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U.S. Election 2016: The countdown begins..

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The three debates are over and the countdown to the big day has started. It has become a much tighter race than it was a week ago. But a little needs to be mentioned about the debates and the aftermath.

Much has happened since the first debate. A week or two before the first debate, Hillary Clinton was leading by about 10 points. Then she took ill, was out of action for a week or so. Meanwhile, Trump took advantage of the situation, among other things, went and addressed African American churches, moderated himself, brought down the points difference to around two. So what does this mean? Does it mean that suddenly all African Americans changed their minds and decided to vote Republican, thus bringing down the lead from -12 to -02 points? Nope. It meant that by addressing the African American community, he was able to sway either people who were undecided or people who were hesitant to accept him. And then what happened?

He walked straight into the trap set by Hillary Clinton. She opened the cage not by saying ‘Open Sesame….’ but saying the Spanish equivalent of it ‘Alicia Machado……’ and our guy with a big smile happily walked into the cage. Clinton promptly shut the cage. Then the other events began to happen. There is a school of thought which says that monks and spiritually inclined people wake up at 03.00 AM in order to evolve themselves through meditation and other spiritual practices. Trump proved to the world that one does not have to be spiritually inclined to get up at that early an hour. He woke up at 03.00 AM and furiously ranted on twitter about a sex tape.

What does it matter whether there was a sex tape featuring the concerned person or not? Was it really related to what the Americans saw as problems or election issues? ‘Who cares’ says Trump. ‘If I have some negative emotions which are stuck in my solar plexus, this is the way that I will get them out’. Said he and boy, promptly did he lose the gap that he was narrowing at that time. If that was the only twist in the tale, the tale would have been a much happier one for the GOP supporters. Then the video where he bragged about his unwelcome sexual advances made towards women came out. At last the unbelievable happened. Donald Trump apologised. Of course not without a rider ‘I am a man of words. But Bill Clinton is a man of action….’

Then all came to know that Trump was a man of action too. 12 women have accused him of groping charges ‘till now’. And Trump has called all of them liars. It would be difficult for even the staunchest Trump supporter to believe that all the 12 women from different states having different political preferences are coming together and lying against Trump. But with all due respect, it is only fair to ask ‘why did the concerned women wait for so long and why are they revealing the information at this point of time just a few weeks ahead of the elections?’ Elections should not be decided by analysing bedroom happenings or an individual’s personal life. But one need not sympathise with the Donald on this because it was he who started it. He just got it back. Anyway, the Americans seem to be forgetting all this and are focusing on more important issues. Which they should do….

So, what about Hillary Clinton? In the third debate, Hillary , when she was asked about the speech that she made to a Brazilian bank where she mentioned that she wanted open borders, she gave some muddled answer about energy which clearly no one including her understood. Then she went on to speak about the fact that the more important issue is that Russians are interfering in this election (Russians are accused of making the revelation about her speech through Wikileaks). So according to her great logic, if someone is committing a crime and if the Russians happen to bring out the truth about that crime, the criminal should not be made accountable. This is logic at its beautiful best !!!

Finally, about the fact that Donald Trump is calling this election rigged, it all started with him terming the media entirely biased in favour of Clinton. He has a lot of truth there. But he did not give it the proper direction. As a result, it went out of control after the third debate when he replied to Chris Wallace by saying that he is not going to commit right now whether he would be willing to accept the election irrespective of the outcome. Actually, it is not that big a deal. If Trump wins, he will accept the verdict of the people with all humility of course. If he loses, Hillary would become the President. Then, does it really matter whether he accepts the verdict or not? If at all a legal challenge is thrown by him or his team, that would be dealt with by the courts in an appropriate manner. So why flutter and flitter about it?

Finally, talking about the electoral college, with states like California and New York (55 and 29 votes respectively) voting Democrats predominantly and states like Texas (38 votes) generally voting Republican, swing states or purple states like North Carolina (15 votes), Pennsylvania (20 votes), Ohio (18 votes), New Hampshire (4 votes) and others become crucial for both the candidates to get to the crucial number of 270. Among the swing states, Hillary has a lead in New Hampshire. But a Monmouth university poll shows Trump closing in (42%-46%) whereas a NBC News Wallstreet journal poll (WSJ/NBC) shows Hillary having a substantial lead (45%-36%). An WSJ/NBC poll shows a tie (43%-43%) in Nevada. A boost through the Bloomberg poll puts him in front in Florida by 2 per cent (45%-43%). In another important battleground state Ohio, Trump has either led or tied with Hillary. But he is struggling in Arizona (11 votes), Georgia (16 votes) and Utah (6 votes) which Mitt Romney won easily. In the RCP national poll, Clinton’s lead has come down from 7.1 points to 5.1 points. RCP average in Pennsylvania has come down from 8.7 points to 4.4 points now.

