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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Jihadism and Islam: Debating Databases and Free Exercise of Religion

"Jihadism is a variant of Islamism. It is the effort to impose Islamist goals—however defined—by force. Jihadists have found or invented theological justifications to attack their enemies, mostly fellow Muslims, for their impiety or disloyalty to the jihadist cause, leading to the rise of jihadist terrorist and insurgent groups and, occasionally, jihadist governments (including the Taliban and the Iranian regime) and quasi-governmental entities (like the Islamic State and some organizations within Pakistan and Saudi Arabia).

"Jihadist movements are quite obviously threats to the national security of states they seek to overthrow, many of whom are U.S. allies; they are also threats to their neighbors because of the expansionist drive inherent in jihadist ideology. Jihadist ideology ultimately seeks the dominance of its brand of Islam over the world."

--Paul D. Miller, PhD in International Relations, Associate Director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austinm research fellow at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, veteran of the war in Afghanistan

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, was asked by reporters if he favored implementing a database for tracking Muslims in America. He said, "It would be good management," and later tweeted "We must defeat Islamic terrorism & have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America."

And, since the Paris attacks, Trump has risen in the polls -- something that could prove that a considerable number of Americans are tired of the other candidates tiptoeing around the issue and caring more about not offending people than watching out for the safety of United States citizens.

It's not just anti-Islamic rhetoric from Trump. Ben Carson has echoed Trump's calls for a database. Marco Rubio has stated Muslim gatherings should be monitored. In addition, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have suggested Christian refugees should be given priority into the United States. Former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh even tweeted: "This is what Islam does. Wake up world!"

Still ...

Many Americans believe capitalizing on fear and the considerable ignorance about the Muslim faith in the United States is driving a stampede of unnecessary, prejudicial proposals such as shutting down mosques and forcing all Muslims to carry a special ID card.

Of course, even a few terrorists in the United States could initiate acts that cause massive death and destruction. But, in fact, they've been rare. An FBI study looking at terrorism committed on U.S. soil between 1980 and 2005 found that 94 percent of the terror attacks were committed by non-Muslims.

In actuality, 42 percent of terror attacks were carried out by Latino-related groups, followed by 24 percent perpetrated by extreme left-wing actors.And as a 2014 study by University of North Carolina found, since the 9/11 attacks, Muslim-linked terrorism has claimed the lives of 37 Americans. In that same time period, more than 190,000 Americans were murdered.

(Dean Obeidallah. "Are All Terrorists Muslims? It’s Not Even Close."
The Daily Beast. January 14, 2015.)

A 2011 Pew Research Center poll found that compared to the general U.S. public, Muslims are more satisfied with the direction of the country and with their own lives. The vast majority of them reject terrorism as a means of achieving political ends.

Gallup defined Islamophobia as "exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life." It has existed in premise before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but it has increased in frequency and notoriety during the past decade.

In the U.S., about one-half of nationally representative samples of Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews agree that in general, most Americans are prejudiced toward Muslim Americans. Even among Americans who report no personal prejudice toward Muslims, one-third say they have an unfavorable opinion about Islam (36%).

Fifty percent of those who report a great deal of prejudice toward Muslims say they are Republicans, compared with 17% of those who identify as Democrats and 7% as independents. Those who report no prejudice toward Muslims are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, 39% to 23%, respectively.

Those who report a great deal of prejudice toward Muslims are more likely than those who report none or smaller levels of prejudice to have completed only a high school-level education.Research shows that the U.S. identified more than 160 Muslim-American terrorist suspects and perpetrators in the decade since 9/11, just a percentage of the thousands of acts of violence that occur in the United States each year. It is from this overall collection of violence that "an efficient system of government prosecution and media coverage brings Muslim-American terrorism suspects to national attention, creating the impression - perhaps unintentionally - that Muslim-American terrorism is more prevalent than it really is."
("Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West." Gallup Muslim-West Perceptions Index.

Essential Understandings: Paul David Miller

I recently read an article title "Is Islam a Terrorist Religion?" by Paul Miller that struck me as a very fair and enlightening piece concerning the relationship of the followers of Islam and jihadism. Please read the entire article, but also allow me to point out strong pieces of it today in my post.

 Miller believes "it is false that jihadism has nothing to do with Islam; but that does not mean that Islam is nothing but jihadism." He says Jihadists use Islamic rhetoric, symbols, and concepts in the construction of their ideology. Miller claims "the falsity of jihadist theology has absolutely no bearing on its existence as a hostile religious ideology fervently believed in by thousands of well-armed people who wish to harm the United States." Its theological status does not change the threat it poses, nor, necessarily, its ability to find more recruits from within the Islamic world.

As religion -- be it Islam or Christian -- powerfully intermixes with politics, its adherents grapple with the question of what politics flows most naturally from their faith. Much as the American founders claimed that civic republicanism was a natural consequence of Protestantism, many Muslim leaders believe in "Islamism" -- the transmutation of Islam into a political ideology.

Miller confirms that the Islamic State (ISIS’s) is “Islamic” He says ...

"The secularist view—that jihadism is the product of frustrated rational actors lashing out at their disempowerment in corrupt, poor, repressive societies left behind by globalizing modernity—is true but incomplete, the shallow understanding of secular modernity unable to come to grips with the enduring power of religious identities."

(Paul David Miller. "Is Islam a Terrorist Religion?" The Federalist.)

How can Americans judge all Muslims by one standard? Islam is a "living" religion - the meaning of Islamic theology and Koranic passages change across time and culture as it is interpreted and lived by different people in different times and places -- 1.6 billion of them. Miller suggests Americans should broaden their understanding of the Islamic theology to better understand just what faction of Islam is the enemy. He explains ...

"There is no single thing called 'Islam' captured once and for all time in the Koran. This is where we might start looking for an interdisciplinary explanation for this broad phenomenon, one that integrates both theological study with anthropology and history and political science. There is so much variance across the Islamic world that we should look at the different cultures, histories, politics, and geographies of the Islamic world to begin to explain things."

The Miller Analogy

Although religious matters and ideas have consequences, Miller believes if we stopped there, we might be tempted to start fearing our Muslim neighbors as a fifth column (a group within a country at war who are sympathetic to or working for its enemies) just waiting to strike when the moment is right.

Here is where Miller says we need to take counsel from the other side of the debate:

"There are 1.6 billion professing Muslims in the world. If we count up every member of every jihadist group in the world, including al-Qaida, the Islamic State, the Taliban, Boko Haram, al-Shabab, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Hamas, Hezbollah, Lashkar-i Taiba, and scores of other groups you’ve never heard of, how many would there be? Let’s assume that we could count one million active jihadists in the world, almost certainly an exaggeration of their true numbers.

"That would account for 0.06 percent of all Muslims worldwide.

"Assume ten million active jihadists worldwide, a wild exaggeration of their true numbers. That is 0.63 percent of all Muslims worldwide.

"Assume that there are one hundred million Muslims worldwide who would count themselves as believers, supporters, fellow-travelers, fundraisers, or sympathizers with jihadism, people who would actively give their time, money, and effort to supporting active jihadists. That still leaves 94 percent of the world’s Muslims who neither participate in nor even sympathize with terrorism.

"According to a 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center, “Muslims around the world strongly reject violence in the name of Islam,” including overwhelming majorities that reject suicide-bombing, a good proxy measure for support for terrorism. By any reasonable measure, Muslims are not terrorists.
The percentage of Muslims who are terrorists is barely higher than the percentage of Quakers who are terrorists.

"Let’s say you went shopping in a very large mall in a cosmopolitan city filled with people from all over. You wanted to know if it was safe. If I told you that 99.5 percent of all shoppers in the mall had no criminal record whatsoever, you should, rationally speaking, feel safe. If, instead, you looked at the mall and declared it to be full of criminals, you would be wrong.

"I loathe political correctness for its arrogance, illiberality, and intellectual oppression. So when I say that Muslims are not terrorists, I say that simply on the numbers, as a quantifiable fact. The percentage of Muslims who are terrorists (let’s say it is 0.5 percent) is barely higher than the percentage of Quakers who are terrorists (which I assume is zero)."

