Feb 23

After Donald Trump’s election, one of the most inspiring podcasts for us was the super frank discussion between Brooke Gladstone, Bob Garfield and Katia Rodgers from On The Media (a must listen podcast if ever there is one) debating how the show will evolve after the election.

They struggled with something we struggled with last year: despite all our writing about the Republican primaries, despite his support of war, torture and murder, despite being the most un-endorsed candidate in history, Donald Trump became President (after losing the popular vote). And over the last month, we’ve seen that the Donald Trump from the campaign trail is the same one who took office. So where do we go from here when all of our past efforts have failed?

Well, you don’t give up. The OTM folks didn’t and have been producing great content.

And we don’t plan to stop writing either, as you’ve probably noticed. If anything, Donald Trump has been the best muse we could have asked for. (After eight calm and steady years of Obama, it got hard to get outraged. We no longer have that problem.)

If you thought that our “Most Thought-Provoking Event of 2016” held all our thoughts on this new Trump administration, boy, were you wrong. That series really only discussed Donald Trump in the context of what his election could mean for the liberal world order and our “Invisible Golden Age”. But Trump’s election has ramifications for defense spending, foreign policy, national security, criminal justice and diplomacy. And in the month since he took office, we’ve seen a radical shift from the Trump administration in all those areas. So how will On V confront the second President to take office since it launched? More importantly, how will we change?

Quick Reactions to the News

If you’ve been following the blog since the inauguration, you’ve seen that we started doing “Quick Reaction” posts to the headlines. For a long time, we didn’t like “chasing the news” and yet, under the current climate, we’re re-thinking that policy. Frankly, Donald Trump churns out more news in a week than Obama did in a month, and we need to track and respond to all that.

In the future, we’ll be responding to news as it breaks, with links to our past relevant material. We’ll do this both for huge stories and smaller ones.

Keep up the Hot Takes

At the same time, you don’t read On Violence for opinion pieces you could read anywhere else. You want something different. Off the mainstream. We plan to keep that up, providing our readers with both unconventional ideas (the Army needs better managers, not “leaders”) or non-traditional solutions (remember the International Criminal Court for Terrorists, Pirates and Trans-National Criminals? Or the new Global Marshall Plan?)

We’ll keep that going. We want takes as hot as, well, the potential the radioactive fallout from Donald Trump’s next nuclear war, and ideas crazy enough that they just might work.

We’ll Stay in Our Lane

In an Army live fire drill, you stay in your lane or you get shot by someone else. Though we are incredibly interested in domestic politics (as was obvious in last week’s post), we know that our biggest contribution to the national debate comes in the areas related to “violence”, broadly defined, mostly focusing on foreign policy and the military. (And some domestic policy related to police shootings, police militarization, and civil liberties, which we feel fall under our purview.)

Still, we know that we can’t cover every issue. Take, for example, the wars in Libya and Syria. We haven’t written a ton on those subjects--though we had some great stuff on the news coverage over Syria--compared to Iran, where we wrote a both a paper we’re quite proud of and over thirty blog posts. In short, we know a lot about Iran and we’re quite worried about America going to war there.

So we’ll try to re-hit some of the areas we’ve done before: Iran, The World is Getting Safer, Trimming the Size of the Military, Intelligence is Evidence, Counter-Insurgency (if we start another war) and International Relations Liberalism.

That’s to start. As the Trump administration gets rolling, we’ll keep adding to the arsenal, as long as it relates to violence. Including a new, broader focus...

Addressing Conservative Ideology and Hypocrisy

One of the reason we started this blog was because we wanted to write philosophically about violence, in addition to using Michael C’s personal experience to recommend improvements for our military and foreign policy. But both of us have loved philosophy since we were kids.

Frankly, conservative philosophy has been degraded in this country. First, across the spectrum, they’ve embraced an ugly, immoral, anti-Christian foreign policy that focuses on hatred of others and violence. More importantly, as it relates to domestic policy, Republicans have embraced party over country, power over principles. Republicans in Congress held their noses in the hopes that Trump will help them pass their ideological agenda, while many rank and file Republicans voted for him in the hopes of overturning Roe v. Wade.

One thing connects their ugly foreign policy and desire for power: hypocrisy.

In the years ahead, we’re going to address this problem, even though it touches on non-explicitly-violent domestic policy. The country needs strong, motivated, spirited debate. It also needs an ethical one. Focused around facts. That puts values and ethics above personal gain. We hope to provide that.

Going Forward

Is just blogging enough? Will our words make a difference? We don’t know. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking on this; we don’t think so. Words without action only mean so much and words on their own can’t stop Donald Trump. So we have some other plans to expand the scope of the blog.

But we aren’t ready to say anything quite yet, so stay tuned.

