NRA’s La Pierre and Infowars’ Blatant Abuse of Data

One of the most important lessons to learn about observation of the political arena is the reality people can extract whatever info they want from given data to push their point and completely ignore other aspects that would make them look like fools.  This was painfully apparent in recent dispatches from the right wing of American politics.

The first I noticed in a statement made by current head of the NRA, Wayne La Pierre.  While backing his controversial stance on armed personnel in schools, he reinforced his position and made the following statement:

He added that in Friday’s news conference, “I said what I honestly thought and what millions, and hundreds of millions, of people all over this country believe will actually make a difference.”

“Hundreds of millions” of people back his position?  In other words, at least 200 millions Americans?  Quite the claim.  Just one problem: the lack of any actual scientific polling data even remotely backing this claim.

Why does this continue to happen?

The current population of the United States is slightly over 310 million people.  This would mean any polls addressing this question or ones like it should show more than 66% in favor of armed guards, police, principals, teachers, etc. in schools.  (This is, of course, completely ignoring the fact that %23.7 of the population is under the age of 18 and would be unlikely to take part in these polls.  Subtracting the roughly 70 million minors from the polled population would mean over %83 would have to favor La Pierre’s position to hit the 200 million mark.  But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and completely ignore these facts just to be nice and just as he obviously has.)

So, do the polls show enough support of the idea to support the NRA head’s claim?  Doesn’t appear that way.

According to this WSJ poll, a little over 42% support the position.  This poll has it at just below %42.  This one comes in at a little over %45.  This NPR poll came in higher at a little above %57 but the wording of the question should be noted and could be the reason for the increase.  The Pew Research Center did some of their more scientific polling but failed to asked a question specifically regarding armed personnel in schools.  However, one question was asked that is directly relevant to this issue.  Respondents were asked, “does gun ownership do more to protect people from crime or put people’s safety at risk?”  Pierre’s idea is to put guns in schools as a means of protection so this question is basically asking the same thing in a different way.  %48 agreed it protects people from crime which is still well below the %66 La Pierre would need to support his claim.  All of this is coupled with the reality some prominent Republicans, such as former RNC head Michael Steele and former presidential hopeful and NJ Governor Chris Christie, criticized his argument as misguided at best.

So, La Pierre’s claim has seemingly no real data to back it up and there was an apparent gap in information that needed to be filled.  Enter hard right-wing website Infowars.  An article was posted making a claim that would appear to give credence to the NRA head’s statement and used the following headline:

Gallup poll: 64 percent of Americans want school officials armed to protect children.

Now this is an impressive headline and is even allegedly coming from a legit polling source in Gallup.  Just one hangup the author probably should have noted before even writing the body of the article: the title is not factual.

The headline suggests Americans want this action taken and support the measure.  That’s not what they were asked, however.  The question (polling data from Gallup here) asked was not “do you support this” but “do you think this is effective.”  Respondents were essentially given three choices, two of which can be seen as supporting the issue.  In the case of armed personnel in schools, %34 thought it is “very effective” and %30 said “somewhat effective”, giving the Infowars author the %64 figure.  If we look at what people would consider “very effective” methods to combat this type of violence, a school official carrying a gun came in 5th out of 6 choices.  Not as impressive in terms of support when stated that way but don’t tell the author or anyone believing his work that.

It should also be pointed out that, just because we view something as “effective”, doesn’t mean we would support its implementation.  Take, for example, the castration of all sex offenders regardless of crime.  Effective in terms of stopping these offenders from committing more sex crimes but obviously not supported as a means to solve the problem.  Herein lies the importance of recognizing Gallup’s wording in this poll.

