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.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Economic inequality doesn't just threaten our economy.

The problem with Charles Lane’s analysis of Sanders and the Pope’s concern regarding income inequality and global poverty (Washington Post 4-14-16)  is how he limits his perspective to economics.  His stats are correct, but if he looks at national security threats to the US posed by the remaining global poverty that capitalism and free trade have not helped, he might change his tune.  
Remaining deficits in global economic development still cause the deaths of over 17,000 child deaths and 42,000 new refugees every day as a result of war, hunger, extreme weather conditions, infectious disease, terrorism, genocide and the persistent violation of other human rights.  Each threat is a result of capitalism and free trade’s failure to prevent.  
Recent Senate testimony by Retired Marine Corps General, (former) White House National Security Adviser and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, James Jones confirms what a 1980 bipartisan Presidential Commission on World Hunger concluded. 
“In the final analysis, unless Americans -- as citizens of an increasingly interdependent world -- place far higher priority on overcoming world hunger, its effects will no longer remain remote or unfamiliar.  Nor can we wait until we reach the brink of the precipice; the major actions required do not lend themselves to crisis planning, patchwork management, or emergency financing... The hour is late.  Age-old forces of poverty, disease, inequity, and hunger continue to challenge the world.  Our humanity demands that we act upon these challenges now...”. 
 President Jimmy Carter’s Commission went on to warn about the rise in terrorism, environmental degradation, wars and revolutions we could expect if we failed to make ending hunger and the worst aspects of global poverty a top US national security priority.  
General Jones, Bono the musician, and even Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Appropriations agree.  Unless we make global development a far higher national security priority and make the resources available we won’t be able to afford the economic consequences.   Even Mr. Lane must be aware that this global deficit of crisis prevention funding will be bad for everyone.

Monday, April 11, 2016

CVE: Relying on it means we have already failed at prevention.