Feb 15

This blog focuses on America’s foreign policy and military issues, with slight detours into terrorism, intelligence, gun violence, civil rights, and the overall safety of the world today.

In short, we don’t think explaining/debating/writing about election results falls under that purview.

Which isn’t to say we don’t have thoughts. Clearly some explanation is needed to explain how Donald Trump got elected to determine how we can best respond to that election. As the saying goes, you can’t know where you’re going/how to win elections, if you don’t know where you’ve been/why you lost. And though I, Eric C, am just bursting to write an entire book on what happened--and Lord knows people will--we’ll try to limit this to just one post. Mainly, we just don’t agree with most of the explanations and narratives put forward so far.

But first, let’s debunk two common misconceptions:

Misconception #1: X Factor Caused Hillary Clinton to Lose.

Notice we didn’t name the factor. That’s because, as is the case with almost every major event in history, no one thing causes one other thing. A whole bunch of them do. Was it Russia? Was it Comey? Was it Clinton’s campaign? Yes. And no. Actually, it was all of them. And more.

You may remember our analysis of the Iraq war. We listed a range of factors and provided our back of the envelope estimate for how much they caused us to lose that war. We’ll take the same approach for this election. Though we should mention, the “percentages” are in no way scientific.

Misconception #2: A Majority of Americans Supported Donald Trump.

I originally wrote the headline for this section as “Hillary Clinton lost the election” but deleted it because, well, she did lose the electoral college, and Michael C doesn’t like me getting too partisan on the blog. But of all the other things that can be said about the election, this is the most important:

The Democratic candidate for President received nearly three million more votes than the Republican.

Even more important: Democrats received six million more votes for their Senators. And how many votes cost Hillary the Electoral college? About 80,000 in a nation of over 300 million. So almost nothing. (0.02% in other words.) What about the enthusiasm gap? More people showed up to protest Donald Trump’s inauguration than attended it. And it spawned counter-protests across the country, including our very conservative home town of San Clemente, CA.

These facts may surprise you, because a ton of commentators, from the far left to the middle, have claimed the election proves that Democrats are out of touch with Americans. And Republicans and conservatives have used the results to claim they have a legislative mandate. We’ve seen pundits we love make this claim, even if they later they point out that people always overreact to elections. Probably the best example would be Glenn Greenwald, who’s alternately blamed drone strikes, NSA wiretapping, the Iraq War, Democrats support for Wall Street and more for the election result, even though some of those claims are clearly absurd.   

Repeat this mantra, Democrats: don’t act like losers when you didn’t lose.

So, with those misperceptions out of the way, let’s breakdown why Hillary isn’t President, starting chronologically. (To be clear, the last two causes are the most important, so if you don’t read the whole thing, skip to the bottom.)

1. Pessimism: 5%

2. Media Biases: 5%

As we wrote about in our “Most Thought-Provoking Event of 2016”, it’s been incredibly dispiriting to watch as America falls into an almost nation-wide despair over the last couple of years, disillusioned by police shootings of unarmed citizens, riots in response to police shootings, shootings of police officers, a vanishingly small number of terrorist attacks, economic inequality, the rise of ISIS and, finally, the election of an uninformed possible demagogue.

In reality, the world is as safe as it has ever been, which is why we’ve written over 20 posts arguing this point, and plan to write a whole bunch more. We’ll say it again for impact: these are the safest most prosperous times in human history. Ever. That includes the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

Sense a disconnect?

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Democrats, at every turn, fail to trumpet their victories. Left-wingers always complain about Democrats. The “mainstream media”, regardless of who is President, assumes an adversarial stance versus the party in power, focusing on the President. And conservatives? They’re mostly happy if they’re in power.

But relentless media negativity is only one of many ways the media actually favors conservatives:

- Mainstream media coverage tended to favor Donald Trump, mainly by trying to report “evenly” (in terms of time) on both candidates. This led to a false equivalency of both sides, with outlets like the New York Times (but not The Washington Post) running “investigations” on the Clinton Foundation without spending time on similar investigations into the Trump Foundation.

- Or you could point out the false equivalency every time someone said “Washington is broken” or “Nothing gets done!” without pointing out that Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, broke it. And it worked. 

- Another problem is that the media tends to close around the same daily topics. Thus, the media narrative focused Clinton’s emails, while never settling on one Trump issue, save groping.

- And the right-wing has an entire media apparatus, from Fox News to talk radio to Breitbart, dedicated to their cause, while most “left-wing” outlets (like NPR, PBS and the New York Times) still want to cover things fairly and follow ethical journalistic practices. Just look at the debate over the “Trump Dossier” compared to what conservatives promote on Alex Jones’ Infowars or Breitbart. Many far-left organizations (like The Intercept, Democracy Now! or Jacobin) are as critical of moderates as they are of conservatives.

