Category Archives: Social/Political Commentary

Firearms in America

 

minuteman

Let me first state for the record: I am pro-gun. I mean that in the sense that I believe that the Second Amendment gives us the right to own the gun of our choice. I can own a pistol, a rifle, or a shotgun. I can own as many as I choose. I can hunt or not hunt. I can target shoot or not. I can use the weapons or keep them for home defense. I can do anything or nothing at all with them, as long as I do not commit a crime.

I am also of the notion that the Framers of the Constitution knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote the Amendment. The country had just been created by a revolutionary war. The Colonists were (at the time) British citizens, and they took up arms against their own government. I believe in writing the Second Amendment, the Framers deliberately made the wording fuzzy;  first a nod to the militia, a product of the state, but then noting “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. While they certainly hoped there would never be another revolution, I believe they kept that door a bit open by making sure the citizens could do it again if necessary. Obviously, this is just my opinion, but these were very intelligent men, and the Second Amendment seems to be parsed in this strange way on purpose.

There is an ongoing debate today about guns; ownership, use, and misuse. Hardly a day goes by without seeing a news article or Internet piece about guns; usually in the negative. Groups on both sides clamor for more control of gun ownership or less control. Contrary “facts” are hurled back and forth, to the point of the absurd. There aren’t enough laws; there are too many laws. Murders with guns are up, murders are down, and on and on.

I decided to look into this for myself. I thought that by looking at some of the actual source numbers I might be able to determine who is speaking truth and who is speaking propaganda.  After some time attempting to research the issue I realized that in order to make any sense it was important to focus on specifics. I decided to narrow my look to deaths by firearms in the United States. I made some interesting discoveries. The reason I focused on death is because it is an absolute. Discussing injuries becomes less specific and less precise. Most reports indicate about 85 thousand people were “injured” by firearms in 2013, but fail to define type of injury. Of these numbers, approximately 33 thousand were treated and released, presuming a minor injury. I suspect that many of these could be people injured, for example, by running away from a shooting incident and perhaps falling down. It would be helpful if this reported number were more specific, but it is not.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the CDC recorded over 30 million non-fatal injuries in 2013. Once again, firearms accounted for about 85,000 of these injuries. To keep perspective however, it needs to be noted that the same report shows that 113,000 were injured by dogs, 405,000 people were injured in fires, 1.3 million were poisoned, and over 8 million injured in falls. So firearm injuries accounted for .003 percent (85000/30000000) of reported injuries in 2013.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been the offical recorder of death and injury by firearms for a few years now. Their online database, WISQARS (Web-Based injury Statistics Query and Reporting System), offers abundant data about all sorts of things, including deaths by firearm.  (CDC WISQARS)  The data base allows for sorting by categories and subcatagories, which allows specific data to be broken out. The most recent data available is for the year 2013. All the numbers that follow come from that report.

Total Deaths by Firearm 2013:  33636 

gun

Unintentional Deaths by Firearm (Accident) 2013:  505

Accidents with firearms are largely preventable. There is no doubt that there are people who are not careful with their guns, just as there are people who are not careful driving. In both cases, they and/or others can be seriously injured or killed.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no way to account for human carelessness, laziness, or plain stupidity. There is no way to detect it in an individual, which is why these people sometimes own guns and drive cars. There are hundreds of millions of guns in this country, and tens of millions gun owners. Positive education about gun safety, like the NRA offers, seems to be the best way to attempt to reduce these accidents.

Of the above number, 108 accidental deaths were children under the age of 18. Less I be accused of being heartless, this is horrible. No child should be killed this way. On the other hand, during the same year, 807 children died by drowning, 320 died in fires, and 106 were killed while riding their bikes.

The often-criticized National Rifle Association (NRA) probably does more than any other group to promote gun safety. They offer thousands of free and low-cost training programs to guide people how to use a gun safely.  It seems to me those who make the most noise about children being shot in accidents should be promoting the one group who actually does something about it, rather than proposing another round of “laws” which essentially do nothing. (NRA Training Courses).

