Monday, April 22, 2013

A Tough Week

This past week has been tough on us.  We've seen our friends and relatives in Boston harmed terribly by the acts of a couple (at least) of mad men who decided for some unfathomable reason to place bombs at the Boston Marathon.  The carnage that ensued saw three people killed and scores injured, some seriously.  The ensuing days saw another person killed by one of the bombers.   Once again, we have been wounded physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.  The attacks occurred on Patriots Day in Massachusetts, a holiday that is extremely important to the Commonwealth and to many other Americans as well.  The day was one of celebration, with a Red Sox game, the race, and untold parties thereafter.  But, not this time.   During the race, two bombs exploded near the path the runners were on and scarred this event forever.

The people of Boston to their credit, have stood up and said this will not deter us from being who we are.  During the explosions, people ran toward the explosions to help their friends and those they didn't even know who had been hurt. The first responders and security personnel acted with speed and compassion to assist those who had been injured.  The police, along with help from federal security agencies launched into an immediate investigation to find the perpetrators of this heinous act.

Through the use of cameras, social media, and good old detective work, the suspects were identified fairly quickly, and by Friday one of the suspects was dead with another caught and in custody.  The two suspects were brothers, one 26 years old and the other 19 years old.  Both were born in former Soviet Republics (one in Kyrgyzstan and the other in Chechnya).  Both lived in the Dagestan area of the Chechen Republic before immigrating to the United States over a decade ago. 

Boston is picking up the pieces and like Bostonians always do, they will carry on and move forward.  I admire and respect the way they have dealt with this terrible event.  I hope they are spared future tragedies like occurred last Monday.

The other event that occurred last week that needs mentioning is the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas. West is a small town of Czech origin just north of Waco.  About 3 thousand people live there now, but it has always been a small farming community.  My dad graduated from high school there in 1943 and when you visit to pick up any number of Czech delicacies (Kolaches are terrific there), you can see the town is still pretty much like it was when my father was a resident.   The explosion of the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured over 150 more, many who were residents at a nursing home that was located within close proximity of the plan.  The explosion occurred after a fire had started at the plant.  First responders were on the scene quickly and had begun to evacuate people close to the plant when an earthquake like explosion that leveled a 3-4 block radius around the plant occurred.  The fertilizer that exploded is thought to be ammonium nitrate, a fairly common agricultural fertilizer, but one that is also highly explosive and indeed has been used in bombings such as the Oklahoma City bombing in the mid-90's that killed over 160 people and launched bomber Timothy McVeigh into the spotlight.  While there is no reason to think this incident in West was anything more than an industrial accident, one has to wonder why schools, nursing homes and residents were built around this plant which has been in the area for over 50 years.

So, once again, our country is a victim of violence. One instance, an intended attack on people enjoying a pleasant day in Boston and watching a race, and another, seemingly accidental that shook the foundations of an entire community in North Central Texas. 

Violence is with us constantly.  Whether it is overt and intended, or the result of an accident, people are killed or hurt daily.  Automobile accidents kill on average about 30 thousand Americans each year.  None of them for all intents and purposes intentional.  We have about the same amount of deaths from gun violence per year in this country.   Many other forms of violence take our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and our friends from us routinely.  It is something when we experience it, find it extremely difficult to grasp and cope.   When it is personal, it is more painful than reading about it in the paper or on the news.

There are many causes of violence many of which get much more press than they should and others that are rarely spoken of at all.  The aforementioned automobile fatalities barely get mentioned on the news unless there are multiple deaths and some level of sensationalism associated with it.  When a person or a smaller group of people are killed as a result of gun violence, we may not read about it unless it was a local event.   When a attack occurs however, it is suddenly reported across the country with non-stop coverage most of which is useless.   The blast in West, Texas killed more than 4 times as many people than the bombing in Boston did, but the difference in news reporting on the events is staggering.  Why?

Well, for one reason, when a terror attack occurs, regardless of whether it is foreign or domestic, fear comes into play. Fear causes people to understandably want more information about what happened so they can protect themselves or their families, and find out how to avoid the "bad guys" that may be at large if the suspects haven't been apprehended yet. 

