Do The Freakin Math

Liberals and conservatives alike frequently rely on limited evidence, personal experience, religious beliefs or gut emotions to determine solutions for complex problems. From immigration to global warming - taxes to terrorism - or health care to free trade - analytical study is rare. Science based policy making isn’t the way of Washington. And the consequences are catastrophic. Change is urgently needed. Just do the freakin’ math.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Preventing the next Sandy Hook massacre.

We can’t.  There will always be some mentally deranged individual devising some means  to mass murder innocent lives.  But wise and intelligent things can be done to profoundly reduce the potential for such tragedy.   Certain technological innovations can help but eventually it must be recognized that the problem is in ‘we the people’, not the weapons we possess. 
Sandy Hook will not be the “turning point” most are hoping for.  It may gain us more gun control laws.  It may even reduce the number of children killed by guns.  But it won’t reduce the number of innocent children murdered by angry, mentally ill, or ideological extreme individuals.  Effective gun control laws may actually make it easier to commit mass murder.  
In 1995 nineteen children under six were killed in the basement of the Oklahoma City Federal Building when Timothy McVeigh detonated a Ryder truck filled with a simple mixture of fuel oil and fertilizer.  Nearly 150 adults were killed too.  He was sane.  He and others considered himself a devout patriot!
And that wasn’t the first or even the worst mass child killing in the US.   On May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, school board treasurer, upset about a proposal to increase taxes for schools, unleashed  dynamite, firebombs and pyrotol on a school in Bath Township, Michigan.  He killed 38 children in the second to sixth grades.  Six other adults died and at least 58 injured.   This anti-tax advocate had mental issues. He first killed his wife and later committed suicide with another explosion.  He carried a firearm, but didn’t use it.
It’s self-evident that the worst of all human experiences is a parent’s loss of a child.  Even suspecting a child’s mortal danger is the most terrifying of all human experiences.  No words can comfort a parent in such loss and the loss of children at Sandy Hook elementary school will profoundly alter their parent’s lives forever.  It will even effect people known and unknown to them.  The school building itself will never be the same.  Not even if they raise it to the ground and build another with a different name.  
With such unimaginable pain comes the question “why?”  Understanding may help grieving.  But, understanding the real cause is vital to preventing the need for future grieving.
So what are the basic elements that enable every perpetrator?   An individual’s access to a weapon.  An individual’s state of mind.  And, the individual’s cultural/environment. 
Many believe ‘guns’ are the cause.   A country full of guns.  Guns with the capacity to kill dozens of people in a very short time.  But this belief, as strong as it is, doesn’t constitute a functional analysis of the problem.  Removing guns from the equation won’t prevent mass murders.
There are only three things we need to consider; the killer’s intention, their capacity for planning and their willingness to kill many. The one common ingredient missing in each mass murderer is a commitment to the protection of innocent life.   Here’s where it gets interesting and troublesome.

Where else to we see this same three factors in the death of innocent lives.    If you answered “Presidents, Dictators, or Generals” you would be correct.    These leaders all have one thing in common with mass murderers.  A lack of commitment to protect at all costs, innocent life.
And, we defend our leaders when they do so.   The use of drones in Afghanistan, deadly sanctions against Iran, or arms sales to Israel ensures the loss of innocent life.   We rationalize the deaths of innocents associated with such use of force because it is not intentional.  Yet it is none the less mass murder of innocence.   According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism 176 children have been killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Hundreds more were critically injured. Yet this 'collateral damage' as acceptable to most Americans.  Rarely do we consider the impact on the parents of the dead or disabled children. 
While these grieving parents may curse the Drone’s that bring such unwanted suffering, they will not focus their rage on the weapon.  They will turn their focus those who use  it.   And even if we didn’t personally use the drone, we live in a democracy where a majority of us didn’t reject the policy leaders who pulled the trigger.  And, sometimes, we overlook the trigger pulling even when the loss of innocent lives is central to our greater goal.   
To this day, there has been no civilian or military leader charged for the hundreds of thousands deaths of innocent Iraqi men, women and children who died in the first gulf war as an intended result of US policy.  After Saddam’s army invaded Kuwait US strategists wanted Saddam to fall.  Their tactic was to bomb Iraqi water and sanitation facilities full well knowing innocent people would die from lacking such essential elements of life.  Our military leaders believed that by making ‘living’ conditions unbearable in Iraq, the people would overthrow Saddam.   Unfortunately, Saddam had control of most of the guns.