Overall, these media biases, especially the overwhelmingly pessimistic coverage of the world today, led to an enthusiasm gap among Democrats that probably more than accounts for the missing 80,000 votes Hillary Clinton needed to win the Electoral College.

3. Systemic Republican Electoral Advantages: 20%

Republicans, due to a variety of factors, have a competitive edge electorally in America:

Geography: Voters in low population states have more representation in electing Presidents and Senators than high population states. The Senate looks almost like a national redistricting effort by the Founding Fathers, cramming a lot of Democrats into a few large states like California, New York and Illinois.

Redistricting: Republicans have a near insurmountable advantage in the House of Representatives because of gerrymandered districts.

Citizens United: Since the Supreme Court’s decision, Republicans have a big money edge over Democrats, especially down ballot.

The Media: See above section.

Voting Rights: Republicans have systematically restricted voting by closing polling places and creating ID requirements since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. The exact effects are uncertain, but it’s a problem that’s only getting worse.

To sum up, Republicans have a systematic advantage in our country's elections, hence why Democrats can win more votes for both the President and the Senate and still not hold office. As Nate Silver described it, Republicans are working to “preserve minority rule in this country”. What’s the catch? These advantages mean that the governing bodies of America no longer actually represent the views and opinions of a majority of Americans. That’s not good for the country long-term. 

4. Hillary Clinton’s Campaigning: 5%

5. A Bitter DNC Primary: 5%

6. Third Party Candidates: 3%

Critics on the far left are right about one thing: by consolidating around Hillary Clinton before the primaries began, Democrats failed to both adequately vet her weaknesses and nominated a sub-par campaigner. Hillary Clinton, in her own words, said, “I’m not a natural campaigner.” And her campaign failed to focus on the Rust Belt states.

This also showed up in an overall enthusiasm gap which, again, we blame on liberals and the media. Need proof of an enthusiasm gap? Just compare the size of Hillary’s crowds during the campaign to, say, the size of crowds at protests after the election.

Many Bernie Sanders supporters, cravenly inspired by Hillary’s loss, immediately said their guy would have won, though I doubt it, and I’m also a self-described socialist. But the ugly primary fight led a lot of Bernie Sander’s supporters to become (justifiably) disaffected with the system, especially after the release of hacked DNC emails. (More on this below.) Some Bernie supporters spent the entire DNC convention booing her. Then, some of Bernie Sander’s disaffected voters (understandably but regrettably) voted for third party candidates.

These factors weren’t huge (all told we only give them about 13%) but in an election of 80,000 votes, they matter.

7. Racism/Immigration: 1%

8. Economic Inequality: 1%

Since the election, the main topic of debate among pundits has been whether racism or rising economic inequality caused Trump’s victory. With apologies to easy media narratives, I doubt either issue swayed the election.

I think blaming economic inequality for the election overstates its impact. Put another way: if Democrats/America were more socialist, would that have stopped Trump? I doubt it. Last month, I got super annoyed listening to Fareed Zakaria GPS because Fareed made that exact point I’d been wanting to write. Namely, populist, right-wing, white nationalist movements have been popping up around the world, regardless of economic inequality or expanded social welfare programs:

“Supporters of Trump and other populist movements often point to economics as the key to their success — the slow recovery, wage stagnation, the erosion of manufacturing jobs, rising inequality. These are clearly powerful contributing factors. But it is striking that we see right-wing populism in Sweden, which is doing well economically; in Germany, where manufacturing remains robust; and in France, where workers have many protections. Here in the United States, exit polls showed that the majority of voters who were most concerned about the economy cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.

"The one common factor present everywhere, however, is immigration. In fact, one statistical analysis of European Union countries found that more immigrants invariably means more populists. According to the study, if you extrapolate from current trends, “as the percentage of immigrants approaches approximately 22 percent, the percentage of right-wing populist voters exceeds 50 percent.” Hostility to immigration has been a core theme of every one of these populist parties."

Michael C disagrees. He thinks rising income inequality dampened enthusiasm among Democrats, a theme that runs through almost every section in this post. On this point, I think he may be right about one thing: Democrats have seemed ineffectual on combating rising inequality...mainly because Republicans have stopped them at every turn, by opposing any form of tax increases, Wall Street reforms, worker’s rights and government spending. And now that Trump has taken office, this trend continues, debunking the entire argument.

What about race? Some of Trump’s supporters certainly are racist. A certain segment of Americans, energized by the election of the first black President, then catalyzed by terror attacks, immigration and police shootings, were motivated by race. But do I think these people would have voted for Hillary under any circumstance? No. Republicans could have run Marco Rubio, and the other factors I’ve described (like media coverage, the electoral college, Wikileaks/Comey) still would have played a bigger role.

