Category Archives: Social/Political Commentary

It’s Still the Economy, Stupid

its-the-economy-stupid

We are in the midst of a presidential election campaign, and all hell seems to be breaking loose.  Businessman Donald Trump, the putative Republican nominee is wreaking havoc with pundits and critics on both sides of the aisle.  His views on everything from immigration to foreign policy are seen as controversial to say the very least. Virtually every time he opens his mouth some critic claims that it is another example of why he is crazy; a lunatic, a fascist.

One would think the chances for this bombastic  real estate mogul would be minimal at best; yet he is sweeping the field during the primary season, and the numbers of supporters seem to grow daily. Why might this be?

Critics will tell you many things about Trump supporters, most of them not very kind. From the left especially, Trump supporters are seem as racists, rednecks, poorly-educated, slovenly hillbillies (no disrespect to hillbillies). The vitriol seems endless, but that is just part of the political climate of 2016. It’s nasty and pretty brutish.

One could look at any one of a number of issues and cross swords over the Trump position.  Indeed, any person may see any one of a dozen issues as most important  in this election.  I see primarily one. To steal a phrase from the “Rajin’ Cajun”, James Carville during the Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid”.

Carville was doing nothing more than stating the politically obvious, something known for decades:  people vote their pocketbooks. I would submit that one reason Donald Trump is doing so well is that the American economy is in the tank. Before we talk numbers and statistics, however, let’s look at a little history:

rca victorRCA Victor, Camden New Jersey

I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in South Jersey, about ten miles from Camden, New Jersey. Camden was a thriving manufacturing town.  RCA Victor made radios and televisions, Campbell Soup,  Hollingshead Corporation made polishes and waxes, Warren Webster Company made heating and cooling components.  New York Shipyard actually built ships;  big ones, right in Camden.

South Jersey was ripe with industry:  Owens Illinois and Owens Corning companies made fiberglas insulation and glass bottles in multiple factories.  Wheaton Glass made all sorts of glass products, as did dozens of smaller companies.  Additionally, South Jersey had a thriving agricultural industry (the famous Jersey tomato).

Jobs were everywhere and easy to find, without even crossing the Delaware River to Philadelphia, where jobs were even more plentiful.

In those days, a person with a little backbone could land a decent-paying job, support a family, buy a house, and take that summer vacation.  It wasn’t difficult, all it took was hard work.  In those days, folks with a minimal education could get a decent manual labor job and high school graduates could become “management trainees”.  For those with a college education, management positions were abundant. Today, it’s all gone.

Today, Camden is rated as one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. Poverty and crime are rampant. Those factories are all gone, torn down and not replaced with anything except littered empty lots. The other factories in South Jersey are mostly gone too,  several of them left standing as a ghostly reminder of what once was.

Why?

Why did these jobs go away? Why do we manufacture almost nothing today?

We know where the jobs went:  The last television set was manufactured in the US in 1999. Today, most are made in China.  Campbell’s still has it’s “world headquarters” in Camden, but no longer manufactures anything in the city (no more Jersey tomatoes in your tomato soup).

savannahThe NS Savannah, the world’s first commercial nuclear powered ship was built in Camden. Today, most shipbuilding takes place in other countries.

Tariffs

A tariff is a tax on imported goods. The tariff is used to regulate the flow of imported products into the country, as well as to protect the prices of domestic goods from low-cost (foreign) competition.

The United States has used tariffs in trade with other countries since 1789. Tariffs ranged from a low of around 15 percent to a high of around 45 percent in 1870. In the 20th century,  tariffs declined as trade with other countries increased. By the end of World War II, the average tariff on foreign goods was around 8 percent.

By the 1970’s tariffs went down to around six percent,  which spurred the import of foreign automobiles, particularly Japanese.  American auto workers fought for raising tariffs, but lost. The government agreed to a “voluntary” restriction of imports by the Japanese.  We all know how this played out.  Other American industries, such as steel, TV’s, textiles, and clothing were already collapsing from low-cost imports. The loss of the American auto industry was a major event.

