Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Is the world order is being ripped to shreds?

In 1844 Manuscripts, Karl Marx said communism is radical humanism, and we need to use machines to create a situation where we do as little work as possible thus freeing ourselves from necessity – individual human freedom is the goal.

On her Nine to Noon slot this morning, Kathryn Ryan talked with Paul Mason about his new book Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being where he argues it’s not too late to stem the chaos and disorder that appears to be on the rise worldwide.

Mason says the world order is being ripped to shreds by an alliance of ethnic nationalists, women-haters and authoritarian leaders who are harnessing the power of machines and algorithms to do it.

In a wide ranging interview, the two discuss the rise and rise of leaders such as Trump, Putin, Erdoğan and Jinping; the influence of right wing neo liberalism and our acquiescence to its manipulation of information in the belief that it is the bastion of free speech, and even more importantly, freedom of thought; similarities to, and differences from, the rise of right wing ideologies in the decades prior to WW2 and now; social media algorithms and how they influence us; what being human is; and more.

Mason suggests that today’s elites realise the current system is not working for them and by supporting the likes of Trump, a system of capitalistic anarchy will rise in its place that promotes the interests of, you guessed it, the elite. He tells why we need a new theory of the human being and how people can help back with small acts of defiance.

Even if you disagree with his ideas, I think you will find them thought provoking. You can hear the whole podcast Why human beings need to resist the machines [32m 18s]

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The right to speak versus the right to survive

Some of my readers are insistent that the right to free speech is absolute – that there must be no limits imposed by governments on what we, the public are allowed to say. But do those readers believe that absolutely? They might say any limit to free speech, even if it’s hate speech, is a start of a slippery slope to oppression and the curtailing of most or all freedoms. Yet if I point out that absolute freedom of speech would give me the freedom to yell “Fire!” in the confined space of a theatre or nightclub, or to encourage others to exclude or eliminate a minority from society, some will acknowledge that absolute freedom of speech would indeed be harmful.

Speech itself can be oppressive, perhaps not to alpha males who happen to be of the same ethnic/cultural background as the dominant ethnicity/culture in their society, but to almost everyone else, language is used, either consciously or unconsciously, to oppress minorities and those without power. If male, less so than female. If abled, less so than disabled. If a dominant ethnicity, less so than a less influential ethnicity. The same applies to skin colour, religion, neurodiversity – in fact just about any aspect of being human can, through the use of language, be used to oppress others who express that aspect differently.

Evelyn Hall paraphrases Voltaire’s ideology as “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But what happens when what is said is rooted in the oppression and denial of the humanity and right to exist of another human being? At what point does the right to survive trump the right to speak?

In Canary in a Coal Mine: How Tech Provides Platforms for Hate, an article on A list Apart, Tatiana Mac discusses the responsibility of technology providers to perhaps practice “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist”. She is critical of the hypocrisy of some social media platforms for banning support for ISIS ideologies while permitting other ideologies, such as a belief in a necessity to fight back against a (non-existent) white genocide conspiracy.

While Tatiana’s article is specifically related to how the tech industry should respond to the conflict of the right to speak versus the right to survive, should that be where final authority should rest? What role should the state take in this very issue? In fact should legislation and the courts be the final arbiter on this dilemma, or is it better left in the hands of competing private enterprise tech platforms?


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Christchurch shootings: We need an inquiry, not an inquisition

The  Prime Minister has announced that there will be a Royal Commission into the Christchurch terror attack

There are questions about how the accused gunman’s manifesto could be compiled – its length attesting to the time taken to distil and articulate it all in writing. How did the gunman effectively radicalise himself? Why did nobody notice anything sufficiently amiss with this individual to raise concerns? These are all valid questions that an inquiry needs to consider.

However, it needs to be an inquiry, not an inquisition. To be genuinely useful, it must create an environment in which those with the knowledge of current processes, decisions and resources are free to discuss it all. If there are gaps, they need to be found and addressed – not hidden by individuals trying to avoid liability.

Continue reading…


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I gave up my gun after the New Zealand mosque shootings. Why are Americans mad at me for it?