Suicides by Firearm 2013: 21175

Frankly, this number surprised me. I never thought much about the numbers of people who commit suicide, much less those who use a gun to do so. From what I can gather, there are about 40+ thousand suicides in the U.S. each year, with firearms accounting for about half of that number. The majority of suicides of all types, including firearms, are committed by males. Males account for 86% of suicides, and the female suicide rate is 14%.

Some might make the argument that if a gun was not present, a person might not commit suicide, and I suppose that could be the case in some instances. But this is a specious argument. No one can truly understand the motivations of a particular suicide; we can only speculate. Similarly, supposing the presence of a gun had any impact on the action whatsoever is without merit.  If a person is despondent enough to take their own life, discussing the method they used is apropos of nothing.

According to data from the CDC, the overall suicide rate at around forty thousand suicides per year has not changed significantly since 1981. Firearms have consistantly accounted for around fifty percent of those deaths.

 As we can see already, the majority of deaths by firearms (65%) are suicide or accident related. Clearly these are an issue, but the anti-gun groups like to concentrate on homicide, giving the impression that murder by firearm is rampant. Certainly a word like “rampant” is fluid; what it means to you may be different than what it means to me, but let’s stick with the numbers for a bit:

Homicides by Firearm 2013: 11208

Still a large number, to be sure, but how does that break down? Who is killing whom ? Suppose we break down this number by the race of the victim? As this point, in addition to raw numbers, we’ll include the rate per 100,000 of the population as this can be instructive:

Homicide victims by race:  All Race Total 3.61/100M

White:  2799  1.42/100M

Hispanic: 1750  2.98/100M     

Black: 6364  14.84/100M

Let’s now look at children being killed, insamuch as this is a major point with the anti-gun groups:

Homicide deaths under the age of 18: All Race Total 1.27/100M

White: 159  0.37/100M

Hispanic: 207  1.25/100M

 Black: 598  4.62/100M

** Note: the numbers do not add up exactly to the overall figures, as it excludes homicides of other races.

It quickly becomes evident that blacks are killing blacks at about seven (7) times the rate of whites killing whites. The difference in deaths of children is over twelve (12) times higher. Overwhelmingly the victims are murdered by someone of their own race. There is some crossover, to be sure, but for the most part each race kills their own more often than not. Looking at the FBI homicide statistics based on race, for the year 2013, when race of the perpetrator was known, Whites were killed by other Whites 83.5 percent of the time, and Blacks  were killed by Blacks 90 percrent of the time.

Whites are 77.7% of the population, and accounted for 25% of all homicides. Blacks are 13.2% of the population and accounted for 57% of all homicides. Hispanics are 17.1% of the population and accounted for 16% of all homicides.

I would be castigated if I were to speculate on the difference in the White and Black homicide rate. I am not a social scientist, nor do I have any particular knowledge about the factors that go into assessing this. The numbers, however, are the numbers, and those are the facts. Causation is for others to determine.

The who, and now the where: Five cities account for about twenty-five percent of homicides: Chicago, 415; New York City, 333; Detroit, 332; Los Angeles, 255; and Philadelphia, 246.  Many smaller cities, however, have a much higher death per hundred thousand rate than the larger cities. East St. Louis, Camden NJ, Gary Indiana, Chester PA, and Flint Michigan all fall within the top thirty cities in rate of homicide.

While homicides by firearms occur throughout the U.S, it is clear that there is a concentration in urban areas.

Gangs: 2000 Homicides a Year

ms-13

Gang related homicides:   The Department of Justice reports that there are an average of 2000 gang-related homicides a year (Gang Related Homicides). Most of these appear to be gun-related, but there does not appear to be accurate statistics on this.

Gang members: Hispanic 46%, Black 35%, White 12%. There are an estimated 850,000 gang members in the U.S. in about 31,000 gangs.

According to the FBI, gangs account for about 48 percent of all violent crime, and as much as 90% in some urban areas. Several gangs such as The Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, and the infamous Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13, have national reach. MS-13, for example, has operations in 42 states.

FBI Gang Report

Mass shootings

The definition of a mass murder by the FBI is three or more people killed in a single incident. When there is a mass shooting it captures the headlines, sometimes for days or even weeks.  What is almost never written is that for as awful and tragic these killings are, they are still quite rare, and a very small percentage of people killed each year. Between 2007 and 2013, the average number of mass shootings in the U.S. was six per year, with a total average of forty people killed. In 2013 there were five shootings and thirty-six fatalities, and in 2014 there were two shootings and nine fatalities.