(Click here for the entire Federalist article:

Life and Religion In America

The right to religious freedom is enshrined in the Constitution and protected as a fundamental human right in our democracy. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Freedom of religion is very encompassing. It "includes the rights of worship, observance, practice, expression, and teaching, broadly construed," the 2014 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report explains. "These include: wearing religious dress or symbols; observing dietary restrictions; participating in rituals associated with certain stages of life; possessing property rights regarding meeting places; and maintaining the freedom to manage religious institutions, possess, publish, and distribute liturgical and educational materials, and raise one's children in the religious teachings and practice of one's choice."

I believe a distinction must be made -- we must understand that Muslims do not become enemies in our midst by merely exercising their right to follow their religion unless they seek to institute Islamic totalitarianism. I believe that a minority religion is fully protected in our democracy, and I think people here should be free to pray to Allah and praise the Koran. But, if any Muslims act to abet the users of force and terror in any way, they then become jihadist terrorists -- undeniable foes of our great nation.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Do You Celebrate Thanksgiving Or Thanksgetting?

"In our culture, we tell our children that it is o.k. to be pleased with what you have done, but never be satisfied. You need to keep your eye on the prize, do not rest content with what you have. To be content is to stop moving forward, to stop moving forward is to quit and winners never quit. Only losers are content and contentment with what you have is the basis of thankfulness...

"To be American is to constantly be in a state of need, of having something else that is required to keep pace. To stop and be thankful for what we have is to fail to appreciate how much we do not have and how far behind that is leaving us."

(Steve Gimbel. "We're past Thanksgiving. Time for Thanksgetting"
USA Today. November 28, 2013.)

Steve Gimbel, professor of philosophy at Gettysburg College, sets forth the sarcastic argument that Thanksgiving is obsolete and that the true American celebration is the next day, what has come to be called "Black Friday." Gimbel continues ...

"We should at least rename it Green Friday or, so as not to make it seem like another Earth Day we should name it 'Thanksgetting.'  After all, we are not thankful for what we have, but if you are well-mannered, you say "thank you" for what you get. It is the day when the process by which we get things begins and that is really what we are celebrating as Americans."

The third Thursday in November has become less about giving thanks and more about the kick-off of the holiday shopping season. The true American celebration is the next day, what has come to be called "Black Friday." We Americans have given into commercialism and jumped whole-hog into Thanksgetting. Total Consumer Spending Statistics show Black Friday online and in-store shoppers have spent an average of $50 billion over the last seven years (2008-2014).

According to the National Retail Federation, the typical shopper planned on spending more than $800 on gifts for friends and family last year. In addition, the Russell Research report “Simon Holiday PR Study” found that nearly 80 percent of holiday shoppers started their shopping before Thanksgiving last year.

Of course, spending stimulates the economy and getting a bargain saves money for consumers eager to gift others as sharing, meaningful part of the Christmas tradition.


To jump the gun, many retailers open on Thanksgiving Day, thus enticing people to leave their homes to shop for bargains instead of sharing their day with loved ones. And, some consumers believe there is no shame that families and holiday traditions have changed in modern times. Yet, the fact is, retailers could stage their sales for any other day less conducive to reducing the importance of a national day of thankful reflection.

Thanksgetting is about products, not people. The products and sale prices drive people to respond in hordes and spend large sums of money -- often causing individuals to buy more than they can afford while mindlessly purchasing products that fuel the insatiable "state of need." Consumers have become so conditioned by retailers and their lust for profits that they actually believe Black Friday and all it entails is a meaningful national observance in itself.

No matter how much historical truth and myth surround the 1621 Thanksgiving feast between Pilgrims and Native Americans, Thanksgiving is an important tradition in our culture because it allows people to give pause and offer thanks -- a time for sincere gratitude. Granted, much of the ideal table bounty and much of the grace afforded for family overabundance does reflect the American obsession with consumerism -- from the large turkey to the prayers for prosperous times.

The National Holiday of Thanksgiving We Know Today

The history of the national holiday even reflects other commercial and economic concerns. The modern concept of Thanksgiving is credited to a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book and author of the famous "Mary Had a Little Lamb" nursery rhyme, who spent 40 years advocating for a national, annual Thanksgiving holiday.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, Hale saw the holiday as a way to infuse hope and belief in the nation and the Constitution. So, when the United States was torn in half during the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln was searching for a way to bring the nation together, he discussed the matter with Hale. Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states.

Thus, Abraham Lincoln became the father of the traditional Thanksgiving commemoration by creating a formal national holiday in an 1863 proclamation. He designated Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November by giving thanks for the advantages and privileges of living in a democracy. Please, read it here for yourself:

Washington, D.C.

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln
Secretary of State: William H. Seward

Then, decades later (1939), Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week, to the third Thursday of November, in part to lengthen the amount of time for holiday shopping. It was determined that most people do their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving and retailers hoped that with an extra week of shopping, people would buy more.

All the while, many believed that changing a cherished holiday just to appease businesses was not a sufficient reason for change. Atlantic City's mayor derogatorily called November 23 as "Franksgiving."

In response to the proposed change, some states still insisted on celebrating Thanksgiving on the last Thursday, so eventually Congress stepped in. On December 26, 1941, less than a month after the attack at Pearl Harbor, Congress passed a law declaring the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.

(Jennifer Rosenberg. "How FDR Changed Thanksgiving." 2015.) 

Thanksgiving Roots Coexist With Thanksgetting Ties?

Thanksgiving for the attainment of our humble needs instead of Thanksgetting for “Thanks-For-What-I’m-Getting” is an attainable goal for the holiday. That is, if people accept the charge to provide simple grace and "give thanks" for the life-giving necessities provided by our loving God.

What about the trappings of the holiday?

Of course, we will watch the Macy's Parade and ogle the extravagance and pageantry.

Of course, we will gorge ourselves with delicious foods.

Of course, we will gab about the family and our holiday remembrances, think about missing relatives, and remind the children to behave and eat with proper behavior. 

Of course, we will goof off, watch hours of football, and snooze away in tryptophan-enhanced dreams.

But, like the Pilgrims, we Americans desperately need a day to recognize that everything we have is a gift from God -- even our pains and our sorrows. The Thanksgiving commemoration our forefathers established was meant to honor God and thank Him for His blessings and His grace. That spirit and meaning survive today in the hearts and minds of the truly thankful.

I believe it would behoove us to stop fretting about sales and purchases and give thanks that enlightens our spirits and strengthens our bonds with loved ones instead of making ourselves thrill to a darker Friday -- the day after that contributes to our sad, self-contrived state of need.

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

We walk on starry fields of white
And do not see the daisies;
For blessings common in our sight
We rarely offer praises.

We sigh for some supreme delight
To crown our lives with splendor,
And quite ignore our daily store
Of pleasures sweet and tender.

Our cares are bold and push their way
Upon our thought and feeling.

They hang about us all the day,
Our time from pleasure stealing.

So unobtrusive many a joy
We pass by and forget it,
But worry strives to own our lives
And conquers if we let it.

There's not a day in all the year
But holds some hidden pleasure,
And looking back, joys oft appear
To brim the past's wide measure.

But blessings are like friends, I hold,
Who love and labor near us.

We ought to raise our notes of praise
While living hearts can hear us.

Full many a blessing wears the guise
Of worry or of trouble.

Farseeing is the soul and wise
Who knows the mask is double.

But he who has the faith and strength
To thank his God for sorrow
Has found a joy without alloy
To gladden every morrow.

We ought to make the moments notes
Of happy, glad Thanksgiving;
The hours and days a silent phrase
Of music we are living.

And so the theme should swell and grow
As weeks and months pass o'er us,
And rise sublime at this good time,
A grand Thanksgiving chorus.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Why People Remain Partisan Despite the Facts

"I would argue that the sharp decline in American quality of life the last 30 years is not because of Republican policies or Democrat policies, but rather, because we are unable to choose legitimate policies to legitimate problems. Everything is framed as black or white, Jesus-lover or Jesus-hater, yes or no.