“I had always considered my weapon nothing more than a tool.”

“But no one sees gun ownership — much less semiautomatic rifle ownership — as an essential component of their identity.”

“Giving up some of our guns doesn’t mean giving up our liberty. The redcoats aren’t coming. The American idea — that it’s important to have the ability to kill someone on a whim – is just bizarre to us. In fact, when New Zealanders apply for gun licenses, we have to state our reasons for buying a firearm, and citing “home defense” is the fastest way to get denied — our laws explicitly state that self-defense is not sufficient reason to own a gun.”

The mindset of the American gun lobby is so entrenched, that they are incapable of understanding alternative points of view. That, in my mind, is what makes them so dangerous. The above quotes are taken from a guest commentary in The Denver Post. It’s the attitude that is similar to almost every gun owner in Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s worth reading to understand how people in two different English Speaking democracies view gun ownership.


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Freedom of speech

Sometimes I wonder what many people think is meant by free speech. This is particularly relevant in Aotearoa New Zealand because of comments, mostly by the American right, about free speech being restricted in this country.

First let’s discus the video of the attack. I don’t know of any country that allows the distribution of child pornography, and that includes the USA. As in America, we are free to discuss the subject, and advocate for the law to become more restrictive or more liberal. But for very good reason, it is not permissible to distribute videos or images depicting children taking part in sex acts. All decent societies place some restrictions on what can be be possessed and distributed, and that includes NZ and the USA.

How countries countries handle restrictions will vary, and in Aotearoa New Zealand material can be classified as objectionable, which makes the possession and distribution of it illegal, or restricted, which places some limits (usually age) on who can possess and distribute it. The Department of Internal Affairs Website on censorship in NZ  summarises objectionable material as follows:

In deciding whether a publication is objectionable, or should instead be given an unrestricted or restricted classification, consideration is given to the extent, degree and manner in which the publication describes, depicts, or deals with:

  • acts of torture, the infliction of serious physical harm or acts of significant cruelty
  • sexual violence or sexual coercion, or violence or coercion in association with sexual conduct
  • sexual or physical conduct of a degrading or dehumanising or demeaning nature
  • sexual conduct with or by children, or young persons, or both
  • physical conduct in which sexual satisfaction is derived from inflicting or suffering cruelty or pain
  • exploits the nudity of children, young persons, or both
  • degrades or dehumanises or demeans any person
  • promotes or encourages criminal acts or acts of terrorism
  • represents that members of any particular class of the public are inherently inferior to other members of the public by reason of any characteristic of members of that class being a characteristic that is a prohibited ground of discrimination specified in the Human Rights Act 1993.

I believe there is sufficient reason to classify the video as objectionable on the grounds of the last three points above. Personally I believe this video is very comparable to child porn in that it degrades, dehumanises and exploits persons. I’m more than happy that the video cannot be distributed in NZ.

Most of the criticisms of the banning claim that it was a political decision. It was not. It was classified as objectionable by the chief censor who is required to act in accordance with an act of parliament, namely the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, which was amended by the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Amendment Act 2005. It is erroneous to claim it is a clampdown by politicians or the police.

For those who are interested, you can read an abridged version of the classification decision on the Christchurch Mosque Attack Livestream. There’s a link to the full legal decision at the bottom of that document.

The terrorist’s “manifesto” has also been classified as objectionable, and here I’m a little more relaxed about whether or not it should be accessible. However the Chief Censor does give a valid reason why it should be banned. As he explains in the clip below, to most New Zealanders, it will not harm them, nor cause them to change their views, nor inspire then to commit crimes, but the document was written for a specific audience and for those people the document is likely to inspire them to carry out acts of terror. So I accept that for the time being, it is appropriate to prohibit its distribution.