And before that when Saddam  was our ally and at war with Iran we allowed the shipment of biological and chemical weapon precursors to him for use against Iranians.  We looked the other way when he was using chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurdish villages in the north.
And today with our endless war on terrorism, we find it easy to overlook the deaths of over 20,000 children under the age of five…every day!  Because dealing with terrorists who killed a few thousand Americans over 10 years ago is a higher priority than saving innocent infants and children in poverty.   
Child deaths in the US are rare but still too high.  FBI statistics show an average of over 400 baby deaths each year from extreme physical abuse by their own parents or so-called caretakers (and these are just the ones reported).  These infant deaths are also the result of a human mind set that has no regard for innocent life -- or what experts call a ‘mental health problem’.   And, car accidents kill far more young children than guns.  The mass murder of children by guns is extraordinarily rare.  Sandy Hook was a horrific aberration.  But those who don’t like guns will use the horrors of the Sandy Hook massacre to limit the one thing they dislike most.  Guns.  Infant and child deaths?  Not such a big deal.  Intended or not, any focus on gun control or the freedom to own guns only distracts us from addressing the far greater child survival concerns that are easily preventable…here and abroad.   Why?
Face it.  We live in a culture that doesn’t really value all children.  We value our own, especially those that look like ours.
We quickly blame others (and other things) for mass murders.  But we ignore our responsibility the mass murder of innocent lives when our tax dollars are involved.  Or when billions of our tax dollars are used annually to subsidize other special interest ‘needs’ (oil industry,  tobacco growers, Wall street millionairs…) while children die. 
We are either hypocrites, ignorant, lazy or just plain crazy.  We know how to prevent mass murder by omission or commission.  We only lack the political will to do so.  We can’t seem to muster the courage to enforce the inalienable human right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.  A profound ideal that our founding fathers based the creation of this nation on….but never really followed.
Recently 8 health professionals delivering polio vaccines to children in Pakistan were gunned down simultaneously in different locations.  But don’t think it was guns that caused  their deaths.  Those doing the killing had a belief that our nation’s CIA had used a similar vaccine effort as a cover to confirm DNA evidence of Osama Bin Ladin’s location.   Now, the UN led polio eradication campaign has been halted there, and more innocent children will suffer, because our Global War on Terrorism was a higher priority.   Unfortunately, Americans may now also suffer more.  If the polio virus mutates before it is eradicated globally the new strain could spread to the US costing hundreds of millions of dollars and possibly the health or lives our children, and millions of children worldwide.
Guns don't kill people, forks don't make people fat, and pencils don't misspell words. Connecticut parents loved their children as much as we do. They have the 5th strictest ‘gun control’ state in the nation and it didn't matter.  It wouldn’t have mattered if they had outlawed all guns in the state.  A person can buy a gun in VA and bring it into CT.  And, if guns were outlawed in the US limiting their availability would be as effective as limiting the availability of drugs.  Even with an extremely intrusive police state…it just isn’t going to be successful.  (See Mexico’s war on drugs and it’s death toll of well over 30,000 people in the last decade.)
Is it possible to have so many guns in our nation and not have a high gun murder rate?  Yes.  Switzerland insists that every male of military age must keep a powerful, fully automatic assault rifle in his home.  By law every home is armed.  Some even keep mortars.  Yet Switzerland has one of the most law-abiding citizenry.  It has the lowest crime rate, and least violence of any country in the free world.   And it has remained free for over a thousand years. Compare it to New York and Washington where handguns are completely banned.   Maurice Turner, the Chief of Police of Washington, DC, once said that the District of Columbia gun ban law had completely failed and called for armed citizen's police auxiliary to help restore order.  But guns and elite army’s don’t ensure security either. 
Both sides of the gun argument must sooner or later come to the same conclusion.   Security is not a function of armaments or disarmament.   
Liberals believe disarmament is the path to security.  Conservatives believe armaments are.  Neither ensure security.  Security is not a function of armament or disarmament.  It is a function of justice.  This is so because of three basic factors. 