But that isn’t the only element that should be noted from this piece of propaganda.  If you read the article closely and read the results from Gallup, you might notice something is missing from the Infowars article.  The author cleverly left out the fact that, in terms of what people see as a “very effective” way to combat school shootings, banning the sale of assault and semi-automatic guns beat out armed school officials, %42 to %34.  The author mentions many of the other results but completely omits that one.  Gee, I wonder why?  (I’m not really wondering why, by the way.)  Even if we combine the results, they are nearly identical at %64 and %63.  Considering this is within the margin of error, banning assault and semi-automatic weapons probably deserves its own article on Infowars yet isn’t even mentioned in the one posted.

Taking all of this into consideration, there is no real evidence backing the outlandish claim of La Pierre that his position has the support of “hundreds of millions” of Americans.  And no matter how hard right-wing propaganda sites like Infowars try to sell their positions, we shouldn’t be tricked into believing them when the data does not add up.  The ultimate truth is these claims from the NRA and Infowars have one critical element in common: they are both lacking in an important little thing called facts.

Social Security: In Far Better Shape Than You May Think

Probably one of the most shocked reactions I get from people when chatting about political matters is when I state the following fact: despite being more than three decades away from collecting Social Security, I am 100% confident it will be there for me and for everyone else my age and even younger.  I do say and would also emphasize ‘fact’ because, when you take a evenhanded look at the projections and numbers, it’s really in much better shape than most of the misinformation surrounding it would lead you to believe.

An article on the Christian Science Monitor’s site from yesterday details most of the important aspects of the problems involved with Social Security.  Some key points to focus on from the article:

The two trust funds (Old Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance) are legally separate. But the trustees said that if the two parts were merged, Social Security benefits could be paid in full through 2033. Then benefits would have to be cut by 25 percent.

Put another way, the projected imbalance in Social Security is equal to about 1 percent of the nation’s projected economic output over the next 75 years. So, as Ms. Munnell stated, the problem is manageable but not insignificant.

Since 2010, Social Security benefit payments have been exceeding the program’s income from the payroll tax. For old-age benefits, interest earned within the trust fund is covering the difference. On the disability side, the program is using both interest income and principal from its trust fund.

The first realization to be made from this is, even if nothing is done, the benefits would be cut in 2033, not disappear entirely.  That isn’t the most rosy picture to imagine, but the point is worth noting: money will still be coming in through the Social Security tax even if it’s not enough to cover what is being promised now.  It also must be kept in mind when considering the other elements of this debate.

FDR making history for the greater good.

The third part of the quote shows Social Security is technically still making money at the end of the year for now.  Not that it will continue making money in this way forever without some adjustments, but still not as bad as it may seem.  And consider this is coming as we are continuing to feel the effects of one of the worst economic recessions in history and with unemployment (7+%) still well above the full employment percentage (4%).

The most important part to put things into perspective is the imbalance being 1% of output over the next 75 years.  Now, that is a very large amount of money but obviously not the percentage that I’m sure most people would have assumed.  These points taken together should be somewhat comforting but there are still some other things to keep in mind.

When projections like these are made, the results are limited since we cannot accurately predict key variables that could easily change in the future, such as the unemployment rate or drastic changes in life expectancy.  An effort to reduce the severe levels of income inequality in the U.S. would also be good for Social Security since increasing pay to the average worker would be a huge bonus to the fund, but that’s another story.  That being said, the projections would probably look a little better if the economy were to perk up and stay that way for an extended period of time where unemployment maintained a healthy and more stable rate.  More workers means more tax money means more longevity for Social Security. Very simple but still not the long-term solution and something we cannot count on.

As the article states, some small adjustments now would give us this program for as long as we want it.  When times have arisen in the past where we have been concerned about Social Security’s lifespan, adjustments have been made to solve the projected problem at the time.  For example, when Ronald Reagan pushed for and signed into law a new tax on some Social Security income (yeah, that Reagan, not the mythical one people tend to believe existed).  Or when that same tax on 50% of SS income was increase to 85% of SS income under the Clinton administration.  (These facts can be read here on the SS Administration’s website since these were popular myths that needed debunking.  A second page is here.  Both are well worth the read to clear up some confusion that was permeated through mass emails virtually devoid of any factual information.  I’m sure you’ve seen many of them.)