There are claims that Kiwis do not have free speech. I would argue that freedom of expression is preserved in section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (BORA) which states “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form“. Please note the word “opinion“. I am free to express my opinion no matter how hateful it is. But I am not permitted to do harm or to incite others to do harm. That is a sign of a civilised society in my view. Others are free to disagree and say so. That is freedom

There are claims that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can be prosecuted for allowing objectionable material to pass through their networks. This claim has been made because several major ISPs blocked a small number of (hate) sites shortly after the shootings. The statement is false. The 2005 amendment specifically exempts ISPs from prosecution if objectionable material passes over their network. The original 1990 legislation was somewhat vague on this matter as the internet as we now know it didn’t exist then.

Several, but by no means all ISPs did block some sites, but that was a decision made by the ISPs themselves. There was no decree or request from the government to block specific sites. I understand most of those sites are now accessible again. May I ask how does the decision by some Internet providers to block some sites become “New Zealand authorities block free and open discussion“? If I don’t like the ethical or commercial practices of one ISP, I have more than a hundred others I can opt to use instead. Alternatively, I can simply change Name Servers or use a VPN. Neither are prohibited.

If I choose to use overseas Name Servers instead of those of my Internet provider, I am free to do so. In fact I do precisely that. I normally use OpenDNS as I like to use their filtering service – it provides more comprehensive filtering than that provided by my ISP, but this a personal choice on my part. If I so desired, I could instead use Google’s Name servers, which, I believe, have no filtering. Changing Name Servers in any web browser takes seconds, and if you don’t know how to do it, it takes only a moment of online searching to locate step by step instructions.

It is not illegal to use any Name Server of your choice, nor is it illegal to distribute instructions on how to set up your browser, or your entire home network as I have chosen to do. And claims that NZ is now some sort of authoritarian regime arresting people for expressing opinions are factually false.

If one cares to examine our freedoms and compare them to any other country, there are plenty of sources. Here’s just a few freedom indexes with the rankings of NZ and the USA for the benefit of the right wing “free speech” advocates:

Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index: NZ: 8th; US: 45th
RWB currently classifies 19 countries as Enemies of the Internet. The USA has been on the list since 2014.
Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2018: NZ: 4th; US: 25th
EUI defines NZ as a Full Democracy, and the US as a Flawed Democracy
Global Democracy Ranking 2016: NZ: 7th; US: 16th
The Human Freedom Index 2018: NZ: 1st; US: 17th
Freedom House Freedom in the World 2018: NZ: 6th; US: 51st
Polity data series (funded by the CIA): NZ: Full Democracy; US: Democracy

I’m not a Christian, but Matthew 7:3 comes to mind when dealing with these critics:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

 


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A week after…

One of the search tags I have set up in WordPress is “New Zealand”. I like to keep abreast of what fellow bloggers write about this country. I have found most of the Kiwi bloggers I now follow this way.

Most blog posts about new Zealand fall into the “travelogue” realm where in almost diary form the authors write about their experiences andf encounters as they make there way around this island nation of ours. Generally I ignore these, but sometimes  there’s an interesting article about our traits as a people or nation, and these can be rather revealing in highlighting our flaws as well as our good points. Sometimes these observations are quite accurate, while others are perceived through the lenses of their own cultural bias.

As can be expected, in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks, that has been the major subject in posts related to Aotearoa New Zealand. Few, if any, NZ based bloggers are playing the “blame game”. They are more concerned with helping the victims and families or acknowledging that there are prejudices here that lie somewhat hidden in this country, unless you happen to be a member of a minority, in which case they are more obvious.

On most Kiwi blogs there’s a lot of grief and soul searching, but it’s the character of many of many overseas blogs that concerns me, including one or two that I follow. In some cases bloggers comment on the assumption that social conditions prevailing in their own country also exist here. In many cases, those assumptions are just plain wrong. In contrast to Kiwi blogs, there’s often an attempt to lay blame.

One example is gun control. Some have blamed the shootings on too liberal gun laws, allowing anyone (with a firearms licence) to legally accumulate semiautomatic weapons and those weapons don’t require registration. Others say NZ laws are too restrictive because so few NZers hold a firearms licence. These people say that if more people carried guns, there’d be less violence, ignoring the fact that the carrying of any weapon for self-protection is illegal in this country. Mentioning that you’d feel safer if you had a gun is a guaranteed means of having a firearms licence application declined

For most Kiwis, guns are a device used for recreational hunting, or for pest control/management/eradication. The simple fact is that most of us don’t feel that we need to carry any form of protective weaponry, and hopefully the mosque attacks won’t change that.