First, it is impossible to eliminate or even reduce the means of murder or mass slaughter given the dual use nature of all technology and the vulnerability of a human life.  A car in the hands of a determined individual can kill more people than an assault weapon (See: Timothy McVeigh or IEDs).  Machetes and clubs killed more Rwandan’s in 6 months than the guns Pol Pot regime used to kill Cambodians in a year.  Trying to limit or eliminate lethal technologies will require the universal loss of privacy on a scale unimaginable.  And that itself would cause mass murder because of the hostile resistance it would foster.  The bumper sticker “You can have my gun after you pry it from my cold, dead body” might come to mind.
Second, no army or sophistication of firepower can defend against a cleaver biological, chemical or cyber attack (or eventually nano weapons).  It's hard enough defending against IEDs and snipers.   Technological power gives advantage to those on the offense not the defensive.  Being offensive with any use of force that kills innocent lives only increases the lethal determination in bereaved survivors.   Trying to eliminate all the survivors to ensure security is genocidal.  Not a practical path to security.  As MKL once said taking “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”
Last, if someone really wants to commit mass murder, the freedom we have and the access we all have to an increasingly powerful, affordable, ubiquitous and stealth technology, ultimately makes each of us super powered individuals.
Our only hope is to invest in a world where justice is our primary path to security.  We must build a just world where all people are guaranteed the most basic of human rights [see the UDHR] and everyone is treated equally and fairly.  Yes, there will always be crazies.  But it is crazy to believe we can arm or disarm ourselves to achieve security.  Trying to do so will only hasten the sacrifice our most cherished freedoms. Not in the sense of losing access to guns.  But in the reality that our privacy and civil rights will need to be surrendered entirely in any serious effort to ensure that no one will have access to lethal force or WMD.
We must effectively treat the mentally ill but budgets wasted on trying to control drugs or weapons will drain existing government resources.
Most unfortunate we know that criminals can be 'made'.   Take a perfectly innocent child and torture him from birth and he will likely wind up with 'mental' health problems.   Family members may know of it and say or do nothing.  Rarely is a child is a born murderer, but most can be trained.
The mainstream media uses the term "school shootings" because it fits nicely into a liberal narrative that guns are to blame .  But by limiting our discussion only to shootings, we ignore these other lethal assaults on children. Assaults that are far more lethal than gun shootings.
On the same day of the Newtown killings -- a world away, a 36-year-old man walked into a grade school and stabbed 22 children.  In China, guns are banned so attackers generally use knives and meat cleavers.  What a relief this man was not armed with a car bomb, biology lab or chemistry degree.

My own experience with guns:
Dear Editor,
My childhood mirrored Debbie Dingell’s (“We need a new dialogue”, Washington Post, Oped 12-21-12) life in many ways.  I grew up with guns in the same era as she.  My father was a veteran of WW II, a boxer and willing brawler often for no reason.   I didn’t fear the guns in my father’s gun cabinet; I was comforted by them.  I knew that any day when I, my sister and/or my mother was on the receiving end of one of his physical assaults, I could later that night go the cabinet, load a shotgun, and relieve us of our occasional injury -- and our perpetual fear. 
Many days and nights I fantasied multiple scenarios of ending his life. Cutting his throat or crushing his skull with a bat or a hammer while he slept.  Rat Poison.  Gasoline.  I often wondered why my mother, a smart woman and experience hunter, had not done so herself.   When I told her of my intense desire her saintly Catholic demeanor warned me of the mental hell and lifelong regrets I would face if I acted on it.   That hit me hard.  Then, one night in a dream, my father was approaching me in anger, I raised a German grease gun (a WWII machine gun I’d seen many times in war movies) and without warning him… pulled the trigger.  I dropped him with a sense of righteousness, then continued riddling his body with bullets as his body jerked around on the ground.  I woke up sobbing – At that moment I realized I really didn’t want to kill him.  I just wanted to stop the violence and the fear.
Later I made the decision to physically prepare myself to try and counter his assaults.  I say ‘ try’, because he was a tall strong man, with two huge and lightning quick fists.  I became a wrestler.  Years later as a very capable 6’, 155 lb defender I used my skills to overcome his 6’2”, 220 lb assault.  After a brief struggle I was on top effectively countering his every effort to rise.  Exhausted and frustrated, he asked me “What are you going to do now?”  I said “I’m going to let you up”.  I did and he went to the gun cabinet only a few feet away and withdrew a loaded pistol.  He put in my face telling me between breaths “no one is ever going to get the best of me”.  I stood there pumped with adrenaline but feeling empty --in fear of dying.  My mother was in hysterics next to him, begging him not to shoot me.  He didn’t.  And our lives were changed.  There were far fewer assaults and a few valuable lessons gained.