One final mention needs to be done about voters who vote for Trump but do not want to reveal that they are voting for Trump because it is not politically right to say so. Only of late have people started speaking about that. Not many people have analysed whether this could have a substantial effect on the outcome. It might or it might not. One can know that only when the results are announced. Hence we are in for some very interesting days. Finally, the predictions…. Hillary Clinton, at this stage with a substantial lead in most opinion polls, looks the favourite and all set to win. However, I predict a surprise result on November 8.

Harish Venugopalan is a Research Assistant with the Observer Research Foundation. He has done his Masters in International Relations from the Dublin City University (DCU) in 2011-2012. His current research interest is ‘Conflict Management in Africa’.

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Mass Shootings and Gun Violence in the U.S.: An Historical Perspective

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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A short while ago on May 18, 10 students were killed and 13 wounded at Santa Fe High school just south of Houston, within its metropolitan area.  The shooter was a student who, as can now be expected, had been bullied.

While definitions of a mass shooting may vary, the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012 labels it as a killing of three or more persons excluding the perpetrator. Yet school violence per se is a problem in the US when half the incidents worldwide occur here and through February this year school shootings were averaging one a week.

Data on mass shootings compiled by Grant Duwe, a criminologist at the Minnesota Dept. of Corrections in St. Paul, goes as far back as 1915.  That is when a Georgia man killed his attorney, who he blamed for financial losses, and another five people, wounding 32 others in the rampage.

Of note in the data is the fact that Duwe’s annual rate of mass shootings calculated per 100 million people was minuscule prior to 1965.  For example, only three were recorded from 1950 to 1965.  The rate rose to 0.52 from 1970 to 1979, then skywards to about 1.44 per 100 million people annually from 2010.  What has caused this rise?  Well, everybody knows and nobody knows, meaning there is much anecdotal opinion but no serious research.

In a school shooting, a common narrative is the perpetrator was bullied but thousands of kids are bullied; what makes one into a mass killer?  Psychiatric problems are another frequent component of a shooter’s make up.  Again there are millions with such problems but a microscopic few taking to the extreme of a killing spree.

While a trigger has yet to be found, opportunity is a clearer aspect.  A putative mass shooter can only realize his hate into action if he has opportunity, namely, access to firearms.

While there may not be definitive research on such access and mass shootings in the US, we have conclusive evidence from Australia.  After a mass shooting killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania, there was shock and disbelief in the country.  Strict gun control laws soon followed.  A mandatory buy-back of existing firearms led to the surrender and destruction of 650,000 weapons.  The results are incontrovertible:  From1978 to 1996, Australia had 13 mass shootings; since 1997, it has had none.

If quick action by a majority party can be an advantage in a parliamentary form of government, as in Australia, the US constitution takes the opposite view.  Deathly afraid of tyranny, the founding fathers designed it to preclude hasty decisions.  They also ensured the office of President is weak.  And adding to his troubles, this officeholder is sometimes faced with opposition majorities in the House and the Senate.

Restriction on gun ownership can quickly hit the roadblock of the Second Amendment, buttressed as it is by the political muscle of the gun lobby.  Ratified on December 15, 1791, this Amendment states in no uncertain terms, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Some might argue a militia in the 21st century is outdated; the other side responds, it would constitute a powerful guerilla force.  Should the Second Amendment be revisited?  It’s a tough question for politicians fighting elections.  For the time being, Americans must live with the tragedy of over 36,000 gun-related deaths annually … including a visiting foreign student named Sabika Sheikh, who along with the dreams of her modest Karachi (Pakistan) family, perished at the hands of the Santa Fe High School shooter.

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Trump-Pompeo’s 12 Idiotic-Insulting Demands Upon Iran

Eric Zuesse

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On Monday, May 21st, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out a dozen demands upon Iran’s Government — demands which insult the sovereignty of Iran and dictate terms to its Government, as if the U.S. Government weren’t the one that routinely invades and perpetrates coups overthrowing other governments, so that the peoples of the world say that the U.S. Government (not Iran) is overwhelmingly “the world’s biggest threat to peace.”

Pompeo said, on May 21st:

We demand from Iran:

First, Iran must declare to the IAEA a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program, and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity.