"Well, life is more gray area than anything else. Some tax hikes are necessary, to pay for the things that the nation needs. Some spending cuts are necessary, because we spend too much money on things we do not need. Some large military cuts are necessary, because it's ridiculous for one nation to have the army we've amassed. This is not rocket surgery, folks. It only appears to be that way because of how we approach politics — like it is a team sport, a religion, and "our" side is right while "their" side is wrong. That is the kind of attitude that starts wars, that leads to the dark side. That attitude is why we can't get anything done."

(John Thorpe. "Why Are American Politics So Divisive?" Benzinga. November 30, 2011.)

When political writer and analyst John Thorpe speaks of divisive American politics, he proposes that  most people are not "pure Republicans or pure Democrats." But, our political system so encourages such black and white thinking that voters have "nowhere else to go." They must choose a political identity, and their identity as a Democrat or as a Republican means, to them, that they accept a certain set of core beliefs as gospel truth -- "much like how Christians all view Jesus as the son of god."

Thorpe says ...

"You get two packages to choose from, and neither one is even remotely palatable. It is as if you went to pick a religion, and your only choices are extreme insane Islam or Fred Phelps' Westboro Church. You have to pick one, and only one. How the hell can anyone survive like that?"

To me, Thorpe's description of the current divisiveness is accurate. Today, rarely do we find politicians who pride themselves on strong traits of negotiation and compromise. Following the "party view" of policies means everything to officeholders because party solidarity is the best guarantee to reelection in this system of preferential alienation. The predictable results are gridlock in Congress and continuous threats of government shutdown. The citizens of America are left to suffer the consequences of inaction, yet, still, they dutifully align themselves along rigid party lines.

Recent Gallup polls (2013) show Americans' trust in "the American people" to make judgments about political issues facing the country has declined each year since 2009 and, at 61%, is down nearly 20 percentage points from its recent peak in 2005. Americans' average level of trust in the American people during the 1970s was 85%, including a high of 86% in 1976. The average since 2001 is 71%.

Still, that exceeds the 46% of Americans who trust the "men and women … who either hold or are running for public office," which is one point above the historical low from 2011.

The same poll found that Americans' trust in the federal government to handle domestic and international problems, their trust in the news media, and their trust in the three branches of the federal government, and in state and local governments are all at or near historical lows.

Why do we hold ever-higher levels of distrust for our fellow Americans? And, why are we becoming willing members of parties that really don't represent our varied views on important issues or even care to carry out bipartisan solutions to our problems?

At least one very interesting answer makes sense to me. We don't have to look hard to find that individual investigation is a vanishing way of understanding key issues, and, instead, many folks today rely upon editorializing media reports and shallow sound bites for their exposure to key issues and ideas. Doesn't this common acceptance of secondhand interpretation contribute to our quick, lazy adherence of categorical thought?

The editorial staff of the Intermountain Jewish News explains that the decline of our rich and varied political discourse calls for a broader dedication to individual reading. They explain ...

"To us, the ultimate cause is the decline of reading, specifically, of daily newspapers. Reading? you might squint. What does this have to do with acid rudeness between many candidates, widespread animosities on Capitol Hill and the bellicosity on the radio? If news is acquired in snatches and sound bites, if complicated issues are reduced to screed on the Internet, if the quiet of the kitchen or the living room is no longer the crucible of thinking about politicians and political issues, then thinking declines.

"And when thought declines, oversimplification rises. When news is absorbed primarily via the ear rather than the eye, emotion intensifies. When a complex set of facts — laid out in cold, hard, unchangeable type — is not absorbed simply because it is no longer read, the alternative is, well, just what we have. Snap judgments. Aggressive characterization of opponents. The inability to see the other side of an argument. In a word: a non-literate way of being."

(Editorial Staff. "Why Our Political Culture Is So Contentious, Angry and Divisive."
Intermountain Jewish News. December 03, 2009.)

The Jewish News rightly contends that we are moving from a deliberate, fact-driven mode of learning and evaluating to a mode that is driven by quick, superficial impressions. The editors believe this is one of the many consequences of the decline of daily newspapers. They say ...
"People speak of a 'paperless society' without thinking of the consequences. When information is absorbed primarily, or only, on a moving screen; when a difficult set of facts cannot reside in the mind for a period of time, and cannot be returned to for reexamination, as the physical artifact of a newspaper can be returned to, thought declines.

"A paperless society might save on pollution, but, by the same token, it will intensify the breakdown in thinking, thus leading to bad decisions about the environment. Environmentalists need to think twice about ultimate goals before advocating a paperless society."

(Editorial Staff. "Why Our Political Culture Is So Contentious, Angry and Divisive."
Intermountain Jewish News. December 03, 2009.)

And, I believe, even if people read reliable, factual-based, online sources such as unbiased newspapers and journals, they still practice literate, responsible decision making. That is, if they can read political articles with an open mind and overcome the strong desire to be obstinate and cling to their preconceived opinions.

A study at Ohio State in 2009 provides some of the strongest evidence to date that Americans prefer to read political articles that agree with the opinions they already hold. Researchers found that people spent 36 percent more time reading articles that agreed with their point of view than they did reading text that challenged their opinions.

Even when they did read articles that countered their views, participants almost always balanced that with reading others that confirmed their opinions.

The study is important because it is one of the first to record what people actually read and link these findings to their views on the same topics.

Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick conducted the study with Jingbo Meng, a former master’s degree student in communication at Ohio State. Their results appeared in the June 2009 issue of the journal Communication Research.

“We found that people generally chose media messages that reinforced their own preexisting views,” said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study and associate professor of communication at Ohio State University.

People who reported that they read news more frequently, on the other hand, were more likely to avoid opposing viewpoints.

“People have more media choices these days, and they can choose to only be exposed to messages that agree with their current beliefs,” Knobloch-Westerwick said.

And that has real-world implications, she said. “If you only pay attention to messages you agree with, that can make you more extreme in your viewpoints, because you never consider the other side,” she said.

(Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick and Jingbo Meng. "Looking the Other Way: Selective Exposure to Attitude-Consistent and Counterattitudinal Political Information."
Communication Research. March 16, 2009.)

Many media outlets today specialize in shrill, harsh commentary that demonizes opposing viewpoints. If that is all that people hear, it can reduce political tolerance and make compromise less likely.

“That may be one reason for the increasing polarization of American voters,” Knobloch-Westerwick said. “Citizens really should be weighing and monitoring diverse arguments in order to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, that’s not happening as often as it should. In general, they don’t want their views to be challenged by seriously considering other viewpoints.”

The theory of cognitive dissonance finds we find it difficult to hold contradictory ideas in our head at the same time. In fact, cognitive dissonance predicts that given the choice between our emotional ties and facts, we’ll pick emotional every time. Why in the world would intelligent people do so? Researchers Nyhan and Reifler hypothesized that partisans reject such information not because they’re against the facts, but because it’s painful. Their work explains ...

"Why are political misperceptions – which can distort individual policy preferences and undermine the factual basis of democratic debate – so prevalent? We evaluate two factors that may contribute to the persistence of false and unsupported political beliefs.

* "First, many people may not have been exposed to accurate information in a convincing format.
* "In addition, however, the threatening nature of corrective information itself may also cause people to reject information that contradicts their preexisting views.

"Results from three experiments provide support for both hypotheses. We show that providing participants with graphical information significantly decreases false and unsupported factual beliefs, but that affirming respondents’ self-worth can also reduce misperceptions among those who are most likely to be misinformed."

(Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. "The roles of information deficits and identity threat
in the prevalence of misperceptions." Dartmouth College. June 22, 2015.) says that notion suggested a possible solution: "If partisans were made to feel better about themselves — if they received a little image and ego boost — could this help them more easily absorb the “blow” of information that threatens their pre-existing views?"

The researchers had voters think of times in their lives when they had done something very positive and found that, fortified by this positive memory, voters were more willing to take in information that challenged their pre-existing views.