Overall, I doubt either racism or economic inequality swayed the election. At least not as much as the next two factors...

9. FBI Director James Comey’s Letter to Congress: 15%

10. Wikileaks Release of Hacked Emails: 15%

Hillary had a seven point lead in the election going into October. By election day, the polls had basically evened up to within 2% of the final popular vote total. This is pretty good as far as polling errors go. And it means you can pretty accurately assess which news stories damaged Clinton’s poll numbers.

FBI director James Comey’s unprecedented step of writing a letter to Congress in the weeks before the election, hinting at another possible investigation into a Hillary email server, clearly tipped the election to Trump. Wikileak’s release of the DNC emails got Bernie’s supporters upset at her and the release of another batch of Podesta emails in October kept negative headlines in the news. All three fed into a steady narrative about Clinton’s untrustworthiness.

Before Democrats start a debate about how to radically transform the party in response to the election, recognize that these two events did more damage than anything else, except the next factor. Again, Hillary got a majority of votes for President. And she only lost the election by about 80,000 votes.

11. The Electoral College: 25%

When critics say Democrats are blaming everyone but themselves for the loss, ask this, “If the election were determined by popular vote, where would Trump have gotten 3 million more votes?” Hillary Clinton got more votes than Donald Trump. Almost every other explanation falls short when you look at it this way.

Some people rebut this by saying, “Well, those are the rules everyone agreed to.” True, but the next logical question is: do you agree with this system? If you do, well, sorry, you’re wrong. The Electoral College is an anachronistic, anti-democratic holdover from the past and it needs to be abolished immediately. It’s archaic, propped up by a love of tradition or a desire to maintain the power of low population, less diverse states, as Bill O’Reilly quite inelegantly pointed out on his show.

In Closing, Democrats Needs to Fix the Systemic Problems in our Electoral System

To summarize the takeaway from this exercise, anytime you hear anyone (left, right or center; pundit, politician, analyst, reporter or civilian) argue that Democrats need to change their message or, God forbid, their policies remember this:

The Democratic message already appeals to a majority of Americans.

Looking at why Hillary Clinton isn’t president or why Democrats don’t control the Senate, it isn’t because of the Democrats “message” or policy priorities. The majority of Americans agree with those. Instead, systemic electoral disadvantages favor Republicans over Democrats. They favor rural voters over urban voters, white voters over minorities. Outside of Clinton’s weakness as a campaigner or Democratic pessimism, almost every reason the Democrats lost is out of their control.

Instead of changing their message to fit an electoral system that favors Republicans, Democrats need to prioritize fixing the electoral system to enact their policies, starting with redistricting efforts, reforming campaign finance laws, stopping voter suppression, investigating the FBI and Russian meddling in the election, and ending the electoral college. In terms of strategy, they need to open the Democratic primary to all candidates, learn to celebrate their victories, stop fighting with each other, and pressure the media to report fairly.

We plan to do our part, as we’ll discuss on Monday.

Mar 17

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Police Shootings", please click here.)

Almost a year ago, I knew that police shootings would be our “Most Thought-Provoking Event of 2015”. Why?

Because of the shooting of Walter Scott.

Walter Scott’s shooting definitely wasn’t the first (and probably wasn’t the worst) police shooting of an unarmed man, but it was the only one I followed in real time, right when the video leaked, following new information as it came out. Unlike other police shootings, there was no grey area. This video was a perfectly clear example of police misconduct, unequivocal in its ugliness, of a man literally getting shot in the back. For the first time, I (Eric C) spent two days researching, writing and collecting my thoughts on police shootings. This one was the turning point for me personally. Why?

Because I was so, so angry.

The lies infuriated me the most. Michael Slager, both during and immediately after shooting Walter Scott, lied about what actually happened, claiming that Scott went for his taser. The North Charleston Police then released similar statements, which were then repeated by the media. At the time, this was just one of many police shootings that I, and the rest of the country, ignored.

Then the cell phone video showing what actually happened was released, proving Slager’s account was false. For me, and the rest of the country, the release of this video changed everything.

This isn't the only example. Police officers misled investigators and the public (or lied) about Freddie Gray. And Aubrey Williams. And Nijza Lamar Hagans. Or Laquan McDonald. Or Derrick Price, in which the police also fabricated video evidence so they could beat a suspect. Or all the examples in our post here. I’m sure we could find more.

After all these tragedies, the simple takeaway is this: the public should no longer trust the police narrative in civilian shootings. At least, they shouldn’t take the officer’s word over that of the civilian’s. We’ve seen too many instances proving that, in a violent altercation, each side has their own reasons to lie. But I think I have a solution to make officers more wary about lying in the future:

Civilians need to keep the videos of police misconduct hidden from police for much longer.