[Israel and the U.S. get to keep our nukes but Iran must not keep theirs, and must instead do what these two rabidly hostile bully-Governments, Israel & U.S., say.]

Second, Iran must stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing. This includes closing its heavy water reactor.

[Maybe Iran will do that when Israel and U.S. stop threatening Iran, and when Israel stops having nukes while Iran doesn’t.]

Third, Iran must also provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all sites throughout the entire country.

[The latest IAEA report on Iran actually says, “Since 16 January 2016 (JCPOA Implementation Day), the Agency has verified and monitored Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments.” Iran fulfills its obligations under the treaty, but now the U.S. does not (and insists that Europe must not).

[Fourth,] Iran must end its proliferation of ballistic missiles and halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems. [Iran will do that when Israel and U.S. do.]

[Fifth,] Iran must release all U.S. citizens, as well as citizens of our partners and allies, each of them detained on spurious charges. [The U.S. dictates that the legal cases against those charged be terminated, and this demand assures that those cases will be fully prosecuted; so, Pompeo is hardly helping anyone by this arrogance.]

[Sixth,] Iran must end support to Middle East terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. [All Islamic terrorism except against Israel comes from the Sunni-run nations that are allies of the U.S. against Shia-run Iran and that finance Al Qaeda and other such terrorist groups, all of which are Sunni and rabidly anti-Shia — and Iran is the leading Shia nation.]

[Seventh,] Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias. [ America overthrew Iraq’s Government in 2003 and now accuses Iran of violating “the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government.” Is Pompeo rehearsing for a role as Satan in some stupid play?]

[Eighth,] Iran must also end its military support for the Houthi militia and work towards a peaceful political settlement in Yemen. [The U.S., and two of its Sharia-law Sunni royal allies, Saudi Arabia and UAE, are bombing the hell out of and starving Yemen, and demand that Houthis and other Shia in Yemen stop their resisting that.]

[Ninth,] Iran must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety of Syria. [Iran might consider doing that after the U.S. and its fundamentalist-Sunni allies stop their invasion-occupation of sovereign Syrian territory.]

[Tenth,] Iran, too, must end support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan and the region, and cease harboring senior al-Qaida leaders. [Pompeo lies: the Taliban are fundamentalist Sunnis who were trained and armed by Saudi Arabia and the United States and therefore are enemies of Iran; he’s like the wife-beater who demands that someone who isn’t wife-beating must cease wife-beating.]

[Eleventh,] Iran, too, must end the IRG Qods Force’s support for terrorists and militant partners around the world. [The Quds Force were created during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war in order to protect Iranians against Saddam Hussein’s invasions when Saddam was supported by the U.S. Government in order to re-conquer Iran in 1980. Iran will not take orders from the nation, America, that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected Government in 1953, and that then backed Saddam’s attempt to reconquer Iran in the 1980s. The U.S. Government lies constantly about Iran.]

[Twelfth,] And too, Iran must end its threatening behavior against its neighbors – many of whom are U.S. allies. This certainly includes its threats to destroy Israel, and its firing of missiles into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It also includes threats to international shipping and destructive – and destructive cyberattacks. [These are just more lies and distortions.]

That list is pretty long, but if you take a look at it, these are 12 very basic requirements. The length of the list is simply a scope of the malign behavior of Iran. We didn’t create the list, they did.

Pompeo again lies: The U.S. regime’s malign behavior is clear; and Iran didn’t create this list — the pompous and idiotic liar, Trump’s appointee Mike Pompeo, did.

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“Is it Live or is it Memorex?” The Real World of Lies

Traci Seltzer-Castillo

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For those of you who are not Americans from Generation X, the tag line advertising and marketing jingle “Is it live or is it Memorex?” became popular in the early 1980s by the American company Memorex (founded in 1961).  This marketing slogan was used to describe the very real audio quality of their cassette tapes (These are archaic audio recording devices used before CDs and after 8-track tapes. They were used in 1970s & 1980s boom boxes. An internet search of these ancient artifacts may be needed). In essence, the listener was to believe that the recorded sound was exactly the same as the original sound of someone speaking.  Later, this marketing jingle became an iconic expression in American popular culture and daily casual conversation to indicate that one is not sure if something is real or fake (not real).  While the topic of lies may seem inappropriate for this form, it is not.  There are many political, economic and political economic examples of how lies have impacted populations, regimes and economies.