“One person talked about taking care of his elderly grandmother — something you wouldn’t expect to have any influence on people’s factual beliefs about politics,” Nyhan said. “But that brings to mind these positive feelings about themselves, which we think will protect them or inoculate them from the threat that unwelcome ideas or unwelcome information might pose to their self-concept.”

Two Cents

To me, working NOT to be partisan while reading accurate, current information without political spin would be a Godsend to political thinking. Also, if we were much more receptive to recognizing the apparent deficiencies of black-and-white belief, this realization would lead to fairer, more equitable policies and legislation. And, we citizens and civil servants both must acknowledge that our own personal beliefs and emotions often get in the way of the greater truth -- the need to face and meet the issues in a bipartisan approach. Progress is driven by those who find common ground in positive achievement; it is stifled by those with narrow minds and partisan goals.

I am sick of seeing intelligent people act like automatons controlled by political and religious machinery whose greatest purpose is to put them at odds with the opposition. So many people in our nation now seem very satisfied to choose sides and oppose all concessions by viewing anyone having a contrary thought as a real enemy. The name calling and emotional displays of outright indignation spew daily across social media. It's open season to many -- "us" against "them."

My President is a constant victim of such political vitriol. He has been called a Muslim, a terrorist, even the Anti-Christ. Although nominated and elected to two terms as the leader of America, partisan haters show no respect for the office or for the man. The climate created by extremists who cannot find any good in Obama's policies makes our democracy look more like a country being harassed by a juvenile gang vying for complete control of the turf on which we live.

Of course, disagreeing on issues is to be expected and even encouraged. And, oh how we do that so well. I believe we drastically miss the mark in the areas of compromise and solution. When a righteous "we" becomes a particular party, a particular religious sect, or another group with a particular viewpoint, "we" no longer respect the dignity of others. Make no mistake, no single group escapes the learning curve as it faces the complexity of living in a true democracy. No group has possession of all virtues.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." Although Abraham Lincoln's words from 1858 describe the undisputed effect to a young nation suffering the sickness of human bondage and not partisan alignment, America is now suffering because of selfish, divisive thinking once more. Left unchecked, the hatred and outright loathing directed at people because they choose to disagree or choose to support an opposing view will breed further animosity that will erode the character of a once-great nation.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Opiates: Even With the Facts, Your Child Is At Risk

In the middle of an opiate health epidemic, young Americans are extremely vulnerable. Even though most youth know the dangers of risk-taking behaviors like using dangerous drugs, research confirms they are "hardwired to ignore what they have learned." To view this type of risk taking as inevitable and simply something children will "experiment with" as they develop independence is giving them permission to play Russian roulette with addiction and death. Parents, guardians, and caretakers such as schools must teach abstinence and zero tolerance for recreation use of prescription opiates and heroin.

The University of Michigan "Monitoring the Future" survey reports the abuse of opioid prescription painkillers is high in youth populations. 9.7 percent of high school seniors report using Vicodin in the past year, while 4.9 percent report using OxyContin. The study also put lifetime use of heroin at 1.00 percent for 12th graders.

Consider the "hard-wired" young brain, and also consider the facts of mortality. Indeed, teenagers have the double the risk of dying compared to their preteen selves. Opioid abuse must be stopped, no matter how much precious time, money, and effort are needed to effect significant change.

(Maia Szalavitz. "Why the Teen Brain Is Drawn to Risk." Time.

Dr. Laurence Steinberg, researcher and professor of psychology from Temple University, reports   adolescent brain development shows teenagers seek out risk-taking behaviors because the section of the brain most involved in emotion and social interaction becomes very active during puberty, while the section most critical for regulating behavior is still maturing into early adulthood.

According to Steinberg, heightened risk taking in adolescence is the result of competition between these two very different brain systems -- the socioemotional and cognitive-control networks -- that are undergoing maturation during adolescence, but along very different timetables. During the adolescence, the socioemotional system becomes more assertive during puberty, while the cognitive-control system gains strength only gradually and over a longer period of time.

(Laurence Steinberg. “Risk Taking in Adolescence: New Perspectives from Brain and Behavioral Science.” Current Directions in Psychological Science. April 2007.)

This explains, Steinberg says, why teens are so susceptible to peer pressure and why education and prevention efforts designed to keep teens from engaging in risk-taking behaviors don't work all that well. Steinberg claims teens take twice as many risks when friends are watching. "They didn't take more chances because they suddenly downgraded the risk," explains Steinberg. "They did so because they gave more weight to the payoff."

According to Steinberg's research, the presence of peers even increases risk taking by 50% in college undergraduates, but it does not influence the number of risks older adults took.

Steinberg explains that many simple prevention measures fail ...

"We have tried to prevent these behaviors by educating kids about the dangers of things like smoking, drinking, taking drugs, and unprotected sex. The thinking has been if they know about the dangers they won't do these things, but that is clearly not true."

(Salynn Boyles. "Teens Are Hardwired for Risky Behavior."
WebMD Health News. April 13, 2007.)

Steinberg says programs aimed at persuading teens not to engage in dangerous behaviors seem to have little impact. Just because we give them the facts, that doesn't mean we are changing their behaviors.

The Deadly Dilemma

So, youth typically get the facts about deadly opiates, yet largely due to their propensity to take risks and to give into peer pressure, they view themselves as "bulletproof" and defy the truth to engage in risky behaviors that support their desires for emotional and social interaction.

And, yet, a newer study suggests it may be that teens' notorious risk-taking behavior stems not from some immunity to known risks, but rather, from their greater tolerance to uncertainty and ambiguity. Teens love the unknown. "If the risks are known, adolescents engage (in risk-taking) less than adults do, but if they are unknown, this is reversed," Agnieszka Tymula, lead author of the study says.

Tymula explains: "This tolerance for unknown risks might stem from an underlying biological feature that makes learning about the unknown less unpleasant for adolescents than it is for adults."

She continues ...

"An early part of learning any type of new skill -- from typing to teaching -- is accepting instruction and consciously thinking about all of the tactics and techniques involved in performing the skill.

"While novices need to think step-by-step, however, experts will have incorporated the best routines into their brains to the point that they become automatic. This may be why the teen brain uses the higher-order cortex for risk decisions: it hasn't yet made enough of them to develop an intuitive reaction that it can 'offload' to other brain regions."

(Agnieszka Tymula, et al. "Adolescents’ risk-taking behavior is driven by tolerance to ambiguity." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. May 01, 2012.)

Valerie Reyna, professor of human development and psychology at Cornell University, who has done her own research, agrees with Tymula, and says the study adds to her own findings. This research confirms how excessively teens tend to overestimate risk. Yet, it doesn't prevent them from engaging in risky behavior. They may get lost in the details about specific risks and overly focused on possible rewards, while ignoring the overall "gist" of the problem -- i.e., the ultimate consequences.

Reyna's work has shown that adolescents carefully think about risks most adults wouldn't even consider taking -- like, say, playing Russian roulette -- using their prefrontal cortex. Why are they wired this way? Their greater tolerance for uncertainty and the unknown -- and an increased desire for and focus on rewards -- probably helps them leave the nest.

(Maia Szalavitz. "Why the Teen Brain Is Drawn to Risk." Time. October 02, 2012.)

Fighting A Tough Battle

How can we best fight this flight into irreparable harm? Steinberg says we need to provide more structure to control young people's impulses and to regulate their behavior. That means focusing on ways to keep teens from getting into trouble. But he also says, "Parents have a bigger role to play than government, by monitoring the behavior of their teens and imposing their own rules to protect them from harm."

Tymula suggests that allowing teens opportunities to safely experiment -- for example, a simulator that shows sober teens what drunk driving is like -- could also help, by making an unknown risk seem more real and known. Allowing teens the opportunity to take risks in a safe context could also help them develop expertise that underlies gist-based thinking. Of course, this simulation seems very difficult -- impossible? -- to do when the enemy is opiate addiction.

Reyna has studied how teaching "gist"-based reasoning can help teens avoid dangerous sexual choices, finding that teens who are taught to focus on potential, catastrophic negative outcomes, rather than the odds, make fewer risky sexual decisions and have fewer partners.

