Saturday, November 14, 2015

Only a Fool Would Venture Here

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Perhaps there is nothing so treacherous -- and foolish -- as trying to explain terrorism right after another heart-wrenching and cruel attack. The innocents killed, wounded and traumatized by the coordinated attacks in Paris deserve our full loyalty. The perpetrators deserve our hatred.

But we have fought a War against Terror for decades now with no discernible gains. As we double down, they double down. As we weaken one terrorist group, another bigger, badder one rears its head. It's a deadly game of whack-a-mole in which the moles just seem to get tougher. Maybe trying to understand terrorism is worth doing?

Terrorism today is associated with the Middle East, but it predates its residency there by many years and many miles. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) was the world's most prominent terrorist organization in the 1970s. In the 1950s, the American Ku Klux Klan used terrorism to frighten blacks from demanding equal rights. Terrorism itself was a term coined during the French Revolution, as Robespierre's Reign of Terror suppressed that uprising. And armed revolutionaries trying to overthrow their governments -- in Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia -- are always labeled terrorists until they win. Years ago, I remember reading a satirical interview with George Washington. The interview was a "what if" assuming Washington's defeat during the American Revolution. The label "terrorist" was then applied even to him.

Terrorism today is two things: it's a type of violence and the intent of that violence. Terrorist violence is against civilian targets -- stabbing innocents on a bus, blowing up synagogues, a shooting rampage at a concert. Any of those could happen however and not be terrorism if they lack an organization and political motives. The second requirement is an intent to terrorize. The desired reactions from terrorist violence are to frighten and intimidate large numbers of people and to incite a massive response from the state.

Terrorism is not the first choice of groups going to war. Obviously, military targets (assuming they exist) against your enemy would be the most effective way to win any war. Destroy their weapons, their armies and prevail. Instead, terrorists act from a position of weakness. They are unable to attack their much more powerful enemy's military. 

Terrorists seek media coverage, world attention and state reactions. That's not to say there should be no reaction, of course, only to remind us that being strategic is important. If we react from emotion rather than tactical advantage, we are following their playbook.

Sometimes terrorism against a nation -- a people -- happens when the nation is doing exactly the right thing. Other times what we do (or are perceived as doing) helps the terrorists recruit. The more we stifle the freedoms and opportunities of others, the easier it is to recruit jobless, hopeless young men to fight us. Economics has a role here. 

An example would be Israel's policies in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Without going into great detail here, Israel treats all Palestinians in those territories as enemies and still as a conquered people. Do I believe that a more liberal Israeli policy toward Palestinians would reduce terrorism in Israel? I do, though not immediately. Are there Israelis who disagree, who insist that they must take a hard line because they are under assault from terrorists? Of course. But it becomes a circle of action and reaction, a trap neither side can escape. 

ISIS itself was originally Al Qaeda in Iraq, a group that did not exist until we overthrew the dictator Saddam Hussein, creating a vacuum for them to fill. We can't reverse that action but I would hope we could learn from it. 

Keep in mind that conventional warfare has killed many millions more than terrorism in our lifetimes. Both are heinous. For Americans though, conventional wars have not been fought on our soil in a very long time, but Americans have been killed by terrorists. 

Don't be unduly frightened or change your lifestyle. If there is to be a military reaction, it should be limited and strategic. I commend the President for his careful deliberation, but I cannot support his actions, particularly rampant drone warfare.

Don't blame 1.5 billion Muslims for a few hundred terrorists. (Did you blame 2  billion Christians for IRA terrorism?) Do stand with the victims and remember that for every western victim of Islamic terrorism there are 10,000 Islamic victims.

Vive le France.

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Pacifist Salute to Veterans

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I am a pacifist. I have not supported a single one of the American wars fought during my lifetime. 

I was born just after the Korean War, grew up during the Vietnam War, was a mother of military-eligible kids during the first Iraq War and a grandmother by the time of the Afghanistan and next Iraq Wars. In between have been several dozen shorter wars and states of war. Then add in"No fly zones" and drone strikes wherever they happen, legally wars as well.

Not a one of these wars has brought peace and security, neither at home nor in the lands that were reluctant hosts to our warring. When we left Vietnam, the Vietcong -- our foes -- united the country. We destabilized both Afghanistan and Iraq and created a worse monster in ISIS than the ones we were fighting. So many deaths, ours and theirs.