After experiencing two long and intense days with the most knowledgeable and committed people targeting the root causes of violent extremism this week in Washington DC I learned two things.  First, the acronym CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) is still debated as a useful acronym.  Second, because of lack of funding for it and persistent inter-agency and international barriers it is not going to work as well as hoped or needed.  Just one Paris or Brussels like attack here in the US and we (US citizens and policy makers) are far more likely to turn to the dark side than the light.
But first, the definition and terminology.    CVE means something different to everyone.  Agreeing on each element, its priority and order of implementation is inherently problematic given that each of the ‘independent’ factors and players that need to be integrated by multiple agencies after being funded by multiple Congressional Committees competing with other budget priorities.
The terminology.   The first word in CVS, “Countering” seems rather belligerent in nature (use your word processor synonyms function and look it up).   ‘Undermining, engaging, preventing, preempting’…may have been better words but the White House just announced the creation of a CVE Task Force and appointed its Chair.  Changing it now will not be easily.
“Violent” is a perfect word.  It seems self-evident that ending violence against innocent people is always a good choice.  At least Christ, Gandhi, MLK and Mother Theresa believed so. The glitch arises when we comprehend that our primary tool for confronting violent extremists uses violence.   And, in the context of war, even when collateral damage is highly discouraged (at least by the US)… the violent death of innocent people is ultimately accepted as the cost of waging war.   So using violence that inevitably kills innocent people is an unfortunate but inevitable product of our military approach to remove violent extremists from the ‘battle field’.   And this inconsistency assists violent extremists in recruiting more moderate extremists to their violent cause.  We seem to believe that war itself is not a form of violent extremism.   For us it’s a well accepted norm when we feel threatened.
“Extremism” is an accurate word.  But like all tools and technologies it has dual use.   The actions of Al Qaeda and ISIS are extreme!   But in a world where national sovereignty is the accepted norm for managing relations between nations and people, and human rights are a rhetorical priority and rarely a real one, the very concept that human rights should be superior to the rights of nations is also considered “extreme’.   Even if this extreme may be our only means of significantly preventing violence against all innocent people.   
This extremely logical ideal is not new.  After the horrors of World War II (leaving 50 million dead, uncounted millions of refugees, a genocide murdering six million, and the debut of a new weapon that could vaporize 100,000 people in a flash) insightful thinkers drafted a list of principles they believed could prevent future generations from experiencing such unprecedented horrors.  The list was titled “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and unanimously passed.  
Unfortunately, world leaders then, created a global institution and international system in which ‘We the People’ were only represented in a phrase in the Preamble of the new institution’s charter.  The protection of human rights had no functional article.  Worse yet, those leaders congealed a global institution of grand hope but no real power (except for a few nations with the most military power – that could veto whatever the rest of the world wanted).   This veto empowered, high-minded talk fest is still known as the United Nations.  And, it still retains war and sanctions (which can be more deadly than war - or spark one) as the world’s the primary tools for resolving differences between nations and peoples if words don’t work.  
Thus, over the last few decades’ wars continued (both hot and cold).  Russia’s military support for Syria’s murderous Assad is actually legal under international law.  Some have argued that nuclear weapons were a far better deterrent to another world war that the UN.   That’s MAD.  What’s worse is that any ‘peace’ up till now has really been just a time for rearming, inventing new weapons, and planning for the next war.   And under this system and structures war remains an option today.   
The UN wasn’t worthless.  It saved more lives in ten years with the global eradication of smallpox than all the lives lost from wars and genocides over the last 120 years.  It demonstrated what was possible when every nation in the world cooperated in stopping a global killer.  That victory and a few other minor UN successes have been relatively forgotten in the wake of its persistent failures.  Originally tasked with addressing root causes…it was never given the power or the money.
Humanities greatest failure may be not ending world hunger.   This killer was taking the lives of nearly 42,000 children under the age of 5 each day in the late 1970s.  Efforts to define terrorism exist today but there should be no debate that the most terrifying of all human experience has always been the loss of a child -- or the fear of losing one.   Now that death toll down to about 17,000 a day.   But, it’s still a greater death rate than the Jewish Holocaust.  Yet it still never registers as an issue in any political campaign.  That’s more than shameful.  It’s profoundly foolish.   In 1980 Jimmy Carter’s bi-partisan Presidential Commission linked world hunger to US national security making fourteen references to it that were tragically ignored.  It concluded “In the final analysis, unless Americans -- as citizens of an increasingly interdependent world -- place far higher priority on overcoming world hunger, its effects will no longer remain remote or unfamiliar.  Nor can we wait until we reach the brink of the precipice; the major actions required do not lend themselves to crisis planning, patchwork management, or emergency financing... The hour is late.  Age-old forces of poverty, disease, inequity, and hunger continue to challenge the world.  Our humanity demands that we act upon these challenges now...”  Presidential Commission on World Hunger, 1980.
It also stated The most potentially explosive force in the world today is the frustrated desire of poor people to attain a decent standard of living. The anger, despair and often hatred that result represent real and persistent threats to international order…  Neither the cost to national security of allowing malnutrition to spread nor the gain to be derived by a genuine effort to resolve the problem can be predicted or measured in any precise, mathematical way. Nor can monetary value be placed on avoiding the chaos that will ensue unless the United States and the rest of the world begin to develop a common institutional framework for meeting such other critical global threats as the growing scarcity of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources, environmental hazards, pollution of the seas, and international terrorism. Calculable or not, however, this combination of problems now threatens the national security of all countries just as surely as advancing armies or nuclear arsenals.”
And: “The Commission believes that promoting economic development in general, and overcoming hunger in particular, are tasks far more critical to the U.S. national security than most policymakers acknowledge or even believe. Since the advent of nuclear weapons most Americans have been conditioned to equate national security with the strength of strategic military forces. The Commission considers this prevailing belief to be a simplistic illusion. Armed might represents merely the physical aspect of national security. Military force is ultimately useless in the absence of the global security that only coordinated international progress toward social justice can bring.”
Consider cost from ignoring this persistent cause of suffering.  How different would the world be today if the US had been made it a top national security objective?
Now our world’s life support system is threatened by extremes in climate change.  And again the UN’s power to host conferences and deliver promising words is infinitely greater than its capacity to deliver tangible change.  Even the US military believes this threat is a security game changer.  Many scientists believe is an existential threat to civilization.   And, while nearly half the world is focused on terrorism and the other half on environmental dangers there are other global threats being largely ignored.   One pandemic alone, like the Spanish Flu, could cost more lives than another world war.  Such a mass killer is inevitable and overdue.  And it is a threat that can be sparked by gross man-made environmental damages or war, or exacerbated by either.  And each of these threats are rooted in global injustices that remain a low tier priority.
A June 2015 report titled “Confronting the Crisis on Global Governance” by the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance (co-chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari) offered us a two word summary.   “Just security.”    The 140 page report details the persistent reality that without global justice our individual, national or global security will be vanishing.   The report and its 8 page Executive Summary is at:
And, the threat list is growing.    The power and increasingly affordability and ubiquitous technologies mature exponentially.   The dual use nature of all technology is offering both unprecedented solutions and unimaginable capacity for destruction and disruption.   From the proliferation of WMD, economic instability, or the evolution of new types of weapons (drones, cyber, bio, nano….) to the existential threat of artificial intelligence, both our national institutions and anemic global institutions are increasingly dysfunctional to prevent or even cope with them.
There is one overarching reason why.   We continue believing fooled that independent nations using independent agencies can effectively resolve globally interdependent problems.
In the CVE conference and in every other thoughtful discussion had, there are several word phrases stressed repeatedly.   The “need for a comprehensive approach”, a “holistic approach”, a “whole of government approach” to address ‘root causes’.   And, of course, the word “prevention”.  
Thus, any CVE strategy or tactic devised is an admission that we have failed at prevention.  And every effort to integrate CVE tactics using existing institutional systems and structures is doomed to fail.   Because every existing institution and system is based on the mental concept of independence -- and overcoming this barrier will require a systemic approach an independent unit is incapable of.  Like the prioritization of the universal protection of human rights over any and all independent nations.  A holistic global approach to human rights makes sense but is obviously unachievable if our collective worship of national sovereignty endures.   In our era of hyper globalization, our freedom, security and prosperity is at the mercy of a non-systemic governing system (i.e. global chaos).
There is another word often used in reference to terrorism, war fighting, and limiting power.  After the first Gulf War Marine Corp General Zinni  (CENTCOM Commander) championed the ‘federating’ of US forces to maximize their effectiveness on the battle field.    After the 2003 invasion of Iraq and long before the creation of ISIS, Senator Biden (now US Vice President) suggested the federation of Iraq.  Others have recently suggested federating Syria and Libya as a means of maximizing the security of vastly different sects committed to the freedom of practicing their own religion.  This systemic structural approach was used in the creation of our own nation.   And even here, it’s safe to say that it was the ideal of putting the protection of human rights above states’ rights that allowed for our nation to be created, survive, and eventually thrive.  But only after we corrected the fundamental flaws in our original Constitution that counted Blacks as only 3/5ths of a human being and women as unworthy of voting.
Don’t hold your breath for a world federation any time soon.  But no one should hold their breath for the prevention of violent extremists in a world of so many political barriers (national and global) to protecting the fundamental human rights of all humanity.  
The important thing to recognize now is that time is NOT on our side.   Another word commonly heard among those fully aware of the threats we face (terrorism, climate change, WMD proliferation, economic instability, cybercrime, evolution of weapons in air, sea and space, AI…) is “urgency”.   Urgency in saving lives – and the foundation of our freedoms and security…our economy.    We can no longer afford a dysfunctional government only responds to crisis.  Up front investing in the systems and structures essential to preventing extraordinarily expensive crisis is a must.
The late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once said, “Structure is destiny”.   Until we have a fully integrated global structure of governance that effectively protects everyone’s human rights with the legitimate use of force, we will continue to see the forfeiture of our freedoms, our security, or our prosperity.   
Don’t believe those who say we don’t have to trade freedom for security without yielding our independence.   If we believe our actions or inactions don’t have consequences we are forced to make this trade.   Independent efforts by definition fail to acknowledge our global interdependence.  We do not face a ‘freedom/security’ dilemma.    We face a trilemma.  Freedom, security and independence.  We can only pick two…so pick wisely.   Independence is a myth that exists nowhere in the universe.  Ridding our minds and political documents of this mythical mental construct is our only means of maximizing both our freedom and security in this entirely and irreversibly interdependent world.  This is what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized.  We are free to do what we want. We will never be free from the consequences.   Making the UDHR an enforceable global document won’t create utopia or heaven on earth.  But it will reverse the trends that taking us toward hell on earth.   For now, many CVE professionals will keep their jobs.  Some may even acquire funding for their pet CVE programs.  But don’t expect enough success or funding to bring sustainable security and protection of our most cherished freedoms --  if grave global injustices persist.   
Woody Allen once said “Mankind is facing a crossroad - one road leads to despair and utter hopelessness.  The other to total extinction. I sincerely hope we choose the right road”.  Our current view has hidden a third road.  It’s the road that most American’s have already pledged to take under our flag.  “Liberty and justice for all’.
Here’s a new word.    'Anosognosia'.   It is a medical term that explains a condition of a person suffering from a disability, but is unaware of that disability.  Our disability is imagining we can resolve interdependent problems with independent governments and agencies.  We all know the word that describes doing something over and over again. Expecting a different result.  This may sound crazy.  Even extremist.  But let’s try something both new and old.