In the 1980’s, the Republicans abandoned protectionism, and tariffs fell even more. Tariffs drifted downward to around 3 percent. More and more American goods were being replaced by goods from foreign manufacturers.

NAFTA

The North American Free Trade Agreement  (NAFTA), was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1994. This law effectively removed all tariffs between the United States with Canada and Mexico.

Ross Perot, a third-party candidate for President and Texas businessman in 1992 opposed NAFTA. He said this:

 …We have got to stop sending jobs overseas. It’s pretty simple: If you’re paying $12, $13, $14 an hour for factory workers and you can move your factory South of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor,…have no health care—that’s the most expensive single element in making a car— have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement, and you don’t care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south
…when [Mexico’s] jobs come up from a dollar an hour to six dollars an hour, and ours go down to six dollars an hour, and then it’s leveled again. But in the meantime, you’ve wrecked the country with these kinds of deals.

Soon after NAFTA,  significant changes in the balance of trade began.

 Maquiladoras

malqMexico began immediately setting up maquiladoras, or manufacturing shops right over the border in Mexico. These plants used imported components and  produce goods for duty-free export into the United States.  Today there are over 3000 maquilladoras, shipping duty-free goods into the United States every day.

Government officials argue that these free-trade agreements are good for the economy, but don’t like to talk about the 700,000 American jobs lost because of NAFTA.

Since NAFTA, the US has negotiated at least fourteen (14) additional free trade agreements with countries around the world, including, but not limited to China, Jordan, Oman, Peru, Columbia,Honduras, Panama, and South Korea.  We have pending trade agreements with all of the other countries in the Western Hemisphere, all of Europe, the Middle East, and every country touched by the Pacific Ocean (Trans Pacifiic Partnership, TPP). In other words, free trade with the rest of the world.

Try finding a major product manufactured in the United States today — look around your home, look at labels.  My guess is you will find precious few newer product “Made in the USA”.

 Figures lie, and liars figure …. old adage.

fred

An obvious question about all this free trade is how has this effected gainful employment in this country. Well, that seems to depend on who you ask.

The official unemployment rate hovers around five percent , which the government and the Chamber of Commerce would tell you is pretty good. But is that number accurate, and what does it mean?

That five percent calculates out to around 8 million people out of work. This however is only the “official” unemployment; people seeking work and collecting unemployment benefits. Once a person stops collecting benefits, they are off the list — whether they found work or not. The government doesn’t exactly list them as employed, although that is the implication. It just removes them from the count. So official unemployment: 8 million.

On the opposite side of that coin, Trump and others have said there are as many as 94 million out of work. Well, that isn’t right either. That number includes anyone over 16 years old not reported as working. So it includes teenagers and others in school as well as retirees, who obviously are not working.

According to the Bookings Institute, there are probably about 13 million adults who are not collecting benefits but still not working, or working only part-time and seeking full time employment. So we’re really looking at around 21 million people, a 12-15 percent unemployment rate. Obviously, this is much higher in certain demographic groups.

And then there are those who are working but…. The “underemployed”.

If a person made $50,000 per year and lost their job, and the best new job they could find paid only $25,000, they are underemployed. Millions of people technically “working” are working at jobs earning far less than they once did, with little prospect of returning to the higher pay they once enjoyed.

Several estimates suggest around nine million people fall into the “underemployed” category, bringing our unemployed/underemployed number to about 30 million people.  Is the economy working? Not for them.

The Future — Manufacturing and technology.

America has been losing manufacturing jobs since the early 1980’s, and continues to do so. The suggestion that the jobs lost to other countries were only low-skilled jobs is frankly nonsense. Regardless of the skill levels, lost jobs are lost jobs — they’re not coming back.

Add to this the fact that technology is advancing rapidly, causing the potential loss of even more jobs. Ever think how many bank tellers lost their jobs because of ATM’s? Not likely, because we tend not to pay attention, but we should. This becomes even more apparent when we consider the current clamoring to raise the minimum wage. If employee costs cut into a company’s bottom line, something is going to give, and that something could be even more people losing their jobs.

The United States has historically used things like tariffs to protect jobs. It’s only really been since NAFTA (1994) that politicians and corporations seriously embraced this world-wide “free trade” concept. They promoted the idea. and still do claiming it is good for the American economy, and any other stance is a step backward to isolationism. This of course, is nonsense. The politicians have profited, corporations have profited, wealthy stockholders have profited; all while the American worker has suffered.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan famously asked this question.:

“Next Tuesday is Election Day. Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago? And if you answer all of those questions yes, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for. If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.”

Ask yourself that same question thirty-six years later. Think about your answer.

Full circle

trump

This brings us back to Donald Trump. It’s not clear if re-imposing tariffs or other actions will bring back American jobs, especially manufacturing jobs. But Trump is pointing to a hot-button issue for millions of folks. He calls it out, and puts it on the front page. Whether or not he could change anything would remain to be seen. But he’s talking about it, something other politicians have dodged and dodged and dodged.

Certainly there are other issues in this election, and I’ll be writing about some of them as well. But if our economy and our future economic condition isn’t a central issue in 2016, then I don’t know what is.

 

 

 

 

 

Immigration Part II: Demographics

 

overpopulation2

The world is changing, and not a little bit. I’m not talking about climate change, I’m talking about people change.  There are significant changes taking place all over the world, and they will effect everything.

As I write this, the earth’s population is about 7.4 billion people. This number is fluid because we are adding to the population at a rate of something like 200,000 people per day. That, by the way, is not births. It is births minus deaths, or an actual net gain.

Roll that number around in your brain for a minute. That’s more than the population of Little Rock, Arkansas (197,706), Salt Lake City (190,884), or Providence, Rhode Island (179,154) every single day. We are seeing a population explosion like nothing the world has ever seen, and we have no idea what it all means.

First a little perspective. From the dawn of time, literally from the beginning of mankind thousands of years ago, the earth did not reach one billion people until about 1800. Thousands and thousands of years to reach one billion.

The second billion came just 130 years later in 1930, the third billion in 1959, the fourth in 1974, the fifth 1987, the sixth 1999, and we reached seven billion in 2011. At the current rate, we’ll hit eight billion around 2024, just nine years from now.

population graph

Yeah, well that’s nice, but so what?

overpopulation

 

The so what is that with this growth, everything changes. Everything. It all comes down to something called the birth rate, more significantly, something called the replacement rate.

The replacement rate is the number of children each woman in a given population must have in order to sustain that population. More childen, the population goes up, less children, it goes down. Pretty simple, right? Well it is, but it requires some calculation. For instance, the replacment rate must offset deaths of any kind, simply for a population to remain stable.

The generally accepted replacement birth rate for stability is 2.1 children per woman. So in a given population, if there is an average of 2.1 children born to each woman, the population will remain stable, neither going up nor down. It will stay exactly at that point.

Remember, this is an average of women in the population. It accounts for the fact that some women will have no childen where others may have three or four or six. It’s an average.

Here’s where it gets interesting, and disturbing. The current birth rate in the United States is 1.87. This is below the replacement rate, which means the population of the United States is in decline. Absent immigration, the population will continue to go down. Some reasons for this may include fewer people getting married, more choosing not to have children, or other social factors.

Similar numbers exist in other countries. The United Kingdom (1.89),  Germany (1.44), Canada (1.59)  Belgium (1.78), Italy (1.43). All well below the population replacement rate. These and many other western countries have an aging population which accounts for much of the decline.

Then there is the opposite side of that coin, countries with booming, sometimes absurd population growth. African countries such as Niger (6.76), Somalia (5.99), Uganda (5.79), and Zambia (5.72). Throughout Africa, there is a population explosion that far exceeds any other place on earth.

In addition, Middle Eastern Muslim countries are having large population increases. Pakistan (2.75), Syria (2.60), Iraq (4.12), and in the Gaza Strip (4.08).

How about Central and South America? Mexico (2.27), Guatemala (2.90), Honduras (2.78) Panama (2.35).

Even the Caribbean:  Haiti (2.69) and the Dominican Republic (2.33) exceed birth rates in the United States.

Ground zero for the population explosion is Africa. At current rates, Africa will have a population of over 4 billion by the year 2100. That year, the world population is expected to be about 11 billion.  That means 36 percent of the world’s population will be African. By comparison, the United States is projected to be about 450 million, roughly 1/10th that of Africa.

The bottom line is this: Western European and North American countries are in decline, sometimes steep decline, while countries to the south are almost all exploding.

immigration boat

Migration

People all around the world are migrating. Of course, we see it in the United States on our Southern border, but it is happening all over the world.

There is no question that economics are a significant factor. Overwhelmingly, countries with high or even absurd birth rates are poor and undeveloped. There is never a case where wealthy people migrate to a poor country. As these populations grow at an astonishing rate, the additional people put even more pressure on sometimes collapsing infrastructures. Not enough food, not enough water, no jobs, poor health conditions; the list is endless.

Add conflict to these situations and it only gets worse. People fleeing not only poverty, but war and societal chaos. Sometimes fleeing for their lives. And they only have one place to go: north.

This is not a futuristic scenario; this is happening now. According to the New York Times, sixty million people around the world are migrating at this very moment. They are on the move.

Mass Migration – The New York Times

You may have seen this video. (Note: audio goes off occasionally, do to copyright disputes with the music composer):

Income Levels:

There is a clear disparity of income levels in northern and southern countries.  It’s not completely clear to me why this is the case, but the differences are dramatic.

According to the World Bank, Per capita family income in the United States is $54,630. In the United Kingdom, it’s $45.603. France is $42,733, and Germany is $47,627. Most of Western Europe is in the same range, fairly wealthy countries.

South America, not so much. Brazil is $11,385. Argentina $12,569. Peru, $6559. Colombia, $7904.

Much of the Middle East is not prosperous: Iraq, $6,334. Egypt, $3199. Jordan, $5,423.

Southwest Asia is even worse: India, $1,596. Pakistan, $1,334, Bangledesh $1,093.

And finally, Africa: Chad, $1,025. Ethiopia, $585. Gambia, $419. Rwanda, $696. Uganda, $696.

This list of figures was not meant to make the reader bleary-eyed, but to point out a significant point: Much of the world is poor, abysmally poor, poor beyond our imaginiations. And these places are where the population is growing. The sheer numbers of the growing populations of poor people is staggering.  Add to this the fact that many of these countries have little or no effective infrastructure, educational systems, or even effective governments. This is precisely the right incubator for terrorism. These countries have very young, uneducated populations. The make perfect cannon fodder for groups like ISIS. They are a terrorist army just waiting to be led.

Let there be no mistake; the population explosion coupled with massive poverty is a recipe for disasters. And these disasters are likely to begin happening long before any “global warming” effects, if any, are seen.

Which leads me to a theory:  Before the reader jumps to a conclusion that I am a whacko “climate denier”, please hear me out. If my theory is faulty, I’d love to hear from you telling me why.

I suspect a ruse. The leaders of our government and all European governments are surely aware of all these facts and figures. They have to know that these combinations present a clear and present danger much larger and sooner than any rising oceans. They also know that if people in these poor countries ever began migrating in mass, there would be no way to stop them. Sheer numbers would overwhelm any attempts to stop them. We are seeing the early stages of this today with the migrants entering Europe.

I have come to believe that government officials have been working on a plan to prevent this, and hiding it beneath the cloak of “climate change”.

Major portions of the United Nations proposals on climate change include wealthy nations effectively paying poor nations to upgrade their economies as to not rely on fossil fuels. These proposed payments are in the hundreds of billions of dollars to many of the countries mentioned here.

My premise is that these proposed climate mitigation payments are in fact payments to poor countries to keep their people within their borders, methods to be determined by the countries receiving the money.

Paying people to stay where the are? Why not? All the wealthy countries on earth could not begin to absorb the vast numbers of poor and uneducated people from these places.

Does this solve the problem? Of course not. It is a delaying action at best. If these countries cannot be convinced to enact serious population control (ie birth control), the situation will only get worse. Just remember, every day 200,000 new people on the planet, and no end in sight.

Then there is this:

Next installment will look more specifically at options for dealing with the population demographic crisis.

 

World Population Clock

CIA World Fact Book

Monthly Disposable Incomes Worldwide

 

Immigration: Part One

liberty

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again,
They’re coming to America

…. Neil Diamond

Immigation is a hot-potato issue in the United States today. Pro or con, it seems everyone has an opinion, and the sides are often far apart. This is the first of a series attempting to look at the issue in some depth.

The History

We’re a nation of immigants, we’ve all heard that many times. True enough, all of our ancestors came from somewhere else, including the “native Americans”. Their ancestors probably came from somewhere in Asia across a land bridge thousands of years ago. So to set the record straight, none of us, truly none of us has absolute roots in the good old U S of A.

The Spanish, French, and English were the first to arrive in the 1500’s, followed by settlers from just about every European country, and thousands of Africans brought here as slaves.

Fundamentally, there were no U.S. immigration laws until 1882, and the first group restricted from entering the country were the Chinese. By 1892,  the government has set up Ellis Island,  the first Federal immigration station. The first immigrant to be processed there was Annie Moore, a teenager from Ireland.

Early migrations of people were small,  an estimated 20,000 Puritans in New England,  for example.  As time went along the numbers grew. It is estimated that about 600,000 African slaves were brought in during the early-mid 1800’s.  By the beginning of the twentieth century,  over four million Irish and five million Germans had landed on America’s shores.

By the mid 1800’s there were a significant number of native-born Americans,  who often resented new foreigners arriving. Descrimination was common.  But they kept coming anyway.  By 1920, more than four million Italians and two million Jews had arrived. The peak year was 1907, when over 1.3 million people arrived.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was the first major law to place restrictions on immigration.  Also known as known as the McCarran-Walter Act, the act was used to block “undesirables” such as Communists from entering the country.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished a national origins formula which allocated admission to the US based on country.  The new system focused on an immigant’s skills and/or relationship with an American citizen as criteria for admission. Numerical restrictions were set at 170,000 new immigrants per year.

Today the worldwide limit for legal immigation into the United States is set at 675,000 per year.  Additional immigrants classified as refugees can also be permitted by Congress and the President. Of this number, 480,000 entries are restricted to family relationship:  the person entering must have some certain type of relationship to an American citizen. Congress, however,  has played with this number, and it often exceeds 480,000. The remaining visas are for persons with certain desirable skills, such as computer programming skills. These visas also have been abused, which will be discussed later.

An unlimited number of immediate relatives, spouses, minor children, and parents are permitted. We will look at this issue closer when we discuss the so-called “anchor-babies”.

Illegal Immigation

Illegal-Immigration-300x300

Illegal immigation is a flashpoint today, and likely will be a major issue during the 2016 Presidental campaign. It’s an emotional hot potato. Before going forward, however, let’s look at legal immigation.

A person who applies for legal immigration and is approved is issued the famous “green card”, which is simply a visa for permanent residence. The  person can move forward eventually toward naturalization,  and become a citizen. Until then, they are a legal “resident alien”.  Since  they are here legally, those who come in illegally are “illegal aliens”. Today it is considered politically incorrect to use this term, but a non-citizen is an alien, and since they are not here legally, they are “illegal”.  So I’ll use that term. Anyone who has a problem with that can stop reading now.

Entering the United States illegally the first time is a misdemeanor, the second time it is a felony. Like it or not, those here illegally have broken the law. So what about the law? Are immigration laws good or bad, and why do they exist?

Every country has its own immigration policies and for its own reasons. For the most part, it seems that developed countries created limits on immigration to avoid waves of “undesirables”. These “undesirables” may be poor, uneducated, low-skilled, or in poor health. In other cases restrictions might be aimed at religious or political affiliations. The laws vary and frequently change with the changing times. Some countries, such as Italy, Switzerland, Australia, and Japan have very stict immigation laws.

Australia has even made a video for those who might try to enter the country illegally:

Clearly, some countries have made it very difficult to enter. The United States, however, seems to have gone in the opposite direction.

To be fair, however, there is little resemblence between Australia and the United States. Australia is an island continent, completely surrounded by water.  The only way anyone can enter Australia is by sea or by flying.

The US border with Canada is 5,525 miles long, and the border with Mexico is 1,953 miles long. That’s 7,478 miles of border, much of it unguarded. To look at a comparison, the distance from Maine to Florida is 1,597 miles, less than the length of the Mexican border.

U.S Customs and Border Protection has about 21,000 Border Patrol agents. These agents are responsible for not only policing the Canadian and Mexican borders, but also for about 2000 miles of coastal waters around Florida and Puerto Rico.  Looking  at 21,000 agents covering  9478 miles of border and waterway,  we immediately see a problem. That’s about two agents per mile; and if we divide that into 3 eight-hour shifts, that’s far less than one agent per mile.  We understand that looking at it that way  may be unfair, but it does seem pretty clear that the US has no where near the number of agents needed to effectively patrol the border. Even considering high tech cameras and arial surveilance, it’s obvious that it’s pretty easy to get into the United States illegally.

There are an estimated 11.3 million illegal aliens in the United States. About half of these aliens are from Mexico. The rest come from Central America, the Caribbean, and Asia. There is also an increase of illegal immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. These immigrants make up about 5.1% of the American workforce (8.1 million people) and their children are about seven percent of the K-12 school population.

During World War II, there was a labor shortage in the United States. The US Government entered into an agreement with Mexico to allow thousands of Mexican “braceros” (manual laborers) into the US to work in agriculture and the railroad system. This became a form of “open border” system for migrant Mexican workers coming into the US to work. While the program was supposed to end after the War, it continued until 1964  when it was ended due to objections from US labor (union) officials.

The notion that immigation laws are “flexible” becomes part of the problem. We welcomed Mexican laborers for twenty years, and then changed the policy.  Today, it seems, we lay out that same welcome mat for immigrant farm workers or hotel workers, but do it without formal agreement,  making it illegal. This “wink and a nod” approach by the government only serves to add to the chaos that is the current immigration problem.

Assimilation versus immigration

America was not created nor settled by immigrants. It was created and settled and prospered by those who came to this country from other places and became Americans,  which is something vastly different.

For many years people came from all around the world with the specific purpose of becoming an American citizen. This was the “melting pot”, people coming from many countries and becoming one people. You were not Italian or German or Irish, you were an American. You could be proud of your heritage and background, but you were an American first and always.

Today, this is not the case. Too many immigrants coming here want to retain their “status” as Mexicans, or Guatamalans or Pakastani’s. They don’t really want to become citizens except for some benefits they might receive.  They wish to be of their country and culture, but live in the United States. The notion of “diversity” has become something it never was before in this country and conceivably has dire consequences.

It’s not working, and it never will.  Instead of immigrants coming here and assimilating into the American culture, some want America to kowtow to their needs, be it language, customs or accomodations.

Government is now expected to be multi-lingual, to accomodate those who do not speak English, and perhaps have no desire to learn. School districts, for example, must pay significant monies for translators so they can send home letters to parents in their language, something unheard of decades ago.

America is not multi-cultural. It is made up of people who come from many different cultures and allowed them to be subsumed into American culture. The strength of the country has always been a common language, common traditions, and common beliefs. People maintained their own cultures in private, but in the public square, they were Americans and nothing else. Changing this changes the culture and there is nothing good to come from it.

Next: Current immigation policies in the US and around the world. — The risks and dangers of mass migration versus strict immigation policy. — Immigration as an issue in the 2016 Presidential campaign.

References:

American Immigation Council

Bracero Program

Heritage Foundation Report: Costs of Illegal Immigation

History.com Immigration before 1965

Pew Foundation Facts on Illegal Immigation

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Website

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.

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 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.

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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.