What is a lie? It is important to note each person and each culture have their own definition of what is considered a lie; what is considered a white lie; if lying is acceptable, in what circumstances it is acceptable, and how far the truth may be bent before it is considered a regular lie. In American English, the expression is to bend the truth, which means there is some basis of truth but it may be slightly or drastically distorted. It is not the same as a white lie. It is also important to note that cultural norms change over time especially within each new generation, so what was once considered unacceptable 40 years ago may be acceptable now.

Then there is a gray area: Is it a lie to not tell the entire truth, to remain silent instead of truthfully answering a question, to answer a question in a vague way for which the intended meaning could be construed in many ways (e.g. what is called political mumbo-gumbo or word salad; it’s a lot of words that sound good but mean nothing), or how far the truth can acceptably be bent (especially in regards to interpreting information and statistics, truth in advertisements and truth in the news)?  In some situations, remaining silent when asked for the truth is considered an admission of guilt or that there is information the person does not want to tell because of its repercussions or incriminating implications. In regards to interpretation of information and statistics, here is an anecdote that is applicable further into this missive:

A CFO is interviewing prospective candidates for an open position of chief accountant.  The CFO poses the same question to the top four candidates, “What does 2 plus 2 equal?” Their responses:

Candidate 1) 2 + 2 = 4. The CFO replies, “No, you’re wrong. You don’t get the job”

Candidate 2) Most times 2 + 2 = 4 but it sometimes it might equal 3 or 5. The CFO replies, “No, you’re wrong. You don’t get the job”

Candidate 3) Why does it have to equal anything? The CFO replies, “No, you’re wrong. You don’t get the job”

Candidate 4) What would you like it to equal? The CFO replies, “Very good! You’re hired!”

Are white lies considered a gray area? No, not really; they are a unique category in and of themselves. The difference between a regular lie and a white lie is motivation or intent.  The motives for regular lies are for extrinsic gains or reasons; selfishness.  A white lie is typically unselfish, and done for altruistic reasons. White lies are used so that:

1) others’ feelings don’t get needlessly hurt,

2) others are not caused undue stress and anxiety, and

3) one may prevent themselves from having to endure a needless unpleasant situation (for example, when a wife asks her husband if she looks fat, he knows to say no because otherwise he will have a very unpleasant evening.  In the same sense, the wife is expecting him to tell her a white lie because she just wants to hear him say no).

In most cultures, the one person that people tell white lies to the most and is acceptable to do so is mom.  When mom asks her adult child, “Is everything ok with you?”, whether it truly is or isn’t, one must always tell mom “I’m fine” so that she doesn’t worry.

The advent of the technology age has certainly impacted the ability to effectively tell and/or maintain a lie. GPS, satellite imagining, drones, hidden cameras/microphones, blog postings, mobile phone pings, online documents, Snoops.com, fact-checkers, hackers and the public’s demand for transparency have definitely pushed the topic of lies and lying into the spotlight.  Sgt. Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have all experienced the repercussions for exposing lies. But what about those who told the lies?  Are there repercussions for telling lies?  In the grand scheme of current life, the answer is no, unless the person is an average citizen. In the US, everyone is supposed to be considered equal, but the truth is, there are many who are “more equal” than others, such as businesses, Trump (and his questionable win as POTUS) and Ethan Couch who, in June 2013, used the successful criminal defense of Affluenza to get only probation for driving while intoxicated (drugs & alcohol), speeding and driving without a license. He said that because he was rich, he claims that he wasn’t taught right from wrong, so his actions were not his fault. It may be prudent for Trump to use this same defense for his behaviors and lies.

Unfortunately, through the idea of behaviorism, the lessons learned from the results of lying are not what are expected. In the US, there are whistleblower laws to protect those who tell the truth and expose corruption, yet in 2013, Edward Snowden move to Russia after exposing NSA information; Julian Assange has had to stay in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, England since June 2012 for posting US government documents on his WikiLeaks site; and Private Manning was incarcerated for seven years (2010-2017) because he gave US government documents to WikiLeaks. Of course, in many cases, some secrets must be kept, but this is on a case-by-case assessment).  Again, with the idea of behaviorism, if exposing the truth gets one punished, then it may deter others from telling the truth. The whistleblower laws in the US are like handing the keys to the fox who is watching the hen house. The whistleblower’s identity is easy to determine with today’s technology, and then the whistleblower’s life will be quite unpleasant afterwards, especially if the person would like to be employed. Many companies do not want to hire a whistleblower for fear of a repeat past performance.

