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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

What, Me Worry?

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” HL Mencken

As we head towards the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, it is interesting to look at a recent survey by Ipsos Public Affairs, Which countries are on the right track, according to their citizens? that was cited in an article by the World Economic Forum. The global conclusion was that people think things are getting worse:

Between October and November 2016, the percentage of people who believe things are on the right track in their country dropped by 2 percentage points to 37% globally.

The survey is conducted online monthly in 25 countries by Ipsos. The countries are Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the US. Ipsos samples 18,110 adults aged 18-64 in Canada, Israel and the US, and aged 16-64 in all other countries. They were interviewed between October 21st and November 4th 2016, with about 1000 people participating in the US and other Western countries.  The survey has an estimated margin of error of +/-3.1 percentage points.

Here is a chart giving a snapshot of right track/wrong track just prior to the US presidential election:

This shows the US in the middle of the pack, with 65% of those surveyed saying we are on the wrong track. That is consistent with other surveys of American sentiment. In China, 90% of people expressed confidence in their country’s direction, followed by Saudi Arabia (80%), India (76%) and Russia (58%).

  • Among Western nations, Canadians are the only people with a predominantly positive outlook (54%).
  • The US showed a small month-on-month drop in “right track” from 37% to 35%.
  • France and Mexico bring up the rear as their citizens have the least confidence in their country’s direction: 88% and 96% of the populace respectively believe that their country is on the wrong track. Only 4% of Mexicans think their country is on the right track!

Ipsos also surveyed the issues that worry citizens in each country the most. They asked the question: Which three of the following topics do you find the most worrying in your country? In the US, the top three issues were:

  • Terrorism: 33%
  • Healthcare: 32%
  • Financial/Political Corruption: 29%

It is not clear that terrorism is profoundly worrying to Americans, since 67% of those surveyed chose something else to worry about. Remember that the rankings are based on how frequently the item is mentioned as the first in a list of three issues. Here is an Ipsos chart that compares the number one issue people worry about in each country:

Only Turkey, Israel and the US ranked terrorism first. Americans fear terrorism slightly more than uncertainty with their healthcare (32%). And they worry about corruption slightly more (29%-28%) than they worry about crime and violence. Where are poverty and social equality? Seventh, with 19%. What about education? Ninth, with 15%. Maintaining social programs are 14th tied with inflation at 7%.

Fear is emotional, it is not driven by logic about actual levels of risk. Assessment of risk is (mostly) a logical process, with a tiny element of emotion. Acts of terror are frightening, but the likelihood of one happening to you is infinitesimally small in the US. It is therefore, an irrational fear.

OTOH, do people worry about being mugged when walking through a sketchy part of the city? Most do. How many actually get mugged? Not many. But that fear has a basis in fact.

And terrorism isn’t about killing as many people as it can. It is about gaining a political victory through terror. Think about the 9/11 attack in NYC. Millions watched the Towers fall. Those in NYC saw the smoke for weeks. That is the end point of terror, and probably explains why so many rank it as their top worry.

In the survey, six countries worried more about terrorism than the US. They are: Turkey (66%), Israel (51%), France (44%), India (43%), Saudi Arabia (40%) and Germany (34%).  Those countries all have more real-world reasons to worry about terrorism than do Americans.

However, our neo-con politicians in collusion with a number of think tanks, and the military-industrial complex, have made a significant portion of Americans believe it is a rational fear. They do this for financial gain and control.

Control keeps the grift going.

And, like Israel, the more Muslims we kill, the more terrorists we create. Where is the virtue in this for anyone except the Defense Department, Lockheed, Rockwell, Northrup, Raytheon, Honeywell and Wall Street?

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Living With Muslims

Wrongo recently read a first-person article in the June 24th edition of Maine’s Portland Press Herald by Allison Hodgkins. She is an assistant professor of security studies and conflict management at the American University in Cairo. Hodgkins lives with 20 million Muslims for 10 months a year, returning to Maine for the summers. Her point is that they are not so different from the rest of us. Here is a long excerpt from her article: (brackets and editing by the Wrongologist)

The assumption undergirding the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States is simple: More Muslims equal more terrorism and a less secure United States. And while there is utterly no evidence of a relationship between increased Muslim immigration to the US and increased rates of domestic terrorism, as many as 50% of Americans support at least a temporary ban, one poll has found.

The question that no one is asking is: Why? Why would half the US electorate think that banning nearly one-quarter of the world’s population from entry is a good idea? Are we just a country of bigots?

No, we are not. As the push for marriage equality demonstrates, we are actually very tolerant – once we get to know the group or the idea. But that’s precisely the problem with relation to Muslims: We don’t really know many.

Muslims are only 1% of the US population, and they’re disproportionately concentrated in a handful of urban areas. A 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 40% of respondents had never spoken to a Muslim and 24% had done so occasionally. Only 6% reported speaking with a Muslim daily.

What these numbers lay bare is that for the average American, their only reference points for Muslims are the occasional glimpse of a foreign-looking woman in a veil and, well, the likes of [domestic terrorists] Omar Sadiq Mateen, San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook or the Boston Marathon bombers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

/snip/

Since we barely know the 3.3 million already here, we have no idea what it could mean to live with 3 million, 4 million or 5 million more.

Well, I do. For 10 months out of the year, I live with 20 million Muslims…Since accepting a position at the American University in Cairo, I have lived cheek by jowl with Muslims. Cairo, an urban megalopolis of 22 million to 24 million, is just plain teeming with them… From the moment I open my door in the morning until I close it at night, there are Muslims at every turn. The family down the hall from me is Muslim, as are four of the five families on the floor below. The crossing guard who scolds my son for not looking twice before crossing the street is a Muslim, and so are the guards checking IDs at the entrance of his school. I sit next to Muslims on the bus to work and gripe with them about the traffic.

/snip/

In an environment where being Muslim is the common denominator, it is absolutely certain that the person committing an act of terror will be an adherent of the faith. But Muslims are also the victims, the police coming to investigate, the reporters covering the event, the people queuing to give blood and the leaders charged with devising the best policy to counter what they and their constituents know is radical extremism promoted by groups of extremists.

/snip/

And when you live with 20 million Muslims, you hear them talk about this danger to their lives, their nations and their faith every single day.

Ms. Hodgkins’s point is we should assess the risks of Muslim immigrants to our homeland. Maybe get to know a few facts about Muslim involvement in acts of domestic terror, and meet a few Muslims before we ban all Muslim immigration.

You can hear the argument from the Trumpeteers: Of course the vast majority of Muslims are good, peace loving people who want the same for their families as the rest of us. But we can’t tell the good ones from the bad ones, so NO Muslim immigration until we get better vetting, screening, monitoring in place.

We couldn’t tell the good ones from the bad ones: That was the logic that led us to the internment of American Japanese in WWII.

OTOH, nearly all Americans agree that the vast majority of gun owners are good, peace loving people. But, since we can’t tell the good ones from the bad, how about banning all sales of guns until we get better vetting, screening, monitoring in place?

Sorry, we willingly accept the risk that American shooters will kill Americans. Since we are Second Amendment absolutists, those deaths are just collateral damage in the fight to protect our gun rights.

But if there is one death by a Muslim immigrant, the terrorists win.

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Ever Hear of Al-Gebra?

Apparently, for some Americans, it’s the language used by the latest terror group. On Saturday, American Airlines was notified by a passenger of the suspicious behavior of her seat mate. He was writing in some mysterious language and that, plus his swarthy complexion caused her concern. She passed a note to the flight crew, and the plane didn’t take off. Eventually, the crew asked the 40-year-old man with dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent to explain himself, since he was now suspected of possible terrorism.

As it turns out, that man was a well-known economist Guido Menzio, who was working on a differential equation while on his way to give a lecture. From WaPo:

Those scribbles weren’t Arabic, or another foreign language, or even some special secret terrorist code. They were math.

Apparently, swarthy types who write on planes are suspicious in post-Trump America. The complaining woman thought Mr. Menzio was an Arab, but he is Italian. How difficult would it have been to say: “I can’t place your accent, where are you from originally?”

But no, she moved directly to terror. It is true that Mr. Menzio is a high ranking member of the Ma’ath party, although his seat mate would NEVER have understood the joke.

She saw a guy writing math notes. People should be able to scribble in notebooks in any language without their flights being delayed, let alone having to be taken off the plane and questioned.

It is easy to make fun of the woman who reported Mr. Menzio. She clearly doesn’t know algebra, and can’t tell an Italian from an Arab, so she may not be the brightest bulb, but she was listened to, and the airline acted on her fear.

Yes, we say “if you see something, say something”, but reacting as she did did not enhance anyone’s safety and didn’t foil any plots.

And really, is it so difficult to know its algebra when you see it?

No wonder the Chinese are eating us alive in math and engineering. When did seeing an equation get to be so rare that your seat mate on a flight to Syracuse believes it to be a form of “strange script” and conclude that the person who wrote it was a terrorist?

The enemy isn’t a possible terrorist on a flight to Syracuse, it is our fear of foreigners.

The enemy is our inability to know math when we see it.

Sadly, every day we continue to prove Pogo’s adage: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.

 

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Why So Fearful?

The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil menPlato

Following on yesterday’s thoughts about how our presidential candidates are busy soiling their underpants over the possible threat of “Radical Islamic Terrorism” (say it Obama! What are you afraid of??), we heard Trump call for banning Muslims from visiting the US. Cruz and Rubio are merely for registering all of them.

This is a good time to take a look at the rates of homicide in America and our perception of the rates of homicide. Here is a chart from Gallup that shows the actual rate has fallen steadily and dramatically since 1992. The graph demonstrates that starting in 2001, we saw an increase in the number of Americans who thought violent crime was rising (the dark green line), even though the actual violent crime rate (the light green line) continued to fall, and remains roughly 75 points lower than it had been at its early 1990s peak. It’s clear that the perception of that crime rate tracked closely with the actual rate until 2001, when they began to diverge:

Galllup Violent Crime rate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, Pew asked Americans in 2013 if the number of gun crimes had: gone down, gone up, or stayed the same over the past 20 years. Bear in mind that the gun murder rate is half what it was, and the rate of non-fatal gun crimes is about a quarter of what it was 20 years ago, but only 12% said gun crimes were down, 26% said they were the same, and 56% said they’ve gone up.

This, despite the fact that the homicide rate/100,000 people in this country is lower than it’s been in 50 years, falling from 6.6 in 1981 to 3.6 in 2010. That’s not all. Ian Reifowitz at the Daily Kos offers more data:

Violence in schools has dropped dramatically in the past two decades
• The overall rates of physical and sexual abuse of children is down
• The rates of rape/sexual assault and violence against intimate partners in the US is 25% of what it was a couple of decades ago.

We live in an environment where all politics is designed to ramp up fear and outrage. Where our media, both mainstream and Internet, awefulize about nearly everything, where people have short attention spans, and fail to understand nuanced problems.

The current “be afraid” broadcast coverage of San Bernardino is another opportunity to instill fear in the public about mass shootings. It sells commercials, but misinforms the public. The press and most politicians characterize these mass shootings as either the work of misguided crazies if they are Americans, or terrorists if they are not.

And then the media complains about the public’s ignorance, and basks in the fact of peoples’ acceptance of extreme political views, followed by hand-wringing about why people are so angry, frightened and cynical.

Polls show that Americans are afraid of Muslims. A 2014 Pew survey asked Americans to rate various religious groups on a 0 to 100 scale, with a higher score indicating more positive feelings.

• Republicans (including people who lean Republican) gave Muslims a rating of 33, on average — one point lower than atheists and far lower than any other religious group.
• Democrats had more positive feelings toward Muslims, but were still chilly; they gave Muslims an average rating of 47, slightly above atheists and Mormons and below other religious groups.

According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted earlier this year, 77% of Trump supporters believe “the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life,” versus 72% percent of other Republicans, while 43% of Democrats said the same.

After fifteen years of non-stop war against the Muslim world, it may make sense that Americans are insecure about Muslims. But, it is the media, and the 2016 Republican candidates who have ginned up this fear, against the reality of our actual experience.

It shouldn’t be difficult for either the candidates, or the media, to put public safety in a context of the past 20 years.

The facts above show that we are safer than at any time in the last 50 years, but that doesn’t mean we are safe, or that we do not have a problem with potential terrorist acts at home. We do, and we need to be vigilant. We also need to develop better techniques to identify potential domestic terrorists, and to teach citizens how to react in a potentially threatening situation.

Restrictive gun control wouldn’t hurt either.

The quantifiable improvement in crime and homicide rates in particular, should give us some hope that we can do better. But none of that happens unless we chose facts over fear.

Or, if we let fear drive us from our long-held values as a people.

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