To Have or Not to Have Guns

One week ago twenty children in an American school were massacred in less than ten minutes by a semiautomatic weapon. Too many innocent children are getting killed senselessly by guns. It is absolutely shocking that the Newton Elementary School shooting had to happen for people to noticed how many kids are dying in gun violence.

From 2008-2009, guns killed 5,740 youngsters according to the Children’s Defense Fund. Less military personnel died in Afghanistan and Iraq in ten years of war (5,013).

They are not alone. Plenty of adults die with them. In the US alone, some 9,000 people died of gun violence. Now brace yourself, this was within ONE year!

No this is not a tirade about guns. How can any breathing American not understand that weapons protect, not kill, (note sarcasm) even though every statistic shows us otherwise. After all every one needs a gun and a hummer (more sarcasm).

In the case of Connecticut, Nancy Lanza, the mother of the shooter, was a gun owner.
Despite the fact that she felt her son was dangerous she had guns and they failed protect her. They killed her, six other adults and twenty young children.

It is always more heart breaking when children are involved. But lets face it people, guns got us into this tragedy not out of it. The idea that people should have weapons to protect themselves from the ills of society is a cop out. It sure didn’t work for Nancy. So despite the fact that this idea of gun ownership backfired, there are a slew of people out there that still think people should have more. They are going so far as to wanting to arm the teachers and no doubt the kids too. Really?

This argument was also used in the Jovan Belcher’s case. You know the football player who recently shot his wife then himself. Well, the standard response was ‘If she had a gun, she could have stopped him. ” Yeah right. I can see it now, “Oh honey, could you hold your fire a minute or so while I put down the baby, get my gun and try to protect myself from you?”

Those guns belonged to Lanza, the mother, who was caught by surprise and even if she had a gun on her person, there would have been no way to react to her situation in order to save herself.

The larger question here is why on earth are we so preoccupied with having all the guns, all the time, regardless of their dangers or what is happening in society. Recent inquiries into Lanza’s life show her to be paranoid and what Americans have now termed “preppers,” which we can learn about through this organization called the American Preppers Network.

She, like many other paranoid Americans, was preparing in case the U.S. turns into a nation of anarchy. Kind of like Syria I’m assuming. She was getting ready for economic mayhem that will do doubt arrive since the American Congress and the President can’t get its fiscal cliff talks in order. I wonder if she was also one of those who wanted to be prepared to fight off the government in case they were sending someone to take away their guns or preparing for the Mayan calendar end of thw world date. That’d be today folks and we are still here.

In truth, being prepared is a good thing. Socking away retirement funds or water in case you are hit by a hurricane are good starts. It’s also great to save for a rainy day, be self sufficient, and independent or prepare for injury, illness or the death of a loved one. No one would argue with that, but come on, if the U.S. is truly heading toward this anti-government anarchy, we better find another way to prevent it.

No weapon is going to save everyone from total mayhem or the end of the world. I hate to tell you all this, but if the world ends you are going with it. It does not matter how prepared and self sufficient your are or how many guns and ammunition you stashed – you are on your way out with the rest of us and there is nothing your guns are going to be able to do about it.

Personally I think all this violence is a reaction to, and perpetuation of, seclusion, fear, and this consuming obsession with Armageddon that is driving people over the edge. Maybe if we spent a little more time and money on building the economy and intellectual capacity instead of hiding from and contributing to the demise of it, things wouldn’t look so bad.

President Obama finally announced that he will have a plan by January to help curb the gun violence. Instead of applauding and aiding in the effort, the response is a 360-degree turn – people are running out to buy more weapons. No lessons of mice and men here.

I am free to end my life in many ways. Skydiving, driving, and even flying a plane, but I need training, preparation and a license for all of them. Perhaps a little gun control wouldn’t hurt. No one is taking your weapons, all those who died by accident, drive by shooting or massacre and their loved ones would just prefer that these things stop. So, no big deal, get screening, training and a license. Chill, if there’s nothing in your background you shouldn’t worry.