So, once again we are faced with a not-so-great outlook of Social Security but it really isn’t as bad as most have been led to believe.  In all likelihood, the currently divided government will come up with a feasible solution to once again shore up Social Security for the future and put the program on solid ground.  The only people we should truly fear in this debate are the ones who want to unnecessarily kill the program for good and replace it with something even more unstable and dangerous.  Social Security works, has worked for a long time now, and, with some small modifications, will continue to work for many generations to come.

The Illusion of Safety and Its Effect on Reasonable Gun Control

When we are faced with the horror of a tragedy like the shooting in Newtown, our reaction is to seek protection from similar events in any way possible, whether rational or irrational.  One of the common occurrences after these type of attacks is the increase in gun sales which inevitably follow the murder of so many.  The recent killing of elementary school children and their teachers has been no exception.  Gun sales have spiked and those that have made the purchase believe they have ensured their safety.  But have they?

The answer is actually ‘no’ and has been for quite a long time.  The first data I can recall seeing confirming this was in Barry Glassner’s The Culture of Fear published in the late 1990s.  More data has been researched and released since then and this article does a nice summation of some more recent research efforts.  A few points from it tell much of what needs to be stated:

Having a gun in your home significantly increases your risk of death — and that of your spouse and children.

And it doesn’t matter how the guns are stored or what type or how many guns you own.

If you have a gun, everybody in your home is more likely than your non-gun-owning neighbors and their families to die in a gun-related accident, suicide or homicide.

Furthermore, there is no credible evidence that having a gun in your house reduces your risk of being a victim of a crime. Nor does it reduce your risk of being injured during a home break-in.

The health risks of owning a gun are so established and scientifically non-controvertible that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2000 recommending that pediatricians urge parents to remove all guns from their homes.

Notice that the recommendation doesn’t call for parents to simply lock up their guns. It stresses that the weapons need to be taken out of the house.

These points speak for themselves but another factor concerning gun-owning and the belief of defense should be addressed.  The idea of self-defense has been used as a means for selling the more powerful automatic and semi-automatic guns intended for military purposes.  This is the true problem with American gun culture and it needs to be changed.

Owning handguns with relatively small clips for home defense or even some larger guns for hunting purposes is not an unreasonable position and one I could find agreement on with most people.  But this somehow gets extended to covering more powerful guns that are now typically used in these mass murders.

In terms of the selling of these weapons of mass destruction, there is a simple question that should be asked of all.  If you are a parent or are planning on being one and you had a crystal ball that told you an AK-47 being sold this morning was going to be used this afternoon in an attack on your child’s school, what would you do today to stop the sale of that weapon?  Let’s take it one step further.  Let’s pretend you had the power to ban all automatic and semi-automatic gun sales permanently beginning that morning.  What would you do?  With the answer to this being obvious, another question must be posed.  Just because the next child victim is not likely to be yours, why do you not support the banning of these powerful weapons and their accessories anyway?  Is the other child’s life and the impending grief of the parents not worth the effort?  Is this only important when the child is yours?

There is another aspect of the faulty belief about guns being great for self-defense that should be noted.  We have been led to believe through movies and TV shows that having that gun will mean we’ll react and stop any unnecessary deaths from occurring.  In other words, if we just had the gun, a little bit of training and target practice, we would be ready for the crazy shooter.  In fact, one could say a shooter would be out of luck if they ever attempted to commit mass murder around armed and trained personnel.  Just one problem.  It has been done and the shooter was successful.

Focusing on the most recent tragedy sometimes overshadows the ones of the past like the shooting at Fort Hood.  A crazed man walked into what should be one of the safest places on Earth when it comes to the idea of self-defense with guns, an Army base.  He still killed 13 people and injured more than two dozen more before being subdued.  This exemplifies the biggest misconception about having a gun and it being the best line of defense in these situations: the maniac will always get the jump on everyone.