Mass murderers are obviously mentally ill.  It would be nice to suggest that these people could be prevented from acquiring firearms, but it simply is not possible. A few examples:

Adam Lanza Newtown Ct  (2012): Lanza shot and killed 28 teachers and children at a grade school. Lanza had Asperger Syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosed. Whether or not Lanza’s psychological disorders would have prevented him for obtaining guns is largely moot, inasmuch as the guns he used in the massacre belonged to his mother, who he also killed.

James Holmes, Aurora Colorado (2012): Holmes shot and killed 12 people and injured 70 others in a mass shooting in a movie theater. He apparently suffered from depression and obsessions from the time he was in middle school, and reportedly attempted suicide at the age of eleven. He not not see any mental health professionals for his conditions. He is very intelligent and graduated from college with honors and was a Phi Beta Kappa. He was enrolled in a PhD. program in neuroscience. He purchased the weapons and aummunition he used in the killings legally and completed the background check successfully. He had no criminal record.

Nidal Malik Hasan, Fort Hood Texas (2009): Hasan was a psychiatrist, and major in the United States Army. He killed 13 people and injured 30 others in a mass shooting at Fort Hood. Hasan is a Muslim, and many believe this shooting was an act of terrorism. It was not so classified, however, and is catagorized as workplace violence. Hasan had been in the Army since 1988, had a good military record and no criminal record.

Aaron Alexis, Washington Navy Yard (2013): While employed with a civilian contractor, Alexis entered the Washington Navy Yard and killed 13 people, including himself. A Navy veteran, he had been arrested a few times on minor charges, but never prosecuted, so he legally purchased a 12 guage shotgun he used in the murders. While some who knew him and the media suggested he was suffering from a mental illness, he had not been treated for any such illness.

As in many cases of mass murder, there are no laws that would have prevented these murderers from obtaining the weapons.  In many cases, the shooter had not received mental health attention, and did not have a criminal record, two of the “roadblocks” that might prevent a person from buying a gun.

The notion that a person being treated for a mental illness would have to be “reported” to somewhere is quite controversial. Requiring doctors to make such reports steps into the realm of doctor/patient confidentiality, and poses many legal questions. It is one thing for a doctor to report his patient has high blood pressure, it is something quite different to require a doctor to report his patient has a mental illness.

Mass Shootings. 1982-2015 Mother Jones Magazine

New York Magazine, Data on Mass Shootings

Domestic violence : 1569? **

It is very difficult to get reliable data on domestic violent deaths by firearm. According to the FBI, however, about 14 percent of murders are committed by a family member. Another 30 percent are committed by a person known to the victim (friend, neighbor, co-worker etc).

There are numerous “studies” which suggest that a firearm in the home contributes to the escalation of a domestic dispute, often leading to a shooting and/or homicide.  This may be true, or it may be not true, no one knows for sure. Simply put, a domestic dispute is usually within the confines of the home, and details are only known to those involved until a crime is committed.  Some statistical studies suggest a firearm in the home increases potential for violence, but like all such studies, it is speculation based on actual crimes. There is frankly no way to prove or disprove this theory, leaving it open for continual debate.

** This number was determined by using the murders by gun number: (11208 x14%)

FBI Statistics — Murder by relationship

 Guns and Gun Laws

No one knows exactly how many guns are in private hands in the United States. Many estimates seem to hover around the figure 270,000,000, and this estimate is considered low by many. Presuming this number is roughly correct, and 11208 homicides were committed with a gun in 2013, this means .00004 or .004 percent of the guns in the country were used for murders. Conversely it means that 99.996 percent of guns were not  used to murder anyone.

How many gun laws are there? A common figure often seen is 20,000, but that number is deceptive. While there may be thousands of gun regulations at the Federal, state, county, city, and local levels, Federal and state laws often trump local ordinances, rendering them moot. According to a study by the Brookings Institute,(Brookings Institute Study), there are about 300 major gun laws on the books. These laws can vary from moderate (Texas), to very restrictive (New Jersey). That being said, some cities such as Chicago and Washington DC which have very restrictive laws also have very high gun homicide rates.