Sadly, since those twenty innocent children lost their precious lives, many more have joined them. No life, liberty, doomsday or second amendment will be a worry for them.

Frankly, all this “my right to a gun” stuff is getting old. It is high time we look beyond “to have or not to have a gun.” There is a reason these things are called weapons. Alternatively, let’s take action so these horrific situations end. Yes, we the people must work on psychology, mental health, anger management and the like. However, beginning our efforts with a bit of weapons control would not be the worst thing.

These precious children should not be allowed to die in vain. We need to come together and work on stopping the violence with positive change. Then perhaps Americans can stop living in fear of fear itself thus withdrawing from, rather than, engaging in a more communal and peaceful society that protects all instead of just some.

Eyes and Ears: It’s Time They are Opened: The tragedy in Libya

Eleven years after the September 11th attacks, I woke up to an eerily similar day. Clear skies, nice weather, and, more or less, a noticeable amount of silence. I remember that day, first I heard the planes and then I watched the towers fall. I remember thinking how small the world had gotten, how actions elicit violent response and how this day should remind us that the world, not just Americans, must work more closely for less war and stronger relationships with, at the very least, mutual respect and understanding. Destiny sent us in an opposite direction. It sent the world toward conflict and war.

Some years later, I was in Afghanistan when pastor Terry Jones of Florida decided he was going to be the epitome of religious intolerance and burn some Korans, Islam’s holy book. To me this was an abomination. Not because I don’t believe in freedom of speech, but because it was completely irresponsible, insensitive and downright disrespectful. Here I was with countless other Americans and our allies trying to stabilize Afghanistan so our troops could come home and some American, pastor no less, was putting my life in danger . I knew that building strong relationships with Afghans would ensure trust and loyalty thus ensuring the likes of Al Qaeda would be kept at bay, but now my own intentions were being questioned.

Unfortunately for those of us in harms way, compatriots like Jones were the ones that made our safety and security much worse. The bottom line is that Americans have no idea how mindless actions like these jeopardize the safety of the rest of us.

The riots Jones incited in Afghanistan put my life and the lives of many Americans and their allies in grave danger. Apparently, the results of his careless actions were dismissed because he took it upon himself to inform the world about more senseless stupidity.

Now get ready because this is a soap opera. Supposedly an Israeli, living in the US, who is more probably a real estate developer, but calls himself a filmmaker, decided to make a “politically provocative” mockery of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad in and eight minute trailer and then past it on YouTube. In most countries he would be arrested for crimes against the state and inciting violence, but that’s another story. This person, supposedly named Sam Bacile, is spreading his own bigotry and intolerance caused more devastating international outrage than even Jones could muster. This time the insensitive provocation ended in the death of two US diplomats and the US Ambassador in Libya. The news now reports he unapologetically went into hiding while Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, his staff, their families and this country pay the price for his indiscretion and ignorance.

The incident in Libya was senseless. And, yes, the First Amendment exists, in the US that is, and you are more than welcome to through up any piece of garbage on the Internet. No problem. As long as you don’t bash my faith, you’re fine.

Honestly though, I’m getting really tired of the hypocrisy. People spewing hate when they know first hand what it is like to have hate spewed at them. They see no problem with insulting others despite the fact that they have had plenty of issues to face in their own lives. I bet Bacile, or who ever he/she is and if he is Jewish, is horrified every time someone questions the Jewish Holocaust though he will never make a satire about that. I haven’t heard one peep of protest from other religions. Christians who were incensed with Martin Scorsese’ Last Temptation of Christ or Jews who was thoroughly infuriated by Mel Gibson’s the Passion of the Christ are silent. Although none of these movies showed Jesus with his face in Mary Magdalene’s crotch, the one that is showing Mohammed between Khadeja’s legs is ironically ok. Really??