If you film a police shooting, don’t release the video immediately. Or even a few days later. Wait, for a few weeks or months. Wait until the officer has lied, publicly. Wait until he has lied under oath. Wait until the media has repeated those lies. Wait until the department “finishes” their investigation. Then release the video. The public tends to believe what police officers have to say about shooting incidents. This happened in the Walter Scott shooting. At first, the public believed Slager, but within four days a video revealed his lies (and consequently the department’s lies).

Imagine if it had been held longer.

Right now, the video merely debunked Slager. But the entire process--from police investigating the crimes to district attorneys prosecuting the offenders--is culpable in defending police misconduct. If the video is held longer, more people can say and do things obstructing justice, and then get called out for it. Or worse.

Also, holding the videos will let the fear dangle longer. It would make district attorneys and police chiefs afraid that a video might be out there, and might drop at any time. It might make them actually investigate shootings with a critical eye, like they would for civilians. Or one could specifically leak the video to activists and lawyers so they can get officers to lie under oath. Tie them up in multiple knots. This would make police officers and police chiefs more wary about lying in the future.

I don’t want to keep writing about this topic. It is dark, ugly and divisive. But watching videos like the one of Walter Scott’s shooting, I know we have to.

Jan 13

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Police Shootings", check out the articles below...

- Learnings from Kunar: Police Shootings and the Lessons of Counterinsurgency

- Winning the Battle but Losing the Crime War: Three More Connections to COIN and Police Shootings

- Wolves, Sheepdogs and the Cops I Know

- The Cover-up is Worse Than the Crime: The Walter Scott Shooting

- The Golden Rule for Policing

- Director's Cut: Five More Thoughts on Police Shootings)


Starting today, we’ll be writing about our most thought-provoking event of the year. Judging by media coverage, three issues dominated 2015: ISIS, mass shootings and police shootings. And the winner is...

Police shootings.

(Yeah, it’s not really a singular event, though our choices rarely are, like the Green Revolution in Iran (2009), Wikileaks (2010), the Arab Spring (2011), Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks (2013), and Iraq re-descending into chaos (2014) last year. Our 2012 picks (Petraeus and Benghazi) were singular events, then we paired them together.)

First off, focusing on terrorism or mass shootings would be, in some ways, a disservice to our readers. Both events remain incredibly rare, statistically. Gun violence, overall, is down in America and your chances of dying from a terrorist attack remain infinitesimally small. In short, you can’t decry buying a ticket for the Powerball and worry about terrorism...they have the same likelihood. Yet both will probably remain a part of society for a long time. Crazy people will keep using guns or bombs to scare the rest of society for political purposes (terrorists) or gain fame (mass shooters).

Ironically, as well, if we focus on those events, though we’d be telling people not to be scared, it may still have the opposite effect. On the Media explains:

“Scholarship has made more than clear, that even when the media try to debunk a rumor, that the very process of debunking tends to cement the misinformation in the minds of people who don't necessarily want the debunkitude.”

More importantly, for the “Most thought-provoking event of the year”, neither ISIS nor mass shootings inspired a lot of fresh ideas. Hence, the “thought-provoking” part. Here’s our take on the Paris attacks:

- 138 people is a very small number, statistically. That may sound cold, but it’s true. France has a population of over 60 million, and Paris over 2 million. The chances of being killed by terrorism is tiny.

- Disagree with what I wrote above? Am I being hyperbolic? Not as hyperbolic as conservatives who say, citing the deaths of 138 people out of 60 million, that ISIS is an existential threat to America.

- Our (America’s, Europe’s) reaction to this attack was a massive over-reaction. France suspended their Constitution (including a free press) and issued mass arrests.

- Then, of course, ironically, this over-reaction alienates more Muslims. Did you know that Muslims make up 70% of French prisons, but only 8% of the population?

Yeah. Covered that issue. Here’s our take mass shootings: get rid of guns. Sure, we could write a lot more proving this, but reading all the studies, more guns equals more gun deaths. Here’s our only original take: when terrorists start using lax American gun laws to attack Americans, well, that’s probably the end of gun rights. (Unless we make laws that selectively target Muslims for gun control, and well, that’s the end of religious liberty.)

But with police shootings, we have tons to say and write about. They represent something bigger, the way the state--which should have a monopoly on violence--uses that monopoly. But no other thoughts are more important than this one:

The coverage of police shootings actually represents a positive step forward for America.

The issue around police shootings (and really this goes back to 2014 with the Ferguson, Missouri shooting of Michael Brown) isn’t that police are shooting civilians at a higher rate. We actually don’t know if unjustified police shootings are going up or down. Law enforcement doesn’t keep good records. But what we do know, thanks to the rise in cell phone cameras, is that they’re being filmed and broadcast to the world. Technology is holding police officers accountable. It is no longer one man’s word against the dead.

