The Syrian Refugee Crisis.

A civil war between the Sunni majority and the Shi’ite minority has been ravaging the Middle East. Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, more than four million refugees have fled the country.[1] While many went first to all the surrounding countries (Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq), most went to Turkey. By late 2011, the number of refugees in Turkey reached 7,600. By the end of 2012 the number of refugees in Turkey topped 135,000; the number in Egypt passed 150,000. In summer 2014 the appearance of ISIS in eastern Syria and western Iraq sent the number of refugees soaring. By August 2014 the number of refugees in Turkey reached an estimate 850,000. Then the CrISIS just exploded in the second half of 2014. Western aid workers were decapitated, a Jordanian pilot was burned to death, and Yazidis were enslaved. Huge numbers of Syrians “loaded up the truck and moved to Turkey-ey.” By early 2015, Turkey had 2.1 million Syrian refugees within its borders. Camps expanded and proliferated.

Then, in late summer 2015, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees suddenly sought to scale the walls of the European Union (EU). More than 300,000 refugees from Syria entered the EU between January and July 2015. It accelerated from there, with 100,000 refugees entering the EU during July 2015. Now hundreds of thousands are pressing their noses against the glass in Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia. Media attention has focused on the appalling human suffering in the West.

How did hundreds of thousands of refugees get from camps in southern Turkey to either the Greco-Turkish frontier near Edirne or to the Turkish coast opposite the nearby Greek island of Lesbos? Most of the refugee camps are in Hatay Province in the far south. There is a railroad station in Iskenderun in Hatay province. The line from Iskerderun runs through Adana, Konya, Afyon, and Izmir (Smyrna) to the port of Dikili, on the Aegean. Dikili faces the island of Lesbos, the nearest Greek land. Lesbos has been swamped in refugees crossing from Turkey. How has the Turkish government failed to perceive or resist this huge movement of people? Are the Turks actually trying to organize the movement of refugees from the camps to the coast?

The 100,000 refugees to be taken in by the United States in the next several years seem ridiculous compared to the need. However, the Gulf states have taken in no Syrian refugees. None, nada, zip. They have pitched in a bunch of money to support the refugees. Those sums are piddly compared to what the United States has contributed. The refugee-aid sums provided by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar amount to 60 percent of what the US alone has contributed. In short, the Sunni Arab states aren’t concerned.

The Syrian refugee migration is best understood as part of the larger civil war in the Muslim world between Sunnis and Shi’ites. The Sunni Turks and the Sunni Saudis want the Alawite (a sect of Shi’ism) government of Bashar al-Assad gone. Shi’ite Iran wants the Assad regime to remain in place. How to get the western powers to intervene more effectively against the Assad regime? How about you cause them a bunch of problems? Hence, the refugee crisis.

Western states are deluged in migrants. These refugees are unwelcome in the West. It would be best if they went home. How to get them to go home? We’ll, no one is going home if the Assad government or ISIS is in a position to do them harm. So, get rid of Assad and ISIS. The Sunni states (Turkey, Saudi Arabia) are muscling the West by indirect means to overthrow the Assad regime. The Syrian refugee crisis is an act of aggression against the West by its nominal allies.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refugees_of_the_Syrian_Civil_War

Planned parenthoodlums.

Opposing illegal immigration and gay marriage proved such successes for Republicans that they moved on to defunding Planned Parenthood. There certainly is an argument that can be made that “life begins at the moment of conception” and that abortion takes far more lives each year than do guns. I agree with the argument. Certainly, I would never have an abortion. It would violate my moral principles. On the other hand, I’m a 61-year-old white man with a Ph.D., steady work, a house in the ‘burbs, and two kids done (or almost done) with college. I’m not willing to shove my ethics up the ass of a 15 year-old black girl from a single parent home in North Philadelphia who wanders off to what the “City of Brotherly Love” is pleased to call “the public schools.” Probably has to skip school to go down to visit one of her relatives in “Riverside” from time to time.[1] Kid’s got enough troubles and adding a baby isn’t got to solve any of them. Same thing goes for white kids like the one portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone.”[2]

That said (or ranted), opinion polls show that 22 percent of people think that it would be worth shutting down the government to force an end to funding of Planned Parenthood. In opposition to that, 71 percent of people think that the government should stay open, regardless of conservative outrage over Planned Parenthood.

In 2014, 43 percent of Americans self-identified as political Independents, 30 percent as Democrats, and 26 percent as Republicans.[3] However, it appears to be an article faith among political observers that most “Independents” are actually reliably Republican or Democratic voters who just refuse to declare their party affiliation. Clearly, de-funding Planned Parenthood captures almost all self-identified Republicans. However, the tide has been running in favor of Republicans in recent elections. If 30 percent of voters self-identify as Democrats and 26 percent self-identify as Republican, then at least another 25 percent voted Republican in recent races in order to provide the Republican majorities. That’s why they control both houses of Congress. If that back-of-the-envelope calculation is correct, then almost as many—or more—Republican voters oppose shutting down the government as support it.

This suggests the existence of two or three Republican parties living inside the shell of “The Republican Party.”[4] There are the Evangelical-Culture War Republicans. There are the National Security Republicans.[5] There are the Economic Growth/Opportunity Society Republicans. Obviously, these groups can over-lap. However, Republicans risk alienating half of their own voter-base by doing what the activists want with regard to shutting down the government. Doubtless, this reality is causing John Boehner and Mitch McConnell nightmares.

[1] Which is not the same thing as the “River Walk” in San Antonio.

[2] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdrhoE8_BQc

[3] “Noted,” The Week, 23 January 2015, p. 16.

[4] The same goes for the Democrats, where Bernie Sanders (and—implicitly—Elizabeth Warren) pose a challenge to Hillary Clinton. The Democrats are still trying to recover from the McGovernization of the party in the Seventies. If Hillary Clinton is seen to be failing and about to blow a huge advantage once again, then Joe Biden will be drafted regardless of his own feelings. Worse things could happen.

[5] They are probably fed up with Sergei Lavrov being the only adult in the room during negotiations with Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

What can be done?

What can we do? Solutions—in my mind—divide between the nonsensical (but effective) and the practical (but imperfect).

Nonsensical.

The Constitution allows for Amendment. Prohibition was instituted by Constitutional amendment and it was repealed by Constitutional amendment. The same could be true of the Second Amendment. So, amend the Constitution to repeal the current Second Amendment and replace with something that allows for more effective regulation.

This is where a lot of the push-back originates. Part of this reflects a deep distrust of the federal government.[1] Sales of semi-automatic, civilian versions of “assault rifles” have been booming. One type rose from 4,600 sold in 2006 to 100,000 sold in 2010. “The weapons that would be most suited to overthrow a dictatorial federal government would, of course, be weapons of war, and not sports equipment.”[2]

Part of it springs from a realistic belief in self-defense. The number of justifiable homicides by civilians is not great and has declined. From a high of about 325 in 1980, the number of justifiable homicides while disrupting a crime had fallen to about 150 in 2008. Among murder victims age 40 or older, the proportion of homicides committed during a felony began increasing, accounting for 32.8 percent of homicides of 64-year-old victims and 40.3 percent of homicides of 76-year-old victims. That is, some old person is at home or returns home while someone is breaking into their house and gets killed.

Between 1980 and 2008 the number of justifiable homicides while resisting attack bounced up and down between 50 and 100 a year. In sum, civilians kill with legal justification 200 to 250 times a year.

Regulate gun-ownership by age. The drinking age (21) is higher than the age to vote, to enlist in the military without your parents’ permission, to get married without your parents’ permission, and to be charged as an adult for whatever stupid thing you did last Saturday night (all 18). The courts have already approved an age distinction. So, if young men under 25 are the chief source of the murder problem, raise the age of legal gun ownership/possession to 25. For that matter, require men to surrender their guns when they hit 50, hold them in trust until they are 60, and ban gun sales to men in that age range.

Practical: Regulatory.

Greatly tighten ATF regulation of gun-dealers to eliminate the 8 percent of them (in the estimation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)), who supply the black market in guns. This will mean repealing or amending the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.

A lot of prescriptions for anti-depressants are written by primary care physicians, rather than by psychiatrists. Push primary care physicians to aggressively inquire of their male patients aged 50 or more, about their state of mind. Look for signs of depression, ask whether they have guns in the house (pediatricians already do this), and require them to report cases where they fear someone may harm themselves (psychiatrists already have to report cases of potential violence to the police). Sure, there are privacy issues here. But who wants to be scrubbing brain-matter off bathroom tile?

Practical: Political.

End the “war on drugs.” One effect of the “war on drugs” has been to increase the supply of drugs and reduce the price. Another effect has been the “war for the corners” that has led to so many deaths. How is this a successful public policy? We’ve tried a “war on alcohol,” a “war on abortion” before Roe v. Wade, and a “war on drugs.” They all end in the same place.

Roger Lane, author of Murder in America: A History, tells us that, between 1865 and 1917, the “police, the temperance movement, the public schools–the items on the reform agenda designed to discipline the population–were successful as never before. And underlying all of them were the direct demands of the new kind of work itself, which helped create a whole new social psychology.” (p. 182.) Police departments got control of the streets after the Civil War, suppressing riotous behavior. Temperance movements cut down on the amount of alcohol consumed. Young people spent a lot more time in school (and out of trouble) learning how to put up with being bored. Most importantly, industrialization created enormous employment opportunities, even for the semi-skilled and unskilled, so they went to work instead of hanging around the street corner and boozing.

The same thing could happen again now. De-militarize the attitudes—not the weapons—of the police. Whatever you think of Planned Parenthood, fund Narcotics Anonymous. Reorganize the funding of public schools to transfer resources from suburbs toward inner cities. (You can always change your mind if it turns into a rat-hole.) Finally, make thoughtful choices in elections. Which candidates are actually likely to promote a renaissance of the American economy so that there is broad-based prosperity? Both parties claim that to be their goal. Both may have policies that would achieve that goal. It is up to each voter. You’re not a potted plant.

[1] Which criminalized Japanese ancestry in 1941.

[2] David Kopel, Cato Institute, quoted in “The assault weapon,” The Week, 15 February 2013, p. 11.

Murder.

In murders, the United States ranks 91st among countries, with a rate of 4.7 per 100,000 people. However, Japan has 0.3 homicides per 100,000; South Korea has 0.9; Britain has 1.0; France has 1.0; and Belgium has 1.6.[1] Saying, “well, at least were not Venezuela” isn’t much consolation if you’re trying to think of yourself as living in a civilized country.

What is the death toll from guns? In 2012, about 11,000 people were murdered with guns.[2] This is pretty much our current “normal.”

Who are the killers and who are the killed? From 1980 to 2008, young men (18 to 24 years old) have provided most of the killers. Better than a third (34 percent) of victims and almost half (49 percent) of the killers were under age 25. In cases of gun homicide, 59.7 percent of the killed were between 18 and 34, and 65.9 percent of the killers were between 18 and 34. In cases of drug-related homicides, 70.9 percent of the killed were between 18 and 34, and 76.4 percent of the killers were between 18 and 34.

Males represented 76.8 percent of the killed and 89.5 percent of killers. In gun-related homicides, 82.6 percent of the killed were males, and 92.1 percent of the killers were male. In drug-related homicides, 90.5 percent of the killed were males, and 95.5 percent of the killers were male.[3]

Blacks were and disproportionately represented among both the killed and the killers. According to the Census, 12.2 percent of Americans are black.[4] For all homicides, 47.4 percent of the killed were black; 52.5 percent of the killers were black. In gun homicides, 55.4 percent of the killed and 56.9 percent of the killers were black. In drug related homicides, 62.1 percent of the killed were black and 65.6 percent of the killers were black. In sum one of the biggest drivers in American murders is the illegal drug trade. The killings result from the “war for corners.” See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFkWPNJAy14

Since 2000, young (18-24) white males have accounted for about 6 percent of the population, about 10 percent of the killed, and about 16 percent of the killers. While young (18-24) black males have accounted for about 1percent of the population, 16 percent of the killed, 27 percent of the killers. That is, 1 percent of the population accounts for 27 percent of the killers. If you put the two groups together, then 7 percent of the population accounts for 26 percent of the killed and 43 percent of the killers.

In 2008, of the murders committed by killers 14 to 17 years-old, 37.5 percent involved multiple killers; and of the murders committed by killers aged 18 to 24 years-old, 27.5 percent involved multiple killers; while of the murders committed by killers aged 25 or older only 13.7 percent involved multiple killers. Is murder the price of admission to a gang?

From 1980 to 2008, 57.7 percent of homicides occurred in cities with a population of 100,000 or more; more than a third of all homicides in large cities occurred in the biggest cities (those with a population of 1 million or more); and two-thirds of all drug-related (67.4 percent) and gang-related (69.6 percent) killings took place in large cities.

The “war on drugs” is driving the killings in big cities and, thus, in the nation.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

[2] “Noted,” The Week, 26 September 2014, p. 16.

[3] Apparently, drug-dealing is not subject to Title IX.

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States#Race_and_ethnicity

Suicide generis.

In suicide, the United States ranks 50th among countries, with a rate of 12.1 per 100,000 people. South Korea[1] (28.9) ranks 2nd; Japan (18.5) ranks 17th; Belgium (14.2) ranks 34th; France (12.4) ranks 47th; Canada (10.8) ranks 70th; and Britain (6.2) ranks 102nd.[2] Within this broad figure are many sub-categories. We can cut up the data by gender, race, age, and region.

Within the American rate of 12.1 suicides per 100,000 people is a big disparity. The rate for men is 19.4 per 100,000; the rate for women is 5.2 per 100,000. American men who attempt suicide are almost four times as likely to succeed as are American women. Almost all firearm suicides are men. Why is this? Possibly because most women don’t like guns and don’t want to know how to use one, so guns aren’t an option when they want to commit suicide—even if the guns are available. Possibly, women just want to make a demonstration that something in their life is terrible, while men really do want to blow out their brains. Why would men, more than women, want to make sure that suicide ends in death?

The highest U.S. suicide rate (14.2) was among Whites and the second highest rate (11.7) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Much lower rates were found among Asians and Pacific Islanders (5.8), Blacks (5.4) and Hispanics (5.7).[3]

The highest U.S. suicide rate (19.1) was among people 45 to 64 years old. The second highest rate (18.6) occurred in those 85 years and older. (That I can understand: no months in bed with tubes in you and with somebody wiping your backside just so the doctors can bill your heirs.) Everyone younger than these groups has had consistently lower suicide rates.[4]

In 2013, nine Western states had suicide rates in excess of 18/100,000: Montana (23.7), Alaska (23.1), Utah (21.4), Wyoming (21.4), New Mexico (20.3), Idaho (19.2), Nevada (18.2), Colorado (18.5), and South Dakota (18.2).[5] Conversely, places in the Northeast had suicide rates lower than 9 per 100,000: District of Columbia (5.8), New Jersey (8.0), New York (8.1), Massachusetts (8.2), and Connecticut (8.7). Shoveling snow and warding-off black flies is good.

What is it about being a middle-aged white man in contemporary America that has the same psychological effect as living on an Indian Reservation, among the bleakest places in America? One criminal justice scholar has offered an explanation for mass shootings that may also bear on the suicide rate in the United States. American culture says that hard work leads to success. Except that it often does not (or people persuade themselves that they have worked hard when that isn’t exactly true). At some point, these men come to despair. For mass shooters, “they are in real pain, but they’re eager to blame that pain on those around them.”[6] They lash out. Perhaps far more men conclude that they themselves are to blame for their misfortunes. Hence, suicide. So, is it possible that “the American Dream” is more of a nightmare?

[1] What’s so awful about South Korea? Well, it’s a country that has gone through a dramatic social transformation in less than half a century. Now it’s mostly educated, industrial, urban, and exciting (leaving aside the kim-chee). However, the older generation is stuck in the countryside, farming hard-scrabble land, without much education (or the opportunity that comes with education), and un-exciting. The kids rarely visit; they just send you a TV so you can see what you’re missing. Many older people feel cast-aside or a burden. This is true of both old men and old women: the suicide rate is nearly the same for both genders. Eventually, the suicide rate will drop.

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

[3] See: https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures

[4] See: https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures   However, in 2013, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 10.9.

[5] See: https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures Ouch! A bunch of these are places I’d like to retire.

[6] John Lankford, University of Alabama, quoted in “The killing contagion,” The Week, 11 September 2015, p. 11.

The Secret History of the Second Amendment II.

In 1963 and 1965, Senator Tom Dodd of Connecticut introduced bills to regulate the inter-state commerce in guns. They went nowhere. Then, after the death of President John F. Kennedy, both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were slain by assassins. In 1968, Congress passed two laws that extended gun regulation. One law raised the age of legal purchase of a gun to 21.[1] The other regulated inter-state commerce in guns, outlawing the mail order sale of guns, and the buying of guns by felons, drug users, and people who had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution.[2] There matters rested for almost 20 years. They didn’t do a Hell of a lot of good: in 1981 a crazy person tried to kill President Ronald Reagan.

Between 1968 and 1986, some politically-active gun owners came to believe that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), which enforced federal gun-control laws, had often abused its authority. As a result, some of the restrictions of the 1968 Act were rolled-back by the Firearm Owners Protection Act (1986).[3] One provision of the act barred the federal government from running a registry of owners of non-NFA weapons (machine guns, sawn-off shotguns) sales. Another expanded and clarified the list of people who could not buy guns.

In 1990, Congress passed the Gun Free School Zone Act[4] which barred possession of a gun within 1,000 feet of a school. In cities, schools are everywhere. The law meant to provide grounds for arrest for people in big cities, although—the bureaucratic mind at work—it has also been applied to hunters in New Hampshire. However, in 1995 the Supreme Court overturned this law as unconstitutional. The Clinton Administration then passed a revised Act.

In 1993, Congress passed the Brady Bill.[5] This law required a background check on gun-buyers and a five day waiting period until a computerized system became available.[6] That system, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, came on-line in 1998. It applied to “long guns” as well as hand guns, even though long guns account for only a small fraction of homicides.[7]

In 1994, in reaction to several mass shootings, Congress passed a ten-year ban on the manufacture and sale of “assault weapons.”[8] The law helped to bog down the discussion of what constituted an “assault weapon” by focusing on trivia rather than the key issue of the receiver, which controlled the rate of fire. There matters rested for almost 15 years.

In 2008 and 2010, in two separate cases, the Supreme Court held that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right and that federal law trumps state law.[9] For the moment, at least, the quarrel between “individual right” and “collective right” advocates which opened in Kentucky 200 years before has been settled.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnibus_Crime_Control_and_Safe_Streets_Act_of_1968 So, my folks giving me a gun on my 12th birthday was not illegal. Also, it occurred in 1966, before the law went into effect.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_Control_Act_of_1968 See, also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5IWK9sRYTs

[3] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firearm_Owners_Protection_Act

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun-Free_School_Zones_Act_of_1990

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brady_Handgun_Violence_Prevention_Act

[6] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haeYj82a9f4

[7] In all likelihood, this drove gun owners wild. It probably made non-gun-owning liberals all warm and gooey.

[8] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Assault_Weapons_Ban

[9] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/District_of_Columbia_v._Heller; andhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonald_v._City_of_Chicago. In the McDonald case, the city of Chicago had refused to issue hand-gun permits since 1982, effectively disarming law-abiding citizens, rather than criminals.

The Secret History of the Second Amendment I.

In 17th Century England, exponents of “natural rights” held that humans had a “right to life,” so they had a “right to self-defense,” so they had a “right to keep and bear arms.” The English “Bill of Rights” (1689) forced on William and Mary[1] as part of the price for them gaining the throne “restored” this long-standing right after King James II had tried to take it.

No one in colonial British America doubted that the “right to keep and bear arms” was an individual right possessed by all free white men. They recognized that this right could lead to trouble on occasion,[2] but they never questioned it. The American Revolution extended this claim to a right of armed resistance against tyranny, but did not replace it. The prefatory clause in the Second Amendment (1791) about “A well-regulated militia” reflected this blurring of two issues. Post-war rebellions on the frontier[3] led to calls for the creation of a strong army, rather than to a questioning of the individual right to keep and bear arms.

Nineteenth Century America could be a violent place, so efforts to limit weapons arose. The efforts sparked the basic division between those who saw the right to keep and bear arms as an “individual” right and those who saw it as a “collective” right operated through the state militia. Only in the aftermath of the Civil War did this debate reach the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1875 the Supreme Court interpreted the Second Amendment to mean that the federal government could not regulate individual possession of arms, but that state governments were free to do so. The case in question arose out of efforts to disarm freedmen to make them vulnerable to attack by the Ku Klux Klan. The Court upheld this strategy.[4] In 1886, the Supreme Court re-affirmed that the federal government could not regulate arms, but that the states could regulate arms. The case in question arose out of efforts by companies to disarm working men to make them vulnerable to attack by gun-thugs hired by the employers to prevent unionization. The Supreme Court upheld this strategy.[5] There matters rested for 50 years.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, various local efforts at gun control proliferated.[6] None of these challenged the individual right, but they sought—with uneven effect—to regulate its use. Then came the “Noble Experiment”: Prohibition.[7] Prohibition stimulated violence among black-market liquor dealers.[8] In 1934, in a reaction against the violence, Congress passed the National Firearms Act (NFA). It required the registration and control of private ownership of fully automatic machine guns and sawn-off shotguns. Congress had considered banning hand-guns as well, but decided that was a loser’s game: too many men owned hand-guns for perfectly legitimate purposes.[9] In 1939, the Supreme Court upheld this law.[10] There matters rested for 30 years.

[1] The king and queen, not the highly-regarded university in Virginia attended—ahem–by my god-son.

[2] For example, writs of eviction of frontier squatters often were not served by sheriffs “by reason of a gun.”

[3] Shay’s Rebellion, 1786-1787; the Whiskey Rebellion, 1791.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Cruikshank

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presser_v._Illinois

[6] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NzK6NzctuE See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sullivan_Act

[7] The “war on alcohol” preceded the “war on abortion” before Roe v. Wade, which preceded the “war on drugs.”

[8] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seewFj-zybQ; see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Valentine’s_Day_Massacre

[9] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Firearms_Act

[10] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Miller In 1968 the Supreme Court found that the law would require self-incrimination if a convicted felon failed to register a weapon he was not allowed to own. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Firearms_Act Sigh. It was the Sixties. See: “Dirty Harry” (dir. Don Siegel, 1971), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kh62SjGdI0s