Republican candidate Mitt Romney, for his part, blamed Barack Obama. Just like everybody else he went straight to security instead of diplomacy. Romney was right in one aspect – that it is never wrong for a President to come out and speak against despicable acts. He is wrong, and so was Obama, about criticizing (in Obama’s case ignoring) the statement coming out of the US Embassy in Egypt. The US, in this case especially, must trust and stand by their diplomats to do the right thing in the countries they serve. Only the staff of the US Embassy in Egypt actually got it and made a hasty statement that worked to quell the masses. It was not an apology Mitt, and heartbreak like this should not be political, it was a way to ensure that the incident in Egypt did not end in the same tragic way it did in Libya.

If the US would take a deep breath and realize that the real issue here is that lack of diplomatic power, not to mention a failure of foreign policy in this region, it would be able to mitigate these types of problems. The US needs to get back to words and actions and away from endless war. It is time we learned the lessons from two decades of war. There is no military solution and the US must invest more consciously in its foreign service so they can engage in the countries where they serve. Currently, the military is training the warrior for the 21st Century; why is our government leaving the civilians out?

Becile, and Jones for that matter, knew what they were doing and our foreign service must be better prepared to respond. These actions have consequences and our civilian, like our military men and women must be engaged with the population. That, my friend, does not mean hunkering in the bunker. It means getting out there and building solid relationships so you’re working with the people, for the people and by the people, with your eyes open and ear to the ground giving you plenty of heads up that things like this are coming. Only then can our diplomates help manage the anger before it spreads.

This article was originally published on The Mantle

Follow Tricia on Twitter @Tricias_Take

Afghanistan: Time To End This War

Western officials are hoping the violent outburst after the careless Koran burning at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan will not happen again. Despite their deepest desires there is no doubt that it will.

This was not the first furious demonstration against the U.S. and its NATO partners, who Afghans consider occupiers, and it definitely will not be the last. No As-Salāmu `Alaykum or apology is going to help. Such blatant disrespect only further insights the anger and anxiety of endless war and violence that existed before the post 911 invasion and continues to thrive today.

The majority of foreigners, both civilian and military, should pack their bags and get out. Of course they will not. Afghanistan has this way of convincing even the savviest imperialist that there is hope the place might actually be tamed. This is an illusion. Afghans have their own culture and way of life and it doesn’t coincide with the efforts of modernization by the West.

The U.S. and NATO will dismiss the signs of failure, much like Brits and Soviets, and, instead, “stay the course.” That is because their idea of “stay the course” involves two things simultaneously. The first is negotiation with the Taliban and handing over Afghan security to the Afghans or replacing armed NATO soldiers with armed Afghan ones. Might as well go right back to the civil war where the Taliban and mujahedeen fighters killed and maimed while fighting for power.

Basically, the U.S. will again prop up the really nasty guys – in tandem this time. The Taliban will get the government back and the warlord members of the former Northern Alliance will get control over something we like to imagine called ‘security.’ The Taliban will probably keep its name while the Alliance will strategically be called the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police hoping no one will notice.

Although the Taliban is really vile, during the civil war, the Northern Alliance was brutal. These warlord/mujahedeen fighters raped women, burned up communities, and brutally murdered and tortured anyone who got in their way. Afghans hate the Taliban, but fear the leaders of the Northern Alliance. They do not trust them now and I guarantee that these feelings won’t change in 2014 when the troops retreat.

A new goal, followed by a thought process and strategy, is long overdue. If the parties want to leave without all hell breaking loose they need to start thinking beyond war.

There must be an Afghan political solution. The U.S. must assist the Afghans in stabilization the country instead of turning it into a martial state. Holding the space so that the Afghans can structure their own government instead just training a “security” force and causing yet more war is the key.

Recent FY 2010 figures show that the U.S. is spending around $2 billion a week on this war. I am sure two years later that it is more, but for arguments sake, I’ll leave it at that. With 52 weeks in a year, and two more years of battle, that comes out to around $208 billion (oh what I could do with $208 billion!).

I tried, but cannot seem to find out how much a Jirga or a tribal assembly of elders costs (A Jirga is a large group of people, sometime numbering up to 2000, that makes decisions by consensus), but after a bit of research I can safely assume that it costs less than a million a week. Since I like to overestimate, let’s just go with that number. At a million a week, the US can save a bundle over the next two years.