And this publicity is leading to all sorts of smart, long-term positive changes to law enforcement, including body cameras for police, a rise in the prosecution of bad cops, the push to document police shootings, and the release of personnel records in police departments across America. This will change the country for the better.

And we have a lot more ideas. We’ll hit on long-running On V themes, like whether cops are wolves or sheepdogs. We’ll relate this discussion to counter-insurgency. We’ll talk about the ironies of race and gun rights. We’ll write about the philosophy of violence. Most importantly, we’ll offer solutions.

So stay tuned.

Jan 11

On Wednesday, Michael C wrote about the best news stories of 2015, highlighting the great news from last year. (Especially the story people didn’t hear about, the success of the Millennium Development Goals and the ratification of the new Sustainable Development Goals.) The world is getting better, even if most people don’t realize it.

But we weren’t the only writers with this hot (but needed) take. Here’s a collection of some other people who wrote on this same theme:

John Cassidy in the New Yorker

John Cassidy opens his collection of six good news stories basically explaining our thesis about the media and pessimism:

“But 2015, believe it or not, was also a year of positive developments, many of which were underreported. Generally speaking, good-news stories aren’t as dramatic or as salient as bad news, so journalists and news organizations tend to give them short shrift. I’m as guilty of this as anybody else. So here, as penance for my sins of omission, are some thoughts on six uplifting developments from the past twelve months.”

Agreed on all point, except we could do with a resolution trying to change going forward. He cited many of the same good news stories we did, but also hit on the successful eradications efforts of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We’ll be using this example in the coming weeks of a news story that grabbed headlines when things were going bad, then was ignored when the problem was solved.

Charles Kenny in the Atlantic

To close the year, Charles Kenny added another collection of the massively good news for humanity, compared to the past. For example, did you know, in spite of the mass shootings...

“The latest FBI statistics, reported this September, suggested that the trend toward lower rates of violent crime in the United States that began in the early 1990s continued at least through 2014: There were nearly 3,000 fewer violent crimes that year than the year before and more than 600,000 fewer than in 1995—that’s a 35 percent decline over the period. The latest data from the UN suggests that this is part of a global trend—to take one category of violent crime, homicide rates have dropped by an estimated 6 percent in the countries for which data was available between 2000 and 2012.”

And he points out how unlikely terrorism is. We love articles that collect good news like this one. It is an especially good addition to the small “World is getting better” canon, because it rebuts the terrifying headlines that dominated the news in 2015.

Slate’s Year of Good News

Not to be out done, Slate collected a good news story for every day last year. While many of their good news stories are less substantial than Cassidy’s or not focused on long-term trends like Charles Kenny, they do reaffirm that good things happen everyday. We just don’t hear about them.

Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe

Jeff Jacoby pushes back against the notion that the world is getting worse, citing an especially silly AP article from 2008 with the headline, “Everything Seemingly Is Spinning Out of Control.” Jacoby hits many of the same issues as we did, including Ebola and the decline of crime in America. He, for instance, pointed out the rise in female literacy from the 1970s (40% globally) to 2015 (93%). He also called out all the peaceful democratic transfers of power last year:

"Thugs with weapons wrought undisputed horrors in places like Syria and Libya, yet there were democratic elections and peaceful transfers of power too — in countries ranging from Nigeria to Argentina to Myanmar to Burkina Faso. And Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet received the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for proving that democracy and pluralism could be nurtured even in the Arab world’s stony soil."

Lesley Hazleton in The Accidental Theologist

Finally, friend of the blog Don Gomez of Carrying the Gun sent this post on Twitter which has the wonderful thesis:

“In end-of-the-year phone calls from friends near and far, many express despair at the state of the world. I fully understand why, but I don’t accept their despair. In fact I can make a strong argument against it. Because what has changed is not so much the world itself, but our awareness of it.”

In 2016, let’s try to remember that thesis every day, not just at the end.

Jan 06

Usually we start the new year with our “Most Thought-Provoking Event”. And next week we will. On Violence is going to get into some very dark, ugly subject matter. Upsetting territory. Spoiler alert: the most thought-provoking event of the year will be police shootings. But before we dive into the muck, let’s make one thing very clear:

2015 was a GREAT year.

Not just a good year. A great year. Possibly the best year in human history. We live longer than ever. We live better than ever. We live safer than ever. We’re the most educated society in human history producing more (and better) art than at any time in human history. Literally, if I asked you to pick a better year than 2015, you would either pick 2015, or some other year in the past five. This isn’t our opinion; it is math.

So we need to celebrate this. In a new tradition, here is our list of the best news stories you probably heard about...just not as much as mass shootings or ISIS.