I think fear drives us more than we want to let on.  We get non-stop information coming from the blogosphere, twitterati, the media, and other sources all hyping up the issue and causing us to think irrationally about the incidents.   Take the terror attacks on US soil or on US property/military bases that have happened in the last 40 years.  The death toll in those events in total was approximately 4,000 people with the majority of the fatalities coming with the attacks on 9/11/2001.  Compare that with the number of automobile fatalities, influenza deaths, gun violence deaths in just the last 10 years, and the results are staggering.  Of the three categories I've described (Auto fatalities, Influenza fatalities and gun violence fatalities), there have been about 900 thousand deaths.   That's right,  each of these categories average about 30 thousand deaths per year. That's more than 225 times the amount of deaths attributed to terror attacks since 1970.  Each year almost 10 times as many people die from gun violence or the flu, or an auto accident than the entirety of deaths caused by terror attacks in over 40 years. 

It's understandable that we are concerned about terror attacks on us.  They are real. They have happened in this country and will likely continue to do so whether it is from a foreign attacker or a domestic one.  We seem to move into a state of hyper-reaction when something like this occurs.  To me, it is very similar to the attacks on the school at Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or Aurora, or Virginia Tech, or any other site of recent massacres due to gun violence, the only difference being in our response as a government to the events.

So why then do we not treat the events surrounding gun violence with the same rapid reaction and response politically that we do terror attacks?   Remember, in 2001, we suffered the most heinous and violent terror attack every launched against this country.  It killed about 3 thousand people.  Those deaths were tragic, needless and required a response.  What was our response?  Two wars, over 5 thousand US troops killed.  hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans killed with millions displaced from their homes.  We spent over a trillion dollars on these wars and we are still fighting in Afghanistan over 11 years later.  The reaction to this compared to the reaction of gun violence deaths in this country in one year was staggering.  Imagine, if we spent the resources we have on fighting terror on influenza protection, gun violence reduction, or better auto safety? 

I'm not trying to be a cold-blooded accountant here looking at cost-benefit ratios, but I do think we have lost a sense of perspective on how we respond to these issues.  We've seen the results of our attempts to curb gun violence with a failed measure that would simply expand an existing law.  Congress recoiled from dealing with this matter like it was poison.   So, to me, we have lost a sense of perspective about these things.  Why do we respond so quickly and aggressively on a terror attack and don't on something that kills significantly more people?

The failure of the gun legislation last week still grates at me.  I do not understand why we cannot make a reasonable decision on issues like this when the evidence that something needs to be done is so massively apparent.  We know, as a government we can have an impact that will improve public safely.  We've seen progress when sensible regulations are put in place to support public safety.  As an example, since the FDA was established, we've seen fewer deaths from tainted food.  We've seen better rules around drug safety.  We don't seem to have a problem with food inspectors looking at our food.   With regard to automobile safety, since 1970, annual automobile deaths have declined by 38% in large part because of better regulations on safety such as seat belts, airbags, speed limits and the like.  We don't seem to have a problem with registering our cars, getting them inspected, and taking driving saftey courses so we can drive a car. Why then can we not get legislation in that would potentially save thousands of lives lost to gun violence? 

I think the politicians are simply cynical, craven and opportunistic with respect to the gun issue.  If you want more on that, read my post on the subject from a couple of days ago.  But in terms of the American People, I believe it comes back to fear.  Fear of government is continually brought up as a reason not to "infringe" on the 2nd Amendment.  Many people are afraid that any gun legislation would lead to registration which would lead to confiscation, and that can't be tolerated in their opinion.  They believe that as along as they can buy their guns, it will keep the black helicopters and the government storm troopers at bay.  It is an unfounded fear and one that borders on paranoia.   But, the fear of the government motivates them to take up such illogical positions and suggest that their "right" is more important than stemming gun violence fatalities. 

The people of Boston conquered their fear.  The people of West have done this as well. They are rebuilding and defiant in the face of  these tragedies.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if the United States Senate showed the same courage as these people?  So much has hurt the people from Boston and West, yet they pick themselves up and move forward, all the while Congress is mired in place because of fear.  Fear of the NRA or Guns For America. Fear of the lunatic fringe who believe their rights supersede yours or mine.  It is pathetic. 

Tell me what you think.


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