There is currently no National gun registration law. Gun registration varies from state to state, with many states making registration voluntary. Many states require a permit to purchase a handgun, but do not require firearms already in a person’s possession to be registered.

One state with a strict registration law is New York. The state enacted a tough mandatory registration law in 2013. To date, around 50,000 firearms have been registered. The problem with this is that there are probably around 18 million guns in New York state. Obviously, many, many people are ignoring the registration law.

The shear volume of existing firearms makes the very notion of gun registration rediculous. It may make people feel better, but it will have no effect on homicides. Closing “loopholes” at places like gun shows, and requiring waiting periods on the purchase of new firearms does not even touch the vast numbers of guns in the population.

Registration of firearms effects only honest citizens. Criminals will not register guns. The “toughening” of laws is nothing more than a placebo it makes people feel like something is being done — until the next incident.

So are there too many guns, or too much violence? Obviously, only a small percentage of all guns are used in homicides, so one must think there is too much violence.  Curiously, violent crime in the United States in down and has been decreasing, even as the population grows. Gun ownership, as well, has been continually declining since around 1980.

Watching the media, one would think crime is exponentially higher today.  Actually, all violent crime, including murder, peaked in 1991 and has been going down consistantly ever since. Click the link for the numbers: Crime Rates in the United States

That being said, I find our propensity for violence today, particularly with younger people, to be disturbing.  It seems that the great majority of movies geared for young people, especially “action/adventure” movies are often wall to wall violence.  The abundance of violent video games in the “Grand Theft Auto” mode is equally bothersome. It strikes me that too many young people spend far too much time watching or being active players in things that appear to be violence just for the sake of violence. It seems to me that a kid who has thousands of hours experience with a game controller “killing” enemies would have done much better with his time riding his bike or playing baseball.

We live in a violent world, and this has always been the case since the dawn of time. Our access today to 24 hour a day news reporting and the Internet may make it seem more violent, even if it is not. To be sure, there are violent people and places where violence seems to happen more frequently. But overall, especially considering the huge numbers of firearms in this county, the United States is a pretty safe place.

 

References:

1. CDC Database: (CDC WISQARS)

2. NRA Training: (NRA Training Courses)

3. Gang Related Homicides:(Gang Related Homicides).

4. Gun Laws Reference: (Brookings Institute Study)

5. Mass Shooting Data: Mass Shootings. 1982-2015 Mother Jones Magazine

6. Mass Shooting Data: New York Magazine, Data on Mass Shootings

7. Domestic violence: FBI Statistics — Murder by relationship

8. Crime rates:  Crime Rates in the United States

Aristotle was a Greek Dude who Thought About Stuff…

The statement above was a snippet of a conversation I heard between two college students as I passed them in a hallway. One was asking the other about a question on an upcoming exam. I presume the question was something like “who was Aristotle?”. I have to wonder if the student gave the answer above, and the grade he received for it.

aristotle

I teach at a community college. I’ve been teaching for eighteen years. Some of the things that students say or write will stop you in your tracks. Much of would be truly funny if it came from a small child. Hearing or reading it from a college student is a different matter.

I don’t enjoy throwing rocks at our nations public education system, but the current definition of a “quality” public education seems to have slipped a few notches in recent decades. Actually it has slipped alot. The freshmen I see every September are only three months out of high school. Their knowedge, or actually their lack of knowledge is truly stunning.

Sometimes their spelling and use of the English language is creative to say the least. One student wrote about receiving passed down clothing as “hammydowns”. Another wrote about crime in her area and about all the “roofless criminals”.  Other students have written about being “lact toast and tolerant”, and described a verb as “past tents”.

It’s funny, but it’s not. We used to expect a certain level of knowledge from a high school graduate; today, not so much.

I wish it were simply the misuse of words; it’s not. These students seem to be missing any number of fundementals. At random in class one day I asked “how many pints in a quart?”. No one knew. “Okay,” I said, “try this: How many quarts in a gallon?”  One student — ONE student, knew the answer.