Best News Story of 2015: The Iran Nuclear Deal

Our winner for the best news story of 2015 was the Iran and P5+1 deal over Iranian nuclear enrichment. By the end of 2015, Iran shipped the remainder of its low-enriched uranium to Russia as part of the deal.

This single story averted more loss of life than ISIS, terrorism and Syria combined. A war with Iran that would have involved Israel, Europe, the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia could have caused millions of casualties. The political and economic instability would have been even more catastrophic. The US casualties alone, as we’ve written about, could have dwarfed the Iraq war in a matter of months.

Beyond just averting a terrible outcome, the Iranian nuclear deal represents a chance to bring a country the size of Afghanistan and Iraq combined back into the global fold. We can turn an adversary into an ally. The nuclear deal was the first step.

(As a bonus, when Iranian oil comes online oil prices will fall further, hurting OPEC’s cartel.)

Second Best: Sustainable Development Goals

This is really a two part accomplishment. Fifteen years ago, nations around the world agreed to try to end global poverty and child mortality, as a part of the Millennium Development Goals. In large part, the world succeeded. The number of people living on less than a $1.25 a day decreased from 47% to 14%. The number of maternal deaths in childbirth fell by nearly 50%. The deaths of kids under 5 fell nearly 50% as well.

So earlier this year, the nations of the world reconvened after years of deliberation to create a new set of goals for 2030. You might not have heard because most of the news coverage during the signing was about Pope Francis visiting the US. (He visited to speak at the SDG conference.) And let me get this out of the way: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are more convoluted and will be harder to achieve than their forerunners. These new goals are definitely more bureaucratic than the last round, but still an important tool in human advancement.

Final thought: Did you hear about this terrific news story? Probably not. Did you hear about ISIS? Our point exactly. The Millennium Development Goals did more good than ISIS could ever do evil.

Third Best: Paris Climate Accord

Perhaps you’ve noticed a trend in these good news stories. They all feature massive deals by bureaucracies to change policy. Nothing about that previous sentence is sexy, but the truth is, these sorts of agreements will change the world in ways private organizations just can’t. It’s like charity. Private groups can donate millions of dollars, but one change by the federal government can allocate more money than them combined ever could.

If you want to go in a different direction, just look at China choosing to fight global warming or the rise in green energy in America. These changes can do more than the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Federation and NRDC combined.

And similar to the SDGs, the Paris Accord has its own problems. On its own, it won’t reduce CO2 emissions enough to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius worldwide. But the accord got pledges from nearly every nation and it has mechanisms to increase commitments over time. This political agreement combined with technological advancement is our best hope to stop global warming.

Fourth Best: Renewing Diplomatic Relationships between America and Cuba

We like allies. We especially like making allies when there’s no reason to not be allies with someone, like say a country just off the coast of Florida that we’re enemies with due to a conflict that ended 25 years earlier, in which the majority of Americans (even young Cubans) supports easing tensions.

Yeah, good call.

Jul 08

This article is a quick addendum to last week’s post about terrorism and self-driving cars (referred to here often as Google cars) where I wrote about the already-burgeoning fears of terrorists using self-driving cars as a weapon. But I should point out:

People are already afraid of self-driving cars.

Thanks Ultron, T-1000, HAL 9000 and whatever-the-robot’s-name-is in Ex Machina. Yes, people inherently distrust machines and computers. More importantly, they question their competence. Anecdotally, at our last family get together, I had a long discussion with someone who just couldn’t accept the idea that cars could drive better than humans.

The media isn’t helping. While I was writing up last week’s post, the AP released a “stunning” report about Google cars. They’re getting into accidents! Here’s a sampling of Google News (ironic, right?) headlines about the story:

USA TODAY: Google says its self-driving cars have had 11 crashes

San Jose Mercury News: Google reveals 11 self-driving car accidents in 6 years

MarketWatch: Google's self-driving cars are getting into accidents

Los Angeles Times: Google acknowledges 11 accidents with its self-driving cars

Business Insider: Google's self-driving cars have been getting in accidents in California

The Hill: Google: Self-driving cars had 11 'minor' accidents

Quartz: Google's driverless cars have been involved in four car accidents

Sounds bad, right? 11 accidents! That’s higher the national average!

For my grammar nerds, though, you’ll notice the oddly-shaped sentence structure, leaning on passive voice, “have been involved” being the best example. So how bad are Google cars? A quote from The Verge’s accurately titled article, “Google's self-driving cars have been in 11 accidents, but none were the car's fault”:

“First, the raw numbers: there have been 11 accidents in total, all minor, which Google asserts were never the fault of the car. Seven involved another vehicle rear-ending the Google car, two were sideswipes, and one involved another car traveling through a red light.”

Yes, Google cars “were involved” in 11 accidents--no injuries, all minor crashes--but in each case, humans were at fault. And these fender-bender accidents, it turns out, are the same type of accident most people don’t report to federal authorities. (They don’t want their insurance rates to go up.)