I actively protested the Vietnam War as a teen. I actively protested both Iraq Wars as well, though more with ink and less with shoe leather. I believed then and believe now that by trying to prevent unnecessary wars, I was doing what I could for our kids in the military. When I saw the movie Platoon so many years ago, I cried because we'd tried so hard to protect our young men from the horrors depicted.

Yet people I know and love fought in each of these conflicts. They weren't able to determine when or where to fight, the terms of engagement or the tools they'd have at their disposal. They surrendered their freedoms to the military branches and did the best they could. Thankfully, nearly all close to me returned home though too many were traumatized and continued to suffer for years.

For me, pacifism doesn't mean you never fight. Just 99% of the time. A "Just War" I would support in a heartbeat. Though the definition has evolved over the millenia, the Catholic Church's conditions work for me:
  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective
  • there must be serious prospects of success
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated (the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition)
Which brings me to my veteran friends and the day we honor all veterans. 

Young people volunteer for the military expecting their leaders to send them into worthy combat (or to learn a trade). They are willing to be the first line of defense in such a situation. They have no control over an administration that commits them to multiple tours of duty to prolong an unjust war.

The veterans I know are the most knowledgeable and sensible about the use of force in foreign policy. Maybe they weren't at eighteen when they enlisted, but by the time they complete a few tours, they've learned. Remember that it was General Wesley Clark who led the opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And it was General Eisenhower who said:
"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity."
Often I hear that soldiers are the ones responsible for the freedoms we have. Given the brutal, futile, stupid wars that have been fought by our nation since Eisenhower's day, I cannot credit those wars or the soldiers sent to fight them for preserving my freedoms. I credit the Civil Rights Movement. I credit protesters. I credit activists. I credit feminists. I credit the ACLU. I credit even, sometimes, the Supreme Court. 

But I certainly can envision a war where our freedoms here were at stake, rather like the Civil War long before my day. If not for soldiers, leaders and a whole lot of bravery -- and a lot of brutality and stupidity -- freedom would have been denied to so many. I can also look at World War II and the atrocities that did not move us to enter that war, but which ended only when we did prevail. World War I, on the other hand? Brutal, futile, stupid in Ike's words.

I honor veterans on Veteran's Day not because of the achievements of the
wars they fought. Those wars were mistakes. I honor them because of what they were willing to sacrifice: their individual freedom, their family lives, their health, even their mortality. I also honor those who have devoted their lives to opposing war, some of them veterans and others not.

To all my veteran friends, Veteran's Day is your day. I appreciate you. Let's oppose unjust wars together.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

If only...

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There were warnings, warnings I didn't heed. And I of all people, I should have responded. I just scrolled on past.

Her October 20th Facebook post:

"Well, the day wouldn't be complete without at least one 2-minute-long psychotic voice mail from an ex. That's a wrap."

She was clever and sarcastic like that. Witty, smart, impressive.  I saw the post. I smiled and moved on to whatever appeared below her post. Some friends responded though. And she added later "I will be eternally grateful that I don't have to negotiate the house-of-horrors that is co-parenting with an ex." Then a few minutes later, "Oh good, another 2-minute psychotic voice mail. Actually, no, I apologize to schizophrenics. I meant sociopathic voice mail. Apparently the "auto reject" option on Androids still lets them leave messages." The discussion from friends was about how to block voice mail on your phone. 

I should have -- could have easily -- private messaged her. I should have asked if he'd threatened her. I should have asked if she'd reported the threats to the Eugene police. I didn't.  

On October 22nd, I stood in front of the courthouse with about 50 locals to honor the 46 victims of domestic homicide in our community. I knew one of those victims. Savanna was a former student who had struggled through high school, trying to support herself and her addicted mother and missing many days to take odd jobs that might buy food. Savanna had just earned her GED and enrolled at the community college for the fall. This was huge for her, a girl who'd been given nothing. A tough, smart kid. She was seventeen when her methhead boyfriend knifed her to death on June 16, 2010. He stabbed her 220 times.

Athena was a student in my classes in the eighties. A bright, well-written scholar with a biting wit. We re-engaged through Facebook several years ago. My posts are always political. Her responses brilliant, sometimes razor sharp. Always witty. She posted pictures of herself (Elizabeth Taylor's gorgeous doppleganger), of her son, of her achievements in Tae Kwon Do. She was learning self-defense. I didn't know why. 