One student accused me of being “old school” expecting them to know these answers, to have them memorized. After all, couldn’t they just simply consult their smart phone if they needed to know? Why burden the brain carrying around that useless information?

Young people today are addicted to their smart phones. A few years ago when I walked down a hallway between classes, it was filled with the noise of students talking to each other. Today, the hallways are nearly silent, even when filled with students. Each one seems to be entraced by their phone, sending or receiving some mysterious message that renders them oblivious to everyone around them. Student used to get to know one another. Today it seems they are too busy with their electronics to be bothered.

The phones are their crutch. Without them, who knows what might happen? This seems like an exaggeration until you hear a story like this:

A student told me that he and his mother went to a local mall, less than ten miles from his home. When they came out, his mother’s phone was dead because she had forgotten to charge it. His phone did not have a GPS function. They did not know how to get home. They had to sit and wait while his mother charged her phone enough to restore the GPS. Ten miles from home, and they were lost.  I learned that many of my students rely on their GPS devices to get them virtually anywhere away from their immediate surroundings.  Without the technology, they are lost — literally. How is it even possible that we are a nation where families crossed the entire continent in covered wagons and a college student today gets lost ten miles from home?

I sometimes feel like I am belaboring this, but I see this sort of thing in my classrooms constantly. If recent high school graduates cannot do simple math without a calculator, and can’t find their way home from the mall, what the hell is going on? I find it enormously frustrating that aside from an occasional article I run across on this subject, most of us seem unconcerned. If our children are learning less and less in school, and are becoming addicted to electronic devices, shouldn’t we all be waving red flags? Apparently not.

Here’s what I know from observation: The majority of the students I see having the following difficulties:

1. They cannot do any sort of “difficult” math in their heads. This includes basic multiplication (9×12) or division (72/8). Simple addition (12+16+90) causes them to stumble. Most basic math requires they reach for a calculator.

2. Simple English; spelling, homonyms, defintions are difficult for them.

3. They have no inkling how government works. They cannot name the branches of government, how a bill becomes a law, or virtually any current elected officials outside of the President and Vice President.

4. Geography eludes them. States and capitols, forget it. Foreign countries, no clue. Even directions and distances befuddle them.

I could go on and on. They have virtually no knowledge of history; hardly a smattering of science, and most of them never read a book.

This is a generation who can send hundreds of text messages and “selfies” every day, but know almost nothing about the world around them.

So who is responsible for this mess, and why does no one seem to care?

The students would tell you they were not “taught” most of these things in twelve years of education. The teachers would say of course they were taught these things. The parents who tell you they don’t know or care. The teacher unions would tell you that kids today are getting the best education ever, they just need more money. The politicians would tell you all is well; just pass more legislation regulating the classroom and import more foreign workers to do the jobs Americans won’t (or can’t) do.

So who’s to blame? No one. Everyone. I just know these kids today know far less coming out of high school than I did coming out of eighth grade.

Bringing this back full circle, maybe Aristotle was just a Greek “dude” who thought about “stuff”.  Maybe that “stuff” isn’t important to learn anymore.  Maybe I’m just old and cranky.  But when I see these kids every week and speculate on their futures, I don’t feel angry, I just feel sad.

 

Here We Go Again

One thing I’ve learned about writing a blog; it’s difficult for me to stay quiet on controversial issues. I originally wanted to just write about things that interest me; that hasn’t completely worked out.

I’m writing this on September 11, thirteen years after the infamous event.

9-11

Last night, on the eve of 9/11, the President announced we are going up against our latest terrorist foe, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Of course, we’re going to “manage” this situation, attacking these terrorists strictly from the air, thus completely avoiding any American “boots on the ground”. It will take time, it will be difficult, but we’ll get this “problem” under control.

That is a lie.