While I understand some level of misunderstanding, the amount of false information and wild supposition and that is circulating  beggars belief. A common falsehood is that the government has clamped down on our supposedly limited freedoms (why do so many Americans believe the myth that they enjoy more freedom than anywhere else?) If we ignore the fact that by every freedom index available, New Zealand is typically at or near the top of the list, while the USA seldom gets into the top 10 or 20, what freedoms have we lost since the attack?

I’m not going to call out specific blogs, but many,  including one with a post titled “Censorship And Arrests In Wake Of Christchurch Attack” claim the government has  used the attack as an excuse to restrict our freedom, and in particular, free speech. They claim the government has clamped down on what can be viewed online, and that there have been mass arrests for watching the video of the attack. Some have provided a list of websites they claim the New Zealand government has blocked. I’ve got news for them: not one of those sites is blocked. How do I know? Some of the listed sites included a link, so it was a simple matter to click on the link to verify he was wrong. For others, I had to Google for the link, and for all those I tested, the websites came up in all their nasty “glory”.

Some ISPs may have chosen to block some domains, but if my ISP has, they didn’t include the ones listed by the bloggers. No, I didn’t attempt to locate the video, I have no desire to watch it. To knowingly possess or distribute it in any form is illegal, as is it with all objectionable material. That has been the case for decades.

What constitutes objectionable material in NZ? It is objectionable if it involves exploiting children or young people for sexual purposes, the use of violence or coercion to force people into sex, sexual conduct with a dead person, the use of urine or excrement in association with dehumanising conduct or sexual conduct, bestiality and acts of torture or extreme violence or extreme cruelty.  To suggest that these limitations restrict free speech is, in my view, utter nonsense.

They argue that everyone has the right to view anything “in the public domain”, and that any move by authorities to block either the viewing or distribution of such material is criminal and a sign of an authoritarian state. I wonder if they believe they have a right to view and distribute videos depicting child sexual exploitation? If they don’t, they’re being hypocritical. If they do, they really are sick.

There has been no clamp down. The statement by the police was simply to advise anyone who was ignorant of the law that it was illegal, and to remind those who wish to exploit the situation, of the likely consequences.

As to there being mass arrests, one person has been charged with possessing and distributing objectionable material. From what I have read, this particular video wasn’t the only objectionable material in his possession, nor the only one he’s distributed.

I for one feel no less free and no more afraid than a week ago, but for some Kiwis, the freedom to live without fear has been eroded. For that, I am really pissed off. How dare anyone brutally end the lives of of so many innocent men, women and children and damage the lives of so many more.

If you believe that some groups of people shouldn’t be in NZ, you’re still free to do so and express it (although in all likelihood you’ll have fewer supporters than before last Friday).  If you think guns should be more freely available, then you are free to advocate for more liberal gun laws (although you’ll have fewer supporters than you did before last Friday). If you wish to distribute objectionable material, go ahead arsehole, it’s no more difficult than last week. But don’t be surprised when you get a visit from law enforcement agencies (and that’s no different from before last Friday).


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Why do religious issues puzzle me?

I confess. I follow a number of religious and atheist blogs – probably more than are good for me. One thing I have failed to understand is why there is so much distrust, suspicion, and in some cases, open hostility between various factions. This enmity is part of the fascination that keeps me returning to blogs that I would otherwise avoid. I am genuinely puzzled as to why the enmity is felt so strongly by some people.

Some of my failure to understand how others feel about religious issues probably rests on the fact that I am autistic, but I think I have found another compelling explanation: I’m a Kiwi.