It reminds me of a particular scene in the Vietnam War movie, We Were Soldiers.  When training with the new helicopters (at the time) for battle, the soldiers are learning to simply get out of the chopper safely.  Mel Gibson’s character decides to surprise one group by standing near the door when it lands.  As soon as he gets close enough he grabs the first guy, who was in charge of the rest, and says he’s been hit.  Now he asks the next guy, “What do you do?”  The second guy hesitates and Gibson informs him he is hit because he waited.  In other words, it’s all about reaction time when these situations occur.

Now, pretend you’re armed and walking somewhere with your child next to you.  Suddenly, a madman pulls a gun and starts firing.  His first bullet hits your child and his next target is you.  Assuming it is an automatic, you would be hit before you were even aware of what had happened.  Let’s assume it’s not, just for the sake of the self-defense argument.  Let’s say the recoil is long and he is slow to aim giving you just enough time to pull your concealed weapon and fire.  Just one problem.  If you hesitate, even for half a second, the shooter will get you.  Which brings us to the misconception here.  You are a parent and your child has been shot.  Your reflexive reaction of looking at your child in horror and realizing what you just lost has now gotten you killed.  Your gun did nothing and your family will now bury two.  No one knows how they may react in these situation but it is likely not in the heroic manner we all want to believe.

Once again, you are not any of these fictional characters last time I checked.

The idea that owning a gun automatically means you will react in the best possible way during a terrifying situation is lunacy and hubris at work.  It is not the best answer for combating violent crime in the United States (declining, by the way) and never has been.  What we can do, however, is take reasonable steps to make sure the most powerful weapons capable of such destruction are not so easily available to anyone in the U.S.  These weapons and other accessories meant for military purposes, such as the thirty-plus round clips, have no place in a civilized society and deserve a permanent ban.  In fact, a reasonable question that should be asked is: if you are involved in such an attack, how well armed do you want the madman to be?  (I previously addressed the misconception of everyday criminals being so well armed in the event of this type of ban.  Read here.)

We have endured so many tragedies but it seems there may be hope to finally change things for the better.  When these debates go on in the coming days and weeks, just remember the earlier scenario about saving your child at their school.  If you would do it for your own, why aren’t we doing it for everyone’s kids?

A Reflection on Newtown Tragedy: What Will We Learn, If Anything?

As we move another day away from the tragedy in Newtown, we must ask ourselves what we have learned from this event and will anything change?  It is a question that must be asked considering this is not the first time we have been confronted with a massive loss of life due to the gun-happy culture that pervades the United States.  When we have been hit like this before, very little, if anything at all, actually changed in terms of trying to ensure the safety of the average citizen.  So why would this be any different?

I’m not here to argue that guns or drugs or violence on TV are bad things and we should do away with all of them once and for all.  I have plenty of friends and family who own guns, mostly for hunting, and have been responsible in their approach to ownership.  But we have reached a point where we must address an element regarding guns: what is too dangerous for the public?

Arms?

Many gun advocates will, of course, refer to the Second Amendment and say the Founders never intended for there to be any restriction on gun owning.  But the problem is the Founders did not envision the weapons we own now and the destructive power they contain.  There are more elements to this argument but let’s just focus on the shear power of guns for now.

The point about the Second Amendment that must be addressed is the language included within.  The word “arms” is all that’s referred to in the Constitution.  This could be taken as anything that is a weapon should be available and legal for the average citizen to own.  So, nuclear bombs are fine?  But they aren’t and I’m sure most gun advocates would agree is a good thing, for instance the views expressed by one infamous gun advocate in the documentary Bowling for Columbine.

WMDs in America.