We’ve been at “war” with Muslims for thirteen years. Be it Al Queda, Taliban, ISIS, or a dozen others wack-job groups, we’ve been killing them and they’ve been trying to kill us. Our Administration feverishly tries in their poltically-correct-always way to insure us that this is not a religious war. Well, it actually is. Even if we insist it is not a religious war to us, it’s certainly a religious war to them.  The President likes to tell us that the “moderate Muslims” are not like that, but it seems they are an awful quiet group. Whether it is from fear or because they agree, they are not prone to speak out against the so-called “radicals”. Makes one think there’s not much difference between “moderate” and “radical”

I don’t claim to understand Islam, any more than I understand Buddhism or Hindu. That being said, I do not recall any other religious people trying to kill us in the name of their god. Most religions seem to tacitly get along, or at least tolerate each other for the most part. Not the Muslims.

When the British left India, Muslims and Hindus murderously clashed, and this ultimately gave us Pakistan, separating the warring factions who still hate each other.

When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, one of their early acts was to blow up the ancient  Bamiyan Buddhist statues created in the 6th century. In the Balkins, Christians and Muslims killed each other in neighbor versus neighbor slaughters.

It could not be overstated how much Muslims hate the Jews. Muslims hate the Sikhs. Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslms even hate each other, and kill each other off by the boatload.

Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Christians. And always: Muslims. See the picture here? Of course I’ve only named a few of the planet’s many religions. I don’t know how well Muslims would get along with Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses, but I suspect it wouldn’t be cordial.

Technically, the Muslims are supposed to like Christians, since we were considered to be dhimmi, people of the Book,  peeps with similar background beliefs. For instance, Muslims supposedly think Jesus is okay; not as cool as Mohammed, but basically okay. For that, they were willing to let us live among them, provided we pay a tax known as a jizyah, and followed all their rules. In other words they would tolerate us Christians under certain restricted circumstances, but we must acknowlege and accept that they are in charge. Cool, huh?

These days, however, it seems that even the dhimmi deal is off the table. They don’t want us to live side by side with them. They don’t want us to live at all. We’re the kafir (infidels), and they want us dead. Beheading, shooting, or blowing us up, they don’t seem to care; just dead. 

behead

In and of itself, that’s nothing knew. Throughout our history other groups have wanted us pretty much dead. The Germans, the Japanese, the Viet Cong, to name a few.  We’ve be involved in a fair share of wars in our relatively brief history. These wars were based on any number of things besides religion: territory, ideology, power, etc.  We have no esperience fighting a religious war, which is why this is so dangerous.

No one in Washington wants to call our Mid-East conflicts religious, but what else could they be? The ISIS clowns have made it clear they want to establish an Islamic Caliphate, control of the entire Middle East.  If we left them alone and let it be Muslim versus Muslim slugging it out for power, would that be the end of it? Hardly. These crazies want their caliphate to rule the entire world, us included. The die has been cast on this one.

So are we just fighting the crazy Muslims? Which ones are they?  How do we tell? Do we just wait until the “moderate” Muslims start taking heads here? Apparently we do. The Fort Hood shooting for instance: Major Hasan was a “moderate” Muslim until he started shooting his fellow soldiers. The Boston Marathon bombers were just “moderate” Muslim students until they planted the bomb. Hell, even the 1993 World Trade Center bombers were just happy “moderate” Muslims living here until they planted the explosives.

Today I read a report that alleges three college-age girls (American citizens) from Minnesota have flown off to Syria to join the ISIS. Their parents reported this to the FBI, who is investigiating. In the same report, a twenty-something woman from Colorado was apprehended before she could do the same thing. Jihadis are no longer just Arabs.  They live among us.

hasan

I guess my point is this: we’re involved in a religious war whether we think we are or not. Radical or moderate, everyone we’re fighting is a muslim. They may come from Syria, Iraq, or Iran. They may be home grown from Texas or New Jersey; but they’re all Muslims.

Our politically-correct society has tried very hard to pretend that this is not about religion, and the more they play fantasy denial games the more it becomes evident that this is exactly about religion.

I do know this: we’re not going to “manage” this ISIS crew or any other gang that crops up by bombing them.  We’re not prepared to do Dresden-style firebombing of cities anymore, and frankly our “surgical” strikes aren’t so surgical. Besides, the crazies will just hide in among the civilians, and we won’t bomb them.  Eventually we’ll send in troops once again and this madness will continue.

But it’s not going to get better. This will be a long bitter fight, and nothing about it will be good. It seems we might be a little better off if we stopped pretending and realize the kind of war we are really in.

