Terrorism–Causes and Cures

Terrorism–Causes and Cures

Emotions and beliefs seem to be at the root of terrorism. Emotions: Frustration, anger, jealousy, fear, revenge. Beliefs: Radical differences of religious beliefs, beliefs that developed foreign powers should not be imposing their political and economic systems on underdeveloped countries; beliefs that the rhetoric and the behavior of western powers do not align; beliefs that certain countries discriminate against certain types of people; beliefs that certain developed countries are arrogant and that their systems really do not command respect in terms of how people are treated, the effectiveness of their political systems, and the outcomes for the underprivileged.

I’m told there has been terrorism since the beginning of mankind, but I certainly wasn’t aware of it, growing up in a small town in North Carolina. I didn’t really pay much attention to it until 9/11. Since then we have seen a steady escalation, with ISIS as the latest manifestation, and a particularly dangerous and troublesome one it is. For the purposes of what I want to say here, there isn’t much distinction between terrorism and war. Excluding wars that appeared to be entirely justified (such as the two World Wars), many of the other wars the world has experienced since WWII have questions of justification. Were we justified to fight in Vietnam? In Iraq? In Afghanistan? In Syria? Could those wars be seen by the citizens of those countries as forms of terrorism brought by developed countries? Whether or not we agree, it seems undeniably true from the local viewpoint. To a large segment of the populations of those countries, we (the US and allied western powers) were apparently seen as intruding. And doing so with great loss of life to both local combatants and also to civilians.

The main “solution” we seem to be pursuing in regard to growing terrorism around the world is to combat it with force. We use vast amounts of intelligence. special forces, drones, etc., to hunt down the perpetrators and kill them. Large organized terrorist groups like Boko Haram or Isis get air power, artillery, and infantry. Force against force. Is that working? Doesn’t seem to be, considering that terrorism is increasing. What can be done? Conservatives say more force, until we thoroughly extinguish the opponents. While force is undeniably necessary to protect, considering the danger to the innocent, it doesn’t address the root causes–mentioned above. If the terrorists feel aggrieved, somehow denied, discriminated against, we need to address these issues. Is it true that somehow our systems (in the US, the UK, France, and elsewhere) discriminate against young men of color? It appears so. How else can one explain the employment rates for young black men in the US vs young white men? I do not believe it is because young men of color do not want to work, lack motivation.

Something is wrong with the “system.” It’s not that such discrimination is legal or condoned by authority. But, it is there, underground, insidious, pervasive. If young men of color don’t get a decent education and don’t find jobs, if they feel trapped in a life of poverty, if they are don’t find their religion and dress accepted, they become vulnerable to jihadist recruiters who persuade them that all of this is the fault of the foreign powers. It’s not their fault that they are stuck in poverty–it’s the foreigner’s fault. It’s the fault of the “infidels” and their governments. And since civilians are being killed by airstrikes in their countries of origin, they may feel justified to kill innocent civilians participating in a marathon in Boston. And now, it appears young women are also drawn to the terrorist cause.

Personally, I don’t find this hard to believe. I don’t find it hard to understand. Not hard to believe that an unintended discrimination exists. Not hard to understand how we are held responsible. After all, we have jobs, cars, money, things. They don’t. And they don’t feel they have a chance to have those things.

Some Conservatives argue that there is vast opportunity. They always can find a small number of underprivileged men of color who have broken out and done well. They read this to mean that everyone can, and thus the lack of opportunity is not the problem. I argue we need to augment our use of force with our use of help. Help with educational opportunity, help with job training, help with counseling and mentoring, help with promoting inter-religious education and tolerance throughout our wealthier classes in our wealthier countries.

The other thing for us to focus on is our own system. Consider the US– does our nation of today really exemplify effective and fair political process (note the weight of money in our system)? Does it really offer opportunity to all–equal opportunity? Do we treat our underprivileged fairly? Does the homelessness on our streets and the populations in our prisons reflect the kinds of values we extol? Are we fair in our dealings with lesser developed nations in our trade and global economic policies? Why has our gini index of inequality now risen to where it was in the robber baron era, early in the 20th century?  We are failing in all of these. We don’t look very attractive now, to even the uneducated foreign observer. And yet, we continue to not only promote our system as the one and only system, but we also to try to force it upon others (e.g., China).

A broader sets of expanded policies permitting more immigration from lesser developed to more developed countries would enable reduced global inequality and more global opportunity, but the US and other developed nations of the world are tending to a more nationalist stance. Political parties opposing immigration are gaining strength–in England, in Germany, and in the US.

Of course, there are other issues involved in terrorism–issues such as religious sectarianism, as with some elements of the Shia and Sunni populations in the Middle East. But I argue we have unintentionally caused a lot of it with our arrogance, our intervention in other countries’ issues, our imposition of our values on others, and the failures to exemplify the ideals we try to sell abroad. Force alone only leads to revenge and then to more force. The ISIS fighters are a very young bunch, and they’re going to be around a long time. It is high time that we set about to work on the underpinnings of the problem.