"A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'Universe'; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security." -Albert Einstein. As quoted in Quantum Reality, Beyond the New Physics, p. 250.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Zika carrying mosquito loves our road side litter.

Dear Editor,

Robert Novak and Paul Driessen were correct in topping their list of things “people…need to do…now” to stop the spread of mosquito borne diseases with their suggestion we “destroy mosquito-producing sites” (It’s Not Just the Zika Bug, Washington Times 4-4-16).   Unfortunately they failed to mention two of the most obvious and impactful actions everyone can take for accomplishing this.   First, as with the doctors Hippocratic Oath, ‘Do no harm’.  Just stop littering!   Second, clean up the existing road side litter ASAP before the breeding season begins.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the Zika, Dengue fever, Yellow Fever, and Chikungunya viruses need only the smallest amount of standing water to reproduce.  Our advantage is that they rarely fly “further than 80 feet from where they hatch”.   The mosquito’s key advantage is our littered road sides providing multiple breading containers (cans, bottles, plastic bags, tire fragments and anything else that can hold water) every 10 feet or less.  Our discarded trash provides the perfect transmission belt to nearly every farm and neighborhood in our nation.

Next time anyone is feeling the urge to toss something out a vehicle window they need to remember that such an simple act can cost them more than a fine.  It is increasingly likely to come back and bite them (and thousands of other people) with a painful, debilitating or deadly disease.  The economic cost will be astronomical.

Check with your local government and adopt a road to keep trash free.  The exercise will do you good.