I made up my mind to never hit a child or a woman and that I would offer my abilities in their defense if ever given the chance. ( I once slapped my teenage son in the face in anger, but it was I who cried…not him. )
I forgave my father for his ways.  He was an ignorant and pained man .  He dropped out of 3rd grade to help his family, eventually joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and at 20 got a High School equivalent credential.  Later in his life he lost his first son (2 years old) in a drowning accident for which my father was somewhat responsible.  My father never quite recovered. 
When I became a father I knew that my father beat me not because he hated me.  But because he loved me.  I believe his rage was largely because of his ignorance and his pain.  It was the only way he knew for expressing his love and concern for us.   I now believe all he really wanted was for our lives to work out.  He was an extraordinarily hardworking man who made many sacrifices that he was never fully recognized for or acknowledged. 
Today, a decade after his passing, I still thank him for helping me to become who I am today -
A somewhat disciplined individual committed to nonviolence, but able and willing to use verbal and physical force if needed to confront injurious or lethal injustices.
He also taught me another invaluable lesson applicable to the recent shootings in Newtown, Ct, the attacks on 9-11, the Israel-Palestinian problem, and virtually every other condition where innocent people are maimed, killed or forced  to live in fear.   If someone is pushed far enough --they will find a way to react.  Even if they are weak.  Violence begets violence.  Fear begets fear.  It is not the absence of guns that will stop us from killing.  It will be our collective decision to refuse the use of lethal force for resolving problems.   We have other options.  Kindness, love, education and the ultimate ideal in an unloving world --the force of law (justice) over the law of force (power).  

I don’t own a gun.  But I’m thinking about buying some.  I believe some very bad things are going to happen (Pandemics, bioterrorist attack, EMP event, astroids, earthquakes, volcanoes..).   There are rational reasons for owning impressive fire power but a tyrannical government is on the bottom of that list.
It’s the threats that are coming because of an absence of a powerful government -- a government that can actually prevent a biological or cyber terrorist attack, or better respond to a natural disaster… by creating global conditions where individuals or groups anywhere have no desire to use any kind of WMD, and every desire to aid those in distress.  
I favor a global government, specifically a world federation, mirroring much of the ideals of our nation’s founding fathers.   A federation capable of educating humanity and empowering us to the special task we have of ensuring the survival of our species -- and all species beneficial to the environment on which our lives depend.   A world government that enforces the 9 word pledge that every world citizen would be encouraged to make, “I pledge allegiance to liberty and justice for all”
Obama was right.   It’s not about the guns.  “We must change.”    

Monday, December 10, 2012

Israel's seige suicidal future

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is highly unlikely to be peacefully resolved as long as ‘national sovereignty’ remains the supreme factor in its resolution.  The UN General Assembly vote to admit Palestine into the Assembly was a faint in a useful direction – a super majority vote (138 to 9 with 41 abstentions) against the power of any state to do anything it wants, whenever it wants, to whom ever it wants, but unfortunately, any UN resolution lacks any real power of enforcement capacity.  That was the way it was designed  and maintained today.  The UN may as well be handing out toilet paper.  It would be far more useful in cleaning up the bloody mess this unresolved evolving conflict will inevitably yield.
The extraordinary effectiveness of Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ has again demonstrated Israel’s superior technological advantage in exchanging of violence.   That advantage won’t last.  A defensives siege mentality of fences and domes cannot sustainably ensure the security of Israel or Israeli citizens given the exponential evolution of weapon power, affordability and availability.   This unyielding trend ensures Israel’s eventual destruction more so than any demographic trend.  A nuclear weapon detonated near or smuggled underground Israel’s border  is one possibility.  A biological, cyber or chemical weapon is far greater possibility.  A biological weapon would be virtually impossible to stop and has the potential for dwarfing the human loss of life from original Jewish Holocaust.   The evolution of bio technology alone combined with other advances in conventional technology (drones, archery, catapults, clothing)… ensures that any rogue Palestinian force possessing such a weapon, can and mostly likely will deliver it to Israel.  Depending on the specific pathogen and it’s genetically engineered purpose it could dwarf the human damage of a nuclear detonation, and not be limited to the geography if Israel’s politically determined borders.