9-11 2

Richard Dreyfuss

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United Statesof America.

I’ve always enjoyed Richard Dreyfuss as an actor:

I’ve enjoyed Dreyfuss as an actor, but now he’s doing something more important, perhaps the most important thing he’s ever done.

Last summer I went to a talk by  Richard Dreyfuss at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. His talk was about The Dreyfuss Initiative, a program to encourage the teaching of civics in American schools. He makes a compelling case for why such education is needed more than ever today:

I know from first hand experience that Richard Dreyfuss is correct. I teach college freshmen, and their lack of understanding of almost any aspect of civics is stunning. I’m not talking about students being able to recite chapter and verse from the Constitution; I’m talking about students not having the foggiest notion how their government functions. Most cannot name the branches of government, have no idea how laws are created, and cannot name virtually any of the government officials who have such an impact on their lives.

I grew up in a political family. My father was a borough councilman, my mother a county committeewoman. I had family members active in politics and government from local to the state level. I saw the process in action almost every day of my life.  Later, when involved in veteran’s affairs, I lobbied state legislators, roamed Congressional office buildings in Washington DC, and even testified at Congressional hearings.

Civics and government to me was not a school subject, it was a way of life. But even then I knew many of my fellow students turned off when in civics classes. Back then it seemed to matter little. Today it matters a lot.

We live in a world of political clamor, especially online. Pundits and bloggers rant incessantly. Reader comments are filled with anger and rage over one political figure or another. Every government action or inaction raises the decible level. We yell, we scream, we raise our blood pressure, but we don’t get involved. Everyone screams from the sidelines about our horrible politicians, but no one wants to be one.

For years I was a reporter covering local governments. I attended countless borough council meetings when I was the only one in the audience. Local officials made decisions that impacted their citizens, but no one cared enough to show up.

I suppose what I was observing then was the slow descent into political ignorance.  If the people do not care about their government, why should they care if schools stop teaching it? It was boring anyway.

The less we know about civics, the less we hold together as a society. Our system was designed to put the people in charge, but if they do not understand that, a civilized society can turn into anarchy. If we do not teach our children, how can they posssibly ever know how to govern?

The Dreyfuss Initiative is an effort to restore civics education in schools. It is an attempt to re-capture what we once knew and took for granted, but  are on the verge of losing.

I don’t know anything about Richard Dreyfuss’ politics, nor do I care. This is not a partisan issue. He has stepped out of his actor role and stepped up as an American. That’s all I care about. His initiative deserves our support. Visit his website:

http://www.thedreyfussinitiative.org/

 

Pax Americana

When I first started this blog, I was pretty much determined to stay away from political issues or the “heavy” issues of the day. There’s enough of that on line already. Unfortunately, I find myself straying away from light-hearted fare and thinking about more serious issues. This is not to say I’m moving into pondorous thinking, but I now reserve the right to write about more important issues as well. This is not a particularly big deal, inasmuch as very few people read this blog. For those of you who do, I am grateful.

Pax Americana (American Peace)

This rather grandiose Latin term speaks to much of the world I grew up in. From the beginning of the twentieth century, world peace has depended almost solely on one thing: The United States.

After the Civil War, the world was relatively peaceful until the outbreak of World War I. Beginning in 1914 the Allies (Britain, France and Russia) battled the “Central Powers” of Germany and Austria-Hungary. These enemies, along with others joining in the fray, battled each other in a nasty trench-warfare conflict until 1917, when The United States entered the war. The United States had remained neutral until German submarines began sinking American ships and Germany approached Mexico to be a military ally. This tipped the scale in the allies favor, ending the war in 1918.

The United States thus became a player on the international stage, and solidified this position during World War II with the defeat of Germany and Japan. Ending the war with the use of the first atomic bomb, The United States became the world’s Superpower.

In the years that followed, American political leaders were mostly concerned about the rise of “International Communism”, primarily the Soviet Union (the Chinese were in the equation too, nut not considered a major threat at the time). Certainly we ran up against them in the Korean War, but that was an anomaly. We were not yet ready to start throwing our weight or our nukes around. The Korean War was more a test of loyalties, seeing who would side with us against evil when the chips were down. We used the quaint rubric of the United Nations as a cover, and it pretty much showed that our real allies when the rubber met the road were few,  and their support was more cosmetic than real.