Now, why a Jirga you ask? Well, because this is the Afghan next best thing to democracy (and actually includes more people in the decision making than its American counterpart). Further, a Jirga will finally allow the Afghans to sit down and hash out their own future. While the West saves money and the elders debate lives will be saved because they’ll be busy talking instead of shooting or blowing things up. Historically Afghans have found one way or another to work out immense differences through this type of method.

Time gives another opportunity. One that would include bringing in regional actors so they too can participate and understand the benefits of dropping the “great game.” Pakistan, India, China and even Iran must agree to stop playing tug of Kabul. Perhaps in the process the U.S. can kiss and make up with Iran (I know, wishful thinking, but why not?)

The Afghans can develop an Afghan government for the people, by the people with Western mentorship instead of imposition. Let’s face it folks the Afghan government has done nothing but pretend to try to like the constitution and centralized American style government forced on them.

Will it be perfect? Probably not. Tell me one governance system that is. Afghans have had a pretty tough history filled with endless war and talk about post trauma stress… so it will all take time and patience. Reminds me of that saying, “good things come to those that have patience.” (ok, so I changed the last part, but you get the picture).

It is, however better than more NATO and U.S. officers dying, an all out Afghan civil war, propping up more malevolent warlords, or bringing back the Taliban so they can beat women if their shoes make noise.

In the meantime, it is time for everyone else — civilian and military alike — to reevaluate the lack of impact they are having and leave. Afghans need their space and the world needs to allow them to ‘ask’ for help when they need it. After all, it is preferable to ask for things not have them shoved down your throat.

Besides, there are too many compounds surrounded by concrete and barbed wire enclosing too many people doing way too little. I am not saying that they don’t mean well, I’m just saying in that type of environment a small stealth imprint makes much more impact. Fortresses with armored everything don’t really encourage relationships at all let alone long-term reciprocal ones.

Civilians can bow out fairly gracefully, however, it is those left behind to tear down the monstrous bunkers and the military withdrawal that will be a bit more complex to remove. The Obama Administration will have to be very strategic as it brings back most of its troops while leaving a very small contingency just in case. Historically as troops pack up and leave Afghanistan fighters from surrounding villages sabotage them. Both those in the British and former Soviet military can attest to that. Therefore, any extraction must be carefully calculated. Nevertheless, it must be done.

After speaking to some people on the ground, it is clear that the protests that were triggered by the Koran burning were a built up reaction to the overwhelming presence of “the foreign occupiers” and the Afghan people are feeling helpless as things get progressively worse. They continue to struggle for even the basics — electricity, water, and food.

Taking steps to allow Afghans to take the lead while supporting their efforts toward peace, governance and security will satisfy interests on both sides. U.S. and NATO troops can go home leaving a somewhat more stable nation while continuing a political partnership with the Afghans and their neighbors. We will all save money, but more importantly we will save lives on all sides by finally ending this war.

To go or NOT to go to war with Iran

Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, is on his way to the United States to argue, again, for a war with Iran. Plenty of US officials including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have also been in Israel to discuss this very issue.

Then, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, who just called General Dempsey “a puppet of Iran,” will be making his way over to mobilize the right wing American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) to send American men and women back to war.

To make matters worse, the US Congress seems to be yet again representing Israel instead of their American constituencies who already have war fatigue not to mention a $15 trillion dollar deficit costing tax payer $4 billion a day. Senators Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) are pushing through “let’s get everything off the table except bombing the hell out of Iran” legislation and Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) is siding with the Israel Prime Minister instead of the American Joint Chief who is right in his assessment that the US should not rush to war.

Nevertheless, the US, Israel and their coalition of the “willing to overthrow every regime on the face of the globe” are continuously debating going after the next victim. Attacking Iran, however, will not be a simple Shock an Awe operation. Iran actually has a formidable military. Perhaps maybe the world is just craving a traditional war with air fights, naval standoffs, and tanks rolling in – all coupled with asymmetric hybrid confrontations.