Structure, regulation, parental involvement, simulators, focusing on catastrophic negative outcomes -- we must use the best available resources in a research-based commitment to curb opioid abuse in youth. Experts agree prevention is the best strategy.

The most commonly abused opiate drugs are prescription painkillers, but as many as 40 percent of teens don’t perceive any major risk with trying heroin once or twice (NSUDH). According to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, the number of teens who abuse prescription drugs has nearly tripled since 1992.

The most commonly abused opiate drugs are heroin, Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), Darvon (propoxyphene), Diluadid (hydromorphone), morphine, fentanyl, codeine, and other related prescription painkillers.

We must educate ourselves and our loved ones with the best resources while limiting their access to deadly and addictive substances. The National Institute on Drug Abuse makes the entire publication of "Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction" available online. Please, click onto the following link to access their "Preventing Drug Abuse: The Best Strategy" material and begin the fight:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Partisan Politics Stunt American Youth

"Is there any way we can calmly, rationally,  and respectfully work out these competing ideas?  Are we even interested in trying?   Or are both the liberal notion of fairness as equality (people get the same basic rights and basic goods) and the conservative talk of fairness as desert (people get what they deserve), really just empty talk -- something that each side trots out to paper over and disguise their real motives and interests when they are pushed to defend themselves?

"I mean if you really want to have it all, what better way to defend yourself than to appeal to fairness as desert.   And if you really want to take something that belongs to somebody else and redistribute it, what better way to defend your self than by appeal to fairness as desert.  It’s as if the interest comes first, and the justification in terms of fairness is thought of post hoc to disguise the real interest.

"I suspect that there is some deep truth to that disturbing outlook.  I wouldn’t say that partisan politics is all based on pretense and false consciousness.  But I do think that all sorts of hidden and subterranean motives drive us to do the things we do. 

"And that’s why politics is so very unlike like reasoned philosophical arguments.  So very, very little of it is completely above board and transparent.  So very little of it deserves to be taken at face value.  And that’s precisely why we need to into the dark reaches of the human psyche if we really want to understand how partisan politics really works."

(Ken Taylor. "The Psychology of Partisan Politics." Philosophy Talk. 2013.)

In the quote, Ken Taylor, Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University and director of Stanford's interdisciplinary program in Symbolic Systems, addresses the psychology of partisan politics. It is an issue well worth our consideration during the presidential candidate campaigns.

Any young, impressionable person listening to the Republican debate can readily understand that all candidates -- Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Fiorina, and all the others  -- can agree upon one issue and one issue alone. That believe all of them share is that the country cannot risk another extension of President Obama by electing the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

And, yes, Democrat frontrunners are just as guilty of promoting partisanship over substance. So, I understand the necessity of promoting party lines.

But ...

The messages about politics in our beloved democracy that scream out at young America is that partisanship supersedes all else and that the opposing political party is the hated enemy. Period. Believe in the party without question – just vote for the candidate no matter who gets the nomination because the party, not the government which is comprised of members of both parties, represents all of what you must believe.

Is it any wonder our youth grow up now with a conviction to choose party lines over facts and logical progressive understandings? And, after the election, they are subjected to watching a continuum of uncooperative members of Congress -- Republicans and Democrats --  become gridlocked with very little dedication to working out bipartisan solutions to problems that affect all Americans?

Partisans Hate the Pain of Change

Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan says on a range of issues, partisans seem partial to their political loyalties over the facts. When those loyalties demand changing their views of the facts, he said, partisans seem willing to throw even consistency overboard.

Along with Jason Reifler at Georgia State University, Nyhan said, he's exploring the possibility that partisans reject facts because they produce cognitive dissonance -- the psychological experience of having to hold inconsistent ideas in one's head. Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

Nyhan explains ...

"When Democrats hear the argument that the president can do something about high gas prices, that produces dissonance because it clashes with the loyalties these voters feel toward Obama. The same thing happens when Republicans hear that Obama cannot be held responsible for high gas prices -- the information challenges their dislike of the president.

"Nyhan and Reifler hypothesized that partisans reject such information not because they're against the facts, but because it's painful. That notion suggested a possible solution: If partisans were made to feel better about themselves -- if they received a little image and ego boost -- could this help them more easily absorb the 'blow' of information that threatens their pre-existing views?"

(Shankar Vedantam. "Partisan Psychology: Why Do People Choose Political Loyalties Over Facts?" National Public Radio. May 09, 2012.)

Wow! Isn't this what most of us who are disgruntled with politics want? Despite which party sponsors what initiative, we wish our elected officials would forget about infighting and partisanship, consider all logical alternatives to issues, and work together to compromise and enact workable solutions. They cannot do this by being politically partisan egotists bent strictly on preserving party allegiance and reelection.

And, shouldn't we be teaching our young people the same – to readily accept information that challenges their pre-existing views and to use politics to forge positive changes that benefit the common good, not a select group of individuals. I believe this would would reinforce positive connotations about much-needed bipartisanship to institute a climate of care for all Americans.

Strengthening political effectiveness is grounded in the scientific study of human functioning. Susan G. Kerbel, consulting partner of Cognitive Policy Works who brings a wealth of insight into psychological theories and practices to the political world, says ...

“In its simplest form, it seems obvious: politics is about people, and so is psychology. Understanding the workings of the human heart and mind, it would seem, could only be an advantage in figuring out how to help people make a society that works better for them. All in all, not rocket science, I thought, to sort out the connection.

“Through the use of techniques, we reasoned, progressive values and messages could be articulated in a more effective manner; our policies could be given a fairer hearing by the public; and our democracy, economy, society, and culture could begin the lengthy and difficult process of being restored to more human and sustainable dimensions.”

(Susan G. Kerbel. "From the Couch to the Culture: How Psychological Analysis Can Strengthen the Progressive Agenda." Cognitive Policy Works. 2015.)

Isn't it distressing to find that most politicians are operating as part of the current system that has lost the recognition that civic life is about actual human beings? They seem to have lost the association between people and politics, and constantly divorce the two so efficiently with the aid of their stubborn partisanship.

Kerbel says, “Isn't this supposed to be the United States of America?  The united part seems to be endangered as we watch partisan politics play out in Washington.” Legislators agree only with members of their own party as to the strengths and weaknesses of most legislation.

Then, this adherence begins the ritual of dramatic disagreement across parties as to a bill's merits. If legislators believe that voting with their own political party and against the opposition is more important than seriously considering the merits of the bill, they are putting partisan politics ahead of the national interest.

What Dads and Moms Teach

We raise our children to be respectful of all others and all of their diverse opinions. In doing so, we acknowledge the wide range of accepted opinions in our democracy. We want our sons and daughters to be skilled in critical thinking and wise in independent thought so that they can discern the issues with great skill while practicing open-minded esteem for others.

Yet, “with liberty and justice for all” just does not ring true when these same children watch politicians sell their souls to their parties and preach partisanship above all else. Then, when their parents swallow the Kool-Aid of strict party lines and begin to disrespect those with whom they disagree, the children learn that political sides demarcate “right” and “wrong.” The result is a new generation of indoctrinated citizens who reject the real, necessary “pain” of dissonance and choose to adhere stubbornly to the platform of one party and its extremely limited viewpoints.

Cross party and even inter-party attacks are so common that the political process resembles bloodletting more than statesmanship. John D. Mayer, Psychologist at the University of New Hampshire and author of the Mayer-Salovery-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, says …

“I am concerned that perhaps we have become a nation of people so disrespectful of one anothers' beliefs that we have lost the habit of respecting those with whom we disagree. Rather, we prefer to demean others so as make ourselves look better, or to amuse one another, or simply because it is so much easier than seeing the other person's point of view.

“If I were a member of the legislative branch and I truly, deeply respected those on the other side of the aisle, I believe I would be deeply disturbed by the sort of inter-party attacks and struggles that are currently taking place... What about their personal principles of respecting not only those with whom they agree, but also those with whom they disagree?”