As stated above, those who exposed lies have received punishment but those who did the lying received a small bit of public humiliation. The liars’ punishments rarely fit the severity of the crime of lying.  Volkswagen was shamed for lying about their emissions statistics from 2008 to 2015.  Did this company really suffer for its questionable integrity? No. It may have received some monetary fines and a bit of humiliation from the scandal, but their bottom line is still quite acceptable. Facebook’s initial IPO in May 2012 was substantially high, which later, media tells the public that the IPO prices were unsubstantiated due to the withholding of FB’s not-so-dazzling third quarter earnings. Those who found out shortly after the IPO dumped their purchases quite quickly, thus decreasing the stocks’ value in hours or days. The 2002 ENRON and Arthur-Andersen scandal and the 2008 global economic crisis seeds have caused a lot of financial carnage from their lies in the name of making profit. Historically, lies about the severity of industrial-related disasters have also caused lasting effects and carnage on human lives; for example, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown disaster, the 1984 Union Carbide disaster (Bhopal, India), and the many drug trial tests by pharmaceutical companies in Africa and India that actually gave diseases to the people and then tried to cure them with new pharmaceuticals. The idea of corporate responsibility may only be a fantasy.

Integrity:  The act of doing what is right when no one is looking or watching. The ethical dilemmas and possible accusations of lies or lying begin when what is right, just, best, legal and moral are not one in the same. There are differing opinions about the definitions of each. When one makes a decision based on only one adjective, it may be perceived as a lie or lying, but is it?

In America, after such scandals like ENRON and Arthur-Andersen, the US government made new laws to prevent such things from happening again. Is it really possible to regulate morality, ethics and integrity with government laws?  The answer is no. The 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act (aka SOX, pronounced like socks) was created and enacted to stop such things from happening again. In the constant wake of financial scandals and the public outcry for the US government to regulate the immoral behaviors of businesses (including the accounting profession), on July 30, 2002, President George W. Bush signed SOX into law, which also created a new watchdog organization, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), for monitoring the financial reporting methods of publicly traded companies. Obviously, laws are not effective at regulating morals, ethics and integrity because the 2008 global economic crisis occurred six years after the advent of SOX.

Apparently in today’s world, it is acceptable to tell lies if doing so makes profit (monetary or otherwise) or if it gains someone the competitive advantage (such as exchange rate manipulation, government secrets, market first-movers market, untruths in advertisements and news, and the POTUS).

Are there effects of lies that are told by business and/or government?  Due to the idea of behaviorism, many people may subscribe to, “The first time you fool me or lie to me, shame on you. But the second time you fool me or lie to me, shame on me because I shouldn’t have given you a second chance to trust you after you burned me the first time”. Unfortunately, serial lies make people suspicious of others, especially of those who are in positions of public trust like CEOs and politicians, such as Trump and his alternative truth. A certain level of trust must be established for good relations; personal, professional, business and government. Each time lies are exposed, the impacts either 1) make people quite suspicious or paranoid thus they believe everyone lies most of the time, or 2) they accept lies as commonplace and then forget about them as if they never happened. Option #2 is a dangerous slippery slope to losing morality, ethics and integrity.  Perhaps a healthy balance of trust-distrust is an optimal solution, but not necessarily a Utopian one. Perhaps the truth of the matter is that lies and lying are the norm, and condemning them are just an illusion and to satisfy the public.

What a tangled web we weave when at first we practice to deceive – Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Trump and his alternative truth is somewhat a different topic because of the complexities of his motivation for lying (see 1-5 below). Most every day, new Trump lies are exposed. Some Americans feel that he has mental health problems.  However, he seems quite cognizant of his choices and volitions.  It is possible that he is the result of behaviorism.  Here’s why:

1) When people get what they want by lying (especially without getting caught), their choice to lie is reinforced by getting what they wanted (the reward), which encourages them to lie again. No punishment for lying gives people confidence that their lies are believable, and they often start making “more believable” lies to receive bigger “rewards”. However, these new & improved lies are quite unbelievable.

2) When this successful cycle continues over a long period of time, it often becomes a way of life and who they are as a person.

3) They may continue to lie even though they will not gain anything from it (no reward).

4) In some cases, people continue to lie so that they can convince themselves (and others) that their lies are the truth. Is it live or is it Memorex?

5) For many, people will lie when caught in a lie because in the past, lying prevented them from getting into trouble or lying got them out of trouble; again the idea of behaviorism.

Unfortunately, many people cannot remember what lies they have told, so it is quite easy to bring to light the lies. In essence, their own myriad of lies tells on them. What a tangled web we weave when at first we practice to deceive!  Trump should take note of these words of wisdom.

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