But if we accept certain “arms” are too dangerous for just anyone to have then the next step in this debate is the realization the word “arms” is now subjectively defined by each and every individual.  Which begs the question, are there guns that should be deemed too dangerous and even considered weapons of mass destruction?  After last week’s tragic shooting, it’s hard to argue they aren’t.

There is little doubt a difference in weaponry used makes a major difference in the outcome of potential attacks.  Take the knife attack that occurred in China on the same day as the Newtown attack.  22 children hurt but none died.  Which means we are paying a price for our lax gun laws by comparison.  President Obama addressed this reality with two pertinent questions:

We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

We are used to the idea adults will give their lives for freedom through wars and protests that sometimes turn violent but are we truly just going to accept our children should also pay the same price?  It is highly likely the U.S. will see another shooting spree in the future and also likely one will occur in a school.  If the weapon is less powerful, the victims will have a better chance.  So what’s the price we are going to put on the additional victims of the next tragedy because the weapon is so powerful?  To take the question one step further, if you are a parent, which school would you have wanted your child in last Friday?  The Newtown school or the Chinese one?  The answer is obvious.

Justification?

The next step in this debate is justifying ownership of these weapons by the common citizen.  The onus of this justification is, of course, on the advocates of gun-owning and they have typically gone to a few commonly made arguments.  The first is that the weapons are needed in the event someone they don’t like takes over the government, turns the military on the populace, and needs to be removed.  Just one major problem.  If it is accepted the average person shouldn’t own the powerful weapons used by the government, what good is, say, an M-16 going to do for you against a drone armed with missiles thousands of miles in the air?  How about against a tank?  Battleship parked off the coast?  TV guided rocket fired from hundreds of miles away?  You get the picture.  This justification is irrelevant in this day and age and no longer has any business in this debate.  Only the most psychotic would believe they could stand a chance against that type of weaponry.

Another argument is that gun collecting is a hobby and should be treated as any other hobby.  Two problems with that.  First, what if Cuba decides nuclear weapons are a nice hobby that other countries participate in and they want some as well?  Are we comfortable with that?  Didn’t think so.  The second problem is weapons of mass destruction are not like other collecting hobbies like butterflies or baseball cards.  Last time I checked, there weren’t a lot of mass killings due to a stamp collector psychologically snapping and gluing stamps on dozens of people which then led to their deaths.  When one of these hobbies becomes as dangerous as gun collecting, we can address what needs to be done.  Until then, gun collecting is in a class by itself and should be addressed as such.

One last argument used by the gun owners is car accidents cause more deaths than guns.  True but the key here is the word accidents.  When someone dies because of a car, the vast majority of the time it is an accident and someone probably broke a traffic law at some point along the way.  When someone dies due to gunfire, it is not always an accident.  In fact, you could argue what happened was entirely intended, including the performance of the weapon itself.

The major difference here is there are reasonable laws surrounding automobiles while the laws surrounding guns are, in some cases, downright ludicrous.  Before we set foot in a car, we must be a certain age, have a valid drivers license, and have the proper insurance.  Then we must obey speed limits, stop signs, yield signs, traffic lights, school crossings, have our emissions within the law, drive on designated streets and within designated lines meant for automobiles, not drive under the influence of any substance that inhibits performance, etc. etc.  This is, of course, after the car maker has already followed many regulations in terms of gas mileage, safety belts, air bags, brakes, and many others just to get the car on the road.

How many lives would these gun laws save?

The idea that guns have the same type of reasonable regulations is simply not true and a perfect example is the state of Arizona and the scandal known as Fast and Furious.  The situation became a scandal heavily due to the state gun laws in Arizona:

Customers can legally buy as many weapons as they want in Arizona as long as they’re 18 or older and pass a criminal background check. There are no waiting periods and no need for permits, and buyers are allowed to resell the guns.

To say this type of laissez-faire environment on weapons of mass destruction is even remotely reasonable or comparable to the regulations on automobiles is insanity.  Using the comparison of auto deaths to gun deaths as a justification for putting such destructive weapons on the street so easily makes no sense whatsoever and does not stand up to any actual scrutiny of the position.