(John D. Mayer. "On Partisan Politics." Psychology Today. February 15, 2009.)

The constant political spew of aggressive attack, witch-hunting, and dirty tricks is offensive to those who want officials to find common ground.

Mayer sums this up so well when he states ...

“What makes that (finding “common ground”) so challenging at the personal level, however, is that the best compromises often require us to question our own beliefs and our own ideas, to realize that we ourselves are as prone to be mistaken as the next person. Although such self-awareness is challenging, it allows us to better understand what is really more open to pragmatic negotiation than might first appear to be the case.”

My View

I remember how much fun we had in junior high during presidential elections. It seemed that everyone in school wore buttons of support for their candidates, participated in rowdy and opinionated debates, and enjoyed all the political hubbub that culminated in a highly contested mock election.

Without a doubt, partisan spirits ran high during our youth. We generally followed our parents' views, and voted for their choice of candidate. Still, after the election – no matter the result – our parents advised us to respect the office of the President of the United States as the elected leader of the free world. I think those of us who were losers did so grudgingly, but still the order came down.

Then, as we grew just a little older and developed a few more connections in our frontal cortex, the issues took center stage – it was the '60s and the time for ripe for exhilarating social changes and bold, new, political ideas.

Civil rights, voting rights, the Vietnam War, poverty, women's liberation, the space race, the cold war, the counterculture – it seemed suddenly a wave of issues swept into our young lives. It was a new frontier for us, and we mattered … a lot.

Soon, after high school, our campuses become a breeding ground for political activism. What politician took what stand on what issue? We wanted to know. Political parties? With names like Kennedy (John and Bobby), Johnson, McGovern, Nixon, Goldwater, Rockefeller, McCarthy, Humphrey, and Wallace the party lines took a backseat to the issues. Sure, candidates were backstabbing opposing parties, but very little seemed “black and white” about where the Democrats or the Republicans drew their lines of party allegiance.

I believe it is time to think about the significant reforms that took place when politicians still believed in the power of reconciliation, compromise, and needed reaction instead of government shutdown. Supporting a candidate or an issue shouldn't make us sworn enemies of the other political side. This division should make us work even harder to find common ground that benefits our nation. As bad as that feeling of partisanship may have been 50 years ago, I feel it is 50 times worse now. It's junior high; it's juvenile; it's downright ugly. We must teach our children well.

Monday, November 9, 2015

God Bless! Those Darn Panhandlers!

"A man stalks off across the intersection and holds up his sign: 'HOMELESS. HUNGRY. GOD BLESS.'

"'God bless' -- the universal sentiment of Portland's latest street-corner industry, where sympathy is measured in quarters and sorrow is scrawled with a Sharpie. In the last few years, roadside panhandlers (known on the street as signers or flaggers) have spread like dandelions in a ditch, populating on-ramps, off-ramps, interchanges and highway dividers, clutching cardboard signs that proclaim their plight.

"'You see it everywhere,' says Portland Police Sgt. Brian Schmautz.

"You might think the reason a particular individual flies a sign at a particular intersection at any given moment is governed by chance. In fact, flagging is anything but random. It is a profession with its own rules and hierarchies. Ninety flaggers, each earning $35 a day, pencils out to more than $1 million a year. Chickenfeed by your standards, maybe, but it's enough money to spawn careers, cartels, competition—and enforcers."

(Dave Fitzpatrick. "Panhandlers, Inc.: Inside Portland's million-dollar begging business."
Portland Wilkamette Week. February 15, 2015.)

After writing about the alleged problems Scioto County is experiencing with panhandling, I thought it necessary to research further the topic. What I discovered is that although a lot of opinion and speculation exist, very little recent research addresses panhandling. Who begs for money? Why do they beg for money? I will do my best to set the record straight, yet answers are myriad.

Passive and Aggressive Panhandlers

For purposes of easy examination, it is useful to make a distinction between two basic styles of begging for money. Two types of panhandling exist: passive and aggressive. Passive panhandling is soliciting without threat or menace, often without any words exchanged at all. For example the panhandler simply holds out a cup or a hand, or perhaps a sign of solicitation. Aggressive panhandling is soliciting coercively, with actual or implied threats, or menacing actions. Of course, if a panhandler uses physical force or extremely aggressive actions, the panhandling may constitute robbery.

Isolated incidents of passive panhandling are usually a low police priority. And, even where it is illegal, police usually tolerate passive panhandling, for both legal and practical reasons. Police can reasonably conclude that, absent citizen complaints, their time is better spent addressing more serious problems.

Panhandling becomes a higher police priority when it becomes aggressive or so pervasive that its cumulative effect, even when done passively, is to make passersby apprehensive. Also more extreme, aggressive behaviors are usually considered criminal -- panhandlers who touch others, those who make loud, sometimes repeated demands (sometimes with profanity), and those who solicit in places that are particularly intimidating such as near ATM machines, in a restroom, or near people's cars.

In fact, aggressive panhandling has been found to be of great concern to merchants who worry that their customers will be discouraged from patronizing their business. These merchants are most likely to call police when panhandling disrupts their commerce.

(Michael S. Scott. "The Problem of Panhandling." Center for Problem-Oriented Policy. State University of New York. 2002.)

Public Perspective of Panhandlers

"Panhandling evokes an enormous amount of emotion on both sides," says Molly Neck, program director of the National Coalition of the Homeless. "There's a belief that people are homeless by choice, or due to mistakes they've made. It's like, 'I have a job, why can't you?'"

(Dave Fitzpatrick. "Panhandlers, Inc.: Inside Portland's million-dollar begging business."
Portland Wilkamette Week. February 15, 2015.)

The public policy perspectives on panhandling are consistent with two types -- the sympathetic view and the unsympathetic view.

(A) The sympathetic view, commonly held by civil libertarians and homeless advocates, is that panhandling is essential to destitute people's survival, and should not be regulated by police. Some even view panhandling as a poignant expression of the plight of the needy, and an opportunity for the more fortunate to help.

The percentage of college students who give to panhandlers (between 50 and 60 percent) tends to be higher than that of the general population. There is some evidence that women and minorities tend to give more freely.

One survey in the San Francisco Bay area found that the largest group of people who chose to give were young working-class residents. Empathy was a main driver; three in five said the gave “because they or a family member may be in need someday.”

(Stephen R. Munzer. "Ellickson on 'Chronic Misconduct' in Urban Spaces: Of Panhandlers, Bench Squatters, and Day Laborers." Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. 1997.)

(B) The unsympathetic view is that panhandling is a blight that contributes to further community disorder and crime, as well as to panhandlers' degradation and deterioration as their underlying problems go unaddressed. Those holding this view believe panhandling should be heavily regulated by police.

(Rob Tier. "Restoring Order In Urban Public Places. Texas Review of Law and Politics. 1998.)

What makes a person sympathetic or unsympathetic to panhandlers? People's opinions about panhandling are rooted in deeply held beliefs about individual liberty, public order and social
responsibility. In addition, their opinions are shaped by their actual exposure to panhandling -- the more people are panhandled, the less sympathetic they are toward panhandlers.

(James Q. Wilson. "The Plague of Professional Panhandling. Manhattan Institute.)

So, while people may not approve of panhandling, most tolerate any kind of minor street disorder, but others are genuinely frightened by it. Michael Scott believes in a more neutral stance about panhandling without passing judgment on the degree of sympathy owed to panhandlers -- that stance recognizes that police will always be under some pressure to control panhandling, and that there are effective and fair ways to do so.

(Michael S. Scott. "The Problem of Panhandling." Center for Problem-Oriented Policy. State University of New York. 2002.)

Who Panhandles?

The reasons for panhandling are anything but simple. Many signers face obstacles to employment such as homelessness, criminal background, substance abuse or mental illness.

Dave Fitzpatrick says ...

"When you have no phone, no shower and no washing machine, finding a job is tough -- and signing starts to make sense... On one hand, it's pathetic that anyone would be willing to scrap over such a meager haul. But for many flaggers, their turf is their livelihood, the only thing they have -- and they'll fight to protect it. And though no one claims to enjoy flagging, some have convinced themselves that they are actually performing a civic duty."