The most disturbing part of this whole picture is that the world seems to have forgotten that they can actually think beyond war. “All options on the table” seems to dismiss everything other than bombarding things, people or both. For too many years, Americans and allies alike have completely ignored robust diplomacy. They rushed into Afghanistan failing to acknowledge that the Taliban was ready to give up Osama bin Laden – threats instead of savvy cultural posturing and negation led to a ten-year war. Everyone couldn’t wait to hang Saddam Hussein despite the fact that all intelligence showed there was no mushroom cloud, not to mention the fact that he provided the United Nations with all the necessary documentation showing he had no weapons of mass destruction.

The US Secretary of State – America’s top diplomat – threw her patience right out the window calling for the Libyan President, Qadaffi, to be “captured or killed.” In her most recent outburst, she is calling for mutiny in the Syrian army to, yes, rid themselves of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Next stop – Iran.

So where is that “Diplomacy 3.0″ that the US State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) was touting just two years ago. Apparently all those foreign service officers that were suppose to be deployed to “centers of influence” missed the Middle East and Southwest Asia and/or are more likely they are unsuccessfully trying to influence behind giant slabs of concrete and perpetual lockdown.

Governments of the world, let your people go. The days of addressing today’s threats cannot be done behind armored vehicles and barbed wire or even at the barrel of a gun, people need to get out and get to know the people, not just hob nob with corrupt ministers – although that is important too. There are plenty of people who knew the “Arab Spring” was coming, but even the most seasoned diplomat can’t evaluate the changes from behind bars.

In today’s world, we need to stop warring and start a dialogue, one that lasts more than an hour and contains options other than coercive threats on the agenda. So what if we don’t like them, they probably don’t like us much either. if you can get eventually along with one monarch or dictator, why not another?

The bottom line is that there are more options on the table than mutually assured destruction. Political, economic and, most importantly, diplomatic options for Iran exist. It is time for us to break out of this over zealous combat mindset and try something new. In the grander scheme of things, it is much better than sending more of our young men and women off to yet another war or causing Armageddon. Maybe 2012 will be the end after all, if, that is, we make our own prophetic nonsense come true instead of thinking critically in order to find a better solution than more war.

Time for Israel to Embrace the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring began 2010. Many across the region continue to protest against repressive governments that are robbing populations of their basic human and civil rights. The “revolution” that has gripped the region has had vastly different impacts. Nevertheless, while the Arab masses continue to fight for their freedoms, Israel is, in turn, speechless because it realizes that it too is part of the oppression game. Israel is, in essence, one of the oppressors.

It is quite clear to the Israeli government that this regional push toward democracy will directly affect them in a negative manner. After all, Israel continues to occupy over three million Palestinians in the West Bank and keep another million or so imprisoned in Gaza. Not necessarily a positive in anyone’s book.

As the Arab Spring continues, Western influence wanes. In tandem, Israel is becoming more isolated. This isolation has not transitioned into support of the democratic civil society movements of its neighbors. In fact, it has done quite the opposite. These anti-regime populist movements, which arguably started with the Green Revolution in Iran, have instead pushed Israel toward a more agitated, fear based and increasingly paranoid posture.

In response, the Israeli government has moved on two fast and furious initiatives. The first is to escalate the annexation of the West Bank by increasing settlements and confiscating land, while keeping Gaza under its thumb with daily aerial bombardments. And the second is to ensure its hegemonic position in the region by directly challenging its only capable opponent — Iran.

According to a new report by Israeli organization Peace Now, Torpedoing the Two State Solution – The Strategy of the Netanyahu Government, there has been a “20% rise in construction starts in the settlements — at least 1,850 building starts for housing units, 35% of them (650 units) in isolated settlements east of the planned route of the Separation Barrier” and “at least 3,500 units under construction during 2011 (started to be built or continued construction from previous years).”