The Fantasy World

Let’s face it, a big part of the reason we have such an unreasonable gun culture is the idea we need them for self-defense because a situation may present itself where we need to suddenly turn into Rambo.  The obvious counter to this thinking is these situations just rarely ever happen and the real-life Rambo stories are virtually non-existent compared to the number of tragedies.  Some people buy their guns thinking they are going to be the hero but this just isn’t the case and is becoming even more unlikely.

We are fed the sensationalized version of the United States through the media and believe the worst is always just around the corner.  But it’s not and the facts are continuing to prove that.  The violent crime rate in the U.S. has dropped nearly ever year for the past two decades and it seems likely this decline will continue.  The likelihood you will need a gun because you are caught in a tower at your wife’s office Christmas party when a group of well armed thieves break in to steal $500 million dollars is pretty slim and the idea this should justify the ease in which people can buy such dangerous weapons is lunacy.

But this argument is typically followed by another point that does not make sense when looked at critically.  “Well if we aren’t able to get the dangerous guns then all the criminals will have them instead because they will be easier to get.”  Really?  How does that play out in your world exactly?  This idea is pure nonsense and is only fueled by the movies we see which have distorted reality.  Criminals have these weapons now because they are easy to obtain.  If a reasonable restriction or even a (highly unlikely) ban was placed on them, the supply would ultimately diminish.  If the supply diminishes, the guns that do exist are more expensive, harder to obtain, and less likely to fall into the hands of the common criminal.  It’s just basic economics that when the supply goes down, the price goes up and your common purse snatcher is not going to have the dough to make such a purchase.  The thought that they would somehow be easier to obtain for criminals is not in any way true and could only come from a right-wing economic thinker who has no grasp of basic economic principles yet erroneously believes they do.

See these fictional characters? You are not them and never will be.

One final point branching off the last one is the fact we are allowing guns to be bought so easily and the effect is the killing of children.  Not enemy soldiers or criminals or rebels or terrorists but innocent kids.  You can buy a gun for your home or to carry on your person but you cannot give them to your kids and no one wants teachers to be carrying while teaching so schools will always be an easy target for a psychopath.  If we allow the most destructive guns to be easily sold in order to find their way into the hands of the mentally unstable, we put our kids at risk.  By not acting or saying we cannot change things, we are placing the blood of any future victims on our hands.  Placing reasonable restrictions on weapons or reassessing our view of guns as weapons of mass destruction is a step we could take to save a life in the future.  Doing nothing means we have put a price on that life and have deemed it unworthy of logical action.  Take a look at your child and ask yourself if that price is worth it.

Stating there is nothing we can do is simply cowardice rearing its ugly head once again, just as it has after so many other tragedies in America.  Have we learned anything yet?

Iran will press on with enrichment: nuclear chief | Reuters

Iran will press on with enrichment: nuclear chief | Reuters.

The situation with the West’s concern over Iran’s plans to enrich uranium continues and the head of Iran’s nuclear energy program stated they are moving forward.  A few important points should be made regarding this article.  The first is the fact Iran, at least on the surface, is trying to be rather open about their nuclear plans to the rest of the world.  If they were trying to build a nuclear weapon in the shadows of what they are doing, they are the worst hiders of their actions in the history of the world.  Just compare Iran’s actions to North Korea on this issue, for example.

The other important factor from this article has to do with a declaration the nuclear chief is making:

But he (Iran’s nuclear chief) also said Iran would continue and possibly raise its output of reactor fuel using 20 percent enriched uranium – which suggests that less of it might be available for use in what the West suspects is an attempt to develop atom bombs.

In other words, Iran is using their material, at the moment, for non-weaponized purposes and they want to increase that usage.  Iran has a finite amount of nuclear materials so the fact they are looking to use up more of it for energy purposes only should be encouraged by the West.  The faster they use their material up, the better for peace in the long run.