If life does become "beg, borrow, or steal," many evidently become comfortable with panhandling. Some are addicts; some have warrant prohibiting them from collecting Supplemental Security Income assistance from Social Security; some suffer post-traumatic shock disorder with dishonorable discharges that disqualify them for benefits; some are there for some other "bad luck" reason.

(Dave Fitzpatrick. "Panhandlers, Inc.: Inside Portland's million-dollar begging business."
Portland Wilkamette Week. February 15, 2015.)

Fox News’ John Stossel, has taken on beggars. “I had heard that some people beg for a living and make big bucks -- $80,000 a year in some cases,” Stossel told Fox & Friends. “You really shouldn’t give to these street people,” Stossel concluded. “You are really supporting alcoholism and drug problems.”

Researchers wanted to test out whether this widely held view of panhandlers as lazy alcoholics getting rich off others was correct. The Union Square Business Improvement District, a collection of 500 property owners in downtown San Francisco, hired GLS Research to survey panhandlers over a two-day period.

In San Francisco’s Union Square, the typical panhandler is a disabled middle-aged single male who is a racial minority and makes less than $25 per day despite panhandling seven days a week for more than five years. Though many are insistent that panhandlers just use the money for beer and pot, the majority of those surveyed did not. In fact, 94 percent used the meager funds they raised for food.

Findings of the study include the following:

* 26 percent served in the military
* 70 percent are 40 to 59 years old
* 58 percent have been panhandling for at least five years
* 53 percent panhandle seven days a week
* 60 percent make $25 a day or less
* 94 percent use the money for food
* 44 percent use it for drugs or alcohol
* 62 percent are disabled
* 25 percent are alcoholics
* 32 percent are addicted to drugs
* 82 percent are homeless

(Scott Keyes. "Everything You Think You Know About Panhandlers Is Wrong." Center for American Progress Action Fund. October 30, 2013.)

Studies by Michael S. Scott pretty much confirm the GLS profile of a panhandler as an unemployed, unmarried male in his 30s or 40s, with substance abuse problems, few family ties, a high school education, and laborer's skills. Scott also found some panhandlers suffer from mental illness, but most do not. Many panhandlers have criminal records, but panhandlers are nearly as likely to have been crime victims as offenders. Some are transient, but most have been in their community for a long time.

One study looked at the income and spending patterns among panhandlers and found the majority of panhandlers (in Toronto) are homeless and living in extreme poverty. Panhandlers made a median of about $30 a day.

The research concluded that the amount of money panhandlers spend on alcohol and illicit drugs was significant, but much lower than some have suggested. The health effects of a loss of panhandling income were uncertain because panhandlers might reduce their food intake, reduce their substance use or find other sources of income. For the one-fourth of panhandlers who rent a room or apartment, however, any loss of income could easily lead to homelessness.

(Rohit Bose and Stephen W. Hwang. "Income and spending patterns among panhandlers." Canadian Medical Association Journal. September 03, 2002.)

From more recent studies (2013) conducted in Portland, a researcher found people who resort to panhandling are poor, and panhandling does not appear to be a viable means of supporting oneself. There, panhandling respondents reported an average hourly income of $4.96, an average daily income of $21.69, and an average weekly income of $106.64. The listed income did not include gifts.

Plasma donation was a popular means of secondary income, and several mentioned that they sometimes worked part-time odd jobs. One man said that he sold marijuana, and another heavily implied (but refused to specifically state) that he sold harder drugs. Thirteen of the respondents also mentioned collecting food stamps. None had any kind of regular employment.

Food was far and away the most frequently reported expenditure. Panhandlers had a mostly negative impression of Portland's low-cost or no-cost food services. "They're filled with crazy people," said one homeless Navy veteran, who went on at length about how he felt uncomfortable being around so many people who were dealing with mental illness.

Behind food, alcohol and tobacco were the second and third most popular things for panhandlers to spend their cash on. Shelter was also a common expenditure, with 12 of the 50 respondents listing hotel rooms, hostels, campsites, or rent as one of their main expenditures.

Marijuana was the most popular illicit drug among panhandlers, with 23 of the 50 respondents having acknowledged using it in the last year. "Is weed illegal here?" was a common refrain during the interviews.

Heroin was the hard drug choice among respondents, with 14 reporting that they'd used it in the last year, and several more admitting that they'd tried it sometime during their lifetime. Meth was a distant second, with eight respondents naming it among illicit drugs they'd used in the past 365 days.

Thirty of the 50 respondents reported drinking during the past 365 days, but most reported it being a rare or social occurrence. Of those 30, 11 reported drinking every day, and of those 11, two mentioned that they budgeted their daily alcohol intake at two beers a day.

Thirty-nine of the 50 respondents had seen the inside of a jail, and 13 of the 50 had been to state prison. Most of the time, the encounters with the law were related in some form to poverty and homelessness, with crimes like trespassing being the most common.

A whopping 40 of the 50 people I talked to said they slept outside a majority of the time. The others had either low-cost housing or were able to get a hotel room on a consistent basis.

Only seven of the panhandlers had been in the US Armed Forces or National Guard. Almost all of the homeless vets, though, were quick to mention the Veterans Affairs' backed-up bureaucracy as part of the reason they were homeless.

(Joe Streckert. "The Millionaire Panhandler: Separating the Facts from the Myths Surrounding Panhandling." The Portland Mercury. September 25, 2013.)

Many people claim organized groups of panhandlers make piles of tax-free money. I found little evidence in Internet research.

Reporter Jordy Yager spent nine months speaking with the panhandlers around Charlottesville. Yager found some panhandlers tell of a bad past and a future of day-to-day existence. Mike, a 35-year-old, had traveled through 26 states, but was born and raised in Orange County and has lived in Virginia most of his life, moving around a lot -- Madison, Fredericksburg, Richmond, Warrenton, Culpeper and Charlottesville. His father walked out when he was 3 years old, leaving his mother to raise him while working two jobs.

Mike has been running in the streets since he was 13. He did his first line of cocaine when he was 10. By the time he was 15, he was “a full-blown drug addict.” He was “a struggling ass dope fiend who didn’t give a fuck about nothing and nobody,” he said.

Now, Mike said, he hasn’t used hard drugs for four years. He even quit drinking in January 2014, and hasn’t been arrested for two years, the longest ever since he was a kid. He chalks it up to being able to survive off panhandling.

This is Mike's story as told by Yager ...

"Mike had been to the Virginia Workforce center, Worksource Enterprises -- a non-profit job training and employment group -- and Offender Aid & Restoration (OAR) looking for help with work and being on the streets. Mike said they told him, 'You’re chronic streets. There’s no help for you. You’ve been out here too long.'So then, he felt hopeless.

“'Where do you get help from there? That’s every place in town,” Mike said. He wanted to tell them, 'Don’t judge me on the 10,000 people that stood here before me. Judge me upon me.'

"Mike's daily routine? He wakes up around 4:30am at the campsite he now shares with fellow panhandlers Floyd and Robert. If they have any money left over from the day before, he heads to 7-11 to get coffee by 6 a.m. and then to Kroger to get Floyd, or 'Pops' as he calls him, a 24-ounce can of Twisted Tea. He calculates exactly how much money he needs that day to get by. And by 8 a.m. he’s 'on the block,' panhandling.

"Mike said he believes that people think he and his group are organized because they see them look out for one another. Like most 'coworkers,' they talk with each other throughout the day about how things are going, who else is flying signs and what kind of drivers are stopping. There is an unspoken code of conduct among them that allows for a rotation at more successful medians.

“'There are no schedules or anything like that,' said Mike. 'You wake up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, I’m going over here.’

"If one person is too tired or sick to panhandle, the others will share what they make with them. They carry most of their belongings with them in large backpacks that they fear will be stolen if left unattended. So they’ll watch each other’s stuff when someone goes to the bathroom. If they’ve gotten a gift card for $10 at Arby’s, they’ll buy four beef and cheddar sandwiches and pass them around. 'When I eat, they eat,' said Mike. 'When they eat, I eat.'