The Legatum Institute Foundation publishes a prosperity index each year, and among all the variables that go into measuring prosperity, are two pertaining directly to freedom of religion: governmental religious restrictions and social religious restrictions. The Foundation defines these respectively as:
Governmental restrictions on religion, efforts by governments to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversions, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups
  and
The degree to which there are social barriers to freedom of religion in a country, acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations and social groups

As a comparison, I’ve selected the 10 countries that WordPress reports as being the all time top 10 viewing countries of Another Spectrum: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Hungary, India, Kenya, Aotearoa New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States.

When it comes to religious freedom, it is apparent that NZ is head and shoulders above the other countries in this comparison. Religious restrictions, both governmental and social are measured on a scale from 0 to 1, and NZ is the only country gaining a score of 1.

Governmental Religious Restrictions

1 New Zealand (1)
0.9 – 0.99 Brazil (7), Australia (21)
0.8 – 0.89 Canada (29), United Kingdom (47)
0.7 – 0.79 United States (75), Hungary (77)
0.6 – 0.69 Kenya (103)
0.5 – 0.59 France (109), India (112)

(the number in parenthesis after each country is its world ranking)

Considering that the first amendment of the US constitution guarantees freedom of religion, America doesn’t do very well when it comes to governmental restrictions on religion, ranking at 75th. In fact, over the the previous 10 years, its best ranking was 58th in 2009, while its worst was 104th in 2010.

Social Religious Restrictions

Socially, all the countries apart from Hungary place greater restrictions on religion than does the government, and while NZ doesn’t fare too well on a world ranking (there are 28 countries that do better), it still fares better than the other nine countries:

0.9 – 0.99 New Zealand (29)
0.8 – 0.89 Canada (67)
0.7 – 0.79 Australia (80), Hungary (80),
0.6 – 0.69  Brazil (109),
0.5 – 0.59 United Kingdom (118)
0.4 – 0.49 United States (127), France (128)
0.2 – 0.29 Kenya (138), India (144)
0.1 – 0.19

(the number in parenthesis after each country is its world ranking)

Governmental versus social restrictions

What I find really interesting is that there is often little relationship between restrictions on religion imposed by governments and restrictions on religion imposed by the wider society. For example the Chinese government all but bans religious expression, and where it is permitted, it is under state control. Iran on the other hand is an Islamic theocracy. In both countries, governmental restriction on religion are severe, but when compared to the United States, there are fewer social restrictions. I was surprised to see that Iran does better the the US:

govt_social_religion-chart

This suggests to me that Americans are not as accepting or tolerant of different religious beliefs and non-beliefs as they think they are. It explains why a number of bloggers I follow are atheists, but are very reluctant to let that fact be known in their communities. It goes a long way in explaining to me why I and many other Kiwis are unable to understand why religion is such a hot topic in many parts of the world.


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Equality on the decline?

In 20o5 Aotearoa New Zealand became the first nation in the world where all top positions were held by women: the Monarch, the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, and the Chief Justice.

There have been other firsts that at first glance give the appearance that women are more equal here than elsewhere, including being the first country to grant women the vote. The 1976 relationship act and its amendments grant equal rights to both members of a relationship irrespective of marital status or gender is another.

Just as America prides itself on its liberty and freedom, NZ has always prided itself on its egalitarianism – both between the sexes and the population as a whole. In fact, back in the 1940s a visiting academic suggested we should build a statue proclaiming our egalitarianism in the much the same manner as the Statue of Liberty proclaims freedom in America.

The myth persists in both countries. Sadly America has slid well down the freedom and liberty ladder, even though over half the population believe it is the most free nation on earth. Our claim to egalitarianism has take a huge tumble since the mid 1980s. Fewer Kiwis believe in our own myth. Approximately 75% of the population no longer believe that everyone in NZ receives a “fair go”. But that leaves a quarter of the population still believing that we are a nation of equals.

Why the sudden change in equality since the 1980s? In what was a sort of political revolution, the leftist Labour party adopted radical economic reforms much like “Thatchernomics” in the UK and “Reaganomics” in the US, only more extreme. Known here as “Rogernomics” (named after the Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas) it saw the halving of the top tax rate, the slashing of social welfare, the privatisation of much of the public sector (sold mostly to foreign investors) and a reduction in the bargaining power of workers. Tariffs and other trade protections were eliminated resulting in a massive transfer of unskilled jobs overseas.