She invited me to come visit her around 2012 or so. I didn't go. So many missed opportunities.

On October 27th, Athena called 911 to report a burglary. It wasn't a burglar though. It was her ex. When the Eugene police arrived, they found Athena's body. They found her ex's body not far away. The newspaper doesn't mention her son. I don't know much more than that. But I know Athena was not a statistic. She wasn't just some lady that got killed. She was dynamic and precious, with a real child who may or may not have witnessed his mother's murder. She didn't live in a dangerous world, live a high risk life. All she did was perhaps tell the creep to get lost. And he killed her.

I've been involved with domestic violence for over thirty years. I've been a volunteer, a board member, a fund raiser, a donor and an advocate for Women's Crisis Support Team, our local DV organization. I know how abusers work. I know how dangerous it is to try to extricate yourself from an abuser. 

And I ignored what should have moved me, should have caused me to take the time to reach out to Athena. It's too late now. Much, much too late.

But I tell you one thing. I won't ignore victims and potential victims anymore. I can't bear another loss like this. Beautiful woman, stolen from her family and the world.

Athena Slavin, if only I'd tried to help. If only.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Will your Gun Protect your Family?

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Many of my very reasonable, quite peaceful friends keep guns in their homes to protect their families. They fear intruders intending harm to them or their children. Seems reasonable, until you study the risks.

Home Invasions:

There are 100 home invasions per year that result in homicide. With 115,000,000 households in the US, your chance of having someone come into your home and shoot a member of your family?

Less than 1 in 1,000,000.

 The risk it will happen anytime over the next 25 years? 

1 in 46,000

Compare the risk someone will invade your home to harm you with the risk someone in your family will be hurt by the gun you keep to protect yourself.


There are 39 million households in the US with guns and 21,000 suicides committed with guns each year. The chance someone in your family will take his own life with that gun you keep for safety?

The risk a family member will kill himself with your gun sometime in the next 25 years?

1 in 74

Accidental Injuries:

There are 74,000 accidental shootings each year reported by hospitals in the US.

The risk a family member will accidentally shoot and injure himself with your gun within the next 25 years?

 1 in 21

Accidental Shooting Deaths:

There are over 600 unintentional deaths each year from firearms. 

The risk a family member will be unintentionally killed with your gun within the next 25 years?

1 in 2,720


The risk your home will be burglarized to steal your gun within the next 25 years?

1 in 11
Domestic Violence:

In two-thirds of the homes with guns present, the gun has been used to threaten the victim. The risk that the victim will be murdered by her abuser increases five-fold if there is a gun in the home. Two-thirds of women murdered by guns were killed by their partners. 

1 in every 4 women in the US has experienced domestic violence. 65% of domestic violence victims in homes with guns have had their violent partners use their guns to threaten them. If we assume the prevalence is the same in households with guns and households without them, then...

What is the likelihood a woman in a household with guns will be threatened to be killed by her partner?

1 in 6

Want to keep your family safe? Make your decision based on actual risks, not your fears.

Preventing Future Slaughters

Please Note: In the original posting, risk values were based on total households (115 million) instead of total households with guns (39 million). Numbers have been corrected.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

10 Things You Need to Know about the Iran Deal

The newly inked deal with Iran is already raining down fire and brimstone from its opponents, though most of them admit they haven't read it. Here are ten things important to understanding the deal.

1. US Sanctions have been in place since the US Embassy was taken in 1979, imposed by the Carter Administration. They were increased substantially in 1995 by the Clinton Administration.

2. US sanctions were violated in 1985 by the Reagan Administration who sold weapons to Iran. Israel was the intermediary that passed the weapons on to the Iranians.

3. European and United Nations sanctions were imposed in 2006, specifically to force Iran to allow international inspectors and to stop its development of nuclear weapon capability.

4.  Negotiators of the Iran Deal -- US, Iran, Britain, China, France and Russia -- represent a diverse group of interests and attitudes toward Iran. All five permanent members of the UN Security Council had to agree.

5. Iran must eliminate 98% of its enriched uranium and destroy 2/3 of its centrifuges.

6. International inspections are required but not as immediate as hoped. Any violations would mean restored sanctions and threatened military action.