Kudos to Koch Brothers

Kudos to Koch Brothers

March 23, 2015

Yes, that’s right. Bet you never thought you’d hear me say that. But I really want to give credit where it is due! This evening I watched a senior representative from the Koch Brothers along with a prominent African American liberal on Anderson Cooper 360.

They are completely in agreement, representing a large group of people on the extreme right along with a large group on the far left. They’re in complete agreement that our penal system is totally broken. America represents 5% of the people on this planet and has 25% of the incarcerated.

Why? Because our right and left (bipartisan again) together promulgated an escalating list of federal crimes across the last century in what can only be seen now as a failed attempt to take crimes off the street and punish offenders into not committing further crimes. Many of the crimes added, along with mandatory minimum sentences, were petty crimes like shoplifting and possession of illegal drugs.

Good intentions escalated into more and more crimes designated and more and more sentences. Much of the time, what has transpired is that the offenders end up with a criminal record which virtually prevents future employment. Drug users end up using again, getting put in jail again, and again, and again. We do not offer rehab to early offenders and we put mentally ill into prison instead of into hospitals, treatment and therapy.

All of this results in a growing and horrendous expense to the taxpayers. In the opinion of these wise bipartisan groups, we can fix this easily and quickly with appropriate agreement and legislation. After all, both sides of the aisle seem to now understand that fixing it is not going to cost–we will save money and reduce the draw on government resources if we reverse this trend and spend our resources toward getting people onto their feet and contributing to society and our economy.

I thank the Koch interests and encourage this bipartisan coalition in developing and presenting legislation.

This is another example of how we have escalated poverty and inequality in our own country with policies focused on punishment as opposed to help.

So nice to see Conservative interests demonstrating that they also want to provide support for the underprivileged. If the motivation is to reduce taxpayer expense and reduce government, that’s ok with me. See–there are things we can agree on, even if the underlying motivations are different!

When Conservatives are Criticized by Their Own Media

March 16, 2015

I studied economics and globalization at a unit of the University of London for the 2012-2013 term in an MSc. program there. Among my takeaways was a greater appreciation for academics and their research, which relies more on facts and data than most other sources of news.

Another takeaway was to see more clearly that certain popular sources of news are often more biased than academics, rely less on facts and data, and more on the political/economic stance of the publisher. On the conservative side, there is the Wall Street Journal and The Economist, both solidly supportive of the free and uninhibited private market and generally critical of government rules and regulations–usually lining up squarely with Republican agenda–at least that was true before ultra-Conservatives hijacked the Republican party and moved it to the outer edge of Conservatism. Along with this goes a hawkish stance on global conflicts and extreme austerity in government fiscal policy. We actually need another word for this sets of positions…lunacy?

Illustrating that dramatic movement to the right, it is striking to see more and more viewpoints coming from The Economist which are starkly in contrast with positions now taken by Conservatives in the US. The March 15 2015 issue includes the following challenges to Conservative positions:

  • A strong recommendation against Benyamin Netanyahu in his race against Yitzhak Herzog in the vote tomorrow for Prime Minister of Israel. “Bibi” Netanyahu has just returned from his controversial gleeful reception by Republican members of Congress who share his hawkish views on Iran and Palestine. The Economist recommends Herzog.
  • In a continued criticism of excessive austerity imposed on England by George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, The Economist says, “The shabby truth […] is that the success of Mr Osborne stems from the goals he has abandoned, rather than the guns he has stuck to. And next week, unless his budget plans are more apt, Britain risks paying a heavy price.” The Economist favors less austerity.
  • A strong argument in favor of the US embracing its growing Latino population. I’m choosing this one to highlight below.

The Conservatives of the Republican party have moved their party well beyond even the neo-liberal political and economic positions of publications such as the above. Even more amazing is how oblivious the Conservative voice is to recognizing the vast gap, not even acknowledging it or defending why/how they can justify no hint of moderation. So, from today’s Conservative viewpoint, The Economist can no longer be seen as “conservative.”

The blindness of Conservatives regarding Latinos is particularly troubling. Latino growth is where most of their immigration resistance is centered–it’s mostly about Mexican illegals, and then about Mexican legals and then about immigration in general. The popular refrain is appealing to jobs lost to immigrants–legal and illegal. It would seem more consistent with liberal vs. conservative for Democrats to be worrying about jobs (including jobs taken by immigrants), but most of the noise now comes from Republicans.