The initial result was high levels of unemployment and the social conditions that typically accompany it. Today unemployment is more “acceptable” but we now have a class of “working poor” that struggle and frequently fail at keeping their family out of poverty. Today, about one in five children live in households where the income is below the poverty line. I believe this is totally unacceptable.

New Zealand has the unenviable reputation of now being the nation with the fastest growing disparity between rich and poor in the OECD. While we are far from reaching the level of disparity seen in the USA and some developing nations, we approaching the likes of the UK. While it’s true that displays of wealth are still frowned upon, there is a growing acceptance that poverty is a “natural” part of the social fabric. I don’t.

One outcome of the economic reforms has been an increase in the disparity of income between men and women. Prior to the reforms, and into the first few years afterwards, the difference in income between men and women had been declining and was well on the way to being eliminated. There were dreams of Aotearoa New Zealand being the first country to achieve true pay equality. This has been shattered over the last two decades as the gender pay gap has increased markedly to around 12% (based on hourly income, more so if based on actual income).

One of the measures of freedom I take seriously is socio-economic mobility. This is the ability for someone to move out of the socio-economic group of their parents. In America, the “Land of Opportunity” around half or slightly less move to a different group. By contrast, in NZ it was around 75%. This has declined and is now hovering around the 70% mark.

It has barely been a generation since the economic reforms, and as they become a permanent feature of of our society, I suspect that socio-economic mobility will decline further. That, along with the growing disparity between rich and poor is a recipe for social disharmony – perhaps on the levels we see in Britain, the USA, and elsewhere. The mind shudders.

Equally unnerving is that it brings the prospect of us growing our own Trump –  someone gaining enormous wealth through a largely unregulated economy, and at the cost of a low skilled workforce, and then gaining political influence by telling those worse affected by those very practices that he will make things right for them. Yeah, right.


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Will Trump ban Jews and Catholics too?

So the Trump wants to ban all Muslims (even US citizens) from entering America due to the “risk” they pose. Exactly how high is that risk?

Since 2001, a total of 45 Americans have been killed on American soil by Islamic extremists. While that’s 45 too many, it works out at 3.2 persons per year. Let’s put this in perspective. Over the same period 254 Americans were killed by home-grown right wing extremists.

While Islamic extremists have been responsible for 6% of terrorist related attacks, Jewish extremists have been responsible for 7% of the attacks. Just to be clear,  this is not based on the religion of the terrorist, but on the motive for the attack. On that basis it makes as much sense to prohibit the entry of all Jews into the USA.

According to FBI statistics, Latinos are responsible for 42% of all terrorist attacks. Perhaps Trump would like to ban them too? The predominant religion of Latinos is Roman Catholicism. While he’s at it, he might like to ban all Catholics as well.

How else could Trump make America a safer place? The communists and other left wingers are responsible for 21% of terrorist attacks, so a ban on all socialists and anyone favouring a public health system would be prudent. To be absolutely sure that no left wingers get by the ban, he might consider banning everyone who isn’t a registered republican.

Let’s not forget that the anti-abortion, animal rights and other single cause extremists are responsible for 16% of the terrorist attacks, so supporters of those movements should also be subject to the ban.

Now that the borders are closed to everyone who is not a card carrying republican with absolutely no axe to grind, America should be a much safer place.

Except we’ve forgotten:

More American women are killed by their husband or boyfriend each day than are Americans killed by Islamic extremists in a year.

For each American killed by an Islamic extremist, more than 100 American Children are killed by a parent.

For each American killed by an Islamic extremist, 2870 are murdered by someone they know, and a further 950 are murdered by a stranger.

Did you know that you are twice as likely to be killed by a Fourth of July firework as you are to be killed by an Islamic terrorist?

The chances of being killed in an elevator accident verses being killed by an Islamic terrorist is greater than 8:1.

You are fifteen times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike – an act of God – than being killed by an act of an Islamic extremist.