7. Once Iran does as promised (and not before), the UN and EU will eliminate their sanctions.

8. US sanctions remain in place, with the modest exceptions of food, commercial aircraft (a concession to Boeing?) and carpets. One of the major objections to this deal from business is that they miss out on the new markets.

9. Israel's Netanyahu objects to any deal, regardless of the terms. Israel is not offering however to open its own nuclear program to inspectors, nor is it a partner in any of the United Nations' international nuclear weapons agreements.

10. Those objecting to the deal offer no alternatives. Sanctions forever, regardless of Iran's actions? War against Iran?


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Facts don't Matter


Politics and policy in the 21st Century exist independently of facts. What is true is ignored for what is assumed to be true.

Here is but a sampling of the facts contrasted with the policies created in spite of them.


19 states have passed new voting restrictions in the past 5 years. The majority of these include Voter ID laws, intended to counter voter fraud, particularly that involving a person masquerading as another voter. These laws have resulted in a 2% drop in voter turnout, significant particularly because minority voters are most likely to be excluded. So far in 2015, over 100 new disenfranchisements have been introduced in state legislatures.

After considerable research to determine the prevalence of such fraud, national studies found just 10 confirmed cases of voter fraud over a 12-year period, the rate of actual voter fraud is about 1 vote per 75,000,000 legitimate ballots. Putting that in perspective, that's 1 incident of voter fraud for every 15,000,000 people prevented from voting.


13 states have passed laws requiring that TANF recipients pass a drug test to receive benefits. The majority of Americans, from 53% to 81% depending on the poll, support the testing. It's one of those "of course" ideas that makes the rounds on social media every week or two.

Yet of the first 7 states to require drug testing, fewer TANF recipients tested positive than would be expected in a random group of Americans. Less than 1% of beneficiaries tested positive for illegal drugs in 6 of the 7 states, compared with over 9% of all Americans using illegal drugs. And the cost to state taxpayers? Over $1 million.


The NRA and many gun owners insist that their weapons make them safer and that they are used often in self-defense. Heaven help any politician who questions that wisdom, perhaps by using actual data.

There are 300,000,000 guns in the US, yet only 259 cases in 2012 (most recent data) of justifiable homicide with a gun. That's less than 1 case per million guns. Compare that with 11,208 gun homicides per year and just 2% of gun killings were in self defense. Two percent. Adding in all gun deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidental shootings, only 1 of every 32 gun deaths was legitimate self defense. I'd stand better odds in the ring with Evander Holyfield. And for women, the likelihood of being killed is three times HIGHER if there is a gun in the home.

But, you may protest, what about all the crimes prevented by guns that didn't result in deaths? Well, funny you should mention it. There are 67,740 incidents of guns being used each year to prevent crimes, such as burglary. Given that 1/3 of American homes have at least one gun and there were 9,800,000 crimes reported in 2013 (latest data available), guns were useful in preventing less than 1% of crimes and less than 2% of crimes against households with guns.

Yet the FBI reports those guns were used in 117,750 armed robberies (2011) and 131,310 assaults (2011). Your gun is four times more likely to be used to commit a crime than to prevent one.


Some interesting facts about the Pledge:

 1. It was written to commemorate Christopher Columbus' voyage, not the United States. Columbus was an Italian sailing under the Spanish flag (patriotic?) and his brutality as governor of the West Indies caused his eventual firing by the queen.
2. It was written by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, in 1892 as part of a business campaign to sell flags to schools.
3. The words "under God" were added in 1954.
4. Today 45 states require the pledge of allegiance be recited in classrooms. There is no evidence that swearing the oath has made better behaved children or citizens in those states. (Those that do not: Vermont, Hawaii, Iowa, Oklahoma and Wyoming)
5. In the New Testament, Matthew tells Christians not to swear any oaths, especially involving God.
6. The Pledge demands loyalty to the flag and the republic, not to the Constitution.
7. Originally, students did the Bellamy salute to the flag. During WWII, the salute was too like the Nazi salute and replaced by the hand over the heart.

Yet to refuse to say the pledge or to speak against it is as close to modern blasphemy as one can tread, short of wearing a burka to WalMart.

Don't like the facts? Apparently you can just ignore them.