We maniacally worked to enhance our nuclear weapons, developing far bigger and sophisticated nuclear bombs and delivery systems. We were way out ahead in the game,  but thanks to some friendly spying by the Soviets, aided by the Rosenbergs and some others (look them up if you want), the ‘ol “Ruskies” soon reached a rough parity with us. The new acronym in this tit for tat development race became known as MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. This meant if we shot ours and the Soviets shot theirs, we would both blow the crap out of each other and nothing would be left.

MAD

This Mexican standoff resulted in some pretty tense times, highlighted by the 1962 Cuban missle crisis, when the Ruskies blinked first.

This Superpower race continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980’s.  We then became the world’s only remaining superpower and the world’s cop, or at least the world’s interventionist, getting involved in various struggle around the globe.

A quick look on line and we see some of the places we got involved around the world in the past several decades:

The CIA was involved in the UNITA movement in Angola, the Solidarity movement in Poland, the Contra revolt in Nicaragua, and the Khemer NLF movement in Cambodia. We had troops involved in Lebanon, where 241 Marines were killed in a bombing in Beirut. We got involved in El Salvador, Grenada, and Panama. We bombed Libya.

We started the Gulf War in 1991, protecting Kuwait. We intervened in Somalia, and lost troops in the infamous Blackhawk Down event. We sent troop to Haiti, and bombers to Bosnia/Serbia. We fired missles into Afghanistan and the Sudan.

Since September 11, 2001, we have been involved in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. All this not to mention drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, as well as an on-going drug war against the cartels in Colombia.

We are the world’s cop. We have been involved in global conflicts large and small for decades. The moral correctness and the effectiveness of these interventions may be debatable, but much of the world sees us as the one country who will get involved anywhere to right a perceived wrong. Additionally, we would defend our friends without reservation, jumping into any fray to protect them. This may not have brought peace to the world, but it maintained a stability. Local and/or regional issues stayed just that, the fires of warfare did not spread across the world. With the Big Cop on the beat, most belligerents took caution.

captamerica

 Now that may be changing.

We’re tired, we’re worn out, and we’ve been taken for granted. Our “allies” have sytematicly dismantled their own armed forces, reasoning that we would take care of them if they had a problem. They have become so used to living under the “umbrella” of the United States they see little reason to waste precious resources on defense. Let us spend the money.

We have approximatelty 1.4 million people in our active military, spending in excess of $625 billion per year, about 5% of our Gross Domestic Product. Britain has about 206,000 troops and spends about $63 billion or 2.3% of their GDP.  France; 222,000 troops, $31 billion, 2.3% GDP. Germany; 183,000 troops, $45 billion.

The list can go on and on. Our allies have happily let us do the heavy lifting as they reduced their armed forces. They knew we would protect them, so they had better uses for their money.

Now something has happened. We too, are cutting back, reducing our forces. Current proposals would reduce some of our armed forces to pre World War II levels, the lowest numbers of troops and equipment in over 70 years. Additionally, the current Administration has made it pretty clear we’re no longer the intervention type. We’re withdrawing from Afghanistan, we’ve mostly left Iraq, and our “footprint” on the world stage is diminishing. Don’t think our enemies have not noticed.

If the United States is no longer policing the world, what happens? If the teacher leaves the playground, what do the bullies do? Exactly.

And the bullies are starting to come out to play. Islamic terrorism is on the rise, most recently embodied in the so-called ISIS, which means something about an Islamic state, but who cares? These are full-blooded loonies sweeping across Syria and Iraq, chopping off heads of men, women, and children along the way. First called the “junior varsity” by our beloved President, these monsters in just a few short months have risen to the level of a serious threat to us, as noted just today by our Secretary of Defense.

isis

 

So now what? Do we go fight them in the Middle East, or ignore them unless they come to our door? Does Pax Americana still exist, or have we retired from the field? I don’t know the answer, nor how this will play out, but it seems playing the world’s cop is much easier to begin than to end.