurt Israel.
“He announced that he was cutting off $8 million in contributions to the United Nations and reviewing whether to continue allowing its personnel to enter Israel, in addition to recalling ambassadors and canceling visits from some countries that supported the measure. He accused the departing Obama administration of carrying out a ‘disgraceful anti-Israel maneuver.’” New York Times, December 24th. Netanyahu is even considering withdrawing Israel from the United Nations itself.
The Israeli Prime Minister, sensing nothing left to lose as a very pro-Israel Donald Trump is about to reverse anything P.M. Netanyahu (also his own Foreign Minister) might find distasteful in US policy, took his parting shot at the outgoing Obama administration. “Israel's prime minister has summoned the US ambassador amid a growing row after the US eased the passage of a resolution against Israel at the UN [to explain the US abstention].
“Israel has accused the US, its closest ally but a frequent critic of settlements, of engineering the vote - a charge Washington has denied… ‘From the information that we have, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, co-ordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed,’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said… ‘Friends don't take friends to the Security Council,’ he said.” BBC.com, December 25th. Feeling that Trump will support whatever Israel may choose to do without question, the Israeli P.M. was clearly feeling his oats and ready to stick it to those in the United States who believed that the Jewish state had crossed the line. The outgoing administration had another interpretation: “A US state department spokesman said the accusation [that the US coordinated the UN vote] was ‘just not true,’ but he hoped the resolution would ‘serve as a wake-up call’ for Israel.” BBC.com, December 28th.
Israeli hardliners – some of whom are in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition – want to end the peace process and simply declare the West Bank and particularly Jerusalem as immutably Israeli territory. They want to make sure that the Palestinians living there remain second class citizens, unable to wield political influence against Israeli directives. And while there have been no such declarations from the Israeli government, many believe that the expansion of West Bank settlements has already made that policy de facto official.
“Since the American election, pro-settlement leaders in Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet have pushed for legislation retroactively legalizing outposts on privately owned Palestinian land that had been declared illegal by Israel’s Supreme Court. Mr. Netanyahu has been reluctant, even warning colleagues that it could lead to an investigation by the International Criminal Court, according to the newspaper Haaretz.                
“‘Israeli leaders have used American pressure as an excuse to avoid doing something they really don’t want to do but are being pressured to do by coalition members,’ said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel teaching at Princeton University. If Mr. Trump advances views to the right of Mr. Netanyahu, ‘this will put the prime minister in an awkward position with no excuses for not doing what right-wingers want him to do,’ Mr. Kurtzer said.” NY Times. Our blindly supporting Israel in whatever it may choose to do, therefore, just might not be what is best for Israel. Netanyahu may just have ceded the ultimate choice to the most extreme faction of his coalition. What could go wrong? Go wrong? Go wrong?
With Donald Trump waiting in the wings to undo Obama’s policies, it does indeed seem as if the hardliners are clearly determining Israel’s going-forward settlement plans: “Undeterred by a resounding defeat at the United Nations, Israel’s government said Monday [12/26] that it would move ahead with thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem and warned nations against further action, declaring that Israel does not ‘turn the other cheek.’
“Just a few days after the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn Israeli settlements, Jerusalem’s municipal government signaled that it would not back down: The city [was set to approve 500] housing units in the predominantly Palestinian eastern section of town on Wednesday [12/28] in what a top official called a first installment on 5,600 new homes [but that vote was temporarily delayed pending a policy speech by Secretary of State John Kerry].” New York Times, December 26th. See any anger brewing from the 1.7 billion people on the other side?
Which brings me back to the above numbers. No matter how powerful Israel may be, regardless past military victories and maintaining a nuclear arsenal with one of the most effective militaries on earth, I keep looking at that 1.7 billion Muslims to 16 million Jews and wonder when – not if – that statistic ultimately crushes Israel’s existence, perhaps dragging the United States into a full-fledged nuclear war. Digging in its heels (with encouragement from the incoming American administration), moving rather strongly and against the global tide favoring that two-state solution, Israel appears to invite an equal and opposite reaction from the Arab world that augurs really badly for Israel’s long-term ability to survive and thrive. We cannot tolerate another Jewish holocaust! There simply has to be a better way.
I’m Peter Dekom, and cooler heads must prevail to defuse a volatile situation in Israel to keep Jewish lives as precious as they truly are (“Never Again!”).