Here are a few of the arguments for the US embracing the arrival of our Latino immigrants:

  • Face reality. Latinos number 57MM of our 321MM in the US today. Without immigration, the Latino share will rise, due to their higher birth rate.
  • Every year 900M Hispanics born in our country reach voting age. Republicans are way behind in popularity with Hispanics.
  • Reason # 1 is basic economics–hard to believe Conservatives don’t embrace it–Latinos are constantly reducing our population’s average age, giving our country an entirely different (much more optimistic) economic future than Japan, China, and many European countries without the strong Latino (or other immigrant) growth. This means more workers paying into social security, reducing the drain on scarce government resources to meet the burden of entitlements to the aging, like me. Take a look:

hispanicsThere are issues in dealing with this surge, both real and perceived, but much of it centers around the near poverty and often uncertain status of Hispanic families. This can be seen in somewhat higher crime rates, lower graduation rates, and higher teen pregnancy rates in some Latino communities, but the data shows these trends are improving for Hispanics. For example, a Pew study finds that US born Hispanics take a significantly more negative view of teen pregnancy than do their foreign born counterparts. We need to provide for more and better education opportunities for our young Hispanic population. We need their developed skills in our advanced workforce. They need not be destined to work in the kitchen, in cleaning, or in the garden, only.

There is no good reason to believe our Latino population brings with it less ability than our German or our Irish or Italian.  We are incredibly fortunate to have this younger population of hard working people joining our workforce and our communities. Republicans, of all people, should see the economic benefit of this huge and growing wave of potential for our culture and our economy.

We will need to aggressively embrace these entrants with support in education and rights to take advantage of the opportunity. If we do, we will all benefit. Instead of “taking our jobs,” they will be growing our economy with the young energy and we have all the more jobs to go around.

In my previous post, I highlight one example of success in supporting the underprivileged in the Latino population–a private school in East Palo Alto, where the majority of students come from poor Hispanic families, and where 100% of this high school’s graduates are going to college and graduating from college–vs. an 11% college graduation rate for first generation students nationwide.

Where Do You Stand?

March 2, 2015

On the matter of helping people, we stand divided. Conservatives argue people should help themselves, that too many people don’t, too many are happy to depend on the State, that opportunity abounds.

Liberals argue the obstacles to opportunity are great for many, it’s not that easy, that those of us who have been privileged to “succeed” economically, no matter the reason (deserved or good fortune), should help those who are not successful.

There is truth in both positions. Yes, there are some who are too lazy or for some reason just don’t apply themselves to take advantage of opportunity. For example, studying hard in school. And, yes, there are some who face obstacles far greater than you and I, which some of us are inclined to forget when we’re on top, tempted to think we did it all with our hard work and intellect.

All of us are frustrated to see that a few young children of poor parents of color somehow forge a path through the obstacles of that birth, with hard work and study, while so many others do not. A few succeed, while most end up in a life of poverty, with little or no fulfillment. It’s tempting to think the majority who do not, simply do not try hard enough. No one has successfully determined what distinguishes the winners.

There is one thing that can hardly be disputed: With a helping hand of the right sort, the odds can be turned around. One such example is Eastside College Preparatory School, right in our own backyard–East Palo Alto, a poor community of color.

98% of Eastside’s students are first generation college bound. A significant number are housed in dormitories on campus, because they do not have a satisfactory home in which to live and study. Often there is only one parent available, or in some cases, none, and the children are bounced around between relatives and friends. Crime and drugs are rampant in the community. 65% of students are Latino, 31% African American, and 4% Pacific Islander.

With all this, operating since 1996, with hundreds of graduates, Eastside boasts a 100% success in graduating its students and sending all of them to four year colleges. So far, all have either graduated from college or are on track to do so. All!

With a national college completion rate of only 11% for first generation students, Eastside is an example of what can be done.

Eastside has a faculty, campus, and program which will compete favorably with the best of the wealthy prep schools in Pacific Heights, my part of San Francisco, where parents pay $35,000 per year to send their teenagers to schools which are feeders to Ivy League Universities.

There are other organizations around the country doing similar work with underprivileged youngsters. The model usually involves close mentoring of students who can’t see the way forward without guidance and encouragement, which is not sufficiently available to them from their home or neighborhood. Many credit such opportunities as saving them from a life of crime and drugs or other ways of becoming a cost to the state. To the contrary, they become contributors to the economy!

So, as a nation, we can continue to be frustrated with those who don’t try hard enough on their own, if that relieves our sense of responsibility. Or, we can focus on what is indisputably the benefit to our nation of a lifetime differential, backed by indisputable statistics–11% vs. 100%. Can anyone find fault with that?

The tragedy is that the number of people helped by organizations like Eastside is tiny by comparison to the number who do not make it through the morass.

Government does not fund Eastside or the wealthy prep schools in my neighborhood. Private efforts have demonstrated results in both cases.

Isn’t it time for us to join together to get government properly involved in expanding these success stories?