A simple fact.  The exponential growth of every technology and the advances these technologies give to the offensive aggressor means that either side’s possession of advanced weaponry will embolden their extremist elements.   This is not the path any reasonable, rational, sane people or nation should want to take.   If being offensive is the only perceived avenue to security and survival of a particular group, the limited civilization we have today anywhere is doomed.   If one believes the US will remain untouched by the inevitable escalation of offensive actions by either side, they simply don’t understand world history and our current reality.
Israel’s ‘sovereign’ decision to build 3,000 new homes on contested land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank only increases the Palestinian hatred of Israel and its abuse of its ‘sovereign’ power to over reach international norms and inalienable human rights the world has already in spirit and text agreed upon.  December 10th was anniversary of the global passage of the United Nations Universal Decoration of Human Rights.  Inalienable rights that Israelis’ also possess.    Rights that cannot be secured with walls and domes but only enforced by universal agreement.  
Humanity today is faced with a trilemma.  We want freedom, security and independence (national sovereignty ).   We can only have two.  Freedom is real.   Humans can do virtually whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want.  And there are consequences to this freedom.  If we ignore the consequences, security cannot be ensured.  Independence?   It only exists in our minds and on paper.  In the real world of increasing global interdependence… insisting we are independent forces us into an unwinnable dilemma , trading freedom for security or security for freedom.  Eventually we will lose both.  Future civilization depends on our jettisoning the illusion of independence with the primary objective of maximizing human freedom and security. 
Before making this leap we must fully understand that security is an illusion.  This should be increasingly obvious in today’s world of ubiquitous and increasingly powerful and affordable duel use technologies.  Given the impossibility of stopping the prospects of abusing any source of destructive technology Israel and the world have only has one chance for long term survival and security.  Putting the protection of human rights, all human rights (Israeli, Palestinian, Syrian, Iranian, Sudanese…) superior to the power of national sovereignty.
Israel is not alone in the world.  It is a choice we must all make.  The right choice has been profoundly evident since the invention of the nuclear weapon over 60 years go.  It is evident in the basic intent of every predominant religious text.   At the risk of oversimplifying the answer is love…and law.  The love of law instead of the law of force. 
It is the global ‘rule of law’ we must chose over the existing paradigm where the national sovereign  ‘law of force’ has persistently reigns supreme since the treaty of Westphalia over 600 years ago.  It’s past time we chose the global rule of law over nature’s law of the jungle.  Israel future and the future of civilization depends on making the right choice.   As Woody Allen once said, humanity stands at a crossroad. One road leads to hopelessness and despair.  The other, to complete annihilation.  He hoped we would choose the right path.   We have not.
Our nation’s founding fathers were face with a monumental choice over 200 years ago.  They could remain 13 independent states or move from the untenable confederation of states (no different than the UN is today) to a federation where the rule of law would replace warring between states .  They failed to include protection of all people’s inalienable human rights in their laws and this led to a use of force that killed more Americans than all other wars combined.  Our survival relies on us not making the same mistake. 
The movie “Lincoln” left this American feeling ashamed.  Most of us American’s today act as though some human lives are less valuable than others.  We see (consciously or unconsciously) populations that are undeserving of basic human rights and collectively we fail to elect individuals to represent us who will speak up and make the sacrifices essential to walking our talk as Americans, God fearing believers, or loving human beings. 
The sacrifice we must eventually make is the same Lincoln chose.  To abandon the power of state sovereignty to the supremacy of inalienable human rights.   I believe it is a choice supported by the Declaration of Independence, the Bible, the Torah, the Quran and every other respected religious or political doctrine.   God gave individuals rights.  It is not the gift to or of nations.   It is ‘we the people’ with the ultimate power of sovereignty.   If we continue to limit this ultimate sovereignty to the rights of nations we should not be shocked when those without political power turn to the power of technology.  It won’t be pretty.   It won’t be civilized.  It will be the greatest failure of ‘we the people’.