For anyone keeping track on the humans versus self-driving cars scoreboard: Google cars: 0, Humans: 11. These numbers come from Google, so we have to take their word for it. That said, regulators are going to come down hard on Google to prove their cars are safe, so I trust them. Google also plans to release monthly accident reports. And you better believe if Google hits someone, that someone would go to the media if Google didn’t report it.

Google, in response to the news stories and headlines, wrote up an article on their self-driving cars. Instead of disputing the accidents--they didn’t--they explained how terrible humans are at driving.

Discussing this issue--just to put it out there, we love self-driving cars--Michael C and I determined that this news story actually works in Google’s favor. Google is already tracking how bad humans are at driving. They’re not just going to figure out if their cars are safer than industry standard accidents; they’re going to prove that humans are actually worse. And the next wave of headlines, in early June when Google released its first monthly report, were more in the self-driving car/Google’s favor.

In other words, reporters and editors love “shocking” headlines, but our fears about self-driving cars are woefully misplaced.

(Unless you are a taxi cab, uber or truck driver.)

May 11

(Though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.)

We had so many links about the world getting safer, that we had to split last week’s post into two. Here’s the second set of updates...

Steven Pinker, Yet Again, Makes the Case the World is Getting Safer

Stephen Pinker’s first TED talk on the decreasing likelihood of war turned us on to this topic, and helped make it a passion. (Same with John Horgan’s research from a Radiolab episode.) But it never hurts to re-review the evidence.

And Pinker does this in this Slate article published in December, “The World is Not Falling Apart”. Most relevantly, Pinker and co-writer Andrew Mack admonish us to ignore the headlines. They explain that headlines, especially in a cable news and Twitter world, focus on violent events much more than non-violent events. They point out that homicides in the US, UK and worldwide have dropped, violence against women is at historic lows, and wars are increasingly less likely.

Here’s our favorite quote (from the conclusion):

Too much of our impression of the world comes from a misleading formula of journalistic narration. Reporters give lavish coverage to gun bursts, explosions, and viral videos, oblivious to how representative they are and apparently innocent of the fact that many were contrived as journalist bait. Then come sound bites from “experts” with vested interests in maximizing the impression of mayhem: generals, politicians, security officials, moral activists. The talking heads on cable news filibuster about the event, desperately hoping to avoid dead air. Newspaper columnists instruct their readers on what emotions to feel.

"There is a better way to understand the world. Commentators can brush up their history—not by rummaging through Bartlett’s for a quote from Clausewitz, but by recounting the events of the recent past that put the events of the present in an intelligible context. And they could consult the analyses of quantitative data sets on violence that are now just a few clicks away.

John Horgan responded to Pinker, arguing that America needs to do more to make the world safer. (This may have inspired a debate between Eric C and myself. Coming soon.)

And Vox Also Makes the Case

Not much more to say than this, but Vox has a article “26 charts and maps that show the world is getting much, much better” that, like other posts, pretty convincingly makes the argument that the world is, indeed, getting much, much better.

My personal favorite graphs are:

1. The worldwide deaths from war per capita. It’s down to almost nothing.

2. Comparing European homicide rates through the ages.

And the World is More Democratic

And here’s another compilation of evidence that the world is getting better. It relates to the comments section of one of our last posts on the world getting safer. A reader pushed back, citing North Korea as an example of a violent nation, because it isn’t democratic. The people of North Korea, he argued, live under a constant threat of violence from the state.

We actually agree. Dictatorships are inherently violent. A peaceful world that consists of only dictatorships? That’s not progress. But it turns out this is the world is getting more democratic as well.

If you want to debunk the world is getting safer argument, you need to avoid obvious logical fallacies. Don’t cite anecdotes, cite statistics. You can’t say, “The world isn’t getting safer because X event happened.” (In this case, North Korea being undemocratic.) You have to research whether the world is becoming less democratic overall.

Will Global Warming Cause More War?

Indeed, some have even blamed the conflict in Syria on global warming. As the climate changes, this will disturb populations, the thinking goes, spreading conflict. A paper even came out showing a causal link! Wonkblog’s Brad Plumer says not so fast, the evidence isn’t all quite in.

Finally, a “Quote Behaving Well”

In our post, “The Best Comment On Violence Has Ever Received”, we simply reposted a commenter’s thoughts--”Martin”--verbatim. He spoke about de-escalating a conflict with troublesome students, and we applied it to another future war in the Middle East (Israel, the U.S. and Iran). Stephen Walt echoed a similar theme when he relayed an amazing Churchill quote along these lines. (Not a quote behaving badly because Walt included the link to the actual book passage where Churchill wrote this.)

“In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill."