Tag Archives: terrorism

Fighting Fear–Defeating ISIS

Tornados happen. Floods happen. Earthquakes happen. Wildfires happen. Car crashes happen. Mass shootings and terrorist attacks happen–like in the airport at Istanbul.

View of Istanbul Airport
From CNN.com

What?! Terrorist attacks happen? Yes, and more will certainly come. So what do we do about it?

Do people fear natural disasters? Some do, some more than others. Do they fear mass shooters and terrorists? Many more do, no doubt. Which is why they demand the government do something about it and politicians pander to those fears. In his 1933 inaugural speech, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said,

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.FDR in 1933

He spoke then of the people’s financial fears in the depths of the Great Depression, not of terrorism. But the notion applies well to our current state of affairs.

People who choose or who must live in the Tornado Belt have basement shelters, for the most part. People who live in areas prone to floods are prohibited by zoning laws from building other than playgrounds, parks and athletic fields in floodplains. People who live in areas known to be subject to earthquake must live and work in buildings that can survive them. New construction in Florida now must include roofs tied to the foundation and homes able to survive 160 mph winds of hurricanes. Trees and brush can be cleared around homes and building materials can be more fire-resistant. Still, nothing can prevent natural disasters, only lessen the consequences. People go on with their lives, unafraid of such potential catastrophes. In the wake of them, they rebuild–thankful their lives were spared even if their homes were not.

Few people stop driving cars in fear of crashes, despite the fact that they are far more likely to die or be seriously injured in one than be the victim of a terrorist attack. Few people stop going to the movies, to shopping malls, to airports, to stadiums, to work or to other places where masses of people congregate. Yet they still fear or at least demand government action to stop the terrorist attacks.

For decades, if not centuries, there have been those who would impose their will on others by the tactics of terror. They’re seldom successful in the long run. You can study the history of such movements on every continent of the world–save Antarctica. But our present concern is with ISIS and its fellow extremists extolling a perverted form of Islam as their guide. It’s only rarely mentioned that the goal of ISIS is to bring about the end of days in an apocalyptic war in the Middle East. As that goal eludes them, they become more desperate. Their finances have been diminished. They are losing at large scale warfare. They have lost Fallujah. White hat hackers are taking over websites and twitter accounts to mock or discredit them. In time, they will fade from existence and become an historical footnote of failure. But what should we do now, while the attacks continue?

The response of Turkey, in contrast to that of Belgium is instructive. The airport in Brussels remained closed for a week after the attack there. The airport in Istanbul has reopened in something like 14 hours, as cleanup and repairs progress. The more we cower in fear, the more we offer prescriptions for yet more ineffective screening such as, for example, inspections of all vehicles on roads headed toward airports once they get within a mile or two of the terminal?

In other words, consider the odds. We are all far more likely to die in any of those natural disasters than to even be in a 10 mile vicinity of a terrorist attack. Yes, continue going after ISIS and their ilk. Just stop being afraid and stop asking the government to do stuff that won’t work and will cost prodigious amounts of money that could be better spent on things that do–schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, etc.

Brussels and Bozos

Yet another horrific terrorist attack has occurred. The deaths and injuries in Brussels have saddened and troubled people around the world. These all too frequent events happen across Europe, in Asia, Africa and sometimes in America as well. Most are directed or are inspired by ISIS and other terrorist groups which proclaim that their interpretation of the teachings of Islam justify them. Of course, the genuine Islamic faith practiced by millions of adherents throughout the world condemns, rather than encourages, the killing of innocent people. Likewise, the genuine believers condemn genocide perpetrated against the members of other religions, the raping and enslaving of women and girls. Despite my pacifistic beliefs, I am completely in support of killing the leaders of ISIS and their counterparts. Normally, I would prefer persuading such people of the error of their beliefs and their actions. In the case of those at the top of these groups that seems clearly futile. On the other hand, there are the bozos that would go way beyond simply targeting the leadership of such groups.

Who are they and why do I call them bozos? Well, one is Crazy Cruz. The other is Dim-Witted Donald. To call them clowns implies in one sense that they are somehow amusing. A train wreck is not funny. Nor is terrorism. Glib political responses to acts of terror and terrorism doesn’t make one a clown, but it does make one a bozo. Yes, there was a clown by that name. But the term has come to apply to someone who is stupid, rude or incompetent. Try looking it up in any number of dictionaries or Googling the term. You will see what I mean. It could take several thousand words to expand on all the ways that Cruz and Trump are bozos. So let’s just address their responses to the Brussels attack, to ISIS and to their perspective on people of the Islamic faith. That’s sufficient to qualify the epithet.

Ted Cruz says police should “patrol Muslim communities (in America) to prevent the residents from becoming radicalized!” He has also called for “carpet-bombing” ISIS inhabited areas in Syria and Iraq. Donald Trump has previously said he would quickly eliminate the ISIS threat by “bombing the s—t out of them.” In response to the Brussels attack he reiterated his proposed ban on all Muslims from entering the U.S. (No matter that there are many already here—including ones serving in Congress, the U.S. military, state and local government and law enforcement) and urged the use of waterboarding (at a minimum) to extract useful information from the Paris attack suspect arrested several days ago in Belgium.

First, terrorism is a tactic and sometimes a strategy. It’s been practiced throughout the world for centuries. It’s not the same as a conventional war between one country and another. It often happens within a civil war, whether the combatants agree to the description of the conflict as a civil war or not. If it were easily ended, the war in Syria would be over. If the answer to a cessation were simple, it would not have taken a few hundred years for the Protestants and the Catholics to stop fighting (including mutual use of terrorism) in Northern Ireland. If it were simple, Russia wouldn’t have left a fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan long before the United States went there for its own very long conflict.

How much bombing will stop terrorists, a civil war or some other insurgency? In my war, Vietnam, the U.S. and its allies dropped 2 ½ times the total tonnage of bombs that tiny country that were dropped during all of WW II! No, not exactly carpet-bombing, but it left the terrain like a moonscape. We did drop a serious amount of bombs on North Vietnam. Perhaps that led to the “successful” conclusion of the Paris Peace Talks—for which U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho won Nobel Peace Prizes. Kissinger took his and Le Duc Tho refused his—perhaps because he and the North were not intending to honor the treaty. It was dishonestly called by then President Richard Nixon as “Peace with Honor.”

I bring up Vietnam to correlate with Brussels. In South Vietnam, the National Liberation Front (its members more popularly known to Americans as Viet Cong) lived in and were supported by (not necessarily voluntarily or with eagerness) by villages. American soldiers and their allies wore uniforms; even without them, they were easily distinguished from the Viet Cong and the villagers. The VC didn’t typically wear uniforms. In Brussels, as in other cities across Europe, Muslims are not well assimilated or integrated into the general population. Instead, they are concentrated in communities of fellow believers. Like the VC, the ISIS terrorists are indistinguishable physically from their less radical neighbors. It is no easy task to embed undercover operatives within these enclaves. Police can and do patrol but don’t necessarily get great cooperation from the communities. Contrast Europe with America. Here, Muslims are dispersed and relatively well assimilated. Where are the Muslim communities to patrol, that bozo Ted Cruz would keep from being radicalized? How are the Muslims here being radicalized? Well, Ted, it’s not by their neighbors, but by the sites they frequent on the internet. Stupid idea, Ted! [New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says Cruz “doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about”] Not to mention, it most likely would result in the very radicalization he thinks such patrols would prevent.

Carpet-bombing? Well in Vietnam, because it was difficult to determine who in fact was VC, the one sure way was to observe if an individual was deceased. If dead, ipso facto he must have been VC. ISIS members live in cities and communities they have taken over by force. They weren’t welcomed in with open arms in most cases. So who dies in carpet-bombing? The innocent victims of ISIS and other civilians. Great idea, bozos Ted and Donald! Or, even more extreme, target the families of ISIS members as Donald previously suggested. They might not be 100% but that’s what’s called a war crime, bozo Trump.

So let’s just torture the suspects. Well, the Senate report concluded that doesn’t really work. Oh yes, suspects will talk. They’ll say anything to get the torture to stop. Unfortunately, what they say isn’t true. Ask John McCain about torture. He spent six years as a POW in Vietnam before becoming a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate. Well they do worse, says Donald. So why should we hold back. Wow! Remember the elementary school mantra, “just because he jumped off the cliff doesn’t mean you should.” Yup, definitely a bozo.

The bottom line? These bozos are not fit to be a President of the U.S. They are too irrational, too stupid and too immoral.

Who’s Shooting Who–Part 5, Conclusions

This is the final instalment in this five-part series. This time, we offer some conclusions and our recommendations. But first, we need a recap and some facts.

So how can we wrap this all up? Let’s do a brief recap:

  • The USA leads the world in gun ownership and deaths by guns (other than a very few outliers with ongoing conflicts and/or other severe problems)
  • The substantial majority (over 60% of gun deaths) are suicides
  • Police kill more people than police are killed by others –at least by 20 to 1 and probably more
  • Of those killed by police, 25% are mentally ill or are disproportionately non-white (most often black, who are 7 times more likely than whites to be killed while unarmed)
  • Police are seldom charged in shootings and far less often actually convicted of a criminal offense for shooting even an unarmed person
  • Mass shooting (theaters, malls, schools) and “active shooter” (disgruntled employees, etc.) incidents are becoming more common but are still a tiny percentage of all gun deaths
  • Mentally disturbed individuals are NOT responsible for most gun deaths, including mass shootings or active shooter incidents
  • Domestic violence accounts for a significant, but not a substantial percentage of deaths. People living in homes with guns were three times more likely than those in homes without to lose lives by guns
  • Gang-related violence amounts to as much as 11-12% of gun deaths but it those deaths are overwhelmingly gang members killing members of other gangs and seldom related to drugs
  • States with more guns had more gun deaths. States with stronger gun controls had less deaths
  • Terrorism isn’t a big part of the issue, newsworthy as it may be [since this wasn’t covered in earlier posts, we will do a brief explanation near the end of this final instalment].

So, does America need more gun control or more guns? More or better mental health treatment? More efforts to reduce gang-violence? Fewer guns in homes or more guns in homes? More private guns in malls, restaurants, theaters or even bars for self-defense? Better police training and more community policing? We will discuss below what we think should be done and also what we think could be done given the political and fiscal realities of America today. First let’s look at the facts, to consider whether they might inform the debate over what to do.

  • Suicide is far and away the biggest cause of gun deaths. A gun is much quicker and more effective than other means to end one’s life. An episode of depression that causes someone to take pills can be remedied up to a few hours later; a gunshot cannot.
  • Semiautomatic weapons can easily be converted to automatic by owner/users. Mass shooters often use semiautomatic weapons and easily obtainable high-capacity magazines that allow them to kill more people more quickly.
  • Gang-members are probably not buying guns from legal dealers or any source for which background checks are required; more likely they are black market weapons.
  • Predictability of violent behavior among mentally disturbed individuals is difficult at best.  Legal constraints on involuntary diagnosis or disclosure of illness is stringent (meaning prohibiting them from legally acquiring guns is unlikely).
  • The gun show loophole for background checks and for private sales means many weapon purchases are not covered by any legal checks on purchasers.
  • What is shown on news media (mass shootings, shootings by or of police, active shooting incidents and the like) are NOT the major source of shooting deaths; determining gun control efforts or other actions to deal with them is NOT, therefore, where the most time, energy and money should be spent.

Here’s what we think should be done politically/legally with qualifiers on whether it could be done:

  • Reinstate the automatic weapons ban—i.e. the sale, trade or possession of such weapons with substantial added penalties for use in a crime. Rationale: Hunters don’t need them. Militia (or extremist) groups want them but shouldn’t have them. Recreational shooters could rent and shoot them at licensed gun ranges if they simply must fire them for fun. Politically, this will be difficult at best in the current pro-gun Congress with its fear of and financial support from the NRA and their friends.
  • Prohibit sale to the public of highcapacity magazines—if you have to reload, you can’t kill as many people. Again, difficult in the current political climate
  • Prohibit sale to the public of armorpiercing rounds—they have been banned for handguns since 1986 but the bullets that are used in AR-15s can be used in handguns. The Obama administration caved to NRA and gun organizations to pull an ATF proposal to do this this year. So that tells you the political reality. Armor-piercing rounds can penetrate police body armor. Since deer and other game don’t wear body armor, it’s difficult to see how such bullets are needed for sportsmen.
  • Destroy every weapon seized in a crime once forensics and trials are completed—evidence rooms are supposed to be secure, but they aren’t always. Some percentage of the guns on the street come from ones stolen from police or sold by corrupt officers. This should be doable. Goes along with turn-in programs periodically run in some jurisdictions. Otherwise, the same guns are used in crime after crime.
  • Better secure federal, state and local armories—some percentage of the guns on the street come from theft or corrupt sales from military bases, national guard armories, police departments, etc. Could cost a little money on the security side, but since some of the weapons are used against law enforcement, at least they should support it. Prosecute more harshly those employed there who sell such weapons from inventory.
  • Reduce militarization of state and local law enforcement—current law allows the federal government (especially the military) to offer surplus equipment at little or no cost to locals in ostensible support of anti-terrorism, drug-enforcement and other programs. Since there really are few genuine terrorist incidents, the main use of armored vehicles, military grade weapons and the like is in urban protest situations (see Ferguson, Missouri for example). This exacerbates problems between law enforcement and the local populace. Urban and suburban enclaves in America are NOT similar to war zones around the world; military weapons are NOT appropriate here.
  • Provide more and better mental health services—including PTSD treatment for veterans, in conjunction with better shelters. Although mentally disturbed people are not responsible for most shootings, they are responsible for some and they need the help. Following the deinstitutionalization movement of the 70s and 80s, the community mental health services that were supposed to be available have become less so after budget cuts. A majority of homeless people suffer from mental illness; likewise incarcerated people.

The Second Amendment and gun-ownership proponents appear to have the upper hand when it comes to preventing political efforts to reduce the number of guns or their use in America, even those guns for which there is no demonstrable or sensible  need in hunting,  recreation or self-defense. So what remains is culture change. Think of this as an adjunct, if not instead of, continuing the battle between gun control proponents and opponents. What do we mean by culture change?

Culture change means shifting away from polarizing political debate on gun control toward valuing human lives. Culture change means shifting away from telling others what they can’t do with guns to what they can do—hunt, target or recreational shooting and protecting themselves sensibly. Culture change means shifting away from personal preference for being able to do whatever one wants, wherever and whenever one wants, with deadly weapons of all sorts under the guise of 2nd Amendment rights. Such changes can only happen with a de-escalation of rhetoric and an uncommon rise in common sense.

Addendum—Terrorism is scary but isn’t really worth the money, worry and time we spend on it

“Nine facts about terrorism in the United States since 9/11,” from the Washington Post, September 11,  2013—offers a comprehensive analysis of terrorism in America before and after 9/11/2001. Most notably, the odds of an American dying from a terrorist attack during the last five years (2008-2013) is 1 in 20 million (including in the U.S. or while overseas). That’s considerably smaller than dying from a lightning strike or many other more extreme but uncommon causes of death.

From the New York Times, June 24, 2015Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11 “In the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants.

But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, including the recent mass killing in Charleston, S.C., compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.”