Did you know that American police officers kill more than 300 times as many Americans each year as do Islamic extremists.

For each American that dies at the hands of an Islamic terrorist, almost 12,000 Americans die in motor vehicle crashes.

While the threat of terrorism can’t be dismissed, the fear of terrorism is way out of proportion to the danger it presents. The greatest danger lies in the political reaction to that irrational fear. We are likely to allow our politicians to impose curbs on our freedom that cannot be justified by the risks terrorism presents.


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America the Land Of The Free: Fact or Myth (part 3)

In my previous posts in this series I looked at press freedom and economic freedom. In this post I’ll look at a freedom that every American believes they excell at – democratic freedom.

Democratic Freedom

Firstly, lets look at some figures from Freedom House.

What does Freedom in the World measure?
Freedom in the World assesses the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals, rather than governments or government performance per se. Political rights and civil liberties can be affected by both state and nonstate actors, including insurgents and other armed groups.

Freedom House does not equate legal guarantees of rights with the on-the-ground fulfillment of those rights. While both laws and actual practices are factored into the ratings decisions, greater emphasis is placed on implementation.

Comparing our five countries, the USA, France, JapanSouth Africa and New Zealand, all achieve a score of  1 (Free) (on a scale of 1 to 7) for political rights and civil liberties, while South Africa scores 2 (Free) for each.

No doubt about it. The US does as well as many other countries. But lets look at another source – Global Democracy Ranking. According to their mission statement:

The Democracy Ranking is an annual ranking of all democracies (country-based democracies) in the world by focusing on the Quality of Democracy in an international perspective. The Democracy Ranking publishes the ranking scores and displays ranking score increases or decreases over time. The Democracy Ranking is a ranking of the Quality of Democracy in the sense that the ranking scores should reflect a ranking of democracies according to their differing qualities; and the Democracy Ranking is a ranking for the Quality of Democracy, because it wants to contribute conceptually to how democracy quality may be measured as well as wants to support the awareness how important democracy quality is for the further development, reform and enhancement of democracies.

They also state:

The Democracy Ranking applies the following conceptual formula: Quality of Democracy = (freedom & other characteristics of the political system) & (performance of the non-political dimensions) The non-political dimensions are: gender, economy, knowledge, health, and the environment.

The Dimensional structures (and weights) are: Politics (50%), Gender (10%), Economy (10%), Knowledge (10%), Health (10%) and environment (10%). The total score enables each country to be ranked.

Comparing our five countries we see the following rankings: USA 16th, France 15th, Japan 21st, South Africa 71st, and New Zealand 7th. The top three placings are held by Norway, Switzerland and Sweden.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) also ranks countries by Democratic Freedoms. It measures five criteria: Electoral process; Functioning of GovernmentPolitical participationPolitical culture; and Civil liberties.

Overall rankings (and score out of 10) are USA 19th (8.11), France 27th (7.92), Japan 20th (8.08), South Africa 29th (7.90) and New Zealand 5th (9.26). The EIU ranks Norway (9.93), Sweden (9.73) and Iceland (9.65) as the most democratically free countries. What will surprise most Americans is that the most free countries are those that embrace the welfare state.

Breaking down the USA and NZ results, we get: Electoral processUSA 38th= (9.17), NZ 1st= (10); Functioning of GovernmentUSA 24th= (7.5), NZ 4th= (9.29); Political participation USA 15th= (7.22), NZ 3rd=(8.89); Political CultureUSA 14th= (8.13), NZ 14th= (8.13); Civil liberties: USA 44th (8.53), NZ 1st= (10). NZ out performed the USA on all but one criteria, where both are ranked equally.

I’ve now compared press freedom, economic freedom and political freedom, and America, while not doing too poorly is certainly not performing as well as I expected.

Of the five countries I’m comparing, the order of ranking so far is:

Press freedom: New Zealand, France, South Africa, United States, Japan

Economic freedom: New Zealand, United States, Japan, South Africa, France

Democratic freedom: New Zealand, United States, Japan, France, South Africa

While America may still be a land of the free, it’s no longer (if it ever was) the land of the most free.