At this point, Iran has done nothing to show they are wanting to use their nuclear material for a nuclear bomb and there is seemingly no reason to begin a war over their actions.  This could change in the future, no doubt, but the fact remains there is still no evidence Iran is a true threat to the world and the guns and missiles currently aimed at them should be holstered for now.

Terrorism and Info Skewing of United States’ Actions

An interesting article appeared today from Reuters laying out some of the findings about terrorist attacks around the world over the past decade.  Most of the info is not particularly surprising, such as the most affected countries being Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, but a few tidbits in the article deserve some attention.  The first is something well known and long told but always bears repeating since some doubt about this point continues:

War: define, please?
War: define, please?

The U.S. military interventions pursued as part of the West’s anti-al Qaeda “war on terror”, the researchers suggested, may have simply made matters worse – while whether they made the U.S. homeland safer was impossible to prove…”After 9/11, terrorist activity fell back to pre-2000 levels until after the Iraq invasion, and has since escalated dramatically,” Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace.

Invading Iraq in the name of the War on Terror was a colossal mistake and little more needs to be said about that considering this fact has been driven home by the experts since before the invasion began.

Two other pieces of info should be noted from this study.  Both have to do with the wording in the study and what is not included to ensure the numbers do not potentially embarrass certain world actors.  The first bit:

The researchers used the University of Maryland definition of “terrorism”: “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation”.  It did not include casualties from government-backed action such as aerial bombing or other killings. (Emphasis added.)

This means any action taken by a country’s internationally recognized government, such as the Syrian government killing its own citizens or the United States invading another country, would not be included in the results.  Drone attacks would also be excluded from the findings.  That being said we must ask, if the words “by a non-state actor” were removed from the definition given, would the actions of the U.S. government be terrorism?  The answer is left for the reader to decide but shouldn’t we ask why governments aren’t included in this definition?  Technically, one of the key reasons the U.S. went to war with Iraq was the falsely alleged Iraqi support of terrorism, particularly al-Qaeda.  If we can claim a government is involved in terrorism to the point of invading to overthrow said government, shouldn’t these actors be included in such a study?

The second bit of info in the article intended not to attract attention to the United States’ internal issues:

The study said its methodology allowed researchers the scope to exclude actions that could be seen as insurgency, hate crime or organized crime and incidents about which insufficient information was available.

The interesting item here is the exclusion of hate crimes from the study.  Judging from the given definition of terrorism, there is little doubt hate crimes would actually fit the study and, according to the latest numbers(2010) given by the FBI, would look bad for the U.S. considering the number of hate crimes in 2010 (6,628) actually exceeds the number of global terrorist incidents in 2011 (4,564).  It should be noted the number of deaths because of hate crimes is very small (7) but there is no argument against the reality they are carried out “to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation”.

Hate crime = terrorism??
Hate crime = terrorism??

This is not to suggest hate crimes are America’s biggest crime problem or only an American issue.  This is simply a question of how we define and include information in studies that could potentially put a negative focus on the actions of the United States both internationally and domestically.  We cannot be scared of what we might find and should recognize we are far from saints when it comes to the overall issue of violence on this planet.  Only then can we take the proper steps needed to correct these injustices.

Can We Praise Something Not Extraordinary?

Heroes of Retreat, Revisited – By Christian Caryl | Foreign Policy.

An op-ed worth the read.  The writer argues we should notice the actions of those who do great things politically without the great story behind them that can be sold through the media.  Some may look at this Burmese president, Thein Sein, and say he doesn’t deserve too much praise because he just satisfied the will of his people by giving them more power.  But we should remember the recent history of the Arab Spring and the reluctance of the powerful to easily give up their hold on a country, such as Gaddafi in Libya or Assad in Syria.  What Sein is doing deserves some recognition and should be commended by those favoring democratic reforms around the world.