"On freezing cold nights, they’ll pool their money to get a room at the Quality Inn for about $65 and cram at least four people in it, sometimes as many as seven or eight. Last month, a panhandler in the group named Joe got a substantial check from the government and paid for a room for everyone for several nights.

“'People see that, and all of a sudden we’re organized,' said Mike. “Ain’t none of this shit scripted. It’s real life. The only family I really have is the peoples that’s out here.”

(Jordy Yager. "The Median Men: Loyalty, tough times mark lives of Charlottesville panhandlers." Charlottesville Weekly. December 03, 2014.)

Yet, also, there is evidence of a "new, more professional" type of panhandler. Even those with some reliable income may not have enough to maintain a living these days.

Steve Malanga, senior editor of City Journal and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute says "the old type of panhandler -- a mentally impaired or disabled homeless person trying to scrape together a few bucks for a meal-- is giving way to the full-time spanger who supports himself through a combination of begging, working at odd jobs, and other sources, like government assistance from disability payments."

And, Makanga explains that even many young people simply see panhandling as a job ...

"Some full-time panhandlers are kids -- 'road warriors' who have largely dropped out of society and drift from town to town, often 'couch surfing' at friends’ homes, or 'street loiterers' who daily make their way downtown from the suburbs where they live. Some, like New Yorker Steve Baker, have turned begging into a full-time job. 'If you’re inside a bank, you’re a doorman,' he says from his perch inside a bank lobby. 'You’re not gonna rob from nobody or steal from nobody—you come in here and make a job for yourself.'"

(Steve Malanga. "The Professional Panhandling Plague." City Journal.
Manhattan Institute Summer 2008.)

Are People Willing to Prosecute Panhandlers?

The city council of the Indianapolis suburb of Greenwood voted in 2014 to enact an ordinance that bans panhandling on busy roads, near banks, at sidewalk cafes and on city property. Police can ticket violators; the fine is $120 to $2,500.

But, according to Indiana's top civil-rights lawyer, the suburb's crackdown on panhandling violates the Constitution's protection of free speech. "Greenwood has in effect made itself a First Amendment-free zone, and government can't do that," said Ken Falk, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

Falk called the Greenwood ordinance extremely broad, saying it applies to anyone who might seek donations in a public place, including Girl Scouts, church groups, (charities?) and political parties. Banning panhandling on city-owned property also is going too far, he said. That language could forbid panhandling on any street, sidewalk or park here. Panhandlers actually became more active at busy roads and parking lots after Indianapolis last tightened its panhandling rules in 2009, Police Chief John Laut said.

(Vic Ryckaert. "Suburb to panhandlers: Get out or get fined."
The Indianapolis Star. October 31, 2014.)

Many other municipalities around the country have passed anti-panhandling laws, but they usually do so under the guise of banning “aggressive panhandling,” a term that attempts to circumvent various court rulings that the First Amendment protects people’s right to ask others for money.

Places like Boise last year and Sacramento have taken up anti-panhandling measures recently. (Boise’s law was quickly struck down by a federal judge in 2014.) A report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found that more than half of cities across the country prohibit begging “aggressively” or in particular places, while 24 percent have citywide bans on panhandling, a 7 percent increase between 2009 and 2011.

Now, a new bill to outlaw panhandling is quickly moving its way through the Louisiana legislature. HB 1158 would criminalize solicitation, making it a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum fine of $200 and up to six months in jail. The bill is targeted not just at panhandlers, but hitchhikers and those engaged in prostitution as well.

(Scott Keyes. "Louisiana About To Make It Illegal For Homeless People To Beg For Money." Center for American Progress Action Fund. April 29, 2014.)

Some U.S. cities already have licensure laws for panhandling on the books. Requiring panhandlers to apply for picture licenses in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, sparked outcries among advocates for the homeless, with some advocates obtaining licenses in protest. Critics say forcing panhandlers to apply for licenses attacks a symptom of poverty and not the problem.

"In some cities it is clear they want to remove any indication that the economy is bad so that tourists and visitors will come downtown. They want to do away with the unseemly elements of urban living, and that is panhandlers," said Gary Daniels, litigation coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

"What the municipalities are saying is you can engage in any manner of free speech on sidewalks, except panhandling," Daniels said.

(Tim Jones. "Some communities asking for change." Chicago Tribune. May 01, 2005.)

Believe it or not, in Canada, the Ottawa Panhandlers' Union was formed as a union for panhandlers in early 2003. It is a shop of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Ottawa-Outaouis General Members Branch. The union fights systematic oppression faced by street people in Ottawa; this includes the homeless, panhandlers, buskers, and people with a fixed income who are part of the street.

(Patricia Lonergan. "Victims of the system." Ottawa City Journal. May 03, 2007.)

And the Internet is a tool for 21st century panhandlers. Online, a variety of websites dispense panhandling advice. NeedCom, for example -- subtitled “Market Research for Panhandlers” -- offers tips from Baker and other pros on how to hustle. The website’s developer, Cathy Davies, wants it to get people "thinking about panhandling as a realistic economic activity, rather than thinking that panhandlers are lazy or don’t work very hard.”

(Steve Malanga. "The Professional Panhandling Plague." City Journal.
Manhattan Institute Summer 2008.)

Some locales are experimenting with innovative ways to curb panhandling. Orlando allows begging only in “panhandling zones,” demarcated by blue boxes painted on the sidewalks in several locations. They have also installed "homeless meters" in 2011 near spots where panhandling is grudgingly allowed. People can deposit their coins in the repurposed parking meters -- painted a different color and set back from the street -- instead of giving spare change to panhandlers. The city collects the money and gives it to a nonprofit group -- the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness -- to help the homeless.

However ...

The city spent $2,000 — not counting the hours of city workers' labor — to acquire and retrofit the old parking meters and then install them. As of September 2, 2014, records show downtown workers and visitors have deposited $2,027 since 2011, only recently topping the city's initial cash investment.

That means the 15 meters have collected, on average, 58 cents a day, or 4 cents per meter per day.

My Two Cents

No one should endure aggravation and harassment from aggressive panhandlers. I trust that all people will report such activity to authorities, and I also trust that those authorities will stop threatening and lewd behaviors. There is a real risk to personal safety from aggressive strangers, and, I do understand how these panhandlers could hurt businesses by their unseemly acts.

Although I often get tired of hearing First Amendment privileges in this "me" society, I feel those "flaggers" and similar nonaggressive beggars have become a problem of our own making. We make ourselves feel uncomfortable when we spot them plying their trade on our unobstructed sidewalks and roadways. These, after all, are public places.

Every fiber in my body aches to judge a panhandler as a lazy public nuisance and imagine he is part of some large group conspiracy actively scamming donors while living a comfortable, tax-free existence. But, that is pure speculation on my part that comes from my own mistrust and my own guilt, not from him. Let's face it, the panhandler doesn't really pose danger while standing there holding a homemade cardboard sign that reads "Down On My Luck."

We all can help those who are panhandling by simply recognizing that person’s humanity. Deep down, I know that. That is why I am pledging to take the burden of judgment from myself and "not sweat the small stuff." I realize the reason I feel uncomfortable when I see a person panhandling is because it reminds me of how privileged and blessed I am. For whatever reason that person is on the street -- good, bad, or indifferent -- I understand I don't have to join him and beg.

If I choose not to give, and I probably will choose not to contribute, I can still look a panhandler in the eye and give him a nod or a friendly smile. And, if I do occasionally give, I must know that I can't police where my money goes if I choose to give it away. I control the nonaggressive situation I encounter.

I feel better already by not making myself upset with some prejudged, hateful response. Wasn't it Tiny Tim, who in Dickens' A Christmas Carol offers the blessing at Christmas dinner of "God bless Us, Every One!" Remember, the author repeats the phrase at the end of the story, and this is symbolic of Scrooge's change of heart. Maybe we all need that blessing, no matter how rich or poor, no matter how blessed or forgotten.