The report goes further to say that although the Netanyahu government promised to dismantle illegal outposts, this has been skirted by, instead, making them legal. In addition, more roads connecting Palestinian towns have been severed by settlement expansion making it close to impossible to travel and if Palestinians do, they will encounter even more checkpoints. There are some 500-plus “physical impediments,” as the United Nations calls them, in the West Bank. B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, reported that, in addition to permanent checkpoints, the army erects hundreds of surprise flying checkpoints along West Bank roads at will.

Israel is successfully appropriating the West Bank to ease its fear-based obsessions. It craves a level of security that is non-existent yet these policies continue.

Despite the consequences, keeping the Palestinian territories is, in the Israeli mind, one major step to keeping them protected. This along with their ever-growing stockpile of weapons, nuclear and otherwise allows the Netanyahu government plenty of time to focus on its desire for imperial dominance and the destruction of its only regional competitor — Iran.

Israel has been testing the waters for some time to see if it can in effect bully Iran into relinquishing its, to date, minimally influential regional place. To keep the pressure on, Israel has relied on the West to impose sanctions while continuously threatening Iran with military strikes. This has been going on since about 2004. For almost ten years now — give or take — Israel has claimed that Iran is building a nuclear weapon and at any moment it will drop it right in the middle of a bunch of nations it actually has good relationships with just to destroy Israel.

No one can deny Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s bellicose rhetoric against Israel, but if they were to really to use nuclear weapons that would be a surefire way to wipe out not only Israel, but major portions of the five surrounding states in the process and most probably would poison many more — including Iran itself.

Our bombs today are much more powerful than they used to be. “Today, the B-2 Stealth bomber is capable of delivering 1,280 times the destructive power that the Enola Gay brought to bear on Hiroshima in 1945″ says Peter Fedewa in his Ploughshares Fund blog post Nuclear Weapons To Scale. Thanks to the US taxpayers, Israel has twenty-five of them.

Various authors, including this one, have voiced numerous ways to use diplomacy to solve this Israeli-Iranian doomsday scenario. Iran is in no way perfect, but it has at the very least shown ample willingness to talk. It is most unfortunate though that Israel, and by proxy its US supporters, are hell-bent on war.

It seems that Israeli leaders have dismissed the fact that “all options on the table” includes robust diplomacy and actually conversing. Although it took about seven years for Muammar Qaddafi to come around, the Iranians were only allotted about twelve weeks from the Obama Administration to put up or be punished with yet more sanctions. Bush, as you might recall, labeled it as part of the ‘axis of evil,” which gave that Administration a sub-zero chance.

Yes, talks take time. It may be easier to pick up a weapon; however, that would probably guarantee one of two things: 1) everyone will end up right back where they started or 2) due to nuclear fallout — we will all be dead.

Sanctions at this point are definitely working. How can they not? In addition to freezing Iran’s hard currency assets and boycotting their banks, the West has successfully sanctioned everything from pistachios to caviar and carpets and now they are targeting Iranian oil. This has not only starved a lot of very poor Iranians who don’t even like their government, it has set Iran’s nuclear timeline back several years back.

Let us get real, though: sanctions will not and cannot work forever so why not get our diplomatic efforts moving toward preemption through negotiation instead of preemption through total destruction.

The US can and should immediately take the lead in this effort. It would behoove the Israelis to forgo war and jump on board — for once.

Israel’s short-term future may be guaranteed by occupation and bullying. In the long run, however, it is a high-risk wager to continue on such a violent path. A path that will only ensure more anxiety, mistrust and unrelenting blowback, which we have already seen for many years. Reaching out with a handshake instead of a weapon is the only way to guarantee the semblance of the security the Israeli state desires.

It is time for Israel, and those who support it, to rethink its defensive posture and look at the regional push toward democracy as an opportunity instead of a threat. No, it won’t gain friends overnight, but at least it will start to convey that it is a willing partner in the region. A partner that prefers peace and security for all, not just Israelis, as well as one that is against war and destruction not committed to it.

Also see Huffington Post